Classic Designs for the Modern Knitter

Interview with Kelbourne Woolens

At Stitches East I met Kate and Courtney, whose company Kelbourne Woolens is now exclusively distributing The Fibre Company's yarns. fibre.jpg

You may be familiar with some of their designs, as they are very popular on Ravelry.

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Let's find out more about these two:

What is the history behind Kelbourne Woolens?

Courtney and I worked together at Rosie's -- she returned as manager after a brief hiatus in August of 2006 and I was hired in October of 2006.

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Fast forward about a year and a half, I was seriously re-considering my educational and professional options and Courtney was wrangling a 4 month old and co-managing the store.  Courtney caught wind that the Fibre Company was looking for a new distributor and called Daphne for more info to see if this really was the case.  For various reasons, it seemed like a great opportunity for she and I to join as partners -- we knew we worked well together and brought different things to the table in terms of our experiences and backgrounds.  I still remember when she called me to ask if I wanted to be co-distributor with her -- I thought she was playing a practical joke as it seemed too good to be true!  We spent the summer working with Daphne, figuring out some educational and familial logistics, absorbing as much information as humanly possible and putting it all in place.

During the process we kept going back to the name of the company.  Because the Fibre Company is a separate entity, we knew we needed a different name.  One of the things that we are both attracted to in the industry is the rich textile history in this country, especially in Philadelphia where we both live.  We wanted a name that payed subtle homage to this history that was also easily identifiable as yarn related.  "Kelbourne" is a  merging of Courtney's last name and my soon-to-be married name, Osborn (and Kelgag and Gagley didn't quite have the same ring)! How did you two meet?

Pure Kismet!  One of the other students in my grad program heard that Rosie's had a PT job opening.  She didn't have time to do it, so asked if I was interested.  On a whim, I emailed Courtney, she told me to come on down to the shop.  And, as they say, the rest is history! What is your relationship with The Fibre Co?

We are the sole North American distributors of the Fibre Company yarns.  We are in charge of marketing, new pattern support, working with the retailers and shipping.  The Fibre Company is still owned by Daphne and Iain, the original owners and founders.  They still have creative and developmental control but we all work closely together on the process.  Because the Fibre Company yarns are so unique, it was (and continues to be) very important for us to stay true to the unique and artisan quality of the yarns. Can you tell us about the four current lines of The Fibre Co?

Currently, The Fibre Company has four lines: Terra, Road to China, Canopy and Organik.

Terra is probably the most well known of the yarns. It is a 40-40-20 Alpaca, Merino and Silk singles and has a slightly rustic (think nubby silk) look and incredibly soft hand.  The dye process that is so unique to Fibre Company yarns is really apparent in Terra -- they are all "solids", yet have multiple colors within the yarn.  Not quite heathered, not variegated, they are layered in a way that adds really interesting depth and sheen.  Because it has been around for a few years and was always individually hand dyed in small batches, it very quickly had quite a few colors that were sometimes available in only small amounts.  We wanted to streamline and focus the line to showcase the best and brightest of the bunch and also ones that stayed true to the original vision, which is why there are currently 20 colors in the line.

Road to China is a 3-ply 65-15-10-10 Aplaca, Silk, Camel, Cashmere blend and is quite luxurious.  The spin and ply of Road to China creates a much more refined look and the fiber content makes it beyond soft.  (And Warm!)  It is perfect for luxurious small items.  This Fall, we are really excited to be offering "Road to China Light" -- a finer gauge version of the original offered in the same 15 colors for those interested in a different application.

Canopy is the newest Fibre Company yarn and debuted at the January 2008 TNNA.  It is a plied 50-30-20 Alpaca Merino and Bamboo blend.  The bamboo adds strength, sheen and drape unique to the Canopy.  Canopy comes in two weights, a Worsted and Fingering (The Fingering was previously labeled as a Sport -- there is still some out and about with this label, so don't be confused!  They are the same yarn).  This fall, we are also excited to offer the Canopy Fingering in 10 new shades and see it as a great candidate for those interested in Fair Isle projects with a luxurious hand. Organik is a Fibre Company yarn that has been around for a few years also, but in 2007 it had a slight facelift and is now a 70 -15- 15 organic merino, alpaca and silk blend that is amazingly soft.  Originally, Daphne wanted to bring in an organic yarn and found a mill in New Zealand that is one of the oldest organically certified mill in the world, from what I understand.  They fiber content was the same, but in place of the 70% organic merino it was 70% organic New Zealand wool.  The mill in New Zealand also dyed the original Organik using low impact natural dyes.  Daphne got a lot of feedback that the yarn was not as soft as people are accustomed to Fibre Company yarns being and that the dyes were not the bright, complex tones that they loved.  She began working on developing this 'new' Organik with the customer's input and launched it in it's current formula in December of 2007.  In contrast to its cousin, Terra, Organik has a smooth hand and really great stitch definition. What kind of pattern support can we look forward to?

From our experience working in yarn stores, Courtney and I really wanted to find a way to market the yarns and subsequent pattern support to make it really easy and exciting for retailers and knitters.  As a result, we are currently offering free patterns on our website.  We really want to showcase the individual qualities of the different yarns that make the Fibre Company so unique and also make it easy for people to not only see the possibilities, but also what result as little as one or two skeins can do.  We will be constantly adding new things; there's a cardigan that Kate designed and a new (shocking, I know) beret that we'll put up before the month is out.  The trend seems to be forecasting more towards smaller projects and accessories, but if there is anything knitters want, by all means, send us a pattern request!

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How can shops and designers get in touch with you?

We have made ourselves incredibly available!  Our email address is info@kelbournewoolens.com, all the current color cards are on our website, we are on ravelry as 'kelbournewoolens' and individually as patternfactory (courtney) and zeitgeistyarns (kate).  Our office phone is actually a Blackberry so we answer it anytime, anywhere.  I have fielded calls from the grocery store after hours even!  We have a physical address--all of which can be obtained from our website.  But here:

Kelbourne Woolens 915 N. 28th St. 2nd Floor Philadelphia, PA 19130 fax 215-701-5901 phone 215-687-5534

Thank you to Kate and Courtney for sharing.  We wish you, along with Daphne and Iain, all the best as you take The Fibre Company in this exciting direction!

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