Yarnie Spotlight: Blacker Yarns
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The next company we're profiling here on Yarnie Spotlight has a long and warm relationship with Curious Handmade. I have been a fan of the wonderful Blacker Yarns for years, and they have been the inspiration behind several of my patterns, including Quill, one of my favourites from the last Season of The Shawl Society, which used their gorgeous Tamar Lustre Fingering. There is always something special about a Blacker Yarn skein with their gorgeous colourways, unusual blends, special editions, and fascinating back stories. This year, they have partnered with us for Shawl #5, which will be unveiled very soon.  I have actually created samples for this shawl in not one, but two Blacker Yarn DK weight yarns: the rustic and subtle Blacker Breeds Gotland DK and the super-soft Swan Falkland Islands DK. Both of these yarns are gorgeous and lovely to work with, and I'm getting really excited to see the combinations that members are choosing for Shawl #5.

I always love hearing from Sue and Sonja: they have been guests on my podcast several times, have contributed guest posts to my blog, and are generally incredible resources for anyone who really loves the nitty-gritty nerdy details of what makes a yarn special. They are treasure troves of information and inspiration, and I always learn a lot from them. I am also very impressed with the way they champion single-breed and small-batch yarns, introducing some wonderful, little-known fibres to a grateful knitting public. Today we're chatting to Sonja, Blacker's Brand and Marketing Manager. Sonja has a deep passion for yarn and a deep knowledge of her subject. She plays a huge role in sharing the stories behind the skeins for Blacker, and I'm so pleased that she has agreed to share some of her own story with us today!

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Could you tell us a bit about your company and yourself? How did you get to do what you do today?

I’ve been at Blacker for just over three years, before that I worked at Loop Knitting in London. Loop is certainly where my obsession with knitting first started, it was amazing to spend the day surrounded by so many beautiful shades and sumptuous yarns.

Life in London can be quite hectic so after graduating university (I have a degree in History of Art) I found myself eager to move back to the Westcountry. On the off chance, I sent my CV to The Natural Fibre Company and by a stroke of luck it turned out they were hiring! So I just fell into it really. Blacker Yarns is the retail yarn brand of The Natural Fibre Company mill, based in Cornwall. The mill has been going for about 12 years and Blacker Yarns started quite organically alongside it. We specialise in breed specific British yarns with a twist.

Managing my own yarn brand has been a steep learning curve, but oh so rewarding. Before I started working for Blacker I thought there were only three sheep breeds: Merino, Blue-Faced Leicester and Shetland. I’ve certainly had my eyes opened since then! There are over 60 sheep breeds in the UK and it has been such a journey of discovery trying so many of them. the Brand & Marketing manager of Blacker Yarns.

Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?

As a child I was always the one knee deep in mud, sploshing through puddles or burying myself in sand.  I grew up in Wales so it was quite rural, I have many fond memories of racing around in circles with my friends trying to get as muddy as possible.  As a teenager, I became really interested in fashion and colour and would borrow my mums sewing machine to make clothes. I was always curious about how things were constructed and why some things worked and others didn’t. But I think I was rather impatient as a teen and grew disheartened when the reality of my technical skills clashed with the way I’d envisioned things to look in my head – I’m sure many of you will know the feeling! So I stopped creating clothes for quite a while and only picked it up again whilst at university.

Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?

I most certainly can! It was walking into Loop Knitting in London on my first day of work. I remember having the impression that all the colours which could possibly exist were sitting on the shelves just in front of me.  I just wanted to play with all the colours and learn how they’d all interact with each other when combined into different stitch patterns. I think it was that fascination with colour which really got me addicted to yarn and knitting!

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How did you learn to do what you do?

Trial and error, really! As with many creative jobs, there is no rule book as such. Blacker has grown a fair bit over the last three years and I’m always growing with it. Every time we launch a new yarn or take on a new project it feels like a brand new challenge – there are always things I know how to do, but also things I’m still learning about. It has been wonderful learning about fibre and yarn construction from Sue and those who work in the mill. Whenever I have a question there is always someone happy to talk things through with me, which is a blessing.

Managing Blacker Yarns is wonderfully exciting, but I do have trouble turning my brain off! I can be a bit of a workaholic - but with such a fun job, it is hard not too.  ;-)  

Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?

All our yarns take dye slightly differently, so this tends to be where I start when creating a new colour palette.  After running a trial batch and seeing how a particular yarn takes the dye, I’ll begin to get some ideas about colour stories which will match with the feel of the yarn – there is no use trying to fit a square peg into a round hole! Swan DK is a non-superwashed Merino yarn, so it has a really soft, subtle pastel like quality when dyed. This made me think of rainbows and trying to find a really lovely balance of bright poppy shades. I love this yarn for it’s cheery colour combinations.

