Our Visit to The Faroe Islands

2018 was a pretty crazy year, and one of the absolute highlights (besides the birth of Courtney’s daughter, Gilda, and the release of four of our very own yarns) was the trip to the Faroe Islands we took with Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran in March.

L / The Mulafossur Waterfall. R / Rainbows, sheep and snow covered mountains. AKA: magic.

The trip served a dual purpose: we were already planning on visiting Handarbeit and Hobby, the international trade fair in Cologne, Germany, to meet the owners of BC Garn, so it also made sense to travel to Faroe while in Europe to meet Óli Kristian á Torkilsheyggi (Kris), the founder and owner of Navia yarns.

Not wanting to be away from the office and our families for too long, the whole trip was a bit of a whirl wind, but we packed it full of delicious food, gorgeous hikes, and even a bit of business!

Faroe Trip 39
Faore Trip 4.jpg

Views from our hike near the village of Oyndarfjørður.

BRIEF HISTORY
Legend has it that the Faroe Islands were named by the original inhabitants who arrived on the islands in 300 AD, who, upon seeing sheep living on the land, named it “Sheep Island”. An archipelago, the country is known for its breathtaking landscapes, low population density, and large quantity of unique sheep with incredibly long, strong, warm, wool.

Faroe has seen a long history of settlers and kingdoms ruling the islands and people, with Norway (and, at times, Denmark) controlling the population from c. 1000 through 1814. As a result of the Treaty of Keil, Denmark began exclusive official rule in 1814. In 1946, the population voted for independence, and after a bit of turmoil, Faroe was granted home rule in 1948. Such a long history of occupation and geographical isolation has resulted in a population that is very insulated and proud of its culture and history, but also incredibly worldly, as the vast majority of young Faroese travel to Denmark for (free) university education. Most Faroese speak at least 3 languages fluently, with Danish, Faroese, and English being the most common.

L / One of the many quaint villages we drove past. R / Meghan and Amber in the distance on our hike.

OUR TRIP
We spent a bit of time in the car, as the shape of the islands, small population density, and long distance between villages resulted in long, curvy roads that meander around (and sometimes through!) mountains. The views were breathtaking at every single turn, and we spent the time happily staring out the windows, mouths open in astonishment, at the landscape and architecture.

For our first evening, Jaime arranged a dinner, known as “heimablídni”, or “home hospitality” at the home of Onnu and Óla. Despite being there during the off-season, Onnu graciously agreed to host one of their Supper Clubs for us, and served a spectacular five course meal. Not only was the food delicious, it was a wonderful introduction to the culture and customs of the island.

The following day, we went for a hike near the village of Oyndarfjørður. A long path connects Oyndarfjørður to the neighboring village of Elduvík, and the walk, while quite easy, was located along steep cliffs right on the edge of the ocean. Everywhere we looked there were sheep, many in what seemed to be impossibly awkward positions on the edge of the land, happily munching away, their long, warm coats wafting in the breeze.

Faroe Trip
Faroe Trip

After our hike, we then got to “work”, meeting up with Kris, the owner of Navia, at the flagship Navia store in Toftir. After time in the shop, we went to one of the “sheep houses” near his home for their evening feed. While the sheep know exactly what time every day the farmers come to feed them, they were not prepared for a group of gawking, excited visitors, so they were a bit shy in our presence!

After a delicious meal with Kris and his wife Paula in their home, we headed back to the Air BnB, exhausted but ready for more adventures!

Tinganes in Tórshavn

Tinganes, the seat of government, in Tórshavn. Many of the original buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The next day, Kris took us on a tour, focusing on Eysturoy, one of the larger islands, and then into Tórshavn, the capital. There, we visited Gudrun and Gudrun, lovely bookstores, and at an amazing meal at Barbara Fish House.

We did not have nearly enough time on the islands, as our visit seemed to be over as soon as it began. There was much more to do and see - next time, we hope to visit during the sheep gathering! - so we’ve been scheming a way to go back ever since!


An Introduction to Navia Yarns

The fall issue of Knit.Wear includes a stunning article by Leslie Petrovski on the Faroe Islands and Navia Yarn, one of the new companies we are delighted to be distributing here in N. America.

Navia Traditional Jumper.

