Thursday, 1 December 2016

Christmas and New Year

I can’t believe it is this time again!! May I wish you all the very best of seasons greetings and a very happy 2017.
Just to confirm the posting arrangements then..........
Orders will be posted up to and including 21st December. This is also the last recommended Royal Mail posting date for delivery before Christmas if you are in the UK.
If you are ordering from overseas please check the Royal Mail website for you countries last recommended dates for International Standard postage.
Orders placed after the post office run on the 21st December will be posted from Wednesday 28th December (apart from New Years Day etc).
As always during the festive and New Year period please allow extra time for delivery and also for your order to be dispatched. I am away for Christmas and New Year but a very good friend of mine will be looking after BritYarn while I am away.
Have a wonderful December.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Shetland Wool Week 2016

I have been home for just over a week and think I am now ready to try and sum up in words my amazing week on Shetland.  

The preparations had been ongoing for nearly a year so it seemed hard to believe that the time had come to catch the train up to Aberdeen a few Fridays ago.  By the time I boarded the ferry giddy dancing had set in much to the amusement of my two fellow Shetland Wool Week friends (hello ladies)! 

The overnight ferry turned into a serious knitting party.  This is what happens when you get a 'purl' of knitters who happen to also share a love of gin in a bar.  It was a brilliant start to the week - finally meeting those that I only knew through Instagram and making new friends along the way (including the makings of a new knitter).  Needless to say the chatter and laughter went on into the small hours.  

A visit to a blustery Sumburgh Head on the Saturday morning followed by coffee and cake in the stunning cafe blew the cobwebs away from the previous night.  

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse.
Sunday I decided to head south from our base in Lerwick to St Ninian's Isle.  The isle is reached by a sand tombolo which in itself is pretty amazing.  
St Ninian's Isle and the tombolo.
Never before have I had to decide which sea side of the beach to walk on.  I must admit to having no real plans but instead just decided to wonder around and see what I came across.  Luckily I eventually found the remains of the ancient chapel towards the end of my walk.

I spent the next few days mainly in Lerwick where I purchased an amazing cape from Jamiesons of Shetland and added my knitted square to the 'From Shetland with Love' blanket.  I also had a very soggy walk with a friend I had recently met (who also loved walking in the wind and rain) around the Knab of Lerwick.  The idea had been to walk to Clickimin Broch but we decided to cut the walk short after finding a gem of a cafe / bar which served a mean mojito.  I really wish I had been wearing my waterproof trousers that walk.... I was soaked to the skin! 

During the week I saw some truly stunning knitwear.  One memorable trip was to Ollaberry Community Hall in Northmavine.  The local community had put on an exhibition of haps along with homebakes and tea to raise funds for their local community.  The ladies were just so lovely, passionate and generous and I will never, ever forget them or their haps on display.  

Haps at Ollaberry.

Bressay Lighthouse.
Another trip during the week was to take the short ferry from Lerwick to Bressay.  I loved walking down to the lighthouse, taking in the scenery and weather (changeable) and exploring some of the derelict croft houses.  At the lighthouse (along with a very welcoming cup of tea) was a lovely collection of garments including spencers and long johns.  They also had an antique loom which I was very kindly allowed to have a go on.  

The loom in the engine room.

My friend and I spent quite a bit of time just chatting and drinking tea with some of the ladies who were helping out.  It was only later I realised that I had been sitting next to someone I follow on Instagram! Luckily we saw each other again at the Makers Market and caught up again.  My day on Bressay was definitely another highlight of the week.

I also just want to say a big hello to the fab ladies whom I drank gin with on the ferry and who then invited us all over for a curry on the Thursday evening.  Despite burning the candle at both ends all week I had a super night!  Same time next year??

Friday was here before I knew it and with it a great trip to Uradale Farm.  Here I made my first yarny purchase of the week!  Ronnie and Sue made the group feel really welcome as they chatted about their organic farm and fed us amazing soup and cake.  

Ronnie and his Shetland Rams.

