Yarns of This Thing of Paper: Blacker Yarns, an Interview.

Yarn. The cornerstone of every knitting obsession. When I set out to make This Thing of Paper, I knew I had to get the yarns right. I spent a lot of time looking for yarns that had the right feel and the right colours. I knew I wanted yarns that carried stories and had significance beyond "this is a nice colour". Having Blacker Yarns lend yarn support felt like a major step in the right direction: their yarns lend an extra dimension to the project. 

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Hi. I have been waxing lyrically about your yarns for years, and it was a great joy collaborating on this project with you. Could you tell us a bit about your yarns and yourself?

At Blacker Yarns we specialise in natural, breed specific yarns and innovative, unusual blends. We buy all of our fleece from UK small producers and scour, card, spin and dye everything under one roof in Cornwall. 

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What can people expect from your yarns? You are a yarn company with a difference.

Yes, and people can expect each of our yarns to be different! Knitting with our yarns is about the unique characteristics of a diverse range of British breeds. Wool can be many things.

Yes, the two different cardigans above really showcases that. Vellum is knitted in Tamar DK whilst Incunabula is worked in British Classic DK. I chose the two yarns after swatching carefully, so I understood the difference between them. British Classic is a really fantastic workhorse yarn which will wear like iron, whilst Tamar has more drape and feels lighter despite reading as the same weight. 

Tamar is a semi-worsted lustre yarn spun from the fleeces of fine British rare breeds, including Teeswater, Wensleydale and Leicester Longwool. The natural grey of the Leicester Longwool makes two subtle base shades in silvery or mid grey.  To give some body and bulk, we base the lustre fibres on a grounding of 30% Cornish Mule, which also has lustre as well as additional softness.

The British Classic range is based on a blend of British breeds white wool from our selected supplier farms, combined with 30% Blue-faced Leicester from a group of farms in North Wales.  The added Blue-faced Leicester wool softens the yarn to make comfortable, light and warm garments. We start with the natural creamy white and then add heathered grey or fawn using mainly Hebridean or Black Welsh Mountain fleece for the grey or Manx fleece for the fawn. We then dye the three resulting natural shades in subtle colours, which will all tone with each other.

And that is just two of your yarns. As I said, I love how all your yarns have similar stories about sourcing materials and carefully blending various breeds to get the right result. I like to think I know a great deal about yarn (as a knitter) and yet every time I swatch another one of your yarns, I learn something new. Just like knitting is never "just knitting", wool is never "just wool". And you make that experience accessible to someone like me who doesn't spin. 

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Now, let's chat books. This Thing of Paper is a knitting book about knitting and books, so it feels pretty obvious to ask you about your favourite read? 

My personal favourite book is The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula LeGuin. It's a beautifully written fantasy epic, with wizards and dragons and all that good stuff. But there is also a strong environmental message that fits with our outlook here at Blacker Yarns. And if you read closely, there is yarn, and spinning too!

I actually quoted Ursula LeGuin in This Thing of Paper! She is an amazingly powerful writer and I read The Earthsea Quartet as a teenager - it is fantastic. 

Finally, where can people find your yarns? ? 

We sell our yarns online through our website, www.blackeryarns.co.uk and we also have a selection of lovely stockists in the UK and around the world. We attend several shows around the UK every year, including Edinburgh Yarn FestivalYarndale, Woolfest and Wonderwool.

You also sponsor the Podcast Lounge at Edinburgh Yarn Festival — which is actually where I was first told by people to go make This Thing of Paper! I love that little fact. Thank you for taking time out of your very, very busy schedule to have a chat. I love your yarns and I am so happy you are a part of my book. 

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Yarns of This Thing of Paper: Travelknitter, an Interview.

Yarn. The cornerstone of every knitting obsession. When I set out to make This Thing of Paper, I knew I had to get the yarns right. I spent a lot of time looking for yarns that had the right feel and the right colours. The first pattern I designed and wrote was Rubrication. It is a shawl that explores the colour red and the practise of red-lettering in manuscripts/early printed books. It was so important to find the right red colour, but I knew my search was over when I saw Travelknitter's reds. 

