Lifelong Yarns


About Lifelong Yarns


Lifelong Yarns was born of a question.  Where was the yarn from Scottish Blackface fleece? I have been a lifelong knitter. In recent years, my yarn purchases have been made more carefully, conscious of the increasing availability of local single farm and single breed yarn. Like many knitters , I was delighted to be part of this movement to bring value back to our local, British wool clip. But amongst all the wonderful sheep breeds whose wool was now available to us, there was no sign of Scotland’s national sheep, the Scottish Blackface.

On asking mills, spinners and shepherds, the answer was always the same, ‘It’s carpet wool, too coarse for anything else.’ But I could see the fleece of our pet Blackies and of the wonderful Baddinsgill flock, shepherded by Josie, our family friend. Long , glorious locks kept the sheep protected from the worst of the Scottish climate, gales, rain, sleet and snow. For a while, I let it rest, but the question would not leave me in peace.

And then the clues arrived. Perhaps my intuition was right. In Debbie Zawinski’s wonderful book ,’ In the Footsteps of Sheep’ (Schoolhouse Press 2015) she knits a pair of socks from a Lothian flock of Blackface ,’ To my amazement the finished yarn had only a trace of kemp and was sturdy yet soft; quite soft enough to wear next to the skin’, she says. And in this little film from the 1970s, we are reminded that our mothers and grandmothers knew how to select the best Blackface fleeces to provide their families with warm, hardwearing woollens.

Had we forgotten this wonderful natural resource? Overlooked it for the ubiquitous modern ‘fleece’, the current staple of our outdoor wardrobe,  which is made from plastic (polyurethane terethphalate) and is now found to be polluting our soil?*

I could resist it no longer. I picked up the phone to the Border Mill and the adventure began…

* Lifelong yarns offer an alternative to polyester fleeces. As shown in Countryfile (BBC1 21/5/2017), our trusty ‘fleeces’ may be contaminating our land. We are all now aware of the issue of microfibres in our oceans, but did you know that, during a single machine wash, a polyester fleece releases up to 2000 plastic microfibres? The waste water from the machine goes down the drain, heads to the water treatment plant and is processed into fertiliser sludge, known as ‘sewage cake’ to be spread on to our fields. More research needs to be done, but it is feared up to 100,000 tonnes of microplastics is spread onto UK fields each year. Lifelong also works hard to reduce ‘yarn miles’. Our fleece is grown less than fifty miles from where it is spun and sold.

Photo credits: Josephine Holbrook and Sarah Clarke