Review: Blacker Yarns Tamar

Knitting has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. When I first got back into knitting, we had all sorts of fibres available to us: silk, cotton, bamboo, pineapple, banana, milk and .. well, wool. Some yarns stated they were merino wool but most yarns just said wool. If you are a keen knitter, you may have noticed that has changed. Thanks to the tireless efforts of people like Clara Parkes and Deb Robson, us ordinary knitters now understand that wool is not just wool. There are many different sheep breeds - each offering their own particular type of fleece which has its own properties. Some breeds have a lot of lustre, other breeds have very strong fibres etc. We also talk about knitting local (Ms Knit British is exceptionally vocal about this!) and we are beginning to understand that what different wools have to offer. Here in the UK we are lucky enough to have companies like Blacker Yarns that are truly passionate about all the different sheep breeds around us and what they have to offer a hand-knitter.

This blog post has been a long time in the making: I am passionate about making people think about what yarns they are using and how different yarns act differently; I am also passionate about making sure my yarn has not travelled more times around the globe than I have; I also worry about animal welfare and the provenance of fibres. These things matter to me as a knitter.

So, I was sent a small sample of Blacker Yarns' new yarn, Tamar - a mix of Teeswater, Leicester Longwool and Wensleydale. I wound it by hand because I wanted to feel its handle before I started working with it. It has a certain stickiness to it which I found interesting given its description of having drape and lustre. I am not a spinner and words like drape and lustre made me think of silk. Tamar was definitely not silky as I wound it.

Then I began knitting with it. I started out using the stitch pattern I also used for Frances Herself - a small motif with a stocking stitch centre encircled by decreases. Tamar responded beautifully with a touch of halo. Then I switched to stocking stitch and I saw why the yarn was described by having drape and lustre. It flowed off the needles with a cheery little kick. I liked the fabric. Finally I did some rows in garter stitch. This was probably my favourite knitting experience. The yarn produced a light fabric with a lot of bounce, but crucially the drape was still there.


Let me explain.

If you are working with garter stitch, you usually end up with quite a dense, bouncy fabric which stays put. You have to compensate for the density by switching up needle sizes (e.g. if you are working a shawl in garter stitch and you want to introduce some drape - this is where designers' yarn suggestions are crucial). I was so pleased when I realised that Tamar retained its drape despite the bouncy garter stitch. As a designer, that is really rather cool. I sat thinking how I'd respond to the yarn during the design process. I wouldn't need to make as many compromises on my needle size which meant I could be slightly more particular about design features. It's always joyful when a yarn provokes such responses in you.

The palette of the yarn is beautiful. The grey tone of the Leicester Longwool gives the dyed shades a really lovely muted look. I also like the range of colours. It feels wonderfully well worked out with dark, mid-, and light tones all represented. This is perfect for colourwork purposes and I really appreciate when a yarn company takes that into account.



Tamar is a beautiful, beautiful yarn. It is fantastic to see Blacker Yarns continuing to develop yarns that are breed-specific and take the knit local ethos seriously. It is also fantastic to see a yarn that feels so very, very thoughtful. As a knitter I feel very fortunate; as a designer, I find it incredibly exciting.

And just because I sometimes get the urge to say it: I don’t do sponsored content. I carry a strict policy on what I review and write about. I need to fall in love with something before I decide to write about it. I was sent a small sample of Tamar by Blacker Yarns, but that is not why I wrote this blog post. I wrote it because I fell in love. It's that straightforward.

PS. If you are neither in the States nor in the UK, I am very sure you also have local sheep breeds. I urge you to do your own research and see what your local yarn companies are doing. Some places have very ancient sheep breeds - like Iceland, the Faroes, and Norway - but I would love to know more about other parts of the world. Please leave a comment telling me about your local sheep and yarns!

A Trip to Cockermouth: Woolfest 2013

I started my summer holiday with a trip to Cumbria in the North-East of England. Woolfest 2013 is one of the big events on the knitting calendar and, as I usually work events rather than attend, being able to go as a visitor felt like a treat. Of course, my Woolfest visit turned into actual work once I got there - places to be and people to see - but it was good to be a 'punter' for about 20 minutes! Compared to other events I've either attended or worked, Woolfest was overwhelming. It wasn't as crowded as I had feared, but I found myself rushing from one end to another over and over. And then it was suddenly time to go home and I hadn't done half the things I had planned on doing.

