Visiting Sirdar Yarns
In February I was told that I was one of the winners of the Designer category of Knit Now Magazine’s Knitter of the Year competition. Last week we (the winners) and the Knit Now team visited Sirdar Yarns in Wakefield.
Although the buildings that house Sirdar Yarns are relatively new, the company has been on the same site for over 100 years. These buildings house their warehouse, design team, and head offices; however, they no longer manufacture yarn on site.
A wall of yarn
Kate Heppell (the editor of Knit Now), Ruth (from Practical Publishing), the Sirdar team, and the Knitter of the Year winners met in a room that had yarn instead of wallpaper. Sirdar Yarns sell yarn under the brands, Hayfield, Sirdar, and Sublime. There is a display of one ball of each yarn in each colour from all three brands along two walls. Does anyone fancy trying this at home?
I saw the yarn to be used for my winning design for the first time. You’ll have to wait until later this year to find out more!
The yarn journey
We started with a tour of what warehouse. I think I’m right in saying that Sirdar Yarns spin most of their Hayfield and Sirdar ranges in Turkey and most of their Sublime range in Italy. Following delivery, all yarn goes through a series of quality control tests. These are the same tests that the company used when they spun yarn here. After quality control, yarn is stored in extremely large wooden containers, which are stacked, seven high in a racking system in the warehouse. There’s a special forklift truck, which can reach the highest container. As each container holds around 100 balls of yarn, that’s an awful lot of yarn!
Pickers select yarn for orders in the picking room. At this point, I think I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of yarn, as I forgot to take any photos. So, you’ll just have to imagine a series of deep shelves, two high, each containing a different yarn in a different colour. That’s a lot of shelves; several rows of them in fact. The members of the picking team walk around the shelves finding the yarn for each order. I wonder how many steps they do each day!
It’s always interesting to compare how different companies work. My process, as an independent designer, is to design items, knit swatches, and write the pattern. Then I send the pattern and yarn to a sample knitter, who knits the design and gives me feedback about the pattern. Next, I edit the pattern and send it to a technical editor. Meanwhile, I organize a photoshoot; this is usually me or a friend modelling the item and taking the photos. Finally, I import the text, charts, diagrams, and photos into a program and organize the layout. After a magazine commissions a pattern, I write the pattern and have the sample knitted. I send them the pattern and sample. The magazine employs a technical editor, professional photographers, and models for the photo shoot, and a layout specialist to do the magazine and pattern layout.
Knitting Room is the exciting place where designs are created. There are three designers who knit swatches, sketch their design and draw schematics. Designers use swatches to learn how a new yarn will behave as well as to communicate their design idea.
From design to pattern
Pattern writers use standard sizing charts along with the designers’ notes to calculate the measurements for each size in a design. Then they convert measurements to stitches and rows, working with pencil and graph paper. Once they are happy with the calculations they type up the pattern, following the Sirdar Yarns style sheet. This makes sure that all the pattern writers use the same abbreviations and ways of describing instructions.
Finally, a team of pattern checkers checks the mathematics and text of the pattern before a knitter knits the sample. A photoshoot takes place when a collection is ready. Finally, a layout specialist takes the text, images, and charts and creates the pattern leaflet.
Sirdar Yarns print all their patterns as leaflets on site. They print 50 of any pattern at a time, which is quite a small quantity. This means that only a small number of pattern leaflets will be discarded if there is an error. As well as printing there is a pattern-folding machine. Look below: the unfolded patterns enter the machine on the left and leave, folded on the right. A very useful machine!
Here’s the Pattern Room. There’s a different leaflet in each pigeonhole.
The show room
After lunch, we visited the showroom. The new designs for garments, accessories, and homeware are displayed on mannequins or furniture. Alongside them are balls of each new yarn in each colour. I’ll show you photos after the collection is launched!
We stayed in the showroom for a presentation from Kate about the process of putting together a magazine. Here are a few facts from Kate’s interesting presentation:
- Knit Now is based in Stockport.
- Kate always goes to photoshoots.
- Only 20% of their readers are on Ravelry.
- Non-subscribers buy more Knit Now magazines than subscribers.
Finally, the winners were presented with certificates and a goodie bag.
The winners were:
- Designer category: me, Anna Elliott (Audrey’s Tea Shop), Anna Waites (Beep Beep Designs), Georgia Farrell (Georgia Farrell) and Sue Gleave (Native Yarns).
- New designer category: Jean Booth, Maddie Harvey (Maddie Harvey Designs), Hanna Lee, Sharon Carter (Dragon Hill Studio) and Sophie McKane (Unicorn Designs).
- Online innovator: Laura (Knitty Knatty Laura), Philippa Saul (The Twisted Yarn), Nathan Taylor (Sockmatician), Julie Williams (Little Cotton Rabbits) and Jo Milmine (Shinybees).
- Local Superstar: Jen Best (Beaker Button), Ana Dugdale (Stitch Solihull), Jessica James (Ginger Twist Studio), Karen Draisey (Oxford Yarn Store), Anna Feldman (Wild and Woolly).
- Charity Hero: Jennifer Prowse (Radstock Knitters), Ethel Brolls (Children of the World Knitting Appeal), Caroline Davis (Bournville Crafty Bees), Bea McDonald (Needles Hooks Angels and Preemies), Lisa Bentman (knitted a portrait of Amy Winehouse to raise money for Mind, Hammersmith and Fulham).