Gotland fibre on the other hand has a real lustre to it and takes dye in a highly saturated way, but it is also quite a dark fibre. This gives it a wonderfully rustic quality and the resulting yarn a great depth of colour – it almost glows! You won’t be surprised to hear that it rains a lot in Cornwall – and the moody Gotland yarn really reminded me of wet pebbles and leaves, so I felt inspired to create a colour palette which felt like the surrounding landscape of Cornwall.  This palette has lots of moody blues and greens – it is perfect for Autumn.

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Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?

What a difficult question…. I’m not sure I could pick a favourite, it would feel like cheating on all of our other yarns! I’m working with our Lyonesse 4-ply at the moment and that is such a wonderful yarn for everyday basic jumpers and cardis. The linen content means it is a great yarn to wear in those in-between months before it gets really cold and I’m in love with that linen drape.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Without a doubt meeting all our customers and seeing what they’ve created in our yarns.  There are few things as rewarding as seeing one of our yarns transformed into a glorious garment. It is just wonderful seeing people take something I’ve created and then put their own spin on it using stitch patterns and colour combinations I never would have dreamed of.  That really is what it is all about!

Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?

I used to terribly! But now I have a rule that I’m not allowed to take yarn home unless I’m actually going to cast on that night… unfortunately (like many of us) my knitting time is nowhere near as great as my day-dreaming about projects time.

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When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?

Like you yourself, Helen, I love knitting shawls. They are just such a wonderful way to try out new techniques and blend colours and textures together. They’re wonderfully relaxing because there is no need to worry about exact fit. Plus one can never have too many shawls to keep you warm and cosy over the winter months! A good shawl can completely transform an outfit.  ;-)

Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?

I’ve recently got into gardening, does that count? I love cooking and it is great some of my own veg to cook with for the first time this year. We had so many delicious fresh peas and beans and now we’ve got courgettes and baby squash. Veggies just taste so much more delicious when you’ve grown them yourself – but they do all seem to come all at once. I must admit I’m getting a little tired of trying to come up with interesting ways to eat courgette!


Having Blacker Yarns on board for both seasons of The Shawl Society so far has been a wonderful experience, and it was a delight for me to get to know Sonja a little better through this interview: I'm sure you'll feel the same way. There are so many different creative paths out there, and every time someone shares a bit of their journey I feel inspired for my own. I want to give Sonja and Blacker Yarns a huge thank you, and I want to encourage you to keep an eye on their Instagram and website: there is always something new, exciting, and covetable to discover!

Blacker Yarns website

Blacker Yarns Instagram

Helen Stewart
Yarnie Spotlight: Circus Tonic Handmade
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It has been a little while since we've met another of our amazing Shawl Society Season II yarn partners, so I'm particularly excited to bring you this in-depth interview with indie dyer and fellow Aussie Hannah, of Circus Tonic Handmade. I love the passion and energy that Hannah has shared with us in her answers. I know I find her creativity extremely inspiring. Also inspiring: the gorgeous rich colours of her yarn, which is heavily inspired by the brilliant colours of Australian flora and fauna. I am constantly blown away by the shading, subtlety and beauty of these skeins. I was lucky enough to meet Hannah in Sydney recently, when we did a joint trunk show at the lovely Skein Sisters Shop to celebrate the release of pattern #4: the Rune Shawl. For Rune, I chose two soft colurways of her wonderful Fiesta Fingering base: Cape Barren Goose and Laughing Turtle Dove. I'm happy to report that Hannah in person is every bit as lovely as her amazing hand-dyed yarn. I think you'll get a real sense of her sparkling personality and the the love that she puts into every skein as you read on.

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Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?

My first ever money I earnt myself was making and selling ‘scrunchies’ when I was a tween in Dubai. Remember those?! I worked out the perfect amount of elastic and fabric bunch and waited until school holidays on trips to England to buy beautiful Liberty fabric for my business! I was taught to sew by making quilts but then left it all behind when I moved to Australia to study science. The next time I touched a sewing machine was when I was expecting my first baby at almost 30.

Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?

I learnt to knit in 2013-14 expecting my third baby who was going to be the first winter baby. I loved the whole process….but my first indie yarn was what really hooked me. Madelinetosh Sport in Betty Draper’s Blues. I have that baby cardigan right here at my desk as I type as a momento. I made the Autumn Leaves Cardigan by Nikki van der Car and from that point on I was completely obsessed with yarn and knitting!
 
How did you learn to do what you do?
 
