Interview with Julie from Black Isle Yarns

This week I launched a new pair of socks - Munlochy

These socks are pretty special because they are knitted from a gorgeous
“no-nylon” sock yarn created by Julie from Black Isle Yarns in Scotland.

I first met Julie last November at the Nottingham Yarn Expo and was very impressed with her yarn selection (I may have been swayed by all the glorious grey yarn!)

The story behind Black Isle Yarns is really interesting and I wanted to be able to share some background with you here.

The Black Isle Yarns journey began with my childhood spent growing up on a small holding in East Lothian.  I was one of those children who spend every available moment outdoors – best of all was helping with our flock of sheep. 

My love of the natural world and the outdoors is what first attracted me to natural dyeing – but I was disappointed to discover how tricky it can be to source undyed British, preferably local, wool.  I found this thoroughly frustrating.  I know how many wonderful British sheep there are and, often, how little farmers receive for their fleeces.  It struck me that I could investigate the options for having some local wool spun…………this idea snowballed a little and has become Black Isle Yarns!

Julie Rutter - Black Isle Yarns

Interview with Julie Rutter of Black Isle Yarns

Julie Rutter, the founder of Black Isle Yarns.Image copyright @blackisleyarns

Julie Rutter, the founder of Black Isle Yarns.Image copyright @blackisleyarns

Clare: What were the challenges you encountered producing this yarn?

Julie: I first began thinking of making an all-natural sock yarn around 18 months ago and had a small test batch of Killen spun with summer 2017’s fleeces (the yarn I passed on to you for designing the beautiful Munlochy sock pattern was part of this test run). The Bluefaced Leicester came from a small show flock called Eilean Dubh (gaelic for Black Isle) owned by a school friend of my eldest. Unfortunately later that summer the Eilean Dubh flock had to be disbanded as the Laughton family were struggling to secure rental grazing. For 2018’s larger batch I worked with two new-to-me local flocks, Wester Raddery and Craigallan – I aim to build a long-term relationship with both farms and to continue selecting and buying high quality fleece from their beautiful flocks. Killen is a small rural hamlet in the centre of the Black Isle and lies more-or-less centrally between these three flocks , hence the name of the yarn.

Sourcing Mohair hasn’t been straightforward. I started, in 2017, with fleece from a flock local to The Border Mill (who spins Killen so skilfully) but unfortunately the fleeces had skin flakes and couldn’t be processed. Luckily TBM had some British Mohair leftover from a previous project and that was used in the test batch. I worked hard to track down traceable Mohair for summer 2018 and was delighted to find a flock in the Lake District from which I bought the fleeces needed for the second batch………..but unfortunately it transpired that these fleeces were contaminated with a resin which couldn’t be washed off! Having searched pretty thoroughly earlier in the year I knew I was very unlikely to find any other British Mohair fleece so I decided to use South African Mohair in order to be sure of the quality of the yarn.

Pile of naturally dyed Killen ready for Yarndale 2018. Image copyright @blackisleyarns

Pile of naturally dyed Killen ready for Yarndale 2018. Image copyright @blackisleyarns

Indigo dyed gradient sets. Image copyright @blackisleyarns

Indigo dyed gradient sets. Image copyright @blackisleyarns

Clare: Killen is a gorgeous new yarn blended for sock knitting. Why is a no-nylon sock yarn important to you?

Julie: My background is in ecology and I think I have always had a strong inclination to use natural materials in my work and home life. It is important to me to know that my yarns are made of natural fibres and, as much as possible, are local, traceable and sustainable.

Environmental issues don’t tend to be entirely straight forward and it isn’t always clear which processes or materials have the least environmental impact – but by knowing where my yarns have come from, how they were raised, where they have travelled, and that they will break down and biodegrade safely at the end of their natural life (hopefully a very long time in the future!), seems to me to be a good working principle.

I also find that working with and wearing natural fibres is a much more satisfying and comfortable experience. I can’t help but feel that it has got to be a good thing to wear cosy, breathable, moisture wicking socks that stay fresh for longer!


Clare: Your yarns are naturally dyed. Could you tell me a little more about why you decided to use natural dyes and what inspires your colour choices.

Julie: It was actually natural dyes which drew me into setting up Black Isle Yarns. I began with natural dyeing for my own use – collecting plant material while out on walks and experimenting with colour for fun. I very quickly began to feel that I wanted to know where the yarn I was dyeing came from and, having grown up on a smallholding and having a lifelong love of farming and land management, I knew there would be a lot of wool locally which was fetching little to no money for the farmer. I sounded out a couple of local flock owners who I already knew and began searching for a mill to use. I was incredibly lucky to start with The Border Mill, they are great to work with and always prepared to try new ideas.

I was originally drawn to dyeing with natural materials because of my love of plants and the outdoors – there is something incredibly satisfying in creating colour with material gathered while out walking. Perhaps because of my background, I tend to have a map in my head of the plants in my local area and when they are likely to be coming into leaf or flower. I love spotting something new on a familiar walking route and storing it’s location away for future reference. I think these same walks inspire my colour choices. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a very beautiful part of the world. The Black Isle is a unique part of the Scottish Highlands, a little peninsula surrounded by sea. From home I can walk down to the beach and along the shore to caves and cliffs, or inland through fields and up into the hills and woods that make up the top of the Black Isle. Colours here are often slightly muted with beautiful shades and tones, and I think these are definitely reflected in the colours I dye. Over time, and as I build expertise (natural dyeing is such an artform, I will always be learning), I would like to work towards a set of deeper more saturated shades which would reflect the more bold colours we have when it is cold and clear after a good fall of snow.

Want to know more about Black Isle Yarns?

You can find out more information about Black Isle Yarns on their website and keep up with Julie on Instagram.

Julie can be found at yarn events across the UK and her yarns can be bought from her online shop.

There is also an excellent interview on the Knit British podcast, where Julie chatted to Louise Scollay

Munlochy by Clare Devine

These socks are worked from the top down and feature an easy to remember cable pattern, once you’ve got the hang of the pattern (which won’t take long) it is such a rhythmic knit.

The socks are sized from child to XL, so you can knit a pair for your smallest and biggest loved ones.

More details about the pattern can be found on Ravelry.

Until next time

Happy knitting,