Besotted with Blacker Brushwork: An Interview, Review and a GIVEAWAY!

Those of you who have followed me for a while will know that I am a big fan of Blacker Yarns.

I was first attracted to them because they use British wool and make their yarn in Cornwall, UK, but it is the quality and character of their yarns that have made me a true fan.

Since then, I've used their yarn in a few of my designs and have a new one that will be released at the end of this year. When Sonja, their Brand & Marketing manager, approached me to review their soon-to-be-launched birthday yarn, Brushwork, I was thrilled.

You will be getting quite the Brushwork bumper edition today: first up, I will be sharing an interview I had with the lovely Sonja about what went on behind-the-scenes in the production of this beautiful yarn. Then, I will be sharing my own review of Brushwork and finally, I will be giving you guys the chance to try it out for yourself by giving away two lovely skeins in the shade, Craquelure!

Let's do this!

An Interview With Sonja of Blacker Yarns

Could you tell us more about yourself?

Of course! I’m the Brand and Marketing Manager of Blacker Yarns. I went to uni in London but have been living down in the Westcountry for just over three years. I live in a community with eighteen other lovely people, one dog, three cats, four chickens, two axolotls and lots of lovely home-grown veggies. 

I love having fun with my clothes but I am also a strong believer in the slow fashion movement and in treading gently upon the planet. I started knitting about five years ago and have barely put my needles down since! There are few things as satisfying as creating something beautiful by hand with materials you know you can trust. 

I think many of us can relate to that feeling! And for those who aren’t familiar with Blacker Yarns, how would you describe the company?

We’re the in-house yarn brand of The Natural Fibre Company mill, based in Cornwall. The mill does both woollen and worsted spinning and has its own scouring (washing) plant. This gives us an incredible amount of flexibility at Blacker.

We’ve chosen to use this flexibility to promote breed specific British wool in all its forms. We produce a range of specialist wool blends with a rich backstory and strong eco credentials.

I like to think we have a blend to suit any knitting project from our Mohair Blends 4-ply which is perfect for no-nylon socks to our Tamar which is a wonderful blend of rare longwool breeds like Teeswater, Wensleydale and Cotswold. We also have a linen blend, Lyonesse, because 100% wool is a little warm all year round.

On September 28th, we will be releasing this year's birthday yarn called Brushwork. It’s pretty glorious stuff (if I do say so myself!)

Could you tell us more about the blend of fibres in this new yarn?

The main base of this blend is Scottish Bowmont - a very special sheep. Their fibre is renowned for its superb fine quality.  They were originally developed in the 80s by crossing Saxon Merino with Shetland, to make a Merino-style sheep which could live comfortably in the UK's damp climate. Merino sheep don’t do well in the UK because they are susceptible to flystrike which is not very pleasant. Flies lay their eggs in the sheep…

At Blacker, we make 100% sure to steer away from Australian and Chinese Merino because these animals have often been mulesed. This is a really unpleasant preventative treatment, which involves skinning the back section of all sheep to stop flies laying their eggs in the sheep (I wouldn’t recommend googling it just after eating!). 

So this is why Sue and I were so excited when we managed to get hold of a bale of Bowmont. This fibre is almost as soft as Merino but comes from an animal which has been raised in the UK, guaranteeing that they’ve lived a happy life and cutting out the air miles involved with Falklands Merino. We immediately knew we had to do something truly special with this one-of-a-kind fibre and our birthday yarn seemed like the perfect candidate. 

Celebrating the wonderful variety of breed-specific fibre in the UK is our mission at Blacker, so we've chosen to blend our Bowmont with 10% Castlemilk Moorit, a breed listed as 'at risk' on the RBST Watchlist - there are less than 1,000 of these sheep in the UK.  Castlemilk sheep produce a wonderfully plump and bouncy brown fleece which adds a depth of colour and a touch of rustic character to this yarn.

To give a little more drape and luxury to this lofty, woollen-spun yarn we added 20% British Alpaca, and we adore the resulting blend!

It’s a gorgeous colour palette too. How did you choose the colours to include in the range?

Thank you! Last year’s Tin II colour palette was about highly saturated grungy jewel tones, and those are my favourite shades, so we have a lot of these in the Blacker colour palette.

As Brushwork is a limited edition yarn, I wanted to push myself and do something a little different. Once we knew we’d be using Bowmont as the base, it all seemed to slot in together. Like Merino, Bowmont is a pure white fibre so it can look a little flat when dyed. This is why we chose to add 20% Alpaca and 10% Castlemilk Moorit.

But it also occurred to me that we could go one step further and dye the fibre in the wool before processing. I love tweeds and with this method, we were able to create really soft gentle nupps of colour.

But I was looking for something a little more unexpected than the traditional tweed shades. As all knitters will know, colours change so much when placed together. I’m sure you’ve all found a combination you love and then realised that there was just something missing when you knitted them together.

Or the opposite: you thought something wouldn’t work and then realised you loved the colours when knitted… Colour theory is a mysterious thing and something which is always evolving as people’s tastes change.