As you can tell I had the best of weeks!  I was feeling pretty gutted as the ferry departed Lerwick.   Our love of wool and knitting brings people together from all walks of life and forms friendships which will last forever.  x  

See you next year!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Blacker Cornish Tin 11th Birthday Blend

Many of you will remember this time last year we were all getting very excited about Blacker Yarns 10th Birthday and their very special limited edition 10th Birthday Blend.  It sold out so quickly, it wasn't long before both the shelves at BritYarn and Blacker were looking quite bare. 

Cornish Tin II in all its glory.
The wonderful people at Blacker have decided, as so many of you missed out last year, to create another unique limited edition blend to celebrate their 11th birthday - Cornish Tin II. 

BritYarn is delighted to be stocking this amazing yarn in both 4 ply and DK.  The yarn comes in 100g skeins (350m for 4 ply and 220m for DK).  This time there are seven rich dyed shades and one undyed natural grey all named after Cornish Tin Mines.  

The 11th Birthday Blend has been created by blending together Alpaca, Portland, Saxon Merino, Gotland, Jacob, Shetland, Black Welsh Mountain, Mohair, and English Merino.  All the sheep live in the UK and come from Blacker Yarns favourite small producers. 

I was very lucky to be sent a little sample to have a play with before the big boxes started arriving at BritYarn.   

To the squish the yarn feels very bouncy and has a silkiness to it but not a squishy soft silkiness (if that makes sense!).   As different fibres (and their natural shades) react differently to dye the seven dyed shades have lovely subtle variations and you can still see some of the amazing darker fibres.  The undyed Levant Grey is a stunning silver shade with lovely hints of lighter and darker fibres.

My little skein of Poldice Pink.
I wanted my swatch to test out as many things as I could. I picked out the Cascading Leaves pattern from 750 Knitting Stitches.  I decided to alter the background stitch for the bottom and top sections to stocking stitch rather than reverse stocking stitch.  Sadly I ran out of yarn so that last few rows and cast off was actually done in my leftover sample mini skein of Cornish Tin 10th Birthday Blend.

The yarn was a real pleasure to work with.  It flowed through my fingers really smoothly (the 10th Blend had more of a rustic and sticky feel to it).  While knitting the yarn felt substantial and strong and I am sure it would love being ripped out! 

The stitches in my unblocked swatch look wonderfully defined and sit nicely together making the yarn brilliant for colourwork projects. My unblocked swatch was noticeable softer then my precious blocked 10th Birthday Blend swatch. There was a slight halo to the swatch and it had a lovely drape.  I should add my yarn was DK and I used 4mm needles.
As we all know giving our projects a nice bath and a block does magical things.......
My blocked swatch

Now I loved the 10th Birthday Tin but I have to be very honest and say I love this even more!  The yarn has bloomed and my swatch just feels devine.  It has a substance to it that is really pleasing but a lovely softness to it (I don't mean buttery BFL soft but I can't think of the right word).  
Cornish Tin II would be amazing for pretty much everything.  It would be great for open work, colourwork and cables.  It would equally be just wonderful in relaxing garter or stocking stitch projects.  Accessories would be amazing such as hats, shawls, gloves.  It would also make a very special garment.  I am thinking jumpers and cardigans by Tin Can Knits especially.  The only thing I personally would not use it for is socks..... why you ask?  Because this yarn just needs to be shown off to the world and not hidden in shoes and boots! 

Cornish Tin II 11th Birthday Blend goes on sale Tuesday 20th September 2016.  Remember this yarn is limited edition and will only be made this once.

If you are thinking about using Cornish Tin II with perhaps Tamar or Classic 4 ply I highly recommend you check out the amazing blog by Erika Eccles.  


Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Great British Socks Away KAL is returning

That's right everyone The Great British Socks Away KAL is coming back next Friday 23rd September.  Everyone who took part last year had a great time.  It has brilliant to hear how the KAL has inspired so many of you in your sock knitting adventures. 

Like last year it will take place over in the BritYarn Ravelry Group.  If anyone wants to share their photos on Twitter and Instagram you can use the hashtag #GBSocksAwayKAL16.  

