Yarn Fit for a Hobbit

Who's seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? I have, I have! And it's a feast for the senses. The stunning New Zealand location, the serene beauty of the Shire juxtaposed with the harsh landscape on Bilbo's quest, the perfect costumes . . . it's all just wonderful.

Mary Hall and handspun. (Courtesy of Ashford's Wheel Magazine)
Lincoln wool ready to be spun into yarn for Hobbit costumes. (Courtesy of Ashford's Wheel Magazine)
Lincoln "wildspun" yarn on the bobbin. (Courtesy of Ashford's Wheel Magazine)

New Zealand is known for its fantastic wool production, and the movie producers tapped into that wealth for the costumes. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at some of the wool sourced for the movie:

Costuming The Hobbit

Two and a half years ago, Mary Hall of Hallblacks Natural Wool Products in Nelson, New Zealand, received a call about her wool. To her surprise, the caller was the buyer for the firm making costumes for Peter Jackson's upcoming Hobbit movies. The first movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was released this December.

The film company needed large quantities of yarn for costumes. Mary and her husband, Selwyn, supplied samples of Romney and Lincoln, both fleeces and sliver, along with various commercial and handspun yarns. The film company then sent a photograph of a sweater and asked if the Halls could re-create the yarn. They wanted a thick/thin yarn with straggly tips. A "wildspun" in Lincoln singles plied with plain twelve-ply yarn resulted.

Then came the orders: 9 pounds of yarn per costume (one pair of sleeves required 3 pounds). Because of the quantities required, most yarn was made on the Ashford Country Spinner, which could produce 2½ pounds of Lincoln "wildspun" yarn per bobbin. The Halls spun 95 percent of the handspun themselves—well over 200 pounds. Gwyneth Thomson, Nicole Thomas, and Tracey Taylor also helped with the spinning, and Judith Ryan stepped in to dye yarn.

Throughout the process, the Halls worked with numerous Hobbit departments: wardrobe, soft furnishings, set decoration, art, and even special effects, who bought a huge vat from them to make snow and ice. According to the Halls, all were a joy to work with.

—From Ashford's The Wheel magazine, as reprinted in Spin-Off magazine

Ori the Dwarf wears a beautiful knitted vest. (Photo copyright New Line Cinema / MGM / Warner Bros.)

This story reminds me of the handknit sweaters the Harry Potter costume designers ordered from various UK designers and knitters. It brings a new meaning to "buy local"!

When I did a little research on the knitted pieces that appeared in the movie, I came upon an interview with the costume designer, Ann Maskrey. She said that she felt lucky to be working in New Zealand because of its strong craft base. Apparently, one woman, named Beverly, made almost all of the knitted pieces in the movie—extraordinary!

Spin-Off magazine is a great source of information like this, as well as beautiful knitting patterns, knitting techniques, and inspiration for knitters and spinners. Subscribe now, especially if you're a spinner. You won't find a more valuable magazine.


P.S. Have you seen The Hobbit? Leave a comment below and tell us what you thought of the costumes!

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