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Brushwork: a woolly temptation

Last month Blacker Yarns contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to review Brushwork, its 12th birthday limited edition yarn. Whilst I am happy to talk about the materials I use in my making, I had to think twice before agreeing to review a one-off product. I’m the kind of person who likes to consider purchases at length before buying so I feel a little uncomfortable promoting items that will not hang around for very long. However, I agreed as I am a big fan of Blacker Yarns’ work in general and as this birthday blend is as inspired as it is gorgeous.

Brushwork is a fabulous (but alas only temporary) addition to Blacker’s range as it is distinct from its other wool blends and fills one of the few gaps in the company’s offering.

The woollen spun blend is made up of 70% Bowmont. This is a relatively new breed, developed in Scotland in the 1990s by crossing Saxon Merino with Shetland to create a breed that is hardy enough to survive in the northern climate yet still produces a soft fleece. The cross was successful and resulted in a fibre that has much of the softness of merino but in a far more interesting way. In fact, the breed was so successful that it is snapped up by quality garment makers for cloth. It is therefore remarkable that Blacker Yarns managed to purchase a bale of this fleece but also inspired as once again, Blacker Yarns is helping to counter the notion that British wool is too scratchy for clothes.

The Bowmont fibre was blended with 10% Castlemilk Moorit, a rare breed with a brown fleece (think muted bark rather than bitter chocolate), and 20% British alpaca. The resulting blend is enticingly soft but with the familiar slightly crunchy comfort of Shetland wool, has good drape thanks to the alpaca and although dyed has a lovely warm undertone due to the Castlemilk Moorit.

The blend is not the only distinct feature of Brushwork. Blacker decided to achieve the colours by dyeing the fleeces and then blending them rather than dyeing the yarn. This produces a more complex colour, just like you’d get if you were blending paints on a palette. This blending of colour not only gives the colour more depth but also produces a hint of tweed in the yarn. It’s a method of colour creation that I love and I really hope Blacker decides to use it more often in its other ranges.

Finally, the weight. At 150 metres (approx. 165 yards) per 50g, this yarn is classified as a sport weight. Sport weight is a relatively recent concept in the UK and this is, I believe, Blacker’s first sport weight yarn. The theory is that at this weight the yarn could be used for patterns requiring anything from a 4ply (fingering) to a DK weight but the knitted fabric will of course vary depending on the stitch and needle combination, not to mention the knitter’s tension.

These are the technical details but what was my experience of the mini ball I was sent to try?

When I first inspected the yarn I thought it would lend itself to a hearty lace garment so I made a swatch using the fleurette stitch pattern. The feel of the yarn as I knitted was gorgeous: yielding but with body and the resulting lace would definitely work for a sensible yet feminine everyday cardigan.

As I was swatching though I increasingly thought of hats and gloves in an Alana Dakos style (i.e. travelling stitches across reverse stocking stitch) because of the stitch definition and tweedy feel of the yarn. So I cast on a swatch using an hourglass motif to test this instinct. As you can see from the swatch below, Brushwork would be perfect for this type of project!

The more I swatched with the yarn, the more I fell in love with the texture it produced. The fabric felt comfortable and sturdy yet attractive. It would make a wonderful everyday garment that feels special but not in a precious way. A garment that I would love but not be too scared to live and work in.

So I started to think of Brushwork in the context of sweaters I was planning to knit in the coming months. As listeners of my podcast know, my handmade wardrobe involves meticulous research, planning and costing. However, by not keeping too much yarn in my wool pantry, I have the flexibility to try new blends I learn about. I therefore used the last of my sample ball of Brushwork to swatch in stocking stitch to see whether I could get the tension I needed for an Andi Satterlund cardigan. And I could.

This brings me to my experience of the weight. I generally take ball band weights with a large pinch of salt. I always go by do I like the fabric quality I can achieve with my tension, and play around with needle sizes and the mathematics of a project as necessary. In my experience, based on my typical tension, I usually achieve a sport to DK weight when using Blacker Yarns’ 4ply wools, especially with its woollen spun yarns. I was therefore fully expecting for Brushwork to work up as DK for me. It did, and I can even push it to work for certain patterns designed in heavy DK/worsted weight wool.

Finally, I have washed, blocked and wore my swatches. I had no concerns about next-to-skin softness as I have a very high tolerance to wools and Brushwork is much softer than many of the yarns I use. I was more interested in seeing how the wool wears. As Bowmont has merino heritage I was wary of pilling but based on my testing so far the blend is more robust than pure merino wool.

So will I be investing in Blacker Yarns’ 12th birthday yarn?

I am sorely tempted! There are only two reasons why I am dithering. The first is the shades. The colours, all named after painting techniques, are incredibly beautiful, mostly due to their complexity and the warm undertone, but there are only one or two that would suit me with my colourings: the warm pink blend Impasto* and the deep purple Smudge. Secondly, I have had my heart set on a sweater’s quantity of Blacker’s Gotland DK wool for the Siri cardigan and have been saving for this for months.

Brushwork launches at Yarndale this coming weekend and will retail at £8.40 per 50g. It will be available online on the Blacker Yarns website from Thursday 28 September onwards so I can’t dither for too much longer…


* The pink is showing up a little more copper than it is in real life.

Blacker Yarns sent me a mini ball of Brushwork and the shade card to sample and review but I am happy to recommend this wool for the reasons above and because it is a fine example of Blacker Yarns’ efforts to support and promote British breeds and the farmers and shepherds who tend them.











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