It’s very easy to feel that you’re in the middle of nowhere in Switzerland. Even Geneva, which is the second most populated city in Switzerland, has a population of less than two hundred thousand. The five biggest cities represent 40 % of the total population, making it relatively easy to ‘escape to the countryside’ where there are some excellent hidden gems of craft shops.
Spycher Handwerk is probably Switzerland’s biggest home weaving and spinning supplier. Online shopping is still relatively undeveloped in Switzerland generally and this, combined with the perception of many handicrafts still being perceived as work rather than leisure activities, means that suppliers are not so easy to come by.
Spycher Handwerk is an interesting place though as it is not just a huge shop selling lots of lovely fluff and tools, but it’s a working farm. They both rear their own sheep and card their own wool, as well as organising ‘open days’ and educational courses both for crafters and those curious to see the process from shearing to yarn.
As you enter, take a look around at the various signs and explanations of the different areas of the farm. As this is a working farm, you might be lucky enough to arrive at feeding or shearing time. They have quite the collection too – there are alpacas, camels, pigs, pygmy goats, ducks and, of course, sheep. They have a nice collection of different fibres from different breeds and animals that you can have a feel of, including lots of different Swiss breeds.
Finding the main shop is a little tricky. You have to pass through a room filled with various pelts and one of the largest variety of sheepskins I’ve ever seen. There seems to be a fad of using sheepskin (or more usually artificial wool) for draping over furniture at the moment, which admittedly is an effective way of making a cosy and warm chair, but if you want a good choice of skins then this is the place. It’s an interesting way of seeing just how different fleece can be even with the same breed of sheep. You can see why people only like buying fleece from people they trust!
Once you’ve made it through the mausoleum of pelts, there’s an area with huge amounts of bedding, soaps and assorted household bric-a-brac. While I find it challenging to get excited about soap, I did think these little sheep-shaped pieces were adorable and if you’re into oils and incenses there are plenty for you peruse.
The advantage of Spycher Handwerk being on a farm is that the buildings are all huge and if you make it through the labyrinth of the first two rooms, you’ll be rewarded with a colossal hall of all things fibre. I loved the decorative wall of dyed merinos and corridales (I have to wonder if they have the same supplier as World of Wool) where you can just pull off what you need, weight it out and enjoy.
There are also carded batts that are prepared on site in a variety of natural colours and from different breeds depending on what properties you want. There are a lot of different dyed silks (and I had to leave with at least a sample of this gorgeous teal silk) and also sampling packs if you want a variety of colours or silk preparation types.
There’s plenty of non-sheep fibre for sale and the selection if so diverse that it would be folly to try and list all the things. In the past I have bought most of my fibre collections online (and I’m really grateful for World of Wool’s great sample packs) but it’s really nice to be there in person and really be able to just scrunch and fluff different pieces. Plus, especially for matching colours, it’s always infinitely easier to do this in person rather than online.
It’s a beautiful long hall and there’s a mezzanine part that is dedicated to wheels, looms and big equipment. Again, Spycher Handwerk are Ashford retailers, as well as Louet and a few other of the big names, so there’s a lot of choice. I picked up some paper bobbins – I would normally just make my own but the one nice thing about the cardboard bobbins is they’re covered in little bumps which helps grip the thread. While this is only really an issue when getting started, if you’re working with slippery materials like silk it’s a nice bonus. Plus, you can never have too many bobbins!
If you’re not into spinning and want pre-made yarns there’s a good 30 metres of shelving just for you. Lots of big name yarns in stock, as well as German brands in particular. There is a small selection of sock yarns dyed here, including this lovely blue example that I had to rescue. Maybe it’s the way it’s skeined but I feel very unsure of what to expect with how this one will knit up but we’ll see. I see socks on the horizon.
For the weavers, while there are plenty of good wood things, there isn’t a great selection of cotton/linen/silk/etc. weaving yarns. You’ll find plenty of wool to keep you going if that’s your thing but this isn’t Handweaver’s Studio. If you want something to dye there’s a good range of plain cottons in different plies and thicknesses but you won’t find too many fancy yarns or really unusual things if you want to go avant garde with your sampling. There are some good, sturdy staples in some (not very inspiring) solid colours but you won’t find a big enough range of doing anything too adventurous.
Just in case it takes you more than a day to get through the store, which is a definite risk given how cavernous the building is, there are some yurts on site for ‘glamping’ – which I believe is camping for people who hate all the inconveniences and discomforts of camping. Might be convenient if you want to take some of their spinning or felting courses or if you are incredibly indecisive about exactly which sheepskin that it is you want to take home. There’s some… interesting, bordering on creepy, felted objects lurking around the store, so careful you don’t get yourself cursed by one of those.
Most of their range is online but Spycher Handwerk is a behemoth of a store and the collection of furry/hairy/noisy friends outside is a good excuse to turn it into a fun, educational day of all the family, answering riveting questions such as – does anyone need merino in quite that many shades (yes) and why is mulberry silk quite so delightful and why can’t I own all of it (because life isn’t fair)? Definitely worth a visit, particularly for spinners and felters, you’re unlikely to find this much choice anywhere else but the internet.