Subtle hues of velvet fudge……

brushwork shade card

A little while ago I was contacted by the lovely Sonja from Blacker Yarns asking me if I’d be at all interested with having a bit of a play with some of their new, birthday celebration yarn….now I know that the past couple of years I’ve written much more about knitting than I have about patchwork or jam making or my slow afternoon strolls out over the marshes and all I can say is you can totally, hands down blame it on people like the good folks at Blacker Yarns….time and time again they’ve created gorgeous yarns that have just made me want to lose myself in the comforting sense of feeling rich, woolsome yarns run between my fingers…. good quality yarns that celebrate the wonderfulness and diversity of British breed sheep have made me want to persevere with my knitting more than anything else..and so, yes, I’ve fallen head over heels in love with knitting….

This year’s birthday blend from Blacker Yarns is called Brushwork and it feels wonderful….firstly when you give the yarn ball a good old hand squidge ( even though I know this is no way to get a true idea of what the yarn will do, it’s very hard not to give it playful squeeze)….  it also feels soft and velvety when it’s running free through your fingers and over your needles….and finally as a piece of fabric where it’s warm comfort and snuggles….

unclocked lace nad cables

(unblocked on 4.5 mm needles)

As with all the special blends by Blacker there’s a lot of hard work and care and thoughtfulness gone into creating not just the yarn base but also in choosing how it was to be dyed (in the wool before it was spun into yarn) and then developing the colours.

blocked cables and lace

(blocked and washed the first time…look at those plump cables)

The yarn is a ‘sport weight’ blend of Scottish Bowmont, Castlemilk Moorit and Aplaca…if you’re aware of your rare breeds than you’ll be familiar with Castlemilk Moorit…I knitted a swatch in this the other year so recognized that delicious fudginess quality straight away….but the yarn is more than just tooth sweet and fudgy…it’s soft and plump, and when knitted there’s a nice robustness to the stitches even when I’d gone up a couple of needle sizes to a 4 and 4.5 mm….mostly I’m used to knitting with what is commonly called a 4ply, I love knitting shawls and a 4ply is an excellent weight for that, but I’ve also knit a couple of shawls in dk and aran …  Sportweight sits somewhere in between the 4ply and dk although personally I find yarn from Blacker Yarns tends to be on the plumper side anyway so it feels more like a podgy dk to me….

cables detail

(blocked… after a third wash)

Blacker Yarns sent me a very generous sized sample so I was able to knit up 3 different swatches…the needle size suggested on the ball band is 3.5 mm (that’s to give 23 stitches over 4 inches ) so I knit one with those, but also knit swatches with 4 and 4.5mm needles (I suppose for a more accurate test I should have knitted all the swatches with the same pattern, but I didn’t as I wanted to see how different textures and stitches would look)….all three swatches look lovely, even after a fortnight of being pinned both to and under my clothes… the swatches have been washed twice and I wasn’t aware of any shrinking…to be honest I can’t even really see any signs of wear and tear…the stitches themselves have perhaps softened off a little, but after that first blocking they stood out and were very well defined…this might be because the colour of the yarn is very matt, there isn’t a lot of lustre but I think that this compliments the overall softness of the palette….

 

ripples detail

(knitted on 3.5 mm…blocked and washed a second time)

 

I really enjoy making up little swatches, it’s a nice way to understand the yarn, getting to know it,  say “how do?” and see what stitches it likes, what range of needles can be used for the fabric to still look good…and most importantly, how does it wear when it ‘s handled and worn, rubbed for lengthy periods of time…..how does it look after being washed a few times….