As I was learning to become a yarn dyer, I watched a lot of podcasts or any You Tube videos I could find. I ordered the few books on the subject and then set to work experimenting with 20g skeins I wound over a book! I had quite a few email lessons from another Aussie dyer who went above and beyond to help me.

 

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When did you decide that becoming a yarn professional was the path you wanted to take?

Once I left my scientific career in 2015 and began learning to dye yarn, it wasn’t long before I really felt like I wanted to potentially start a small Etsy business. I needed a project to keep me from feeling at sea after such a big life change….and one thing led to another!
 
Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?

I look to the Australian natural environment first and foremost. Dyeing yarn inspired by Australian native birds first started as a sort of crutch as I wasn’t confident with colour theory but has developed into an endless world of colour nuance. As my techniques change with interest and fashions, the birds can be revisited and reinvented as there are some incredibly beautiful examples that are so pleasing to the eye and thus make beautiful garments and accessories. It also helps in one of the most challenging steps a lot of yarn dyers state which is the naming of colours!

 

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What’s a “day in the life” for you as a yarn dyer?

I live with my three children, husband and hound. The house stirs between 5 and 6am but I still can’t get out of the habit of staying in bed until the youngest comes in! He has just turned three, so I really need to get out of baby and toddler mode and get on with it! If I’m building up to an update or have custom orders in the folder I try to turn the pots on then so they are heating up as we have breakfast. On good days I will have 24 skeins dyed and setting before the school run, and then another 48 over the day. Rinsing, spinning and hanging out to dry usually happen after they have gone to bed. I then sit watching Greg and my Netflix series while I skein dry yarn! The four days before an update are reserved for photos, labelling and listing…and the two days after an update is shipping and post runs. Luckily my local post officer Shabiir allows me to drop and go and pay later….he doesn’t want me clogging up the queue with three kids pulling out all the greeting cards just as much as I don’t want to be there!! I’ve seen people start running up the street to get ahead of me when they see me coming with four IKEA bags over my arms!

In between those crazy weeks I like to do a lot of planning for clubs, trying to think up interesting themes and I’m always keeping an eye out for what and who are ‘hot right now’. I have made a concerted effort to keep yarn and consumable stocks at a level that I don’t get caught short….that works mostly but there are always stress times! After all of that, I made a pledge to knit more and usually put a few rows in for an hour or so after the time which I should have gone to bed!
 
Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?

As I have discovered more about the yarn industry, my tastes have changed to include far more fibres and blends! Some plyed yarns such as superwash merino and nylon are fantastic for snazzy socks or bright modern shawls and give instant fun results in the dye pots and are easier to handle. There is certainly a huge market for those yarns and I still love them. There are incredible single origin ethical yarns becoming more available throughout Australia and I am very excited about those. They are a real education to dye and produce absolutely beautiful and precious results so I hope to carry a line of yarns such as those soon. Another recent new love is a merino bamboo blend fingering weight yarn that has a heavenly sheen and is lofty and drapes beautifully. I basically change my favourite all the time!

 

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What’s the most exciting part of your job?

I really love the moment of skeining up a new colour once it has dried. To finally see if what you imagined or hoped and planned will actually look attractive in the skein form is a big thrill. I still think that is my favourite point in the whole process!
 
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned since you began your business?

Probably that I am actually able to do this!! I didn’t go to art school, I can’t draw….but I seem to have a knack with applying dye to yarn and making fun stories to go along with it! I am an avid and committed knitter so I really do put a lot of effort in to making yarn for knitters. I try to add touches that I would like to see as an, ahem, online buyer of, ahem, a lot of yarn.
 
What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the leap into a creative business?

I would say that it is a lot of fun, a lot of work both physically and mentally, a real thrill to join such a vibrant and encouraging community both online and in real life and GO FOR IT! There is a place for everyone…not everyone is going to end up as big and successful as Hedgehog Fibres but there are a lot of regular people with lovely rewarding businesses at a scale that is perfect for a spare room at home.
 
Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?

I did think it would be amazing to have a peg board with all my colours…but I quickly realised I couldn’t really justify it. Some colours I really really struggle to list but I guess with all the formulas and recipes written down, I feel like I can hoard them that way….and unlock them on to a sweater quantity once I knit down all the other amazing yarn in my stash. I still love buying yarn from other indie dyers…and as my love for colourwork develops into a lifelong passion I am enjoying trying rustic workhorse yarns like Rauma Finnulgarn and many Shetland yarns. I adore my colours but there is always more yarn to try!

 

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When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?