The chatter has already started in the group with plans being made and stash being rummaged through.  The rules are straightforward:

  • We will all cast on our socks of choice on Friday 23rd September 2016.
  • The yarn must be grown in Britain OR be grown local to you if you do not live in Great Britain. Of course you are still welcome to use British grown yarn if you wish. The yarn can be from your stash, a BritYarn purchase or bought from elsewhere.
  • Blends (taken from BritYarn’s Woolly Principles) using other natural fibres can be used e.g. linen as long as they comprise a maximum of 50% of the total content. Synthetic material in a blend, e.g. nylon should only account for 25% of the total content.
  • Any sock pattern can be used.
  • To be eligible for a prizes you need to post a photo of your finished pair of socks in the FO thread in the BritYarn Ravelry group by midnight Monday 31st October 2016.
  • You are more than welcome to double dip as long as the above rules apply. 
If you are new to sock knitting and fancy taking part please don't be shy..... there are all skill levels taking part and everyone is really friendly.

Hope to see you over in the BritYarn group! 

Looking for inspiration.......

Lazy Sunday Knitted Socks by Jane Burns

Sock Anatomy by Clare Devine

Blacker Classic 4 Ply

West Yorkshire Spinners Cocktail Range 

Britsock - The Knitting Goddess

Monday, 4 July 2016

Monday 11th July and Tuesday 12th July 2016

Hello everyone.  

Just a little note to say no orders will be posted on Monday 11th July and Tuesday 12th July.  Any orders which are placed after the Friday 8th July post office run will not be posted until Wednesday 13th July.  

I will however try and post as many orders as I can over the weekend but I can't promise anything as I am also taking part in two art installations!

Have a good week everyone

p.s. we still have a few yarns reduced at the moment...... I will pop a little link here.  

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

A little meet up at Leeds Wool Festival 2016

It is Leeds Wool Festival this Saturday and Joeli Creates and myself are holding a little meet up at 1pm.  

I went last year and had a brilliant day.  You can read all about my day last here.

We will meet up outside on the grass area which is to the right of the main entrance (same place we sat last year).  If you follow the main building to the very end you come to a lovely sheltered garden area.  I will post a photo on Instagram and Twitter just before 1pm so you know roughly where we are.  If the weather is not kind to us I will pop a post on Instagram / Twitter to let you know of the alternative arrangements.  

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

A chat with Jane Burns - Lazy Sunday Socks

Hello Jane 

Many thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for BritYarn.  If you are sitting comfortably with a beverage to hand lets begin!

Could introduce yourself to BritYarn’s readers?  

I am Jane and I design knitting and occasionally crochet patterns whose magic lies in the simplicity.  Knitting time is precious and I help knitters make projects that have an easily achievable wow factor.  Until recently I worked full time designing for the UK knitting magazines, and now I have now started my self-publishing journey. 

What started your journey into designing knitting and crochet patterns?

Like many designers I had a ‘chance’ entry into the industry.  In 2009 I owned an online knitting shop  (specialising in sock yarns) and Let’s Knit Magazine approached me and asked if I designed sock knitting patterns.  I had designed a couple of patterns as yarn support for the yarn I stocked, so I jumped at the opportunity. 

What are your favourite woolly / fibre crafts?

I am a knitter, I would probably still be knitting night and day even if it were not my job.  A few years ago I taught myself to crochet as an alternative way to relax. Knitting had become my full time job, I thought crochet would help me unwind. But shortly after I was asked to design some crochet pieces…. 

You have just launched your new book ‘Lazy Sunday Knitted Socks’.  Could you tell us a little bit about it?

I wanted to design a collection of socks that were indulgent. Knitting time is precious and we rarely spend that time knitting projects to pamper ourselves. This is a collection of beautiful beaded socks to knit. The book teaches you how to apply beads using a crochet hook, which is by far my favourite method of applying beads to knitting.  . There is a range of patterns; whilst some of the designs look incredibly complex, if you can knit socks and follow a chart they really are quite simple.  For example, ‘No Room For Ravers’ may look a little daunting but in reality the chart has only an eight row repeat, coupled with some simple cables and eyelets you have some stunning socks, that are achievable for most sock knitters.  And if you are not a fan of reading charts, the book includes full written instructions for ‘No Room For Ravers’. 

