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Monday, 19 May 2014

Back to Black (Sheep Wools)

Wouldn't it be great if your local yarn store had a huge range of stock to choose from at a range of prices to suit every budget?  Debbie Bliss, Sirdar, Hayfield, Rowan, Regia, for example ...



What if it also sold other craft essentials - cross stitch kits galore ...


And fabric in wonderful, vibrant colours to make beautiful snuggle-me-up quilts?



You'd want plenty of accessories to choose from - crochet hooks and knitting needles ...


pom pom makers and fun knitting tools for children ...


even shawl pins to complete the look once you've created your fabulous accessories ...


Unusual knitting kits ...


and lots of samples so that you could see exactly how a yarn knitted up, complete with an idea of how much it would cost you to make.  


Ooh, and of course you'd want a sale every year, wouldn't you?  A sale that offered huge discounts on whole packets of yarn, as well as just one or two balls ...


And after all that, wouldn't it be wonderful if your local yarn shop had a friendly, welcoming cafe that sold the most amazing locally-baked cakes?


Wouldn't this be just the best place to have right on your doorstep?


Don't you wish that my local yarn store was your local yarn store?  The good news is that even if you live miles away, it can be.


Black Sheep Wools has been an independent family-run business in the village of Culcheth, just a few miles from Winwick, for over thirty years.  Although they also have a strong on-line presence these days, through their website, Facebook and Twitter, Black Sheep are regularly seen at shows throughout the country where along with their enormous range of cross-stitch kits, their famous Yarn Dive piles of yarn packs draw huge crowds in search of bargains.  They moved to the Craft Barn a couple of years ago which has allowed them to expand their range of yarns and craft kits, run workshops and provide that all-important space to sit, relax and eat in their cafe.

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly a year since I wrote the post about their Sirdar open evening.  I have visited quite a few times since then, but always in a dash to pick something up and it was nice to have time for a less hurried visit.

I arrived at lunch time, intending to pick up a quick sandwich before spending some serious quality time perusing the bargains on offer during the annual sale.  On my way to the cafe, I was delighted to bump into Sara, Black Sheep's Marketing Director who, along with her brother, is the second generation of the family to be involved in the business.  I've known her for many years and was really pleased that she was able to sit and join me - and the quick sandwich turned into a much more leisurely event as Sara and I were able to catch up on family news and other ladies in the cafe joined in our conversation as it turned to more woolly matters - it's clearly a very friendly cafe where people are connected by their love of crafting. 



This was my lunch - an egg and cress sandwich (my favourite!) with a freshly-made salad, a choice of mayo or salad cream, a pot of tea and a slice of extremely yummy lemon cake.  "The Bakewell tart is fabulous," Jayne, who works in the cafe, told me after I'd already taken a bite of my cake.  "The jam just oozes out, it's lovely."  It was a bit late at that point to change my mind over the cake (and to be honest, I'm not sure I would have wanted to hand back my lemon cake anyway!) but it's a good excuse to go back another day to try it out!

One of the ladies that I met in Black Sheep was this lovely lady; we started a conversation about socks, I happened to mention that I wrote a blog and it turns out that she reads it!  I was so pleased to meet her I just had to give her a big hug!  She had brought in some crochet that she is making into a tunic, intending to ask a question of one of Black Sheep's staff.  They have a drop-in session every Friday called Save Our Stitches where you can ask for help on any project that you have - sometimes you just can't get it right on your own even with a YouTube video!

After lunch, it was time to take a good look at what Black Sheep Wools had on offer - and boy, there was plenty of it!  I headed into the new fabric section drawn in by the rows of fabrics in jewel-bright colours.  


I was really taken by these quilts, especially the fabulous Kaffe Fassett quilt in the bottom picture, and even more so when I realised how soft it was.  My attempts at quilting have never resulted in a quilt like this one, which is why until now I've always considered knitted or crocheted blankets to be the thing to wrap up in.  I think I may have changed my mind!



There is a good range of books for both patchwork beginners and the more experienced, and all the tools you need, including rotary cutters and quilting rulers.  I was very tempted to try another quilt - but think I need to finish a few other projects off first!

Colette was in the fabric section.  Whilst I was browsing, she was serving another customer who was marvelling at the wonderful service she always receives at the Craft Barn.  "It is wonderful here," agreed Jayne, who had come in from the cafe during a quiet moment.  "It's a good job I don't knit, though, or I wouldn't have any money left!"

Once her customer had left, Colette showed me how to make a no-sew cushion cover from just a metre square of fabric.  


Two folds and a knot gives you this ...


It's a brilliant way to create a cushion cover that matches any decor and is easily washable - and replaceable whenever you want to change your look. Colette hasn't been working for Black Sheep that long but loves it.  "Even when there aren't many people in the shop, there's always something to do," she said, adding, "It's a really friendly place to work." I have to agree with her there; there was always laughter coming from the warehouse and everybody in the shop, both staff and customers, was smiling.  That's not a bad way to spend your day!

One of the things that I like about Black Sheep Wools is the number of completed garments that are around for you to look at.  You get a much better idea of how a yarn will look when it's knitted up, you can feel the texture and you can even try a garment on to be quite sure that it's the one for you.  I loved this shawlette called "Starry Starry Night" in Rowan fine lace and kid silk haze.  Many years ago, I used to knit Rowan sample garments for a yarn shop and this would have been right up my street.  


