ABOUT TOFT

Toft, warwickshire, knitting, crochet, wool, yarn

THE STORY

TOFT began in September 2006 at the dawn of the handmade, do-it-yourself craft resurgence in Britain. Toft is the name of the small Warwickshire hamlet in which the business operates and from which the brand takes its name. Since 2006 the brand has organically grown from small family beginning to become a dynamic player in the contemporary craft and lifestyle market. 

The business came about as a development of Creative Director Kerry Lord's family alpaca farm at Toft Manor, which is now the base for the whole company. Rob and Shirely Bettinson, Kerry's parents, bought alpacas in 1997 when the first alpacas came to the UK. Rob and Shirley continue to run Toft Alpaca Stud - a busy livestock business specialising in breeding pedigree alpacas with fine, dense and commercially valuable fleeces in all colours. 

In 2006 Kerry graduated from York University with a first-class honours degree in English and came back to her parents' home and their herd of 80 alpacas. Each year alpacas are sheared for their fleeces and as the TOFT herd grew, the mounds of alpaca fleece in the Bettinson's home grew too. After Kerry's attempt to sell the fibre was unsuccessful, she took it upon herself to learn about the industry and manufacture the first batches of TOFT Alpaca yarn here in the UK. 

 

Kerry Lord Crochet Designer TOFT

When TOFT began Kerry found a team of local knitters to make ready-to-wear accessories from her own designs in order to sell them at craft markets and agricultural fairs across the country. Alongside the selection of ready-to-wear knitwear, Kerry began to build a relationship with a supplier in Peru to develop a collection of alpaca knitwear designs and alpaca fur products. As the popularity of the Toft Alpaca Shop brand grew, customers began to enquire about knitting patterns to be able to make TOFT designs themselves with our yarn. To keep up with the growing demand, Kerry began purchasing alpaca fleeces from other farms in the UK and spinning into batches of yarn in order to supply our customers with enough yarn to knit their own creations. 

In 2011 after several year of the business working from her parents' home, Kerry and her family began plans to convert the barn that used to hold all the alpaca fleece into a modern purpose-built studio. Within twelve months TOFT Studio had opened to the public, complete with a dedicated workshop area, catering space, offices, and shopping area. This space is now open seven days a week and attracts visitors from all over the world, whether they are coming for a workshop, TOFT open day, or simply to top up their stash with some of our beautiful yarn.

After fleece sorting and grading every other day, we soon realised that the way we made yarn was no longer sustainable as there was not enough alpaca fleece to supply the demand. So, in 2013, we made the decision to move away from small irregular batches of alpaca and spin TOFT's first large-scale batches of 100% sheep's wool yarn. The colour spectrum was dictated by the natural shade of alpaca in which the business has its origins - from a warm cream, through to blended silvers, and deep chestnut - but with the huge advantage of being able to hold stock of all colours all year round, rather than being forced to wait until the next shearing season. With TOFT wool production in full-flow, the opportunity came to offer yarn and kits to other retailers across the UK and even internationally. As our customer base grew, we produced more and more pure wool yarn, and the brand transformed into TOFT as we know it today. 

 

TOFT British wool yarns

Alongside the development of TOFT yarns, came the creation of Kerry Lord's best-selling book Edward's Menagerie. During the last weeks of her pregnancy with her son Edward in 2012, Kerry taught herself to crochet and made a toy elephant for her new baby. This began the collection of amigurumi animals (of which there are now over 200!) which is now a phenomenon in the global craft industry. Edward's Menagerie began as an ebook that was exclusive to TOFT until 2014 when it was turned into a book and appeared on the shelves of bookshops all around the world. Since then Kerry has designed hundreds more crochet patterns and produced an additional four books: Edward's Menagerie: Birds (2015), Edward's Imaginarium (2016), Edward's Emporium (2017), and Edward's Menagerie: Dogs (2018). Although bursting with different patterns, each book contains projects which are suitable for complete beginners and is arranged into set 'levels' so that people can move through each book and grow their skills along the way. 