Many people (including myself) may never have used beads in socks before…. can you share any hints or tips?

Find yourself a good video tutorial, there is one on my blog  seeing this technique demonstrated will leave you addicted to beading. Most people watch the technique and say, ‘that is so simple’.

All hooks and beads are not made equal, I highly recommend purchasing a Clover Soft Touch Steel tipped crochet hook, I have tried a lot of hooks and in my opinion these are the best.  Good quality beads such as Debbie Abrahams beads or Matsuno seed beads are also highly recommended. 

Is there one thing you couldn't live without when designing a pattern and why?

Stitchmastery!  Stitchmastery allows me to manipulate stitch patterns easily, it has saved me many hours of drawing charts on paper and rubbing them out! It also has a fantastic chart ‘checking’ facility that is a life saver.

It’s tea break time…. what is your favourite biscuit?

Oh Isla, I am a biscuit-o-holic, it is easier to tell you which biscuits I do not like…. Ginger Nuts! Ginger Nuts are pure evil, I think this may be a deep rooted psychological issue. I was the only red head in my primary school and it was harsh! I needed Catherine Tate and Tim Minchin when I was growing up, if I had heard the Tim Minchin song, ‘Only A Ginger can call another Ginger, Ginger’ life would have been so different.  

Are there any future plans / projects you can share with BritYarn?

Yes, throughout the year there will be more sock patterns, not all of them beaded. But even more exciting I am working on my second book.  I am sitting here resisting the urge to tell you all about it, but I must be strong…..

You can purchase Jane's book here.

Images used with kind permission from Jane Burns.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

British Wool Marketing Board - Part 3

Part 3 covers the tour of the Wool Grading Department at Bradford.  The same process happens across the BWMB eleven depots.

The sheets enter the depot, either from a sub depot or direct from a producer dropping off their packed sheets.  All the sheets are weighed as they enter the depot and are marked with the producers information.

Drop off area and Grading
The sheets are moved into position ready for the fleeces to be hand graded and sorted.  The fleeces are graded according to their type.  The grader takes around 5 - 6 seconds per fleece to access this is looking at among other things staple length, colour, breed and cleanliness.  That fleece is then placed in the appropriate blue tup (skep) depending on decision the grader makes.  The breed of the sheep is not always the main consideration when a grader sorts through the fleeces although breeds like Bluefaced Leicester are always sorted and kept together.

It is after this point that the fleeces are no longer farm specific (the weights and grades for each producer are recorded so that accurate payments can be made) but instead classified by their grade.  Every grade has a grade number which classifies it into one of the six categories (fine, medium, cross, lustre, hill and mountain) which are then broken down even further (hogs, ewes, breed, colour etc).  

Full Skeps (you can see the grade numbers above)

Once eight skeps of the same grade have been gathered they are then baled into large green bales using the machine below.  The machine compresses the fleeces and wraps them in plastic. 
Green bales
The green baler machine

The green bales are then placed in the warehouse area.  Once there are roughly 24 bales (around 8000kg) this can then go to auction as one lot.  Before the sale a core sample from each bale is taken which is scientifically analysed to provide additional information for potential buyers.  

Other things to note relating to grading and auctioning the wool

  • A producer has the option to drop off their sheets at a depot or one of the 14 sub depots.  If they choose not to do this then they are changed a fee depending on where the fleeces are collected from.
  • Here is a link to the different grades of fleece (scroll to the bottom of the page).
  • There are eighteen auctions a year.  They are all held at Bradford.
If you have any questions let me know! The next few blog posts will all be focused on answering the questions we had over in the BritYarn Ravelry group.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

British Wool Marketing Board - Part 2

In Part 1 I talked about a very informative presentation by Gareth Jones BWMB Producer Communications Manager.  In this second post about my visit to the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) I thought I would share some of the things I learnt during his talk.