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Hi Larissa. I have been a huge fan of your strong, bold colours for as long as I can remember. It is so exciting to finally collaborate with you. I've been waiting for years for the right project to come along. Could you tell us a bit about your yarns and yourself?.   

I’m Larissa, the dyer behind Travelknitter. Technically I am an Australian living in London, although I’ve actually lived in London longer than I’ve lived in any other city in the world. My itinerant life plays out in many of my colourways, which are inspired by places and travels. Some of the sources of inspiration are obvious, while some are more obscure. I enjoy having a story behind the colourways.

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How do you approach dyeing?

My signature style is towards rich, saturated colours, created through lots of layering. I dye semi-solids and tonally variegated colours, designed to look as good knit up as they do in the skein. I use a small range of base yarns, which I’ve chosen for the specific qualities needed in handknits. Hardwearing-but-soft Bluefaced Leicester for socks or jumpers, extra fine merino for supersoft cosiness, and of course the baby camel and silk Tanami for pure tactile luxury! They are all yarns that I would personally choose to knit with myself.

I chose to use the Tanami for the Rubrication shawl and it's really stunning to work with. That camel/silk blend feels almost sinfully good as it runs through my fingers!

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Now, let's chat books. This Thing of Paper is a knitting book about knitting and books, so it feels pretty obvious to ask you about your favourite read? 

Great question! Books were my greatest weakness before I discovered yarn, so linking the two makes for a pretty heady combination. Staying with the theme, I recommend Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes. Clara writes about her experiences travelling the world attending various knitting show and events. She has a great way of capturing all those special moments that are recognisable to anyone who has travelled to a yarn show. The book is full of warmth, wonderful stories, and hilarious anecdotes about what happens when knitters gather. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, and a wonderful way to capture those experiences we share as knitters in search of yarn and community.

Yarn and community. There is nothing better. And Clara is such a great storyteller that I whoop every time I see she has a new book coming out.

I think the first time I saw your yarns in person, it might have been a knitting retreat we were both attending. I knew of your yarns, but had never seen them up close before. They are stunning. Where can people catch up with you? Do you do a lot of shows?

There are a few different ways that people can get hold of Travelknitter yarns. One option is to visit my online Etsy shop where I update stock regularly. For the opportunity to squish-before-you-buy, Wild and Woolly in Clapton, East London is the only LYS stockist of Travelknitter. It’s my own LYS and has a very special place in my heart. The owner Anna stocks my BFL Supersock and Extra Fine Merino DK, including a Wild and Woolly exclusive colourway in both bases. I certainly wouldn’t be the Travelknitter though without travelling to yarn shows. My next confirmed yarn show is Festiwool in Hitchin on November 11th. I’m hoping to be invited back to Edinburgh Yarn Fest in March. Fingers crossed!

I'm also on Instagram and (very occasionally) on Twitter

Thank you! On a personal note, you are also one of the funniest people I know, although your wit is so dry it takes me a day to realise you've cracked jokes at my expense! Your colours are so extraordinary, Larissa, and I'm so pleased to say that the Rubrication shawl is on the cover of This Thing of Paper.  

Rubrication uses two hanks of Travelknitter Tanami 4ply in the Double Happiness colourway.

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Yarns of This Thing of Paper: Ripples Crafts, an Interview.

Yarn. The cornerstone of every knitting obsession. When I set out to make This Thing of Paper, I knew I had to get the yarns right. I spent a lot of time looking for yarns that had the right feel and the right colours. Ripples Crafts was an early lock-in as I had previously worked with the Quinag base for my Frances Herself. I also knew that I wanted to work with the Copper Beech colourway as it reminded me of leather-bound books. Perfect. 

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Hi Helen. I have loved your yarns for many years and I'm so glad you wanted to get involved with my book project. Could you tell us a bit about your yarns and yourself?.   