The publication of the article coincides so well with fall and winter - prime time for knitting and wearing Navia - that we thought it would be the perfect jumping off point for a few weeks of introduction to this spectacular brand, and why we chose to distribute a rustic and unique yarn from a tiny, obscure group of islands!

Navia Sweaters.

Along with the release of Navia in N. America, we’ll be hosting a knitalong beginning November 16th of the sweater below, Model 2 from Navia Book 25. This stunning unisex design features Navia Tradition, a 100% Faroese wool that is emblematic of the brand.

We will be announcing details of the knitalong, including how to download the pattern and where to find the yarn, in coming weeks. Stay tuned, and ask for Navia at an LYS near you!


A Brief History of Germantown Yarns

In our previous posts we’ve alluded to Germantown’s long history as a good quality American yarn. This post will go a bit more in depth about the history of how Germantown Yarn got its name, and how the little town of Germantown, PA launched a yarn with a history older than the United States itself.

This post is written by Nic Tenaglia, an architectural researcher and historian, and lover of all things Philadelphia.


  Pictures from Old Germantown: the Pastorius family residences are shown on the upper left (c. 1683) and upper right (c. 1715), the center structure is the house and printing business of the Caurs family (ca. 1735), and the bottom structure is the market place (c. 1820).

Pictures from Old Germantown: the Pastorius family residences are shown on the upper left (c. 1683) and upper right (c. 1715), the center structure is the house and printing business of the Caurs family (ca. 1735), and the bottom structure is the market place (c. 1820).

Germantown, Pennsylvania was chartered by William Penn for Francis Daniel Pastorius, Abraham op den Graeff, and 11 other German families in 1683. Early on, they had rejected Penn’s proposal of settling in what would become Roxborough and Manayunk - the neighborhood where Kelbourne Woolens is now located - because the steep slopes up from the banks of the Schuykill River and Wissahickon Creek Valleys would be difficult to farm. Instead, Penn settled them on the opposite bank of the Wissahickon Valley which separates Roxborough from Germantown.

  A Map of the County of Philadelphia from Actual Survey / 1843, Charles Ellet Jr.

A Map of the County of Philadelphia from Actual Survey / 1843, Charles Ellet Jr.

The thirteen families who settled Germantown were Mennonites and Quakers, and Germantown is also notably the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America. Abraham op den Graeff came from Krefeld, Germany, noted for its role as the center of the German textile industry, and a city of weavers. He founded an early Germantown linen industry, modeled after that of Krefeld, and soon won the first Governor’s Award from William Penn for producing the finest linen woven in the colony. This established Germantown as the early center for textile manufacturing in Pennsylvania, and it would grow into its reputation as a place for reliably good quality material and goods throughout the colonial and early republic periods. While Germantown was known for it’s linen industry in the early days of the colonies, it was their production of woolen yarns that would catapult them into the national spotlight in years to come.

Germantown textile manufacturing was developed as a cottage industry, and it would remain so up until the beginning of the Civil War. At this time, industrialization spread, and other neighborhoods in Philadelphia like Kensington and Manayunk started to produce larger quantities of goods, but Germantown saw a smaller expansion with producers continuing to work out of their homes. Industry in Germantown gradually moved from cottage style manufacturing to smaller mills, but Germantown maintained significantly higher wages than its heavily industrialized counterparts and was able to resist the labor strife inherent to industrialization into the end of the 19th century. It was in this period that producers like Joseph Fling’s Germantown Yarn Mill (below) and J. Randall’s Franklin Yarn Mill grew.

Buoyed by Civil War contracts for woolen military uniforms and hosiery and post-war protectionist tariffs, the woolens industry in Philadelphia was in a good position. In addition, the federal government would soon start buying quantities of Germantown yarns in order to supply the newly created reservations in the Southwestern United States with weaving yarns. The Navajo in particular are reported to have lost up to two-thirds of their sheep during the forced relocation imposed upon them by the US government, and supplying them with yarn was used as a means of softening the harsh blow that the communities felt.

  Aboriginal life among the Navajoe Indians.  Near old Fort Defiance, N.M. / Library of Congress / 1873, T. H. O'Sullivan.