My mood changes. I started with baby garments and toys then moved to shawls. I then went to portable hat projects, then on to socks and now garments. On the needles now, I have a shawl, a cowl, a mitred square blanket, four sock projects (club colours started as swatches) and one colourwork cardigan which will be my first steek! I have yarn sitting wound ready to go for another two sweaters and a line of 25 patterns printed and waiting!! As I meet more and more incredible designers I find it really hard to choose which to-die-for pattern to try next!
 
Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?

I was once a ferocious reader and I think that actually is a creative life. Reading went by the way side when I was finishing my PhD (thankfully I hadn’t learnt to knit then as I may still be trying to write that damn thesis 10 years on…) and then having babies but I feel a real need to return to that. I was a huge quilter and enjoyed the gifting side of making so much for many years and again, will get back to it. Lately I have turned my attention to my home. We are fixing it up and removing the red permanent marker someone walked up and down the stairs with….the chaos years I hope are almost behind us….and I very much look forward to creating a Sydney nest at what we call Hacienda el Ginn. My house is full of thrifted, upcycled pieces and beaten up things so I hope with a bit of creativity it will all come together!

 

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How do you balance work projects and your own creative experiments?

I am so lucky that it all rolls in to one. I dye yarn I want to knit…knitting it is good for business. Instagram has been such an amazing and wonderful tool. If I didn’t knit and share that same meditation with everyone I don’t think people would buy my yarn. I love seeing the different sides of life to yarn dyers I admire or designers I am in awe of. I love seeing their projects, their work spaces and little glimpses of what they see beautiful or interesting enough to share with a lot of other people online! At the core of knitting, crafting and being creative though, time spent off line and returning to a simple and private way of being is what is healthy about our knitterly obsessions. I too made a commitment to charging my phone at night in the kitchen so that I couldn’t look at a screen before bed..or during the night. It’s so important to focus on real life and the real people around us so that we are energised and free to pursue our creative endeavours.


I'm so grateful to Hannah for her lovely yarn, for being such a special part of the second season of The Shawl Society, and especially for taking the time to open up her life and process to us. I hope this peek into the creative process at Circus Tonic Handmade has been as fascinating for you as it was for me. I just love looking behind the curtain now and then.

I highly recommend keeping up with Circus Tonic Handmade online...but fair warning...if you're on a yarn diet her Instagram and Etsy shop are ridiculously tempting.

Circus Tonic Instagram
Circus Tonic Etsy

Helen Stewart
Yarnie Spotlight: Walcot Yarns

So far, the third Shawl Society II design is still strictly under wraps. The yarn I used, however, has been revealed, and it’s another very special one. This time, instead of featuring an indie dyer, we have an indie yarn producer. Opus is a brand new yarn from the brand new company. Walcot Yarns. Walcot was founded by two true yarn connoisseurs: Carmen Schmidt from A Yarn Story, and Sharon Spencer from Great British Yarns. With years of experience selling gorgeous yarns and a shared devotion to quality and beauty, they decided to put their heads together to create their own line of small batch, luxury yarns, made in the UK. Opus is the first yarn, and it’s impossible not to fall in love with it. Soft, fluffy merino and alpaca blended into a cloud-like skein of wonderfulness in a versatile sport weight. They have also put together a fabulous collection of patterns to showcase Opus, which you can see on their beautiful website. This jumper in particular caught my eye. Those cables!

I was delighted to get a chance to ask them our series of questions: now that we’re a few interviews in, it’s really fascinating to see the differences and similarities in the answers from each producer and dyer. Their creativity and journeys are unique, but the passion for yarn and making is a common thread in everyone’s story. Sharon answered our questions today, and it was lovely to get to know her a little better. For even more on how Opus and Walcot yarns came to be, I recommend listening to Episode 53 of the Yarn in The City Podcast, where you get to hear Carmen tell her side of the story!


Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?
 
I always wanted to have a creative job, but sadly wasn't a very creative person in that I can't draw or paint or express myself in that way.  I used to make doll's clothes very badly and then found knitting which I could do marginally well.  I really really wanted to sew but can't cut in a straight line, not even with a ruler.
 
Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?
 
It's done so a couple of times - once in the 80s when I really wanted to make colourful, patterned sweaters such as those by Patricia Roberts and again about 10 years ago when I found hand dyers and their fabulous yarns.
 
How did you learn to do what you do?
 
If we're talking about knitting, my grandmother taught me when I was about 7. 

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When did you decide that becoming a yarn professional was the path you wanted to take?
 
We had just sold our family business and wanted to do something different.  We both had experience of retail, websites, mail order etc and I had always wanted a yarn shop, so the decision was quite easy - persuading my husband only took slightly longer.
 
Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?
 
