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Local wool dyed with homegrown dye plants and other botanicals

By Ria Burns

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I design and make sustainable knitwear using traceable, local wool that’s then dyed with homegrown dye plants and other botanicals. I make the knitwear on hand powered knitting machines, most of which are as old (if not older) than me.

All of my wool comes from Fernhill Farm on the Mendips, which is only 15 miles away from my studio (and PRIOR!). The fleece comes from the first clip of their Shetland-Romney sheep, which produces a super soft lambswool yarn. The yarn is spun to my specifications by a small mill in Wales, it then comes back to me in a white and grey shade, on cones. I either knit this undyed yarn straight away, or prepare the yarn for dyeing.

Having worked with natural dyes for a few years, I was keen to increase the traceability of this raw material, which led to me growing my own dyes in my BS5 back garden. It’s small but productive, and I am about 90% self-sufficient in my dye growing, with the rest topped up with foraging. I never thought I’d become a gardener as part of my job - luckily find it really enjoyable! Working in this way has added a seasonality to my work, as dye plants are ready at different times of year. I embrace the seasons and the differences that can come with colours from one years growing to the next. It keeps me on my toes and means I’m always learning new methods and sources of plant colour.
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Natural dyeing requires quite a lot of preparation, so the whole process probably takes about a week! The bright orange that features heavily in my work comes from Coreopsis Tinctoria flowers – this is probably my favourite dye plant, the flowers are so bright and really great for pollinators.

Believe it or not, some of my dyes come from food! The dusky pink that I use is for the beanies and mitts comes from avocado stones. Instead of going in the food recycling, the stones are dried until I have enough to make a dye pot.

Once the yarn has been dyed, I then knit the pieces on my knitting machine. It has 200 needles across the bed and works by moving the carriage on top backwards and forward. This opens and closes the needle and threads the yarn through, creating stitches.

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Although it’s a machine, it still requires a lot of hand work. I use a method of knitting where the whole piece is shaped on the machine, rather than cut and sewn, which means there is very little waste. Any scraps from the knitting go into my compost bin (wool is a great source of nitrogen), so it’s a nice circular process.

The knits then get a hand wash in eco soap to remove any oils from the yarn, and to make them nice and soft ready for you to wear! I want my pieces to stay with you and last as long as possible, which is why I provide spare yarn for mending with every item.

To see our collection of Ria's work here at PRIOR click here

To view Ria's website click here

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