While I was knitting the swatches I started to think about how I would use this yarn if I was to buy some….it’s not crazy million pounds a skein price but at £8.40 for a 50g I know I wouldn’t be able to afford enough to knit a garment…I don’t think this yarn is over priced, and am really happy that it’s available in smaller skeins, but I know what my budget is….so I was more drawn to experimenting with a larger needle to create that extra drape that you want in a shawl…..there’s certainly enough of what I call “Flops a doodle” in the fabric on a 4 or 4.5mm needle, that and I know a dk shawl is ideal on mornings when there’s been a real cold snap….testing out the washed swatches with them pinned under my clothes also proved to me that this is perfect for a fat, stitch bouncy shawl or heavily textured cowl….

ripples

(blocked and washed a third time)

If you wanted to knit a shawl in Brushwork then I think you are going to feel truly wrapped in velvet squish…..you know, I’m sitting here with the swatches (rubbing them on my face while I write, and the texture of the fabric also reminds me of beautiful old chenille…years ago I inherited a gorgeous chenille tablecloth that had been Nanny’s and it was so soft and velvetty….

texture detail

(knitted on 4 mm needles…washed and blocked first time)

Some of the swatches grew larger, although one grew width ways, while the other length ways though I guess this also was in part due to different stitches being used……

While I’ve now seen some lovely examples of how brushwork blends together when worked in various types of colourwork, I really like how it looks used as a single flat colour in lacework or in patterns that create lots of texture…there’s a nice definition created by knitting stitches together or passing them over each other, even after a few washes have softened edges, the subtley of the stitch structure is wonderful and they hold up a surprising amount of touchy feel interest…

 

 

diamond detail

(blocked and washed a third time)

Like previous birthday yarns, Brushwork will only be available for a limited period of time, it goes on sale at 8am on the 28th September from Blacker Yarns.

Once again, hugest of thank yous Sonja for letting me play with this gorgeous new velvety softness…and happy happy birthday Blacker Yarns…..

Apologies for the shifting colours, it just happened we’ve had a lot of weather changes so the light has been a bit temperamental…as far as I could tell there was no bleeding out of dye colour or fading….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bubbling blackberries and a yarn to fare own my heart……

blackbery-jam-red-stitches

I’m so excited to finally be able to write about this shawl….as you may remember back in September, lovley Sonja from Blacker Yarns emailed me and asked if I would like to have a little play with their new Cornish Tin II and I was really bowled over with how beautifully it knitted…..plump and velvety, lots of bounce and seeming to hold on to all that heel kicking and joyfulness of a field full of baa lambs….between then and the day it went on sale I hummed and hah-ed about which colour to go for, I knew I could only afford one skein so the pressure was on….I finally chose Wheal Rose Red though if there had been a bright forest green I’d have chosen that as I’ve got a bit of a thing at the moment about green, but that’s beside the point, all the shades in the Tin II are gorgeous, combining rich and deep with a gentle subtleness…they aren’t brash, I think that’s what I’m trying to say……anyway I woke up crazily early on the day it went on sale and had ordered a skein from Isla at Brit Yarn before I think she’d even had a morning cup of tea and was out of her pyjamas……

a-deep-red-sea-of-yarn

The skein arrived the next day and the Autumn sunshine meant I was able to sit outside and slowly untwist the skein and allow the light to skip along those woolly twists……The Tin II is a wonderful blend and some of those darker natural fibres cause the shadows to really swallow down amongst those wraps of ply………it’s not as glossy as the Tamar but where as that was almost like knitting with sunlight and air, the Tin II is much more puddingy and substantial feeling…so much so that I had to keep checking the label as it doesn’t feel like a 4 ply at all, it’s certainly robust.

In the time leading up to the release day I went through my library of patterns and the one I wanted to cast on again was Ishbel by Ysolda Teague (I love how it’s nice and wide rathe rather than short and deep)…I’d only just cast my first one off and was really happy with how that looked and it also gave me some wriggle room with yarn…..or so I thought

a-deep-berry-red-yarn

I spent a few days just petting and stroking the new skein, I’m sure I’m not the only knitter that does this, I’d already said “how do and hello” earlier when I’d knitted the wee skeins Sonja had sent me, but there is something so wonderful to sit with a whole fat skein of such beautiful yarn, allowing your fingers to sink down and immerse themselves in colour and stroke those woolly fibres……after about a week of such nonsense I cast on and was treated with the most wonderous raspy shuffle as I wrapped the yarn around my needles…..from the notes I made while knitting the swatch I decided to cast on with a 4.5mm needle so I’d create a little more lightness and drape to the fabric….the  first part of the shawl almost knitted itself and because I just got far too excited knitting this I made one of those daft sort of mistakes that I didn’t notice and after spending a couple of hours trying to correct it I decided to just rip it all out and start again a bit more slowly……the yarn was fine about being ripped, the stitches popped apart so easily……

This yarn has such an amazing stitch definition, you really can see which stitch is which and so I decided not to use my beloved stitch markers, a bit scary at first but I was able to “read ” my knitting really clearly and progress was actually faster I think than if I’d have been shifting markers along all the time….there was no interuption to the flow of knitting and the stitches almost seemed to appear by magic…..