My name is Helen Lockhart and I began the business Ripples Crafts in 2008. I had been dyeing yarn for my own use, but it wasn’t until we made our home in Assynt in the Scottish Highlands in 2008 that I stepped up my craft and developed it into a full time business.

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How do you approach dyeing?

Living in what many consider to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world inevitably influences the colours I use in my yarns and colour combinations.

The techniques I use result in colours ranging from almost solid shades which I aim to be able to repeat as closely as possible through to wildly variegated colours which are unique. I am known for my deeply saturated colours, and while I do a few pastel shades, it is the deeper, saturated shades which bring me the most joy.

Why is that? I know that is a big question.

Again, this saturation is influenced by where I live, where we have such wonderful light which show up the depth of colours in the landscape beautifully. The light in Assynt changes constantly, and at times that can be infuriating as I run indoors for my camera to capture a particular scene only to come back outside to find the light has shifted and the moment I wanted to catch is gone. But it is also what makes living here so magical.

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I love how the landscape influences your making, and I am always drawn to your strong & rich colours. Now, This Thing of Paper is all about books, so do you have any books you would like to recommend to my blog readers? 

Well, being a dyer it is inevitable that two of my choices would be about colour:

“Colour : Travels through the Paintbox” by Victoria Finlay and “The Secret Lives of Colour” by Kassia St Clair. Both books are worth having for the covers alone, which I love. But both look at the history and stories behind colours and I love dipping into both books from time to time. Perhaps a more unusual choice of book to recommend would be “Gifts of Unknown Things” by Lyall Watson, but it was this book that got me interested in the concept of hearing the sound of colours along with other forms of synesthesia.

I'll be digging through those recommendations! Now, where can people find your yarns? 

You can find my yarns on my website. I fit in as many shows as I can around the UK each year including Edinburgh Yarn Festival, WoolfestYarndale and Loch Ness Knit Fest. I enjoy shows as it gives me an opportunity to meet many of my customers in real life, and also gives them the opportunity to see the true colours of my yarns which, at times, are difficult to portray accurately online. Many find my dye shed conveniently placed alongside the North Coast 500 driving route. While I don’t have a formal shop as such, folk are always welcome to have a peek inside the dye shed to see the process and browse and purchase yarns while they’re here.

That sounds lovely! I have a burning desire to come visit you & see the amazing landscape. However, where can people find out if they cannot make it to the Scottish Highlands and they still want to catch up with you?

You can find me on Twitter, Ravelry, where I have a Ripples Crafts group, and Instagram

Bibliotheca is a shawl that uses two hanks of Helen's Quinag base - the base is named after a mountain in her beloved Assynt. I'll be seeing Helen at the Loch Ness Knit Fest later this week (she is vending and I am teaching). I'm bringing the sample with me, so hopefully she approves!  

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Everything is Connected

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Twenty-one years ago I set up my very first website. It was hand-coded and had an "under construction" ruler at the top. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Today you get to see my new website. It does not have an "under construction" ruler at the top, but it does have a lot of cool stuff: tutorials for you to peruse, a workshop section that's easy to navigate, and a small shop for pre-ordering my new book. Speaking of which, I have also added a section where you can see sizing and yarn requirements for the book patterns. I still think pulling a website together is the coolest thing ever. I hope you find it useful and helpful.

I've been on the road quite a bit over the last few months.

(Initially the plan was to have the book published before my busy season kicked in, but production delays meant that I have been juggling book production and website development with workshop teaching. I am very grateful to be so busy, but it has also taken a toll. We live in a world where we admire "being busy" but often forget that "being busy" is a case of too much work and inadequate planning. Hopefully now that the book is nearly here and the website is live, I can begin to breathe again. Maybe just a little bit?) 