I don't really choose colours as I don't dye, but I like putting colours together and seeing what happens.  Two ranges of yarn I sell have a total of over 350 shades so it's great to get loads of those out and play putting them together and tweaking the look until it seems right to me.

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What’s a “day in the life” for you as a yarnie?
 
I spend of a lot of time counting yarn and putting it in bags.  The best bit is researching and buying, that's great fun.
 
Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?
 
That's a difficult one, I love Opus of course as it's really soft and lovely to work with, however I love working with Shetland or tweed yarns.  I love the way they feel really 'woolly' and soften as you work with them.
 
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
 
For me, it was choosing the colours of Opus.  It was great fun to sit with Carmen and choose shades, it was surprising to see how in tune we were on this without having discussed it beforehand.

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What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned since you began your business?
 
That everything takes 100 times longer than you expected.
 
What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the leap into a creative business?
 
Do so, but make sure you have a plan B!
 
Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?
 
In terms of stock, yes.  I quite often feel disappointed when the last bag of yarn in a particular range sells.
 
When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?
 
At the moment, I'm enjoying knitting shawls, they are fairly quick, usually interesting and make great gifts.
 
Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?
 
I do tapestry, usually in the summer when it's too hot for knitting.


I loved getting another peek behind the scenes at the life of a professional yarnie, and I hope you did too. Big thanks to Sharon for giving us this interview, and to Walcot Yarns for being part of this season of The Shawl Society. I can't wait to hear what the members think of Opus: I know anyone who knits Shawl #3 with it will love it as much as I do. Just wait until you see what it turned into!

Keep an eye on what Walcot Yarns is doing, see their beautiful collection, and maybe get yourself a few skeins of Opus by visiting them online:

Walcot Yarns Website

Walcot Yarns Instagram

Helen Stewart
Yarnie Spotlight: Eden Cottage Yarns

I have been a fan of Eden Cottage Yarns for a long time. Victoria's palette never fails to speak to me: gorgeous, soft, naturalistic shades and semisolids. Even the softest, palest colours still have depth and richness, like illustrations from a treasured old storybook. I feel as though I have a special connection to this yarn: VIctoria lives and creates her hand-dyed skeins in the beautiful Cumbrian countryside. It is a part of England that is very dear to my heart, and for everyone that has visited a Curious Handmade Country House Retreat (or followed along with the photos online) falls in love with it as well.

I used Eden Cottage Yarn for a Season I shawl: the beautiful Thesus Lace became the large sample for Asana. For Season II, I chose Eden Cottage Milburn 4 Ply as the yarn for our medium-sized Fairyhill shawl.

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Living as close to nature as she does, it's easy to understand why Eden Cottage Yarn puts such a focus on sustainably sourced yarns. I love following Victoria on Instagram (In fact, that's where most of these photo are from) because she offers a lovely glimpse into a life filled with yarn, dogs, and the beautiful hills, fields, and flowers of Cumbria. In today's interview, she gives us an even closer look at what life is like as an indie dyer and how her work lights her up creatively.


Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?

Funnily enough, yes I have! For as long as I can remember I have loved to create. When I was a child I would use cereal boxes to make multi-story carparks for my toy cars. Most birthdays and Christmases I would receive some type of craft based gift too. I guess it isn’t really surprising that I did art at GCSE and A-Level and then went on to do architecture at university.    

Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?

That would have been whilst at university. I had some spare time and wanted to do something creative. On a whim I picked up knitting and my passion developed from there.

How did you learn to do what you do?

This will sound like such a cliche but I taught myself through experimentation and tutorials on the internet. Trial and error really does work wonders!

When did you decide that becoming a yarn professional was the path you wanted to take?

I just kind of fell into it really. I moved to a cottage in Cumbria and didn’t have a job lined up. By that time I had been knitting, spinning my own yarn and experimenting with dyeing for a while and so I decided to take a risk and see if I could make it into a business.

Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?

A lot of my colours are based on florals and my garden. My inspiration comes mostly from nature and the environment around me. I love photography and get quite snap happy when out walking in the countryside. Looking back through the pictures I get flashes of inspiration to try to recreate when dyeing.

What’s a “day in the life” for you as a yarn dyer?

A day in the life of a dyer is quite tough and physically demanding, whilst also being very repetitive at times. Last year I was working 18 hour days regularly just to keep up with sending out orders, responding to emails and the general day-to-day admin required when you run your own business. This is on top of single handedly dyeing all stock for updates and special orders.

Things have changed quite significantly since Luna came along and since taking on Sparkles. The day is now broken up with puppy wrangling and there is a lot less pressure on me to try and keep on top of everything.

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Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?

