Introducing Downland, a brand new, limited edition worsted-weight yarn, spun specially for Laine des Iles by the Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall. Downland is a beautiful, woollen-spun blend of Southdown wool and British alpaca.
Downland is the term used to describe the characteristic chalk landscape of the south of England, of rolling grassland hills, or downs (the word down comes from the Old English word “dun”, meaning hill). The South Downs (now a national park) cover a large area of southern England, stretching for 140km across the counties of Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex, and is home to its very own breed of sheep, the Southdown.
The Southdown is one of the oldest sheep breeds in the UK, perhaps even the oldest, having been developed from the native sheep which had roamed the downlands for hundreds of years. Although the breed was improved during the 18th century, this was done by breeding the Southdown alone, and not by crossing with other breeds. It is therefore one of the few purebred English breeds, and also one of the smallest – a broad, compact, sturdy sheep with a tight fleece of short, fine wool. Its wool was once prized as the finest in England, and although today it is no longer the softest of English wools (that prize would go to the Bluefaced Leicester), it is still one of the softer English wools at 25-30 microns. Southdown sheep are also some of the cutest sheep, with wool all over their bodies, including legs, ears and face, giving them their characteristic teddy bear appearance!
We have been extremely lucky to obtain for our Downland yarn some of, if not the best Southdown fleece available. You may already have heard of the Goodwood Estate for its world-famous Festival of Speed; or for its equally famous racetrack, home to Glorious Goodwood, one of the biggest events of the British horseracing calendar; or maybe even for its luxury hotel and golf courses. But the Goodwood Estate, the seat of the 11th Duke of Richmond, is also home to one of Europe’s largest organic farms. The farm at Goodwood has been producing food for the estate for over 300 years, and has been fully organic since 1996. On the 1500-hectare site, situated in the South Downs national park, the Goodwood team rear traditional, local, heritage breeds of sheep, cattle and outdoor-reared pigs, with an emphasis on maintaining centuries-old ecosystems. The Southdown flock at Goodwood has been established for over 200 years and considered to one of the finest examples of the breed. We are very fortunate indeed to have been able to obtain a small quantity of this high-quality, organic fleece for our yarn.
Sheep grazing on the Goodwood Estate
The small amount of alpaca in our blend comes from a small, local breeder near Plymouth in Devon, and the yarn has been dyed using GOTS-certified dyes. So although the yarn itself does not have an organic certification that we can display on the label, we are happy to say that it is 100% organic and fully traceable through all stages of production from the animal to the finished product.
Downland is a full, round and springy 3-fold yarn, which makes it extra-bouncy and means it doesn’t split easily. It knits up very evenly and is fabulous for textured stitches and cables. As the Southdown fleece has a spiral crimp, this adds extra spring and durability and means it doesn’t felt easily. The small quantity of alpaca comes from fawn-coloured alpacas, which when blended with the Southdown wool gives the finished undyed yarn a rich, creamy colour and the knitted fabric a very faintly mottled effect from the mixing of the fawn and white fleeces. We have recommended knitting on 5mm needles on the label, but it can also be knitted on 4.5mm needles, with a gauge of 17-20 stitches depending on your individual knitting style and needle size. Here are 2 swatches that I knitted, the one on the left on 4.5mm needles and the one on the right on 5mm needles, I had around 18 stitches for the 5mm and 19 for the 4.5mm.
This yarn can be used for any pattern with a similar gauge, I would suggest particularly patterns with texture or cables. Here are some of my recent favourites which I think would work well:
Two cardigans by one of my favourite designers, Orlane Sucche, the classic basic Bonnie (left) and her new cabled design Calix (right):
The Ferndell cardigan by Nadia Crétin-Léchenne:
The designer Midori Hirose has several patterns which could work, we suggest the Tulip Guernsey (left) or the Muscari sweater (right):
Whatever you choose to knit with Downland, we hope you enjoy this yarn. Happy knitting!