I moved on along the rows of bright ribbons (aren't they scrumptious colours?),


finding a new treat around every corner.  Barbara, another member of staff, told me how wonderful it was to work in such a lovely place that was so close to home.  "Is it like working at Cadbury's though?" I asked.  "I mean, do you find that after a while you don't really notice all the yarns as much because you're in with them all the time?"  "Not at all," she smiled, "there's always something new coming in so I always have to have a look." Then she told me about her queue of projects and I had to agree with her that it's definitely not like working at Cadbury's!  

I had to show you a picture of this yarn because I have a confession to make. It's Rowan Alpaca Colour and I'm a bit of a sucker for alpaca yarn because it's so soft.  So I had to have a squidge.  Just for scientific research purposes, of course.  And it was sooo soft - so soft in fact, that I had to have another squish, and another, and then I put my whole hand into the middle of this pile of yarn skeins and squished some more.  It's very lucky that there wasn't a Yarn Dive pile of this yarn as I probably would have dived in and never come back out!  Beautiful!  I've got my eye on a skein (or two) of this for the future, but because I don't really like buying yarn to leave out of sight in my stash box for too long, I'll look for the perfect pattern first - which of course is yet another good excuse to visit Black Sheep again!



I put the yarn down and continued on along the rows of yarn in their rainbow colours.  Rows and rows of them, which led me nicely round the sock yarns. Of course.  You didn't think I'd go to a yarn store and not look at sock yarns, did you?!  Black Sheep stock quite a few sock yarns -  Rowan, Noro, Regia and new Sirdar yarn that I've not seen before amongst others. And look at this one - Regia yarn for baby socks - now who could resist tiny toes in these lovely colours?



These were my purchases - Regia  yarns in block stripes (I do like a stripy sock!) and wait for it - zebra stripes!  Zebra striped socks - how fantastic!  I can't wait to knit these up!  I also bought a some cross-stitch kits which will go into my "present box" where I keep a small stock of presents so that I'm never caught out for a birthday (something that seems to happen quite regularly with a teenager in the house!).


It was almost time to go.  In fact, I had spent so long at the Barn that I was in danger of being late for the school run!  I just took a last look around to make sure I hadn't missed anything and spotted this sign in the cafe which made me smile. 


It fits in perfectly with Black Sheep's policy on buying yarn too.  If you're putting lots of time and effort into making something to wear, then it's only right that you match your efforts with your yarns.  Sara told me over lunch about how they always choose good quality yarn and whilst they might not stock the whole range of, say, Debbie Bliss, they pick enough yarns across the range to make almost any garment might want, even if it involves some yarn conversion - and that's another thing that Black Sheep can help with.  Whilst I was in the store, one of the staff was advising a customer on which yarn to use instead of the one stated on her pattern, explaining how to read the yarn ball label to work out how much she would need.  There is handy information on yarn conversions, needle sizes and tension squares on Black Sheep's website too, which is very useful if you need to check something but don't want to have to search the internet to find it.  There's also information the workshops and exhibition appearances, both of which are hugely popular.

"We're very proud of the shop," Sara told me, and rightly so.  They get visitors from as far afield as Dundee, especially during sale time, and even coach trips with people eager to see the delights of the Barn for themselves.  It's a lovely place to visit.  Barbara summed it up perfectly when I had to dash back to take some more photos after accidentally deleting some of mine.  "Well, you're all right now," she said, as I waved my camera and new photos in relief.  "Just absorb the Yarn Calm."  Yarn Calm.  That's what we all get from creating our projects, and Black Sheep is just the place to provide it, whether in-store or online.

Thanks to the internet and the good old telephone, Black Sheep Wools can indeed be your local yarn shop just as much as mine.  I'm just not sure whether they'd post you the cake!




This post was sponsored by Black Sheep Wools who very kindly provided my delicious lunch - and also the opportunity to meet up with friends old and new, squish yarn and generally have a lovely afternoon.  Thank you! xx





4 comments:

  1. I have just returned from taking my Mum around The Black Sheep, we only had tea and pastry as I wanted her to see the cafe for herself as she has quite a few problems with certain foods.

    We walked around drooling about the lovely wool, Mum thinks you only knit jumpers and she isn't to be convinced that you need more than a couple of scarves. So, I'll just go back again on my own and somehow think some more jewels will find their way into my possession.

    Your photos show the total character of the place so well. I personally think it as somewhere I can go, even if I don't buy, when I am feeling a bit down and I come out happy!

    How nice of you to mention me in this post, I hadn't realised on first reading. It was super to meet with you, I was quite excited when I realised who you were, what a small bloggy world it is. Now I can put a face to the name and maybe we will bump into each other again at the BS.

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    1. Oh thank you, I'm so glad you like the post! Writing it made me realise just how much there is at Black Sheep, and your comment about going there to cheer up is absolutely right; there's definitely something about the place! I'm quite sure we will meet up again - I just need to start knitting faster to justify going back to buy more yarn! xx

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  2. Oh wow. I wish I lived near this yarn Mecca. Suffolk needs a shop like this. The array of yarn is beautiful, the cakes sound divine and the staff seem lovely. *dissolves into a small puddle of longing*

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    1. A good excuse to come to the north west for your holidays though ;-) xx

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