I don’t tend to use fibres that I don’t love so all the yarns on the website class as my favourites. Thinking about it I do use a lot of Blue-faced Leicester so I guess that would probably class as a favourite.     

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

The best part of my job is seeing ECY in the wild, all the wonderful finished objects people make using my yarn. It makes it all worthwhile seeing other peoples creations.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned since you began your business?

I was horrified by the amount of tax and overheads that a small business actually incurs. The amount of paperwork that is required as well is astounding. I never thought I would need an accountant/bookkeeper but it is such a weight off my shoulders having an expert to deal with tax returns and stuff like that.

What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the leap into a creative business?

Be prepared for lots of hard work with very little reward in the first few years. It is very likely that you will not earn enough to pay yourself for a long time. But if you can, get a bookkeeper, it really saves a lot of pain!

Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?

Oh totally! ALL the time!! I love my yarn and want to make aaaaalllllll the things. When I see a pattern, garment etc, I am always thinking about what Milburn colours I could use for it. I do have to remind myself sometimes that I have to sell it. There is also a little voice in my head saying that good quality samples will help to sell more yarn so it is a balancing act.

When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?

Mostly I make garments and shawls. I tend to feel the cold alot and so love knitwear which means I can always find an excuse to knit more. I wear shawls almost daily especially now that I am regularly dog walking so in my opinion you can never have too many!!

Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?

Unfortunately I don’t get much time to do anything else but on the rare occasion that I have some time I like to draw/paint and sometimes do a bit of embroidery or potter around in the garden.

How do you balance work projects and your own creative experiments?

To be honest I manage to blur the lines between the two. For any patterns that catch my eye, I will tend to choose my own yarns to use for it so that I can use the finished article for promotional purposes on social media. I know I keep banging on about it but I am such a fan of Milburn especially with all the new colours that I just want to knit with it all the time. I hardly ever knit from my stash nowadays.


Hearing Victoria talk about the everyday reality of making her living with yarn is so inspiring. I'm honoured that she joined us again this year for The Shawl Society Season II, and I know her wonderful yarn will continue to inspire me as both a designer and a knitter. I'd like to give a big thanks to Victoria and Eden Cottage Yarns for being a part of this adventure with us and for taking time out of a busy dying schedule to answer my questions. You can follow Eden Cottage Yarns and fall in love with some skeins yourself at:

Eden Cottage Yarns Website

Eden Cottage Yarns Instagram

 

 

Helen Stewart
Yarnie Spotlight: Julie Asselin Yarn

When I first began thinking about this new website for The Shawl Society, one of the most exciting aspects was creating a space to celebrate the incredible yarns I work when I’m designing each season’s shawls. As makers, the materials we use mean so much. The tactile joy and the aesthetic pleasure we get from working amazing yarn is at least half the fun of knitting. Even when we’re making for other people, that experience stays with us long after the finished object has gone on to its new home.

When I’m designing, the yarn really leads the way. It often spark the earliest idea for a shawl the first time I pick it up, and as I work and learn more about its qualities and “personality” it sometimes leads the design in fascinating new directions. But it’s not just the physical yarn itself that matters. There’s a less tangible but equally important factor that adds so much to the experience of working with yarn. The stories behind a skein of yarn, the huge amount of creativity and care that goes into its making, and the passionate people who make it all possible: every tidbit I learn seems to add more magic to an already very special skein.

I wanted to share as many of these magical tidbits with Shawl Society members as possible, so I’ll be interviewing our wonderful indie yarn partners as we go. Today we’re featuring Jule Asselin, the wonderfully talented Canadian dyer who made the delicious Merletto yarn featured in the lace-weight version of our still top-secret second shawl. Julie began dying wool about five years ago, and since then her yarn has become an indie success story, selling deeply-in-demand skeins in her Etsy shop as well as through over 50 venues online and in local yarn shops around the world. She and her husband work the dye pots together these days, and a small team of friends helps them manage all the moving parts of a small creative business.

She talks to us about her family’s generational legacy of making and fibre craft, what it’s like to run a yarn-based business every day, and offers a little advice for people with yarn dreams of their own.

Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?

I always did. All the women and most of the men on my mother’s side are makers. Knitting and crochet have been a part of my life since a very young age. Add to that sewing, photography, music, painting and drawing, it was very stimulating creatively as a kid. I was taught to knit by my grand-maman and mother around the age of 4 and I've been hooked ever since.

Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?

In the form that is is today it was about 6-7 years ago when one day, being curious about how things are made I started researching yarn production. From there I really wanted to make my own colors and knew that I also wanted to be involved in the yarns conception as well.

How did you learn to do what you do?