(I did get to say a fond go forth and conquer the world goodbye to a friend who has landed her dream job in Canada. I am sure I will get to see Dr J again but it was bitter-sweet. But, hey, I am used to having friends spread out across the world and one day I will have the best couch-surfing adventure ever. Right? Right?)

A few obligatory photos of purchases:

Woolfest Acquisitions


Woolfest is all about celebrating British wool/yarn and I loved seeing the rare sheep breeds on display. I wasn't too happy with people who kept poking the poor sheep, but it was great seeing the animals in person. I think many knitters forget that there is an actual animal at the end of their yarn (so to speak) and I think even more knitters do not realise the variety of local wool available. I was very taken with the Wesleydales (hippies, man) but I loved the Manx Loaghtan sheep even more. When I saw the white Wesleydale/Manx mix, I could not resist. Coupled with the darker Manx, this will become a warm winter's hat.


Woolfest Acquisitions


One of my favourite destinations at any knitting event is always the Susan Crawford Vintage stall. This time I wanted to see Susan's new cotton yarn - Coquette 4ply - but it is always a joy to look at her stall. She has such a personal sense of colour and a very focused aesthetic. I didn't leave with any Coquette, but I picked up two balls of the exquisite Excelana 4ply. It feels beautiful in the ball and I want to support British yarn producers! I have a very specific design idea for this yarn. Shhh.


Woolfest Acquisitions


This was an unexpected purchase. This was described as "Hebridean 4ply" and it certainly looks like Hebridean 4ply. As you can see by my tiny hand, this is a massive amount of dark brown 4ply with a decidedly Hebridean feel. Goodness knows how much is there, but it will certainly be enough to form the backdrop/main colour of a colourwork cardigan. I am ridiculously pleased with this purchase and it was a real 'spur of the moment' one too.


Woolfest Acquisitions


And then I bought buttons. I woke up Sunday morning when the whiff of the button stalls had cleared from my head and I was confused for a moment. Had I really bought that many buttons? Of course I had. I always buy buttons at events.

The big two buttons are ear-marked for a project. The buttons at (roughly) 4 o'clock are meant for my Bute cardigan (1.5 sleeves to go!), the 8 o'clock buttons are for the Stevie cardigan and I bought the 9 o'clock buttons because they reminded me of ammonites. We like fossils in Casa Bookish! The rest of the buttons were bought for unspecified future projects.

It was very good to meet a lot of friends - both old and new. Apologies if I missed seeing you or if I was only there for a second - it was a manic day. I think if I am to do Woolfest again, I will have to stay overnight. One day isn't really enough! And on that note I think I shall go enjoy the rest of my holiday.

Do Not Feed the Culture Vultures?

Glasgow does visual arts so very, very well and every year we get the added bonus of a four-day art fair. Guess what? It's that time of year again.. Today we went to the Glasgow Art Fair and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. Last time we went, we nearly ended up buying a Lucy Campbell painting (specifically one extremely similar to this one). We both liked its fairytale qualities and I felt strangely comforted by its Philip Pullman-ness. Today I'm glad we didn't buy it. I think Campbell has her definite strengths but I think they lie within the realm of illustration rather than painting.

This time the Art Fair was visibly affected by the recession. Saturday afternoon was simply not that crowded and quite a few vendors confided that they were having a tough time shifting anything. Interestingly this year also saw galleries from Spain, Vietnam and the Czech Republic trying their luck. Diversifying or maybe the stands came cheaper this year? The Vietnamese stand was spectacularly crap, incidentally.

Ever the pop culture aficionado, Dave spotted Carl Moore's work immediately and was very, very taken with his Animals Who Want To Be Other Animals series as well as the Robot Dreams series. I'm not sure about the robots, but I loved the Animals series too.

Proving that I have way more taste than money, I headed straight to Jonathan Wolstenholme's watercolours (the cheapest one was £2,900 - that's a lot of sweaters!). The website does not do them justice, but try looking at The Descent of Books with its clever, humourous details or Murder in the Library which ticks all my boxes. Wolstenholme's watercolours may not be cutting edge or setting the art world on fire, but, gosh, they'd look nice in my imaginary library.

And for any woolshop/yarn shop (however imaginary), what about a few David Blyth prints? We had a good natter with David M. of Peacocks Visual Arts (who represents David Blyth), which made a nice afternoon even better.

On days like these, I just love living here. I really do. Art and beauty nourish my soul.