Discover the beautiful yarns and designs of this US brand
FOR THOSE of us who dream of running our own yarn business, Courtney Kelley and Kate Gagnon Osborn are inspirational role models. Through their hard work, determination and ambition, they have created a successful company offering yarns and designs that knitters love to work with.
Kelbourne Woolens was an idea dreamed up ten years ago while Courtney and Kate were working in a yarn store. Their business began life as a yarn distributor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, supplying yarns from The Fibre Co. to stores across North America. Both talented knitwear designers, Courtney and Kate also created gorgeous collections of patterns showcasing The Fibre Co.’s yarns.
A few years later, Courtney and Kate decided to launch their own house yarn brand, and today Kelbourne Woolens has three distinct ranges - Scout, Andorra, and Mojave. Scout a classic DK-weight wool for everyday knits, with a strong, smooth and bouncy feel - it’s ideal for cosy sweaters and cardigans. Andorra is a beautiful, sport-weight blend of merino and Highland wools with mohair, in a vintage-inspired colour palette. Mojave is the newest addition to the Kelbourne family. Designed with summery knits in mind, it’s a pima cotton-linen DK that comes in a choice of vibrant hues.
Accompanying the yarn ranges are attractive pattern collections created by Courtney and Kate, along with their colleague Meghan Kelly. The aesthetic is classic with a modern twist - think sophisticated Fair Isle, cables and delicate lace details paired with elegant silhouettes.
Despite a very busy schedule - and a brand-new baby! - Courtney Kelley took time out to chat with us about her Kelbourne Woolens journey.
Can you tell us more about the story behind Kelbourne Woolens?
“Kate and I met working in a yarn shop in Philadelphia. I was the manager, and was looking to hire a person part-time as I prepared to go on maternity leave. I reached out to the local design school and found Kate, who at the time was getting an advanced degree in knit textile design.
“After my son was born, in 2008, I wanted to do something more with knitting, and the opportunity to distribute yarn for a small yarn company, The Fibre
Co., presented itself. I convinced Kate to join me in the venture, and she did! We’ve been creative partners ever since. We began designing knitting patterns and yarn, and grew Kelbourne Woolens into a recognizable and respected design brand in the boutique yarn industry here in the US.
“At the end of 2017 we decided to celebrate our ten-year anniversary year with the introduction of our own Kelbourne Woolens line of yarns. Up until then we had only distributed for other companies, designing garments in their yarns. We took the plunge and launched with our first house yarn, Andorra, in January 2018. Scout and Mojave followed seasonally. While we enjoyed designing for and developing yarns for The Fibre Co. over the past ten years, we don’t regret the decision to go out on our own.”
Can you sum up the philosophy behind Kelbourne Woolens?
“We just want to make good, quality yarns that aren’t fussy or overwrought. ‘It’s just
yarn, people!’ is a refrain oft heard in our offices! It is just yarn, but we love yarn, and we are knitters at heart. Having worked in the yarn industry from so many perspectives, we really, really strive to make a yarn that shops can feel confident in selling, and that the customers enjoy working with.”
What were the highlights and challenges you faced when developing your own yarn?
“There is nothing quite like holding a yarn you’ve developed for the first time - and, yes, we both have children! I might have wept a little bit when Andorra first arrived in our warehouse. I developed Andorra. It’s a very simple, yet elegant – almost vintage – wool and mohair blend. It reminds me of a yarn my grandmother might have knit with, and I think it’s just perfect.
“Scout is Kate’s baby. It’s a DK-weight, 2-ply 100% wool that is soft, but not too soft, and is beautifully heathered. Mojave, our yarn for summer, was designed by our office manager and all-around point person, Meghan Kelly. She loves plant-based fibres, and created a lovely cotton and linen blend that met her exacting specifications. Mojave has a nice range of bright pinks and corals – Meghan’s favourite colours.
“I would say that timing is always the biggest challenge. The yarn design phase has a LOT of back and forth. You may want to try a slightly tighter twist, or maybe add a bit less of this, or some of that
until you get it right. Then you have to choose a colour palette, then sample quantities for designing, and then you get the yarn.
It’s a time-consuming and laborious project, and it’s hard to stay focused on the end goal of launch day. But, after all is said and done, it is an immense feeling of accomplishment, and we are very proud of our hard work - even if we only get a brief moment to bask in it before the next deadline pops up!”
How has your business grown since 2008?
“We started out leasing about 400 square feet of warehouse space from the US Manos del Uruguay distributor, which is also based in Philadelphia. I was still working part-time at the yarn shop, and Kate was still studying at university. Over the years we’ve grown, slowly and steadily. Now, ten years later, we lease 5000 sq ft of our own, and Kate and I both work full-time, with two employees and the occasional intern from Kate’s alma mater, Philadelphia University, College of Textiles.”
Are you planning to have more stockists of Kelbourne Woolens yarns in the UK?
“We are! We have a lovely UK sales rep currently, and are hoping to find inroads in the UK market. We have always had a handful of lovely customers in the UK, and our designs have been popular with British knitters over the years.”
Do you have a favourite design from your portfolio?
“My favorite design right now is ‘Sawyer’ from our recent Scout collection. It’s based off a super-popular poncho pattern I did called ‘Stone Point’ - it’s basically a poncho with sleeves! It’s perfect for fall.”
Kate adds: “I really like ‘Rainier’, and making one is on my must-knit 2019 list. My most worn design is ‘Carrowkeel’, although the design is quite simple. My most fun to design was the ‘Baby Jane’ hat from the Pop Collection for its integrated crown decreases.”
Who are your yarn heroes?
“You mean ‘yarn heroines?’ Hahaha! Both of us had incredibly talented and creative grandmothers. They taught us to knit, sew and crochet, and really fostered a love of fibre arts within us both. They had no idea what they started!”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from another knitter, designer or yarn maker?
“In 2017, when we knew we were no longer going to distribute The Fibre Co. in North America, we met with a long-time colleague and collaborator who had supported us and our work over the previous nine years. We were encouraged to create our own line of yarns with the words, ‘You can do this. Do it now.’ And we did!”
Do you have any plans for 2019 that you can share with us?
We have two new yarns coming in 2019, which we’re really excited about!” – Discover more about Kelbourne Woolens’ yarns and pattern collections at www.kelbournewoolens.com
1 1 Scout is a classic pure wool, ideal for cosy sweaters and cardigans 2 Kate Gagnon Osborn and Courtney Kelley are the founders of Kelbourne Woolens 3 ‘Sawyer’, designed by Courtney, is a wide, draping lace jumper knitted in Scout yarn 4 The ‘Keane’ racerback tank top by Meghan Kelly showcases one of the vivid shades of Mojave
Andorra is a luxurious blend of wool and mohair
Mojave is a new cotton-linen blend, in vibrant colours
‘Rainier’, designed by Kate Gagnon Osborn, is from the Scout Collection
5 Andorra comes in vintage-inspired colours 6 This lacy shawl, called ‘Evangelina’, uses two shades of Andorra 7 ‘Phyllis’ from the Andorra Collection is worked in old shale stitch 8 The ‘Bodie’ cabled T-shirt from the Mojave Collection 5