My mother used to do, and still does, all sorts of things related to textile craft so I gravitated around dyeing for as long as I can remember. I made lots of experiments as a teenager with that when wanting to create my own clothing. Not always happy results by the way!

Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?

Nature, music, people, state of minds, events, foods can all translate into colorways.

What’s a “day in the life” for you as a yarn dyer?

It’s hard to say because it changes everyday. As business partners we have to be ready to jump to any task that needs to be done. It can go from dyeing to putting on labels, shipping, social media, running errands.

Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?

Too hard to choose. Different fibers means different ways of taking to the dyes so they can all bring something special to a yarn when it comes to color.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Color and yarn development of course but I also really enjoy the inspirational part of it like when it comes to recommending patterns for a certain yarns or putting color combinations together. Meeting knitters and making connection is also a big part of who we are.

What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the leap into a creative business?

Think outside the box, do your research and at the same time, even if you might not be reinventing the wheel, you have to be genuine.

Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?

I never do, my stash is only other people’s yarns. If I need something for a project we make it when I need it.

When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?

I am a sweater knitter. When it comes to accessories it is hats then shawls.

Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?

Photography and Cooking.


I really want to thank Julie for being such an important part of The Shawl Society Season II, and for taking the time to answer my questions. Very soon I’ll be able to share some sneak peeks at the shawl which features her magnificent yarn. Until then, you can keep up with the magic Julie Asselin is making every day (and make fall in love with a few skeins yourself) by following her online:

Julie Asselin website

Julie Asselin Etsy

Julie Asselin Instagram

Helen Stewart
Tech Tip: Blocking your Shawl
 
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Almost all knitting looks better when it has been blocked, but I think shawls are a special case. The difference between a shawl just off the needles and one that has been through a blocking bath is often night and day. After hours of work on a project, it can be discouraging to learn that there’s one more step before your beautiful shawl is truly finished. Blocking is one of those topics that can have new knitters feeling skittish, but it is actually one of the most magical parts of knitting. Stretching out your shawl to reveal its true beauty is a wonderful moment. All lace looks so much better blocked, even simple eyelets. The stitches open up and relax, the yarn fluffs up and “blooms” and the knitted fabric drapes beautifully once it dries. Here’s how to make the magic happen!

Blocking - five simple steps

Ingredient list:

  • Bucket or sink
  • Lukewarm water
  • Baby shampoo or wool wash
  • Large bath towel
  • Pins
  • Optional: blocking/dressing wires
  • Large flat area which can be pinned, like a foam mat or spare bed

 

Step 1: Weave in your ends. Make sure everything is nice and secure!

Step 2: Fill a sink or bucket with lukewarm water. Don’t use hot water: it can cause your yarn to felt. You can also add a tiny amount of a very mild shampoo, such as baby shampoo, or a little wool wash.

Step 3: Soak your shawl. Gently push your shawl under the water. Don’t agitate the water too much, as the friction can also cause felting. Just gently press until the yarn has absorbed enough water to be fully saturated. Let it soak for 10 to 30 minutes.

If you are using more than one colour in your shawl and you are worried about bleeding, stay on the shorter end of the soak time and check on it often. You might also want to add a little white vinegar to the soak.

After soaking, you can rinse your shawl by emptying the bucket, refilling it with clean water (hold the shawl out of the way so that the agitation of the tap water doesn’t hit it) and soaking again for a minute. Repeat as needed until the water runs clear.

Step 4: The towel roll. Have a large towel laid out flat before you remove your shawl from the soak. Gently squeeze most of the water from your shawl: it’s quite delicate at this moment, so it’s important not to wring it or treat it roughly. Then, lay your shawl flat onto the bath towel, and start to roll the towel and the shawl together like a swiss roll, squeezing gently as you go, then unroll and check how wet the shawl is. You want it quite damp, but not dripping. If it’s still very wet, repeat the towel roll with a dry towel.

Step 5: Stretch. Lay your shawl out on your soft flat surface gently. Once you have the general shape, you can start to stretch and pin. If you are using blocking wires, you’ll want to start with a wire threaded through the top and bottom edges. If you are just using pins, start by finding and pinning the center of the top edge. From there, just start gently pulling and pinning as you go. You can slightly influence the shape of the shawl by the way you pin. For a crescent shawl, the ends of the top edge can be curved inwards into a soft “horseshoe” shape: this will make the shawl easier to wear. If your shawl is finished with a picot edge or points, you will want to pin each of the picots or points down individually to make them stand out. Keep adjusting and repinning as you go until you are happy with the shape of the shawl. Leave it to dry thoroughly.