Aboriginal life among the Navajoe Indians. Near old Fort Defiance, N.M. / Library of Congress / 1873, T. H. O'Sullivan.

Corresponding with the rise of the new aniline dyeing process which created a previously unheard of number of bright colors, the dumping of this inexpensive, good quality, and very colorful yarn on the reservations led to its being wholeheartedly embraced for roughly four decades in the Navajo weaving industry. This relationship is in part what Germantown yarn is most famous for today.

  Navajo Germantown Eye Dazzler Rug: Rectangular woven rug; red, grey, and black integrated diamond design on a natural colored field with black border; small black knotted tassel on each corner.  /  Science History Institute . / 2008, Gregory Tobias.

Navajo Germantown Eye Dazzler Rug: Rectangular woven rug; red, grey, and black integrated diamond design on a natural colored field with black border; small black knotted tassel on each corner. / Science History Institute. / 2008, Gregory Tobias.

At the same time, a new kind of mill came to the fore producing “Germantown” style yarns in Philadelphia. These mills had started in the mid 19th century but grew rapidly in the post war years. Firms like Wm. H. Horstmanns, James Lees & Sons, and S.B. & B.W. Fleisher took the production of Germantown yarns into the industrial age. These companies created household knitting yarn and pattern brands like Columbia Yarns, Minerva Yarns, and Fleisher’s Yarns, respectively.

  Wm. H. Horstmann & Sons, Phila., Pa, Exhibit of Germantown Yarns in the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia.  #711, Main Exhibition Building, Bldg. #1. / Free Library of Philadelphia / 1876, Centennial Photographic Co.

Wm. H. Horstmann & Sons, Phila., Pa, Exhibit of Germantown Yarns in the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. #711, Main Exhibition Building, Bldg. #1. / Free Library of Philadelphia / 1876, Centennial Photographic Co.

No longer manufactured exclusively in Germantown, these mills were spread out around Philadelphia and the surrounding area. With their large industrial production and wide array of colors, these firms soon became some of the most notable in the industry, with production peaking around the First World War.

 Reeling and Packing Columbia Yarns.  One hundred years, 1816-1916; the chronicles of an old business house in the city of Philadelphia  / 1916, Wm. H. Horstmann Co.

Reeling and Packing Columbia Yarns. One hundred years, 1816-1916; the chronicles of an old business house in the city of Philadelphia / 1916, Wm. H. Horstmann Co.

For a time, it seemed every yarn company had a yarn called Germantown, as the name was synonymous with 4-ply knitting worsted. The Great Depression would be the practical end of Fleisher Yarns as it was then bought by Bear Brand from New York, later by Bernat, and then by Brunswick, who carried on making Germantown for decades. Around the same time, Columbia and Minerva Yarns would combine to become Columbia-Minerva, the standard bearer of Germantown yarns throughout the 20th century.

  Fleisher Yarns ad from 1919  / Collection of Kelbourne Woolens.

Fleisher Yarns ad from 1919 / Collection of Kelbourne Woolens.

The end of World War II, and a new reliance on and desire for machine knit and washable goods, led to the introduction of synthetic fibers. With the rise of crocheting in the late 1960s, Germantown saw a brief resurgence with brands like Brunswick, Coates, and the aforementioned Columbia-Minerva carrying the standard. Through the 1970s, synthetics took center stage, and by the 1980s Brunswick was the last company to manufacture a yarn called Germantown. Sadly, the 1990s saw the end of the availability of Germantown yarns after three centuries of growth from a nascent colonial industry into the standard hand-knitting yarn across the United States.

  Hexamer General Surveys, Volume 9, Plates 798-799  / Free Library of Philadelphia / 1874, Ernest Hexamer.

Hexamer General Surveys, Volume 9, Plates 798-799 / Free Library of Philadelphia / 1874, Ernest Hexamer.

The mills of Fling, Horstman, Fleisher, and their ilk still pepper the landscape of Philadelphia. Many of the old mills of Germantown, Kensington, and Manayunk have been repurposed into condos, office space, new restaurants, and shopping centers.

Kelbourne Woolens’ current location on Krams Ave. began life as the Little Falls Mill in 1863, a small mill producing woolen carpet yarn for Stafford & Co until 1957. Interesting how some things seem to come full circle!


Thanks, Nic!