One of my adventures took me to Faversham, a picturesque market town in Kent, England. It is home to The Yarn Dispensary, a yarn shop which has quickly become one of my favourite stops. I ran two workshops in the quirky and colourful shop, and it was such a relief to be back teaching after a summer of staring at a screen. I may be an introvert, but there is something about teaching that I just love. Maybe it is knowing that people will leave with confidence in a new skill; maybe it is that feeling you get when talented and creative people are in a space together; maybe it is that I feel good when I make other people feel good; maybe it is all of the above.

After the workshops, a friend took me to Margate to visit the sea shelter where TS Eliot wrote part of The Waste Land. I stood in the sea shelter, waved my arms around whilst kids skateboarded around me, and then we went for pizza. In a peculiar twist of fate, I have been waiting twenty-one years to make that pilgrimage. Looking out over Margate Sands and the North Sea, I kept thinking about how things can feel circular at times. Here I was in a place where Eliot wrote a key part of a poem which has defined so much of my life. Here I was looking out over the North Sea — the body of water covering Doggerland, an ancient land mass with which I feel a strange sense of belonging. It was beautiful. 

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Vesterlyng, Denmark.

As I am writing this, I have just returned from another journey filled with connections. I taught two classes at Knitwork, a Copenhagen knitting festival. I took the opportunity to spend a few days with my family (my mother has been fighting cancer this year — her prognosis is good, thankfully, but it has been a tense year). My family drove us out to Vesterlyng, a low-lying area that is part beach, part sea, part fen. The sunset flickered across the pools of water, while the resident cows were silhouetted against the sky. This is my childhood landscape. An odd, unsettled (and unsettling) place of utter beauty. No matter how many people visit, it feels remote.   

Copenhagen was good as well. I walked familiar streets, my feet remembering the routes rather than my head trying to map where I was going. I really enjoyed my time at the festival: the colour palette was very different to the ones I'm used to at UK shows (if you think there is no unifying colour palette because of all the different dyers & companies, there is still an underlying aesthetic consensus that is difficult to escape — we are all caught up in our particular times & places), the general skill level was exceptionally high, and I found it so interesting to see a particular Danish sense of style (I need to write more about this). I left feeling very inspired and also intrigued. It felt good to get out of my shell. 

Now I am home, but not for long. I am away to Inverness next week to teach at Loch Ness Knit Fest where I am looking forward to meeting old and new friends. Then I'm flying off to the Oslo Strikkefestival (where I shall be investigating how the Norwegian aesthetic plays out against what I saw in Copenhagen. I have some ideas already, but let's see how they fare. Denmark & Norway are connected in interesting ways.).

And then .. and then it is time to release my book. I'll be sharing details about the book launch parties soon. I cannot wait to show you all the things we've been working on for so long. 

Phew. Hello and welcome to the new site. 

A New Favourite: Brushwork Sport

One of the perks of my job is that I get to swatch a vast range of yarns. My design process hinges on knowing which yarn would be right for a design, and I only get there by swatching several yarns. When I started knitting again after a long break, I thought all yarns were somewhat interchangeable as long as you matched gauge. Many years later I know that a) not all yarns are equal, b) a yarn's properties goes way beyond its weight, c) fibre plays a huge part, and d) the construction of the yarn is important too. In fact, finding the right yarn for a project can sometimes feel somewhat scientific (as does yarn substitution). One of the yarns I have swatched recently is Blacker Yarns' birthday yarn, Brushwork. I have worked closely with Blacker Yarns over the last year or so — they are the main yarn provider for This Thing of Paper — and I understand their passion for producing yarn with provenance, stories, and lineage. We share a strong interest in yarns that belong to a certain landscape and place. After all, a space becomes a place once we pour stories into it.

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Brushwork comes with plenty of stories, and, dear reader, one of those stories is that it broke my heart.

As soon as I unpacked the yarn, I knew I was in trouble. It is a lofty, soft, sproingy yarn with subtle flecks of colour. I held it in my hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, and it bounced back in my hand. I am not a spinner, nor do I possess a brilliant yarn construction vocabulary, so my best description is that Brushwork reminded me of a cross between Rowan Felted Tweed and Jamieson's Spindrift — but definitely its own beast. Reading closer, I learned it was a mix of Bowmont, Castlemilk Moorit, and British Alpaca.

