Updated March 2016
As far as the yarn scene goes, the South Island has a lot happening! Set in one of the most stunning landscapes of the world, this is the high country where our marvellous merino grows.
A significant number of our high-profile yarn producers and New Zealanders who are doing much to promote New Zealand wool and its products have made the South Island their home – Touch Yarns, Maniototo Wool, Treliske Organic, Beverley Forrester (Black Hills) and many, many more amazing individuals who make a living from their love of the land and fibre from sheep and alpacas.
I need to make a little confession though: I actually haven’t been to the South Island *shame*. Unless you count two flying visits to Christchurch which didn’t involve anything to do with yarn. I would love to though. So this post is about what I’d like to do there, as opposed to what I have done there. I can’t load any pretty pictures, because I haven’t any. But if you click on the hyperlinks I have provided, you’ll see plenty!
Here are a few interesting yarn sources that I have picked out for my own ‘target list’. Some of my favourite yarn producers do not appear open to the public, so I’ve selected only venues where you can actually experience the yarn in person.
While researching for this post, I also realised another important point: not all the crafty crafters and small producers in the South Island have their own outlet or even website. Quite a few rely on the local craft cooperative in the town nearest to them as an outlet for their handspun or hand-dyed creations. So do check out the local cooperative and tourist stores as you come across them as you may find something quite lovely and unique.
In each town of reasonable size there should also be a yarn store of some description. Having not visited any of them, I do not guarantee you’ll find anything too interesting, but they are worth a quick look if you are passing.
Starting at the top of the South Island and travelling down State Highway 1:
Nelson and surrounds – Fibre Spectrum Handweavers and Fibre Artists Co-operative – Located in the city itself, this is where you may find some very lovely handspun – check out the hyperlink for pretty pictures! My eye got stuck at the wall of colourful yarn… While you’re in Nelson, do also pop by Cruellas Natural Fibre Boutique at 155 Hardy St, Nelson (in the CBD). Cruellas stock the Rare Yarns, Zealana and other New Zealand yarns. They also have a large range of natural fibre read-to-wear items.
Hurunui, North Canterbury – Black Hills Farm – Beverley Forrester has done much to promote New Zealand yarn and is the recipient of several awards for her work. She owns Black Hills station and the yarn from her Romney and Corriedale sheep is sold at her Henley outlet in the United Kingdom. You may book a farm tour here, as well as buy the yarn which comes in a large range of natural shades as well as overdyed colours. It looks like a short detour off State Highway 1 (to State Highway 7), so quite do-able.
Christchurch and surrounds – the earthquake of 2011 changed the yarn store landscape considerably. Until things ‘settle down’, it would be best to make enquiries in Christchurch as to the whereabouts of yarn stores in the city.
An hour south of Christchurch, you come to Ashburton, home of Ashford. Most spinners will be very familiar with the Ashford spinning wheel – this is where it comes from. In addition to finding spinning wheels and equipment in their showroom, you will also be able to avail yourself of their quality dyes, sliver and yarns (both Tekapo 8 ply and 12 ply, and Mackenzie, a 4ply merino yarn). My fears about colour dye are reasonably assuaged here. According to the website, their acid dyes are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 compliant which is the certification for ecologically safe clothing. It seems like a good place to add to the ‘must sees’. It also looks like they have a fair amount of other activity going on – good for entertaining children whilst I fondle yarn…
Geraldine is the home of Maniototo Wool. A relatively new entrant on to the yarn scene, this 100% wool yarn is one of the most sustainable yarns there is, not to mention gorgeous! The wool is obtained from specially selected fleece of merino cross sheep farmed in the Maniototo. It is scoured at a scour in the South Island, then spun in a small mill in Christchurch. Mary (the brains behind Maniototo Wool) hand-dyes the yarn herself, and it is sold from Country Rumours in Talbot St, Geraldine, or online.
Moving down the road to Oamaru, I shall have to go to the Oamaru Textile Exchange, which is where local fibre artist Doe Arnot (doespins), makes her beautiful handspun and hand-dyed creations available.
At this juncture, you might want to do one of two things: Head down to the Southern most tip of the South Island to take in Scenic Route through the Caitlins and on to the Fiordland National Park, or head inland back up towards Queenstown.
In the Caitlins, I understand there is a llama yarn producer, Thickthorne Llamas. I bought the yarn online once, and it was very good.
However, if you were heading inland, leaving State Highway 1 and curving back up around the western side of the South Island towards Queenstown, our last stop is on State Highway 6. Clyde is home to Touch Yarns‘ showroom (19 Sunderland St, Clyde). As I’ve mentioned in my review of Touch Yarns, I have had a great deal of difficulty in finding garment lots of Touch, and indeed, in being able to view the entire range. So for me, this is a Must See.
From there, it’s not far to Queenstown, where there is also a good array of yarn on offer in local yarn stores and tourist outlets. For me, I think it will be the right place to stop for a little R&R (and perhaps indulge in knitting up some of my fabulous finds) before heading back up the road to the Picton ferry and home.
Happy yarn hunting!