yarn

Yarns of This Thing of Paper: Dye Ninja, 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. Sheila of DyeNinja is a real genius with rich, jewel-like colour with subtle semi-solid effects. When we started talking about the project, I knew she understood exactly what I needed in terms of colour and texture.  

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Hello. You were a relatively new yarn dyer when I first came across your yarns, and I quickly became obsessed with your sense of colour. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

A lifetime ago, well four years (they were big years), I was a successful Programme Manager with thirty years experience of implementing Computer Systems for Banks and Hospitals. I was good at Planning, Budgeting, Organising and Risk Assessment. But there wasn't a lot of time for knitting, and I had way too many Capital Letters in my life.

One day, on the way home from a wool dyeing workshop, I had a life-changing moment. My heart and mind were filled with the possibilities of colour and wool, alpaca, silk, and so on but mostly colour; glorious, bright, joy-filled, life-enhancing colour. So I gave up the salary and the car and the ninety-hour weeks (I kid you not) and the capital letters and became a yarn alchemist.

Yarn alchemist. I really think that sums up your approach to colour and bases! Could you tell my readers about your yarns and colour, because I think you do something very special. 

Yes, yarn alchemist! Now, my life revolves around steaming cauldrons, jewel-like dyes, luxury yarns and vibrant colour. For me, the most important thing about yarn is that it handles well - if you're going to spend some of your precious leisure hours working with it, then it has to feel good in your hands. So I have luxurious yarn bases that I treat with care and respect, so that I can give you vibrant depth of colour without the dye bleeding, or the yarn scratching, or splitting and unwinding itself as you work.

Then, with beautiful yarn as a place to start, I layer on the colour - oodles of colour. I'm looking for depth and vibrancy, a bright richness of hue in almost solid, semi-solid and tonally variegated yarn. Used as a single colour the layering and shading give life to what might otherwise be flat colour, so a single-coloured sweater becomes a thing of infinite interest as it moves in the light; while the subtlety of tonal changes will set-off beautifully those multi-coloured and speckled favourites in the stash. 

You chose the baby camel/silk fingering for This Thing of Paper and it's arguably the most luxurious yarn I dye. It gives wonderful deep jewel colours and interesting multi-layering in the neutrals. It drapes like a dream and makes the most wonderful shawls, cowls and hats

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That yarn is absolutely spectacular and your colours are so subtle & rich, it was difficult to capture them properly. We spent ages trying to get the photography right! I also have a little box you made me of all your shades and I often go back to it just to play with colour combinations. I love how rich your colours are, yet they are never overpowering or flat. 

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I have asked the next question to all my lovely yarn supporters, but I think I already know your answer .. seeing as This Thing of Paper is about books, what book would you recommend? 

What - apart from anything by Sir Terry Pratchett? (Guards! Guards! Mort or Witches Abroad would be good places to start). 

I knew you were going to say Sir Terry Prachett. In fact, you do a series of colourways inspired by Prachett's work - the proceeds of which you use to fundraise for Alzheimer's Research UK. As someone whose family has been touched by dementia, I am very grateful for this. Thank you. 

Finally, where can people find your yarns? ? 

I have a website shop with good photos and a simple process for buying. But one of the great joys of this life is yarn festivals. I love everything about them from deciding which colours to take, to flitting across country with the car stuffed to the gunnels with yarn and setting up my stand with dozens of like-minded crafty folk. Best of all I love meeting the people who knit with my yarn, who seek out vibrant colours and delicious yarn bases; they always have interesting things to say and they're just such nice people. I try to go to at least half a dozen festivals each year, this year it's been Edinburgh Yarn Festival, WonderWool Wales, York Wool Fest, Perth Festival of Yarn, Yarndale, Loch Ness Knit Fest and Nottingham Yarn Expo

Next year I hope to add festivals further afield! I'm already looking forward to seeing everyone.

And everyone should look forward to seeing your colours and bases. I bought some yarn from you recently earmarked for a new design. You do stunning work, Sheila. Thank you!

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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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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.

All the Things; All the Feels

Today I'm really tired. I spent the weekend in London for the lovely, lovely Yarnporium and while I took yesterday off, I am feeling a bit rough around the edges today. I spent Friday at the Victoria & Albert museum in London which is dedicated to arts & crafts and design. I took in the Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery with a friend and also lingered with the sections on medieval European art. Saturday I taught two classes at Yarnporium (and managed to get lost on my way to teaching the Knitting the Landscape class which I thought was very on-message and method of me). I caught up with vendors and friends before heading to an evening do thrown by LoveCrafts in Bloomsbury. Sunday I spent the morning at Yarnporium again meeting awesome folks before spending my last hours in London at the near-by National Gallery.

I had been quite nervous about teaching Knitting the Landscape as the class had been commissioned by Yarnporium and thus was brand-new. The class went really well, actually, and I was blown away by people's willingness to reassess their approach to knitting. I found it so inspirational to hear people's stories and I loved how individual all the finished pieces looked. Though there are some limitations to the workshop (such as it can only really work with a large number of participants), I will be adding it to my repertoire going forward and I cannot wait to see how people interpret their world through knitting.

I have only just unpacked my bags from Yarnporium and now I'm off to Northern Ireland. I'm teaching Shetland Lace at Glen Gallery - this will be my third year of teaching their November workshops and I always look forward to my visit. So, laundry to do, samples to air and then it is off again..

.. but before that happens, I just want to tell you something that happened yesterday. I learned that I have been nominated as Designer of the Year in the British Craft Awards. This nomination really floored me - particularly because I am nominated along some serious heavyweights like Martin Storey and Marie Wallin. Having begun designing on a whim whilst working for a yarn company to making designing my full-time career just two years ago and now being mentioned alongside people I really admire .. well,  I cannot begin to tell you how much this means to me. I am not quite sure what to make of it all, but I am so pleased to see woolly chums like Tom of Holland, Knit British, and BritYarn nominated in various categories. It feels like we are slowly changing the conversations we are having about knitting. Hooray.

I'm off to continue work on the book and answer questions from my inbox. Please be patient: I won't have access to internet or mobile data whilst in Northern Ireland!