Meet wool entrepreneur, Alice Elsworth, owner of the Whistlebare studio in North Northumberland - a regenerative farm that produces yarn with a conscience.
Alice is from Birmingham, but always felt she was meant for the countryside. After upping sticks and moving to a small farm between Wooler and Berwick Alice knew she needed to diversify and do something unusual. She had taken up crochet and was getting absorbed in wool and was aware she wasn’t alone in her new passion as there was a craft renaissance going on with an increasing interest in natural fibres and the quality of wools. So the farm and business naturally grew from there:
I had spent a lot time on my Aunt’s farm in Cornwall who kept goats and so I knew a bit about them. We now have a big herd of angora goats and they produce. We got our first goats at the end of 2012 and started selling wool at the end of 2013. We also have Wensleydale sheep which are a rare breed that have a very special high luster wool. Also, we have Shetland sheep which we are planning to create a new crop for luxury yarn from in the future, and are currently in the breeding stages.
We are predominantly a working farm, we’re not a farm park and we’re not set up to provide that kind of service. We’re a shop that sells knitting yarn and some finished products as well. People can pre-arrange paid farm tours for larger groups, and on the pre-booked retreat days there is the opportunity to get very close to the animals as part of learning about our ethos and production.
The day retreats we run are social, relaxing days for people who take an interest in our product (they could be seasoned knitters or relatively new!) and the process behind its production. We walk around the farm and talk about processes and how to use the yarn, along with eating lots of cakes and have lunch together. It’s not so much about teaching technique but giving people an insight into our ethos, the farm, and how this all comes together to produce our yarns. We do have a tutor on hand to advise, but when it comes to using the yarn everyone mucks in and helps each other as many of our retreat goers are seasoned knitters themselves. Everyone starts a new project at a retreat with the yarn.
Usually, the retreats are between 16-20 people, about 7 times a year. Because they are often holidaymakers we put the dates out quite far in advance and release dates in small batches incrementally.
We are a regenerative farm that produces yarn with conscience, we believe in knitting with conscience. We can tell you anything about our yarn, everything about the animal, and the process of creating the yarn. We work really hard to ensure that we have the highest animal welfare standards and the smallest environmental impact.
We sell through the yarn shop and then everything in the shop is also online. Shop only open Wednesdays and Fridays. Mobile number widely available, people come all days a week but will pre-arrange visits.How does being a business based in Northumberland inform your work? What is unique about being based in this corner of the country- this could be in terms of the natural environment, customer base, how you give back?
Our work is very tied to the surrounding area. Each yarn is called Yevering Bell. Yevering Bell in middle English which means hill of the goats, and the famous Cheviot hill of the same name was the first place my family saw the wild goats. W also have Cuthberts sock, as St. Cuthberts way goes right through the yard and our colours are named after local landmarks too. We love to feel that the product is grounded in Northumberland and the special stories as we feel very part of the countryside that surrounds us.
Sustainability is fundamental to everything we do. First and foremost, we are regenerative farmers and are fundamentally trying to farm with nature. We farm organically, and we think about the bigger picture constantly. We’re interested in the life of the soil, animal health, etc. and that’s where the whole process started from for us.
We do everything we can do minimise the impact on the environment. For example, we use acid milling dies as they are the most environmentally benign, we have installed a lot of solar panels, and we filter water through our own system.
We want to keep building on what we’re doing. We want to keep beating the drum for conscience shopping, provide an outlet for people who have moved on from fast shopping and build a community of people who care about products and the environment. The more the message gets out, the more secure people feel in making those choices!
Why should people Shop Local?
I think shopping locally straightforwardly means less travel and reduces our carbon footprints. But also, I think when you direct your attention into shopping locally you naturally put in more care into what you choose. Slowing down the consumption process helps people to transition to a slower, more conscientious action. Shopping locally means you shop more thoughtfully, and that has a ripple effect on your wider habits too.