A special yarn for 2018
At Blacker Yarns, we do innovation: to give our customers a unique experience from pretty much all of our yarns. For example our Tamar, Samite and worsted Jacob range are all special, either because of what they contain or the way in which they are made. This also goes for Blacker Swan, based on an innovative partnership with a farm halfway across the world. These key attributes: putting together the fibres into an appropriate yarn with a well suited palette of shades, are a joy for us in creating a craft material to inspire the user.
This is even more the case for our Birthday Yarns, which are extra special, as each of them is only made once, although they have had similarities: in the style, colour names and story. There is also always a common theme: they are woollen spun for bulk and longevity, contain a variety of different breeds and always include at least one rare breed and some alpaca. While we are fans of single breed yarns for their enormous character, we also love blends to create variety and interest and of course we try to link our Birthday yarns to a story ...
Somehow, there is something wonderful about wool, and so we are easily inspired to create each Birthday Yarn to be totally individual. This year we have really focussed on the local side of things, as last year’s yarn came from much farther afield.
In the Westcountry, we are lucky to rejoice not just in moors, cliffs and beaches, but a great farming landscape where flowers, vegetables, trees as well as arable crops and animals can all thrive.
Sourcing wonderful wools close to home
One of the best things about what we have been doing with The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns is gaining recognition for British Wool, along of course with the Campaign for Wool and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and our wonderful selection of customers with their variety of breeds from across the UK and Europe.
As a result, prices have risen for everyone. Farmers now value wool much more than in 2005, and many are actively working to increase the value of their clip, with innovative cross breeding and much better care of fleeces in husbandry and at shearing. This has been a great opportunity, both for larger scale commercial farms as well as smallholdings.
This year we have found some great Devonshire farms with wonderful wools, so are really close to home in terms of sourcing. This Birthday Yarn introduces these fibres, which will also in future feature in our normal range blends.
The 2018 Birthday Yarn is therefore composed of Romney and Romney cross wool from South Devon and Exmoor Horn crossed with Merino from North Devon, spiced with a little North Ronaldsay and of course a little British alpaca, also from nearby.
- Merino does not really like our British climate so cross-breeding is probably the only sensible option when seeking fine fibres, other than Shetland. Thus the cross-bred combination of Exmoor Horn, a hill breed sheep with an unusually fine fleece, which is relatively strong and has some lustre, with soft, fine bulky Merino makes for a fibre which is rather special on the sheep.
- Then taking Romney and first cross Romney, which is again a smooth, fine and lustrous fibre, but less bulky than the Exmoor cross, adds a little weight and fineness to the blend. Romney sheep have travelled the world to create the basis of many other breeds, particularly in Australia and New Zealand as they have great feet and beautiful fine fleeces.
- North Ronaldsay is a small rare breed, with a natural range of fleece colours from white to greys and browns and a double coat of really fine fibres supported on a structure of coarser hairs which help them withstand the extremes of climate in the original Scottish Island home. They are now more widespread and the less challenging mainland climate also enables them to produce more and softer wool.
- And of course everyone loves alpaca fibre, so fine, drapey, soft and smooth, but not so elastic! This is why the characteristics of alpaca work so well with a wool blend which adds the stretch and memory. Then also the brightness of alpaca natural colours, because of their fibre structure, adds more colour to our base yarn.
So the natural base shade is pale grey, with slight warmer fawn overtones, which could be likened to granite, or slightly tarnished silver or just to itself!
Selecting the yarn structure
We have also moved away from the Double Knitting and 4-ply specifications of our first two and the Sport weight of our third Birthday Yarn, to a 2-fold construction Aran yarn.
We absolutely love the 2-fold construction, which is also used for our laceweight and 4-ply yarns, as it is so wonderfully stretchy and resilient. It also enables us to spin more quickly as we have two thicker single yarns to make the Aran weight. We generally make our yarns a little thicker than some, partly because the woollen construction is bulkier and partly because fibres like Merino are naturally bulky – so Blacker Swan and our woollen spun yarns are not as lean as the longer and lustre wool bases of Gotland or Tamar, for example.
We chose an Aran weight because we are often asked for Aran and of course it works up more quickly so people will be able to celebrate our birthday sooner! We will be bringing back the Aran specification for our Blacker Classic range, and also of course this Birthday Yarn can be used for natural colour work with our British Breeds Aran yarns, in darker browns and blacks, mid browns and whites. See our current special breed aran yarns here.
Designing the colour palette
For this yarn we sought inspiration in our local landscape, based on the granite and plants of the moors, so the colour palette reflects the landscape whence the fibres came! For 2018, we have selected five dye shades to reflect the Devon countryside and particularly the moorland – of course Dartmoor and parts of Exmoor contribute pretty much half of the total area of England’s second largest county. So the palette harks back a little to the Cornish Tin and Tin II shades.
We have of course a purple for heather and a grey for darker granite as well as the paler natural shade. Then we have added a lovely teal for the moorland pools reflecting the sky, a pink for the wildflowers which have been particularly wonderful this summer and finally a lime green for moss, lichen and the algae and weeds on the ponds and streams.
Naming the yarn
So finally we come to the names, of the yarn and the colours. For the yarn, we have chosen the word Tor, meaning a hill locally. It is said we have as many words in Britain for hills as the Laplanders have for snow: there are beacons, bronns, brans, bens and pens, carns, crags, fells, bluffs, downs and dunes, and peaks, scarps and wolds – we have a great wealth of these names. But along with the carns and pens, Tor is particular to this area and specifically has outcrops of stones on its summit, sculpted by wind and rain, and not by ice like the hills to the north. So Tor it has to be – particularly as we have some great local tors, with wonderful names to give to each colour.
The obvious natural colour has to be Sheepstor, then we have Lanlavery Rock pink, Carn Brea purple, Carneglos teal, Leeden Tor green and Rundlestone dark grey. If you wish to visit these places, here are their locations and a little more about them:
- Sheepstor natural: on Dartmoor has a nearby village of the same name and is near the Burrator Reservoir
- Lanlavery Rock pink: is part of Roughtor, the second highest hill in Cornwall and was the never-reached destination of the walk Charlotte Dymond was taking when she was murdered, later inspiring Charles Causley to write his famous ballad about her
- Carn Brea purple: is in Cornwall, well to the west, and is an unusual granite volcanic outcrop separate from its surrounding hills to the south. Carn Brea boasts Neolithic and Iron Age remains, a fort and former chapel, mines, a 90 foot high obelisk, is said to be the home of the Cornish giant, Bolster and, nowadays in the town below the Heartlands centre where the Cornwoolly festival takes place! With all of this, how could we choose any other colour but purple for it?
- Carneglos Tor teal: is in Cornwall on Bodmin Moor and close to the source of the River Fowey, so deserves a watery shade
- Leeden Tor green: is south west of Rundlestone Tor and between Princetown and Yelverton, where the moorland morphs away into grassy farmland
- Rundlestone dark grey: also has a hamlet of the same name and is close to Princetown in the centre of Dartmoor, where the infamous prison can be found, together with its museum.
We always build an inter-relationship between the fibres, the yarn specification, the shades and the name, so we hope you will like Tor.