Your yarn may react differently to blocking depending on what type of fibre you used. Wool blends benefit from a lot of stretching, so don’t be afraid to be firm. Luxury fabrics, such as alpaca, cashmere, or silk may require a lighter touch. If you’re in doubt, check with your yarn manufacturer.

Once the shawl is dry, you can carefully unpin it and try it on. The change to the way the fabric drapes after blogging is quite obvious. You are likely to have an easier time getting a blocked shawl to lay nicely than the unblocked version. The most wonderful part will be the way the stitches have relaxed and opened up, showing off the gorgeous result of all your hard work.

 

 
 
Noa Nesher
Announcing... Season II

This week, we released the shawls from The Shawl Society Season I as individual patterns! It’s a pleasure to open up a little taste of The Shawl Society to people who missed the first season. I know there were plenty of knitters who fell in love with one particular shawl on Instagram or Ravelry, so this is a chance to finally add your favourite pattern to the queue!

It has been wonderful to revisit each of the designs for the single pattern release, and to watch new people discovering them for the first time. It’s a whole new context, and this has been a chance to see the shawls with fresh eyes. I really love this collection, and spending a bit of time with it over the last few days has heightened my anticipation for what comes next…

…a new season of The Shawl Society!

Season II will be opening for pre-orders very soon, and I cannot wait to welcome back our founding members and meet all the new knitters that will join our community with this new session. I have been deep in the design and planning process for months; this is where I get to encounter the surprise which is at the heart of the Shawl Society experience. Each shawl begins with the kernel of an idea, a special skein of yarn, and then slowly reveals itself to me as I knit. In a way, being a designer is like participating in a never ending mystery knitalong.

That might be why The Shawl Society idea was born in the first place: I love sharing that mystery and delight in discovery with so many knitters all over the world.

The specific details of the next Shawl Society season are still under wraps for now, but the basic premise is the same: for six months, members will receive a gorgeous secret shawl pattern each month. There will be detailed yarn advice for those knitting from stash, and special relationships with the amazing yarn producers behind each sample. There will be encouraging knit alongs and wonderful prizes for finished objects. There will be fun and chatter and a heaping dose of surprise.

In the meantime, you can learn more about what it’s like to be a member of The Shawl Society with a little sleuthing of your own. Our “testimonials” page is full of lovely words from Shawl Society Initiates about their experience last year, and if you visit the Curious Handmade Ravelry Group you’ll find threads full of chatter and sharing. The project pages for any of last season’s designs are a goldmine of inspiring photos and notes about knitting each shawl, and the Instagram hashtag #theshawlsociety has enough beautiful knitspiration to keep you going for ages.

We’ll be building the anticipation over the next little while (it’s all part of the fun!) and sharing tidbits with you through the newsletter (if you’re not signed up yet, just enter your email on the homepage and you’ll be on the list!).

 

Noa Nesher
The Shawl Society Beginnings
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It has been almost a year since I opened the first season of The Shawl Society. I had such a strong sense of what I wanted this project to be about, but I had no real idea what it would become.

From the moment I launched Curious Handmade I’ve been fascinated by the community aspect of knitting and other handmade arts. I experimented with different types of community projects and challenges, and the results were always incredibly rewarding. I love the way we bonded over our work, taught and learned from each other, and admired each other’s achievements.  That encouragement and mutual growth is one of my favourite things about the knitting community. There’s also such an irrepressible sense of fun when knitters get together, whether it happens in person or online.

When I was developing The Shawl Society, I wanted to capture all of that in something that was more than just a collection of lovely shawl patterns. I took all my favourite parts of mystery knit-alongs, events, subscription clubs, and storybooks about brave bands of adventurers and mixed it up together.

What happened next was magical. The anticipation and joy everyone shared over each pattern release was almost a kind of fairy dust. And six months was really long enough to build meaningful relationships. As we got deeper into the session, I was deeply inspired to see all the ways that the members were connecting with each other.

4179 Instagram posts.

5588 project pages.

More than 10000 forum posts.

Mothers and daughters wrote to say they had joined together as a way to bond across the miles. Strangers recognised each other’s TSS shawls at knitting events and struck up conversations. In some places, Shawl Society members gathered to knit the shawls together in person. Some people reported that the Society gave them courage to knit a shawl for the very first time, while others discovered that the group’s enthusiasm inspired a fresh love of shawl knitting, even after dozens of completed projects under their belts. As a group, there was so much momentum! The energy was thrilling.

At the end someone started a thread to display collages of all six completed shawls together. You wouldn’t think a thing like that could be so emotional, but it was. I was deeply moved to see everything The Shawl Society members had created together.

 

Noa Nesher