I mentioned a few stats last time but another interesting and thought provoking one was in 2014 only 1.3% of the fibre produced globally was made from wool.  62.9% was synthetic, 29.1% was cotton with cellulosic, silk, flax and other animal fibres making up the other areas.  

When the board was established in 1950 there was 130,000 sheep farmers (producers) registered with the board.  The board was created to encourage farmers to keep sheep for wool after World War Two.  There was a price guarantee set by the government which dictated the price the farmers would receive for their fleeces.  

Currently there are approximately 45,000 sheep farmers registered with the board.  The demand for cheaper man made fibres certainly is a massive contributing factor to the decline in numbers of sheep farmers and the demand for wool globally has dropped in the last 15 years.  However, some of this decline in producers can be attributed to them not being registered with the board and instead using their fleeces for their own business ventures.   

An area which surprised me was just how much the BWMB try and help registered producers regardless of size of flock (58% producers produce less than 500kg fleece) or their location in the country.  

One thing we all need to remember is that sheep must be sheared for welfare reasons, and so those costs are part and parcel of keeping sheep.   The board provide an end to end service from providing the sheets (see part 1), collection of the fleeces from a farm (or a farmer can drop them off at a local depot), grading and auction.  

In theory 'all' the farmer has do once a sheep has been clipped is to ensure their fleeces are packed into the sheets ready for collection.  These sheets are huge and must be packed according to BWMB instructions.   Having seen them being manually moved on a recent BBC programme 'This Farming Life' and read how unpopular they are on social media I can understand why producers might not be happy.  Not just with the physicality of using them them but also in the time taken after a sheep has been sheared to correctly pack the fleece into the sheet.  However, I can now appreciate and better understand why the BWMB insist on them having seen the process in action (more in Part 3). 

The BWMB aims to achieve the best possible market price for British wool for the producers (don't forget the board is made up of farmers) and to make buying British wool as attractive prospect as possible to merchants.  It does this by assisting merchants with things like haulage services and storage.  

Also each and every green bale in an auction lot is scientifically tested to provide additional information to a buyer such yield, vegetable matter, micron count and colour.  This not only ensures quality control but also provides much needed information so a buyer can make an informed choice on auction day.   The services the BWMB provide make then unique.
A lorry being loaded with sold lots

Like I mentioned in part 1 British wool is such a tiny percentage of the global market. The BWMB are trying to go one step further and get British wool noticed on a global market by working together with producers.  For that they certainly get my respect and thanks.

Part three will all be about the grading side.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Visit to the British Wool Marketing Board - Part 1

An introduction to the day.
A few weeks ago I was invited to go on a Wool Processing Tour at the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) depot and Head Office at Bradford.  It was an opportunity I jumped at due to having mixed feelings about the board.  There were many things I wanted to get a better understanding of and answers to.  Over in our BritYarn Ravelry group we also had lots a great discussion in the run up to me going.  Many of your questions and thoughts reflected mine.  

Before I went I grouped these thoughts and questions together into themes.  I will take each one in turn in separate blogs posts over the next few weeks.  A big thank you to each and everyone of you for your input.  

This post is a summary of the day at the BWMB.   I am not sure how many parts there will be as there was a lot to take in and I want to be able to share with you as much as possible.

The day was roughly split into two. The first part around the BWMB and the work that they do.  The second, after lunch, was a visit to Haworth Scouring (owned by Curtis Wool Direct).

On the tour were people from lots of different backgrounds.  There were yarny people like myself, a journalist from BBC Radio York, two farmers and the carpet industry was also represented.  I thought this was really good as it gave different points of view and knowledge. 

After introductions around the table, Gareth Jones BWMB Producer Communications Manager gave a presentation on the work of the board including its history, lots of statistical information about the global wool market and the work the BWMB undertakes today.  Again a lot of information was talked about here which warrants a blog post of its own.  