One of the lovely things about knitting this Ishbel was the back and forth messages I had with my friend Alida….she’d admired my first Ishbel and wasn’t sure she could knit one herself but I thought otherwise (she’s an amazing sock knitter so I knew she could do it) and even though she’s in Canada and I’m here in Norfolk we were having our very own little Ishbel kal…..

Even with having to re-knit the centre part twice (I was a row away from starting the lace work when I’d had to rip it) the shawl was finished in just under a fortnight which is pretty good going for me…however disaster almost struck….I didn’t have enough yarn……Ishbel is a fantastic pattern and this is a link to Ysolda’s chart for Ishbel if you want to keep an eye on your stitch count….a % of shawl made is given and I was keeping track of this and where when I started thought I had plenty of yarn, as I worked those last rows I realized my yarn was almost gone…so I put a call out in the Blacker Yarns group on Ravelry and the very very kind MontyMouse sent me enough yarn to finish my knitting (actually she sent me extra to what I’d asked for in case the yarn got gobbled up quicker than I’d anticipated…..) so hugest of huge thank yous to her…….this was a valuable lesson to me though in how much a 4ply can differ.

tin-ii-after-blocking

I know from the handful of shawls I’ve knitted this year that lace work can look a bit….hmmm, squishy and wet pasta like before blocking and while I really liked the look of those fat stitches above I truly was swept off my feet when I saw what happened after I’d soaked my shawl in a sink of warm water……you can really see those those undulating waves of knitting……and any rusticness and hedgehoggyness totally goes away on that wash….not that I thought this was hedgehoggy in the slightest, shuffley and full of sounds when you rub it or knit it yes but not unpleasant to sit against your skin……

I allowed the shawl plenty of time to fully dry before taking out the blocking pins and was so over the moon and happy with the results…..it looks much weightier than it actually is and oohh the colour…..if you’ve ever made blackberry jam, think back to when the sugar and berries begin to merge and the contents of the pan is transformed into that deep bubbling red….this is that shade exactly……..

tin-ii-shawl-finished

(just look how it flows over my shoulders…..that’s softness for you)…..While I was knitting this my boyfriend became rather ill and it’s taken him a while to feel up to taking any pictures for me so the shawl has been very patient and waited and waited…..but he’s feeling a bit better and well enough to be my “David Bailey”…. finally I am so so thrilled to share this with you…..

It’s really soft to hold, not Blue Faced Leicester kitten tummy soft, but soft like old velvet chairs, comforting softness that envelops and makes you feel safe……the texture of the stitches is incredible, tracing over the lacework and I can feel those knit two togethers and slipped over stitches…the spine down the centre is so clear and defined….tiny ridges are a tactile pleasure for my hands and fingers…..and my favourite part…look at those pointy tips along the shawl’s edge…so pokey sharp they could nearly take your eye out…..

weighty-lacework

I really am incredibly happy with how this project came out….it’s wonderfullly warm without feeling over heavy, and while I wish I’d have bought two skeins so I could have made it a little longer I’m not really fretting about it as this is still a nice wearable size…..because I used the 4.5mm there is a really lovely drapey feel to the shawl which I hope you can see from the above pictures…..

The fabric feels wonderful and fudgy, like when you see moss growing and you can press your fingers down into the green and it feels all bouncy…..

This is always how I imagined yarn to feel, warm and soft, light, a slight tickle, mossy and woolly…..thank you so much to everyone at Blacker Yarns who have worked so hard to create this stunning blend, it honestly has felt like a real privilage to knit with this yarn and certainly this knitter for one greatly appreciates all your hard work………

I’ve just checked and both Brit Yarn and Blacker Yarns still have some of this very special and limited yarn left, so if you’re still wondering what to tell people you’d like for Christmas…perhaps a skein or two of this….it’s available in 4 ply and dk weight and Blacker Yarns also have a section on their site with some really beautiful free patterns which use this yarn……

More notes on my bubbling blackberries Ishbel can be seen on my Ravelry page…..