For this reason, I wasn’t taking any chances! We dyed 1 kg samples of many different shades of fibre and I spent a few weeks combining different shades in varying percentages using hand carders. It was so much fun playing around with the different shades. Robyn, who runs our dyeing in the mill, mentioned that they reminded her of impressionist paintings and so the concept was born.

How did you develop the inspiration behind the yarn?

I find these things are always a bit of a work in process. One piece of the puzzle will slot into place and then this choice will inform the next one down the line.

As I just mentioned, Robyn said that my little clouds of hand carded fluff reminded her of Impressionist paintings. I just thought her idea was so spot on and fell down a bit of a rabbit hole online. Google has a wonderful app which lets you zoom in on the texture of paintings incredibly closely, and I always find this really useful for narrowing down colour selections.

Once we’d narrowed down the colour palette, Katie made some beautiful ball band designs using different watercolour techniques. She’s such a talented artist! If you look really closely at the ball bands you’ll see that she’s actually illustrated all the information and the care instructions. All her suggestions were so perfect and brought out different tones in the yarn that it was impossible to pick just one - so we’ve ended up with four variations on the theme. I think my favourite is the blue and yellow one - but then I’m a sucker for a colour pop!

Katie and I just really wanted the yarn to embody that painterly theme. We’ve also named each of the eight shades after different methods of applying paint to canvas from Wash to Splosh to Craquelure (which is a cracking of the paint surface).

What a glorious concept! It makes me love this yarn even more. So, what will you be casting on first in Brushwork?

Eeep! Well, so far I’ve knitted and designed a simple lace shawl (which involved making countless swatches to check tension and specifics about the stitch pattern) and then, of course, knitting the sample itself.

I love swatching for a new design because it allows me to really put a yarn through its paces and see what it can do. With this yarn, I decided that the subtle flecks of colour created such a special fabric that they didn’t need anything too complicated. 

I’ve also knitted a lovely colourwork cowl, which is a design by Katie for our upcoming Brushwork mini collection launching on the 27th September (tomorrow!) After knitting the shawl, I was really up for knitting something else in this lovely yarn and I don’t often do colourwork so it was a lovely challenge.

I found Brushwork to be a real all-rounder, so well suited to both lace and colourwork. Due to it being a Sport weight both projects seemed to really bounce along and were finished much quicker than expected. 

Of course, I’d also love to get some non-work related Brushwork on my needles to celebrate the yarn’s release. I’ve been dreaming of something with a bit of colourwork and cables. Maybe Marie Wallin’s Skye jumper?

I’ve also been eyeing up Cline by Julie Hoover for many, many moons. I think our usual DK is a little thick for this pattern, so Brushwork just might be the perfect opportunity. The fit of this garment is just so unusual; I’m sure it would become a wardrobe staple.

My Review of BLacker Brushwork

About the Yarn

Brushwork is a Sport weight, 2-ply yarn spun from a luxurious blend of Scottish Bowmont, Castlemilk Moorit and British Alpaca. The suggested needle size is 3.5mm (US4) for a gauge of 23 sts and 34 rows per 4 inches. You get 152 metres / 165 yards in every 50g skein.

Working with Brushwork

After hearing about the fabulous inspiration behind this yarn, I decided that I wanted to swatch up something suitable painterly.

However, once I had the yarn in my hands, I realised that something with such depth of colour and texture deserves the spotlight. That's why I decided to use a simple, organic texture, inspired by the concepts in Cecelia Campochiaro's Sequence Knitting.

In the skein, the yarn feels light and springy. The flecks of colour look very evenly spread and are a really special touch - I love the colours they paired together. It felt very comfortable to knit with. I used my new KnitPro Rosewood needles and the yarn glided smoothly through my hands.

After washing and blocking, I was extremely happy with the resulting fabric. Not only does it show the stitch extremely well, but it feels very soft and bouncy with only a tiny bit of prickle when I hold it under my chin. The stitches bloomed beautifully and the fabric has a fabulous drape, which would make it ideal for the kind of over-sized garments I like to knit.

The colour palette for this yarn is fantastic: almost botanical, but with a pop of acidic chartreuse to liven it up. I think it would be particularly good for colourwork, as well as textural fabrics. That being said, I can actually see myself knitting up a simple stockinette cardigan in this yarn and letting the beautiful fabric speak for itself.

Giveaway: Win 2 Skeins of Blacker BRushwork!

UPDATE: This competition is now closed. Congratulations to the winner, Gail!

Blacker Yarns have kindly given me two skeins of their new Brushwork yarn in Craquelure to give away to one of you lucky lot!

To enter the competition, simply comment on this blog post saying what you'd like to knit with Brushwork. To double your chances and get one extra entry, follow @sister.mountain on Instagram and then mention it in your blog comment.

All entries must be received by midnight GMT on Monday 2nd October and the winner will be contacted the following day.

Important: please fill out the email section in the commenting form or else I will have no way of contacting you.

Good luck!