Some thought provoking stats like British wool (by this they mean greasy wool straight from the sheep) only accounts for 2% of wool produced on the global market and globally 2.1 million tons of greasy wool is produced per annum got me thinking. Globally British wool is a very small player in the wool industry and while our sheep breeds are very special, merchants could easily survive without us.  For me, this makes it even more vital that we all do everything we can to buy British and support the British wool industry.

Gareth also explained that the BWMB is a farmers cooperative and receives no financial support from the government.  It is fully funded by the producers (the farmers whose fleece they process and sell).  The BWMB takes 1p ker kilo off the farmer to provide an end to end service (collection to selling at auction).

At the end of Gareth's presentation he explained how merchants buy wool at auction.  We then went into a live auction which was like no auction I have ever seen,  the auctions are all digital.  All bids are placed by just click of the mouse button.  It is all really, really fast!  While we were not allowed to take any photos inside the auction room for privacy reasons this little video clip shows the screen the merchants see at their desks in the auction room.  

Grading and sorting

After this we were taken to where the fleeces are graded, sorted, packed and stored.   Again this warrants a more in-depth blog post on this.

The set up at Bradford is mirrored across the 11 national depots although the Bradford depot is the largest.   Every single fleece in the country that comes into a depot is hand graded.  This was something I didn't appreciate before my visit.  The grading and sorting is undertaken by a skilled Wool Grader who has undertaken a 5 year apprenticeship.  It takes a grader around 5 - 6 seconds to grade each fleece.  

We were shown where the fleeces enter the BWMB from either sub depots or farmer drop offs.  The fleeces are packed in sheets (big white bags similar to what you might use to store things under your bed but a lot bigger).  A sheet is emptied out to a table, graded and then sorted into the blue containers (skeps) you can see in the photo.  It is after this point that they are no longer farm specific but grade (and sometimes breed specific).  Once sufficient skeps of the same grade (8) have been gathered they are then compressed into green bales.  Everything here is uniformed by size to maximise storage in the warehouses.  The green bales are auctioned in roughly 8000 - 9000kg lots! Like I said getting your head around the sheer volumes was really hard.

The BWMB part of the day was rounded off by a talk from Tim Booth BWMB Marketing Manager.  It is at this point I had to keep reminding myself that the carpet industry dominate the British Wool industry (55% of British wool goes into the making of carpets).  So a lot of the marketing around British wool is influenced by this.   

I hope that this first post has helped share some of what I saw and learnt during my tour.  Look out for more posts about my day over the coming weeks.


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Save the Date 30th April - A BritYarn Trunk Show

The fantastic Countess Ablaze is opening her Manchester dye studio doors for Yarn Shop Day and has invited BritYarn to join her in the studio with a Trunk Show.

I will bring along a big selection of yarny goodness including the new Blacker Yarns Tamar and WYS Signature 4ply.  There will be hand dyed yarns from The Knitting Goddess as well a range of undyed yarns breed specific yarns for you to squish, plus pattern books, stitch markers and Ethel canvas bags.  

The Countess will be dyeing up lots of her British breed yarns (The Countess always advises where her yarns have been grown and spun).  It will be an amazing British wool extravaganza! 

BritYarn and The Countess
There will be tea, coffee and cake throughout the day and lots of chatter about all things yarn related. The doors will open from 10am until 5pm.  

The studio is really easy to get to from Manchester.  The address is 101 Chorley Road, Swinton, Manchester, M27 4AA. For further information on how to get there take a look at the Visiting the Countess Ablaze Dye Studio.

I really do hope you can make it on the 30th April.  I have started a thread in the BritYarn Ravelry group and the Countess has created an event in Ravelry.
Images used with kind permission from Countess Ablaze.

Monday, 14 March 2016

A new hand dyed yarn from The Knitting Goddess

Long time readers will know I am a big fan of The Knitting Goddess (run by Joy and Bobbie from their studio in Harrogate).   Not only do they dye amazing colours but they all also passionate about British wool.  So imagine my excitement when an email popped into my inbox about their new yarn launching at Edinburgh Yarn Festival!  Then quadruple that excitement as they wanted BritYarn to help launch it!  