 

 

 

 

 

Naked knitting and those sheepy aromas…..

washed and blocked castlemilk moorit

As I mentioned at the start of November (or Wovember as this month it’s all about celebrating wool) I’ve spent the last year knitting up swatches of undyed single breed yarn to help me learn about all the different and special qualities that the many breeds of British sheep have…. I always want to start singing “Getting to know you” from The King and I as soon as I start to hand squish a new yarn and cast on… and that’s what the swatching is all about really, saying “how do” and learning as much as you can about that yarn…..I started knitting the swatches from an idea by Louise of Knit British (there is a Ravelry group where you can read about how other people have found a particular yarn and compare notes)… and it’s been really interesting seeing how the yarn knits up, how tickly it is, how kitteny buttery soft or not it might be, how does it wear…

Now I’ll be quite honest and say before last year I’m not sure if I could actually name more than a couple of breeds of sheep apart from Shetland and Wensleydale (and that one I knew because I love Wensleydale cheese), and I’m now trying to learn as many as I can (ooohhh just thought to myself, what a great game could be made where you guess the name/identify the sheep breed, does it have horns, does it have black legs, face…. someone invent it please…Wovember ladies…perhaps one for next year?)….and the names of some of these lesser known breeds are wonderful sounding…. who wouldn’t want to knit with a Badger faced Welsh Mountain, or a Swaledale (I love the sound of saying that…. swaledale,swaledale,swaledale … feels like I’ve been at the wine) a Baldwen or a Teeswater….. one name that I heard mentioned a few times and which sounded lovely was the Castlemilk Moorit……

Velvety and chocolatey are two words that are used to describe it with good reason, it’s plump and mossy, smells divine, is a gorgeous chocolatey moussey pudding brown and has fair captured my heart like you wouldn’t believe…..this is definitely a yarn I’d like to use for a cardigan but I suspect I’d never want to take it off…. it is soft but not like a merino or Bluefaced Leicester, more like the softness underfoot as you step out walking on marashes or meadowland, there’s an ease to the yarn, which after a soak in warm waer becomes even more apparent…..unblocked the stitch definition is good but afterwards the yarn seems to want to felt slightly so the stitches snuggle up to each other, something with a very heavy or defined patttern would be great but as much as anything else, I think just plain stocking stitch for this “I can’t stop touching it” yarn suits it very nicely….this was a woollen spun blend by Blacker Yarns.

working the pattern

Llanwenog I knew pretty much nothing about, it’s very dry and crisp, not quite so soft as a Norfolk Horn and much more clean coloured, the stitches were really easy to see and so any stitch pattern was very clear, I think it would be a good yarn for anything with lots of twisting cables….. personally, I found it quite tickley, it’s a fat yarn and although I sort of became used to it pinned under my thermals I didn’t find it as comfortable as the Norfolk Horn, however worn on top of clothes it was warm and toasty and even after rubbing it furiously against itself and wearing it pinned against my side for a week there was no sign of pilling or haziness over the stitches….. so it’s certainly one to consider using for jumpers and cardigans.  I don’t know if anyone is using this in a blend for dye work but it’s such a bright creamy white that I thnk it would be really good, a nice clean base to show off subtle shifts in hue especially with some of those softer plant dyes.

seaweed pattern in North Ronaldsay

Probably one of the most interesting little sheep I’ve learnt about this year have been the North Ronaldsay sheep…they live on the island of Ronaldsay and eat seaweed….. they sound like something from a Joan Aiken story.  I first read about them in “In the Footsteps of Sheep” by Debbie Zawinski and have been quite enchanted with them ever since….

The yarn I’ve been knitting with is a rather robust woollen spun blend by Blacker Yarns but a couple of knitters on Ravelry have said I should try  this blend of North Ronaldsay  from A Yarn from North Ronaldsay… because that seems a lot softer….it’s all to do with how the yarn is prepared, so I’ve got that on my list of yarns I’d like to try next year.

