Many of you may be familiar with Blacker Yarns as a brand and it's likely that you've come across their exquisite yarns online or in your local yarn store and since Blacker Yarns have kindly agreed to sponsor this year's aptly name Blacker Yarns Podcast Lounge, we thought it would be great to introduce you to Sue Blacker who runs Blacker Yarns with her husband. We wanted to know a little about Sue's journey to running a mill:
I took up shepherding after watching my left-handed husband Douglas cutting grass with the tractor mower! The sheep did it better and considerably more safely, while saving him from boredom as well. They also usefully entertained and interested the visitors to our holiday cottages near Fowey.
We started with Gotlands and, like most people with their original breed, somehow seem to have stuck with them – the initial advice for a smallholder with wool ambitions and an interest in sheep with a bit of personality has suited us well for nearly 20 years now … although I have added some dark coloured Blue-faced Leicesters and now have both pure and cross-bred sheep.
Once I had begun to get a bit of quality fleece from my initial four wether sheep, I sent their wool to The Natural Fibre Company, then in Wales, for spinning into knitting yarns and sold the yarns to holiday makers and local shops. After a couple of years, we left the holiday cottages, but bought some land nearby and had more sheep, more wool and more yarn, at which stage Myra and Philip Mortlock were thinking of retiring from the NFC and I was wondering about what to do next in my career.
Somehow, things all fell into place: I ignored cautious advice, wrote a business plan, consulted a large number of the existing customers about their future requirements, applied for some useful European funding and even persuaded a bank to lend us some money. So in September, 2005, we opened up in Cornwall, moving the equipment from Wales and adding several new services. Some of this big enterprise was helped by my previous experience in investment analysis in the City until 1989 and then in managing an economic development partnership and two charities locally in Devon and Cornwall. Some came from my love of knitting, which leaves me with a dreadful empty feeling whenever I don’t have a project on the needles – possibly a reason for managing to eke out my last pullover for a full ten years from start to finish (much interrupted by important projects like swatch making and design checking as we developed Blacker Designs knitting patterns).
My son Sam in particular has helped with the sheep, although he has now fled to East Anglia … and the rest of my family, along with Gideon the shearer, Robert the fencing contractor, Simon the muck clearer and Adrian the muck spreader and hedge trimmer, as well as Mike the hay-maker, all make the enterprise possible while I also manage the spinning mill business. Being based on farming, we try with both The Natural Fibre Company and Blacker Yarns to live up to strong environmental values and to give the best possible quality and service to all our customers and we learn from them all the time, which has helped us to survive a difficult recession and to come out stronger for the future.
And now we are 10 years old, the pullover is at last finished and launched online (pattern available on our website and Ravelry) and I’m looking forward to the next decade (or so …), and maybe even another pullover. We see a great future for our service of spinning for smallholders and craft workers across the UK and increasingly in Europe, as well as the growing Blacker Yarns brand with its focus on high quality pure wools and blends with British provenance.