One of the joys of having our own mill, is that it gives us the freedom to experiment and try new things. For the last two years we've celebrated our birthday in September by creating a limited edition - one of a kind - yarn, and this year is no exception. Like all our yarns the development of Brushwork was an organic process, which began with the fibre.
Scottish Bowmont (left) are 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. As one of the newest British breeds, Bowmont are testament to the fact that the UK fibre industry is still alive and thriving. The majority of Scottish Bowmont fibre goes into luxury garment manufacturing so we were thrilled when Sue managed to purchase a bale for Blacker Yarns. We immediately knew we had to do something truly special with this one-of-a-kind fibre.
Celebrating the wonderful variety of breed specific fibre in the UK is our mission at Blacker and so we've chosen to blend our Bowmont with 10% Castlemilk Moorit (right), 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!
Selecting the fibre blend is just the first step to designing a yarn, but we find that the rest of the choices follow on from the fibre selection. Bowmont, like Merino is a pure white fibre, so it takes dye in quite a flat way. I love a bit of depth to my colour palettes so decided it would be fun to make this year's birthday yarn dyed in the wool - we knew the colours for Brushwork needed to be just as unique as the glorious fibre content.
Robyn, the lady who does our dyeing in the mill, dyed up some small samples of various different colours. As the fibre came out of the dye vats it reminded us of inks or watercolours, and this became our inspiration for the range. Our intern Alice and I developed the colours by hand-carding various shades together to create these subtle heathered shades. It felt like we were mixing fibre like paint in a palette and we're all so in love with the way the shades complement each other in magical and unexpected ways. Brushwork's eight shades have each been named after a painting technique or process.
Once the colour percentages had been decided, we were ready to begin processing. We decided to woollen spin this yarn not only so we could get that gorgeous tweeded effect, but also because it will add extra bounce and warmth to the yarn. This Bowmont, Castlemilk and Alpaca blend is very soft so woollen spinning will also improve its pill resistance - never a bad thing as far as us knitters are concerned. ;-)
Katie created these sublime ball band designs using inks and pigments, inspired by the yarn itself. We were so in love with Katie's designs, that we simply couldn't choose just one! So this year we've ended up with four ball bands for this year's birthday yarn. I just love the way that Katie's ball band designs complement the yarn inspiration with her hand illustrated style.
I hope you've enjoyed this first glimpse of this year's birthday yarn, Brushwork. Like our previous birthday yarns, this beauty will only be made once. It will go on sale on the 28th of September and at Yarndale, so there is still a little while to wait before you can get your hands on some. But you can order a colour card on our website right now by following this link.
Keep an eye out for reviews of this yarn beforehand from some of our favourite podcasters, bloggers and designers.