The yarn will make its debut on Friday 18th March at The Knitting Goddess stall at Edinburgh AND in BritYarn's shop

Now let me tell you about this amazing yarn.  It is 4ply and a blend of 85% Wensleydale and 15% Shetland (both British grown of course).  Each 100g skein is approximately 400m long and will cost £18.50.  The yarn has been spun (in Cornwall) to a high twist making it a great option for socks without nylon.  

I had a massive amount of fun swatching with this new yarn, it has lots of character and I just wanted to keep on knitting.  The high twist not only gives the yarn additional strength but also allows the stitches to stand out beautifully against the slight halo of the Wensleydale. 

It is not the softest of yarns to squish (it has a good sturdiness to it which I love).  I happily wore my blocked swatch next to my skin.  I had to smile when Joy told me she gets Bobbie to 'itch test' new yarns.  I do the same with Mr BritYarn!  Mr BritYarn is pretty sensitive to things which might itch / tickle.  I am pleased to report he wore the swatch for several hours and I had to remind if I could have it back..... a big thumbs up.  

The Knitting Goddess Wensleydale Shetland yarn is perfect for so many different projects.... not just socks and shawls but I am also thinking lightweight but warm garments ready for Spring! 

My blocked swatch

My unblocked swatch

Orders will be posted as usual while I am away at Edinburgh, thanks to Mr BritYarn.  So if you order early enough on Friday you could be casting on with this new yarn on Saturday! 

Images of the yarn used with kind permission from The Knitting Goddess.

Monday, 7 March 2016

A chat with Sue Blacker from Blacker Yarns

Could you introduce yourself to BritYarn’s readers?  (Who you are, what you do, little bit about your background)
I’m Sue Blacker, Managing Director of The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns.  The two businesses are partners so that we both spin for many crafters, farmers, smallholders and commercial customers as well as designing and making knitting and crochet yarns for the Blacker Yarns brand.
I was born and grew up in Cornwall, UK, and then after university worked for many years in London, mainly in the City as an investment analyst.  Eventually the call of Cornwall grew too strong and I came home and worked on community and economic development projects for partnerships and charities.  While doing this we also got some sheep to keep the grass down around our holiday cottages and so I got into wool production.
I sent the wool for processing to Myra at The Natural Fibre Company, then in Wales, and eventually when she wanted to retire, I managed to buy the company and relocate it to Cornwall, where we have been busy ever since …

How and when did Blacker Yarns come about?
In Wales, Myra had a business called Naturals, which made yarns and textiles from her own and bought-in wool.  So there was a pattern for doing this.
After we had fully established our spinning operation for The Natural Fibre Company, we looked again at the idea of making yarns for sale, carefully distinguished from those of NFC customers, who sell single farm yarns.  For the quantities we knew we need to buy from several farms and we also recognised that we could support the British breeds this way, and regional wool, without cutting across the single farm producers.  Also some of our best producers were either growing more wool than they themselves needed, did not want to set up a yarn or craft business, while some continued with the animals but retired from their yarn sales business, so there was a ready supply of really high quality wool.
So we set up Blacker Yarns, initially focusing on individual breed yarns, which is still our key emphasis.  We specialise in ensuring that the yarn is the “right” one for the style of fibre, as working with single breeds means we need to be very specific to maintain the quality and best performance of the fibre through into the corresponding yarn.
As we have grown we have developed a series of blended ranges, Classic, Swan, Lyonesse, Tweed, our Birthday Tin and the new Tamar, as well as maintaining a selection of limited edition rare and regional breed yarns, and also patterns to support the style of each yarn and blend.

What does your ‘typical’ day look like?
There’s really no such thing!  When I’m at home, the day always includes one or more visits to my Gotland flock of sheep, depending on the time of year.  Then some days we are away at shows or visiting customers, some days I work from home when writing or designing or planning and the other 25 days a week are spent at our mill!
Here the work can be anything from answering the phone, responding to enquiries, loads of email (of course), proof reading copy of our newsletters, planning new yarns and products, training and supporting staff, working with our Production Manager on scheduling, buying in fleeces, paying the bills, making the coffee … we are a small team of only 15 so we all do multi-tasking!