We now continue to produce luxury wool yarns in the classic TOFT colours, alongside limited edition hand-dyed yarns and an exclusive range of undyed alpaca yarns, all made here in the UK. From exciting new designs to dynamic workshops and delicious coffee, TOFT HQ continues to offer a haven for crafters from across the globe to experience the ultimate TOFT package. A selection of the best-selling TOFT kits are available all over the world, from John Lewis and independent shops in the UK to stores in Australia, the USA, and across Europe and Asia. Please check our stockists map to find your nearest TOFT stockist.

 

TOFT Edward's Menagerie

TOFT Products 

All of TOFT's products are carefully and thoughtfully designed and made with our crafting customers in mind. At the heart of our business is our yarn range. All of TOFT's yarn - whether alpaca or premium wool - is spun in the UK by the best mills in England. The wool itself is of the highest quality, both in terms of the raw fibre we use and the workmanship that goes into creating the yarns we know and love. Animal welfare is extremely important to TOFT as well, and we are pleased to say that all of our wool yarns are museling free, and all of the alpaca yarn we sell is from the fleeces of our very own herd residing at TOFT HQ. This core range of yarn is available in three different weights: DK, Aran, and Chunky. You can learn more about our yarns here

TOFT has become well-known for it's exciting (and ever-expanding!) range of postal subscriptions. Our longest-running and most popular crochet subscription box is the Ed's Animals Club, where recipients receive seven parcels a year containing the yarn and a pattern to make a previously unseen animal based on Kerry Lord's original standard form shaping. Established in 2014, there have now been over 35 additions to the menagerie who made their first appearance via the #edsanimals club. Ed's Birds Club, established in 2017, is our newest crochet subscription offering and features 4 installments of yarn and a crochet pattern to make a new mystery bird. This club has its origins in Kerry Lord's second book Edward's Menagerie: Birds and utilises a wide range of advanced techniques to create new feathery friends. We also have Ed's Dye Club - a crochet subscription posted out four times a year, containing a skein of TOFT yarn exclsuively hand-dyed by the team at TOFT HQ to match a brand new aquatic or amphibian animal that has inspired the new colourway. Ed's Pins Club takes inspiration from all three of these clubs to send subscribers brand new enamel pin badges based on Kerry Lord's sketches of animals and birds in the Menagerie collection. No making required in this one, but the enamel badges look best adorning a TOFT project bag. Finally, we offer a subscription to our knitting and crochet magazine TOFT Quarterly. Established in 2016, this popular publication features a range of patterns and designs which showcase TOFT yarns in inspiring and exciting ways. 

Alongside our luxury British wools we also stock a carefully curated range of products designed to enhance your making and crafting experience. Perhaps one of the most iconic TOFT products is our light-as-air alpaca fur pom poms, which are designed in Britain and imported from Preu. When working with Peru we have been careful to ensure that we always work with Fair Trade importers who employ a team of in-house makers and also work with independent businesses or small co-operatives who ensure fair rates of pay and suitable working conditions. Working conditions, wages, and workload expectations are continually monitored with all of our knitters to ensure that we are fairly trading with Peru, and this maintains our high quality production. We are determined not to support alpacas being killed for their fur, and thus all of our pom poms are made only from the pelts of animals that have unfortunately died from natural causes. Alpaca pelts are then purchased from indigenous farmers and used to create the fur products that we stock. We feel that alpaca fur, when sourced in this, is an ethical fur product as the alpacas are not harmed to any demand and the farmer receives a monetary return on the loss of income caused by the death of one of the herd. As a consequence the availability and consistency in stock across this range can vary, but you can rest assured that you are getting a unique product to top off your TOFT creation with. 