Let the swatching commence.

As a personal sacrifice, I swatched twice: first on 3.5mm and then on 4mm. The first swatch gave me a nice, firm fabric. It bloomed slightly upon blocking but retained its shape nicely. It would make for a beautiful cardigan or jumper where the yarn would do most of the work. The second swatch was much drapier and supple. Knitted on 4mm needles, Brushwork would definitely make a beautiful scarf or hat. I began thinking about cables and pom pom-adorned hats.

The heartbreak came when I learned that this is not going to be a permanent addition to the Blacker range. Brushwork is as close to my Platonic ideal of a yarn that I have found — bouncy, complex, soft, woolly, takes all sorts of stitch patterns - but it is not sticking around for me. Instead it will make its debut at Yarndale where you will all snap it up (because you are clever and recognise brilliance when you see it).

Heartbreak in a yarn ball. Which is pretty much the highest praise I can bestow upon it.

The End of the Summer? Hello Knitting!

Outside the sun is shining, but the wall planner speaks the truth: we are close to the end of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere. While some people mourn the loss of long summer nights, I am looking forward to the knitting season really starting. While I knit all year, I know many people prefer to wait until the leaves start to turn and the autumn rain sets in. This autumn I am teaching workshops across Europe (see my itinerary here) and I cannot wait to get inspired by all the amazing knitters I meet. Everyone has a story to tell and I love hearing them. Will I see you there? I hope so.

As I wrote in a recent Kickstarter update, my work on my book, This Thing of Paper, is pretty much done now. All the patterns are designed, written, edited, and photographed. All the essays are done as are the schematics. I live with a pile of cardboard boxes in my tiny kitchen — they are all full of Kickstarter backer perks. At the moment I am writing tutorials for this website as well as stories I could not fit into the book (though it will be more than 100 pages long!). I am itching to share all the hard work with you.

So where is the book?

I'm looking at my wall planner and today feels quite awful. I had PRINT! written in big letters on today's day, but we ran into unforeseen production delays exactly two weeks ago. I have done what I could from my end, but ultimately these delays are beyond my control. I join you in feeling very frustrated, but I can tell you that I'm really proud of what my small team has produced. While I'm the designer, author, and creative director of This Thing of Paper, the book is very much a real team effort. I'll be introducing you to the designs, the ideas, and the amazing team in future blog posts as we gear up for launch date.

As for knitting, I'm in the peculiar situation of having a tonne of things to show you, but also being a bit in limbo. I have a distinct sense of not being able to turn the last few pages of This Thing of Paper just yet. There are a few collaborations in the pipeline, though, and I'm easing my way back into design concept work. I also have a cardigan on my needles and some swatches of ideas I cannot resist.

For the first time in a year I am back to reading non-work related books(!) and my first proper read was Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven. In hindsight, a post-apocalyptic novel set in near-future North America was probably not the right book for my current mindset. I used to enjoy dystopian fiction, but nowadays I feel I get enough of that from the evening news. Then I read Meredith Duran's A Lady's Code of Misconduct which worked much better for me — despite its constant reminder of the despicable callousness of British politicians which is also way too real. Duran writes intelligent and densely plotted historical romances; I recommend her The Duke of Shadows, a damming indictment of British colonialism and imperialism in 19th century India (the cover is terrible, I know). Misconduct isn't quite Shadows, but it was equally engaging and infuriating as its central characters clearly struggled with the options within a rigid Victorian society. I have also been dipping in and out of Nasty Women (which shares certain themes with both Duran and Mandel).

Recommendations for fiction and non-fiction alike are always welcome in the comments. I'm really keen to read beyond authors already amplified by traditional publishing and I will happily support small independent presses. So, let me know what you have been reading lately and what you have on your needles?