What are your favourite woolly / fibre crafts?
I do like knitting best – less keen on crochet, though it’s very useful structurally and very portable!  I also love sewing, embroidery and tapestry. I’m less keen on making felt though I love working with it.  I also enjoy, but am very bad at, hand spinning!

If you were only allowed to knit with one British grown base what would it be and why? (a blend or 100% pure)  
If I were limited like this I might have to give up knitting all together!  Part of the joy is the enormous variety of styles of yarn which are possible with British breeds.  Generally I think a woollen spun  Gotland is pretty useful though, for most things … which is why I also love our Classic and Tweed … and then …

The stunning Tamar has recently launched….. could you tell us a bit more about the base and how you decided what breeds of sheep to use?
We felt that there was a gap in our range, and the market, for a lustre yarn which was not too “shiny” or mohair-like but which would take dye as stunningly as Gotland and Mohair.  We wanted a leaner yarn with drape, to complement our bulkier and lofty yarns, while of course seeking the softness we know people love.

We also knew that any serious volume of yarn would require quite a lot of lustre fibre, and generally the lustre long-wool sheep are amongst the smallest of flocks and breed populations so we decided to create a blend of several lustre breeds.  

This meant that we could help promote rare breeds and encourage their survival and possibly even growth in numbers, while not having to rely on a tiny supply from just one breed.  Teeswater and Wensleydale in particular are relatively few, while there are more Cotswold but even so they are not numerous.  Adding the Leicester Longwool also gave us the opportunity to include naturally coloured fibre, which is one of our major trademark attributes, giving our yarns a softness and depth of colour whether natural or dyed, which is very attractive and natural in appearance.

So in the end it was a bit of a mixture, based on what was available and at the right quality.  We then needed something with a bit of bulk to reduce the slight tendency to hairiness from a pure long-wool yarn and also hold the yarn together better and give it some body, so we added Cornish-sourced Mule wool, which is around half Blue-faced Leicester and half local sheep, blended at the breeding stage, rather than in the wool! 

Tamar comes in fifteen dyed shades and two natural shades…… what was your inspiration behind them?
Seeking a locally inspired name for a flowing, draping yarn, it seemed our local Tamar river, which is a lovely word anyway, was the right choice for the range name.  The Tamar is also the largest local river, so when deriving the colours, it seemed fairly obvious to go for complementary rivers or even tributaries of the Tamar!  And some of them also have great local names …

Then it was a question of seeking the names to fit the colour palette.  We wanted to make the shades all able to mix and match either complementing or contrasting with each other, as with our other ranges.  We started with the idea of having two bases, one slightly darker and one more silvery, and then aimed for a dip-dye range of greys, purples, pinks, greens and blues, plus a stand-out gold.  This was based on our experience of what our customers like in our other ranges, the current popular colour trends and of course a few local likes and dislikes amongst the team!

We shall aim to refresh the range in the future, so will be keen to hear suggestions?

It’s tea break time…. What is your favourite biscuit?
I’m slightly lucky in that I don’t like many biscuits, or my waistline would be even more disastrous.  I have a weakness for oat and raisin cookies and for the Bahlsen or Co-op chocolate-covered biscuits, which disappear all too quickly when I’m around!

Are there any future Blacker Yarns plans / projects you can share with BritYarn’s readers?
At present we have just updated our Classic colour palette and have plans for refreshing the Swan shade palette, adding some more colours to Lyonesse and possibly Tweed, updating our worsted spun Jacob yarn and adding a few shades to our main Shetland. Gotland and Blue-faced Leicester breed yarns.  We have several new rare breed limited edition yarns in the pipe-line too.

In addition …. Well, we did enjoy our 10th birthday so we think it will be good to have an 11th birthday this year, and then there might be another new range to come early next year.  Plus we have some very interesting plans to work with more partners, along the lines we started with Blacker Swan: so watch this space!!

Many thanks Sue for taking the time out of your busy day to answer out questions.

All images featured in this blog post are used with kind permission from Blacker Yarns.