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!
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!
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.
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.
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