Visit to the Rowan Mill

Rowan has been a part of the fabric of my knitting life for thirty years now, and the mill has been a place for several personal milestones.  I did my first ever workshop there, after Stephen Sheard started to feature my designs in the early 80s and my first TV appearance was at the mill when Selina Scott brought The Clothes Show to Rowan and they filmed my workshop for the programme.

I almost feel Rowan yarns run in my blood - when I use it I feel inexplicably confident that the pattern will work.  It's not just the gorgeous colours and fabulous yarn qualities, it's the way that the company has always blazed an exciting trail.  In the beginning you could almost see the rank and file of the staid and stolid Northern woollen mills wagging their fingers and predicting Rowan's demise - a flash in the pan, their new-fangled ideas gone with them.

Well I'm glad to say the fibre fishwife faction were completely wrong and in fact Rowan have prevailed and sadly it's the mills who have fallen by the wayside - unwilling to move with the times. Today the most important thing is to be flexible and innovative, something that was never previously understood in the woollen industry, when it seemed like all you needed to succeed was a tried and tested formula for argyle socks.

I remember trying to source an order for 20,000 garments in the UK for Laura Ashley. They were fairisle sweaters and had twelve colours and in the early 80s this was unthinkable. 90% of factories we approached weren't interested, many had antiquated machines which couldn't cope with the design and some had newer machines capable of all sorts of different techniques, but their technical knowledge and attitudes hadn't yet caught up with their modern machinery. We eventually found only two mills who were prepared to take a chance, one in England and one in Scotland.

Enough of my reminiscences though, on to our lovely visit to the mill. We were warmly welcomed and checked in by Margaret in reception, then taken along the corridor to the workshop area. The way-in was flanked by tempting baskets of discontinued colours at giveaway prices - some of us just couldn't resist and dived straight in.

Tea and coffee was ready for us to take along into the workshop, where Kate Buller, Rowan's Brand Manager and David McLeod, their Design Room Manager were waiting to formally welcome us.  And what a welcome it was! We were treated to a slide presentation preview of the upcoming Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, some of which were already on display around the room.  Many of the designs were Martin's - it was so good to be able to see the wonderful new things he's been working on and get an overview of his designs. 
Martin and Kate
After the presentation the group had a chance to chat with Kate and David, to handle the sweaters from the new collection, to browse all the latest Rowan books, try on samples that were for sale and of course, view the entire yarn line at close quarters.  Eventually we managed to  round everyone up for Martin's workshop, Big & Beautiful Cables. 
Chatting to David over morning coffee
Kate talking with Catherine and Seik Yee
P and I were hoping to stretch our legs before lunch so asked Margaret how long it would take to walk to Holmfirth and we wondered why she immediately asked us if we were walkers.  If we were she had a great walk for us up the cobblestones, past another mill, over the moor with fab views from the tops back down to the mill, then dropping down into the town. We soon found out why she'd asked the question -West Yorkshire walkers are obviously made of different stuff.  The hill must have been a one in two slope and had us puffing and panting after twenty yards, the top nowhere to be seen, the cobbles curving away off up the moor and around a bend. Suffice to say it gave the old heart an excellent if painful workout, but  it was definitely worth it once we got to the top!
Last of the summer Wine is the world's longest-running sitcom.
Photo ©
Once in Holmfirth, home of Last of the Summer Wine we headed straight for a little cafe, which turned out to be next door to Sid's Cafe from the series, where we were warmed by a very welcome bowl of hearty lentil and veg soup.  We then paid a quick visit to Up Country, the Rowan stockist who also stock an interesting collection of clothes, to check that everything was ready for our visit later, then back to the mill - by a slightly less taxing direct route.
Cindy & Joanne in Martin's workshop
We got back to a hive of industry with everyone enjoying their big cables, most by this time having graduated to working oversized cabled hearts which could be made into anything from oven gloves to cushions to bags. 

The mood was buoyant, with the group obviously having a whale of a time. Martin is a very good teacher and communicator, and I love the way he demonstrates a technique from behind the students.  Why have I never thought of that?

The day was a great success, in fact definitely one of the highlights of the tour. Lots of pictures were taken, yarn and sample sweaters bought, and later on the coach it was interesting to hear what each knitter planned to make with their swatches. All too soon it was time to pack our things and leave the people at the mill to get on with the day to day running of this busy yarn company.
Love this pic of Martin...
... and this one of Madeleine
Our trusty York Pullman coach was waiting outside, ready to take us down for a quick visit to Up Country, a chance to stock up with even more Rowan yarns from the latest collections. Just time for a quick photocall with Kate, David and Martin, when P said Jean, look who's here! I turned around and there was Annabelle, an old friend I hadn't seen for several years who is now one of Rowan's sales consultants. Annabelle was quickly persuaded to join us for the picture, before we jumped on the coach and sped off down the road.  I do hope we get a chance to catch up sometime soon before several more years disappear.

Kate, David, Martin, Annabelle et moi

It was a wonderful day with many special memories made - I think I can speak for us all in saying we enjoyed every minute at the mill. A big thank-you to the team for allowing us a peep at life behind the scenes at Rowan and creating such an exceptional experience for us all.

PS Lots more pics of whole Lakes & York Knitters Tour on Facebook


  1. What a trip to drool over, Jean! Thanks so much for the picture of the 'Fab Four'... Compo, Clegg, Foggy, and Smiler! I've seen the series any number of times through over here, and still get choked up at their tribute to Bill Owen years ago. So sorry they don't make the series any more. Makes you wonder how they wandered all those slopes over the years! Pam xo

  2. I'm so envious. Rowan is my all-time, hands-down favorite yarn company. When I discovered Rowan my bucket list included visiting the mill. I'd still like to visit that part of England, as well as to go back to London (Liberty Store comes immediately to mind). I've made several Rowan sweaters and have many in my queue, including some home projects, too. If I had to choose just one company, it would be ROWAN!


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