Similarly, the re-useable cotton tote bags that your order comes wrapped in are Fair Trade and come from carefully chosen workplaces in the UK and India (depending on the design). TOFT totes are all designed in-house and we regularly bring out new styles and designs to reflect the latest trends and product releases. Whilst many people use their tote bags to transport their current knitting or crochet project, they also make great storage bags both at home and on the move, and can even be used as gift packaging once you've finished making something for a special occasion. 

In 2016, we were delighted to be able to introduce our own brand of tools to the range for the first time. We love our TOFT-branded crochet hooks, not only because they are ergonomic and comfortable to work with, but because they are made in a Fair Trade factory in India that is committed to the empowerment of women and girls through employment and education programmes.

TOFT Quarterly knitting and crochet magazine

TOFT Design

Working with TOFT wool is always a pleasure. We aim to produce designs which are simple, stylish and fun to make and showcase the quality of the fibre and yarn. Alongside the characters Kerry Lord designs for the Edward's Menagerie collections, we also produce a range of fashion-led accessory and garment patterns throughout the year. Whilst Kerry Lord designs all of the Edward's Menagerie, Edward's Imaginarium, and Edward's Emporium characters, our knit and crochet accessory, garment, and lifestyle range is a collaborative design  process of creative input from across the whole TOFT team. Rather than us having one 'designer', TOFT patterns move between several sets of needles and many heads in their progress from idea and sketch into tangible wearable items. We hope that you enjoy your own process of creating these garments and accessories, as well as the softeness and warmth that TOFT yarn provides. Most TOFT patterns are available as a digital .pdf download alongside your purchase of yarn, and when you buy through our website these will automatically appear in your 'My TOFT' area. You can learn more about that here. 

In 2016 we launched TOFT Quarterly magazine for the first time. This regular publication is a collection of knit and crochet patterns designed to showcase TOFT yarns alongside editorial, TOFT news, and seasonal updates. Inside you'll find a variety of patterns, usually including hats, edsanimals, gloves, scarves, interior accessories, and a garment desiged to utilise different stitch textures and techniques. It includes knitting and crochet patterns from beginner through to advanced level, so there truly is something for everyone inside. You can buy TOFT Quarterly as a single issue, or you can subscribe and receive your copy as soon as each new one is released.

Craft workshop at TOFT Studio

TOFT HQ

TOFT HQ is where all the action happens - from product design and workshops through to social media and the dispatch of your parcels. We're located right in the centre of the UK in Warwickshire, very near to the borders of both Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, making it easy to get to from just about anywhere. We aim to be a destination for knitters and crocheters from across the country, whether it's to buy wool, seek some creative advice, or simply to enjoy a barista-made coffee and a delicious piece of cake. Our modern studio space also has a dedicated workshop area where you can come to learn and perfect your craft in the good company of others. Take a look at our upcoming workshops and events to find one that suits you. Whilst you're here don't forget to pick up one of our studio exclusive products, and feel free to take a walk around the farm to visit our herd of alpacas. We're open every day from 10am until 4pm. 

Whilst you are at TOFT please feel free to take a walk around the farm to see our herd of resident alpacas. Farm maps are available from the Studio and we have a 45 minute walking trail that can be followed, although please note that it is not wheelchair accessible as there is some uneven ground and steep slopes along the way. We have around 150 alpacas on site, which remain out in the fields all year grazing the grass so you're bound to spot a few in the fields as you walk around. There are two breeds of alpaca: the popular huacaya, and the less known suri. Huacayas make up 96% of the global population of alpacas, but here at TOFT you'll be able to see examples of both breeds in our fields. Our alpacas have their toenails clipped every three months and are sheared once a year, usually in early May before the hot weather arrives. During shearing, each alpaca will cut 1-3kg of fleece in total, but not all of this will be able to be spun into yarns you would knit with. The coarser parts of the fleece are often used to make duvets or other filliing material, leaving only the finest parts to be used for yarn. You can come to see the annual shearing of our alpacas at TOFT, just keep an eye on our events page for details.