At the moment though my swatch is all ripped back as I’d thought knitting a seaweed stitch pattern would be fun but the yarn seems happier when the stitch pattern is bolder and better defined….however I thought that my stitches made were lovely and plump, very squishy and the fabric knitted was nice and sturdy, basically whatever you knit with this is going to keep you super toasty and snug….I can imagine it would be great for an outdoors jumper or cardigan if you want to wear something warm when you’re gardening but don’t want to wear a million layers, and actually this reminded me so much of my dad’s potting sheds, all those balls of twine slowly uncurling amongst seed potatoes and well oiled trowels and forks…..those fine almost wiry strands of kempy hair lifting and teasing upwards.

dark brown black Jacob

Another favourite I’ve discovered this year has been the Jacob.  I’ve used this in my Nature’s shades shawl and the more times I wear it the softer it feels, also I’ve noticed after wearing it for half an hour or so, there is a soft and sheepy aroma around me which I like very much and it seems to encourage Bernard to jump up on my lap for a cuddle.

One of the lovely things about the Jacob sheep is that their fleece is made up of more than one colour so they are quite distinct looking, from a porridgey cream through a silver grey, a deeper slate grey and then the most chocolately dark brown/grey…..the lighter greys can look a bit cold indoors under artificial lighting, but outside they show up warm and beautiful.

I found the darkest shade a bit difficult to knit with as I found the stitches hard to see (I was trying to be a bit fancy with my choice in stitch pattern so totally my fault not the yarns) and there were a fair few kempy fibres lifting up through the stitches, but I loved how this felt after blocking and it’s definitely a favourite….the Jacob blend I’ve been using is by West Yorkshire Spinners.

detail of light grey Jacob swatch

Actually I noticed the lighter yarn had less kempiness about it, and suspect the porridgey one will have even less……the light grey certainly felt plumper and the knitted swatch seemed a bit more substantial, although this seemed to balance itself out a good deal with washing and blocking.  This is such a nice feeling, warm to the touch yarn to use and the West Yorkshire Spinner’s range of this is really nicely priced if you need to watch what you spend but don’t want to use squeeky acrylic.

Like the Llanwenog I found this yarn has worn really well, (goodness knows what my postman thinks when I open the door and stand there with knitted swatches pinned all over….) no pilling and the knititng fabric just gets softer and nicer to wear…..a cardigan or jumper knitted from this would last for ages and be a first choice in comfort.

I used a lot of Jacob in my Nature’s shades shawl and it was a littel “hello, I’m woolly” when I first started wearing it, over s few weeks of wear it’s become a lot softer and is a pleasure to wrap around myself.

Shetland dk from Naked Wool

Another yarn I’ve bought but have yet to knit with is this wee ball of Shetland yarn from The Shetland Sheep Wool Company….. it smells nice and being yarn from Shetland fleece there is a nice little range of undyed all natural shades.  The company is sort of local as it’s based over the Suffolk/Norfolk border in Bury St Edmunds, however and I only found this out after I’d bought the yarn and started playing about with it, the yarn itself comes from Shetland flocks that live all over the UK ….so the yarn itself is not actually local which is a shame as that is what I felt the packing/branding had implied….. anyway, not the end of the world by anymeans and it will be interesting to see how this Shetland yarn compares to yarn from Shetland based sheep.

It’s been quite a journey of discovery this year, slowly increasing my knitting skills but also gradually becoming aware of the different yarn qualities, which yarn blooms up nice, which wears well, which is tickly and lively, which yarn is quite and soft…. slow step by slow step I’m becoming more considerate in my yarn choices and even in which items I chose to knit.

Coming into knitting from this slightly different view point has really made me fall in love with what I’m able to create with a ball of yarn and a pair (or 3 or 4) pointy sticks, and has given me so many ways of feeling very connected with what it is I’m knitting and what I’m knitting it with.

As always, many many thanks go out to the wonderful team behind Wovember, for their inspiration and enthusiasm for all things truly sheepy and woolly…..and if you can also see what wovember means to other people just here…..