On 4 January, I went with Sal from The Gingerbread Bunny to the Black Sheep Craft Barn in Culcheth to do a bit of yarn shopping. We had planned to go to Purl City Yarns in Manchester, however, as the weather has been particularly horrid here, we didn’t fancy dicing with death on the M60, so went the A road route to the Black Sheep instead. As I spend a fair amount of my yarny disposable income with this particular purveyor of fine fibrous goodness, it seemed appropriate that they be the subject of my first LYS review.
I had done a bit of pre-emptive mooching on Ravelry before setting off, as I never leave the Black Sheep empty handed, and some of my more impulsive previous purchases from there have been a bit on the dodgy side. I decided I needed a selfish knitting project, and as I know there is an Owlet jumper in progress for mini-Bee, I thought it would be suitably comedy-retro to have a matching Owls jumper, like the ones you see on the 70’s aran knitting patterns, where the whole family is sporting the same pullover. I won’t be making one for His Royal Shinyness as he is massive and I simply can’t afford the wool or the several years of my life it would take to craft such a garment. And that’s before I try and cajole him into wearing a jumper with cutesy owls on it. After much faffing and deliberating, I ended up buying the Rowan British Sheep Breeds yarn that the pattern calls for. I am not normally into natural colours and like to use brights, but there were none that were really suitable to substitute in without having to do a bit of tinkering, and I wanted something easy for my selfish knit. The Blue Faced Leicester yarn that I chose can be dyed if I feel like it. At £6.54 a 100g ball, it is actually quite reasonably priced for Rowan. I have never used it before, so we shall have to see how it knits up and washes.
Anyway, back to the matter in hand: the review. The Black Sheep Craft Barn is one of my regular haunts when in the UK for a reason. It is quite a large shop and as such it stocks a wide variety of mainstream yarns, in lots of colour ways. These are all very neatly organised and displayed in cubby holes, all the prices are properly labelled on each one and each bank of cubbyholes has a pull out shelf, so you have somewhere to put the first few balls you decide to pick up before finally giving in and going to get one of the Primark-esque fabric shopping baskets. The ones in Black Sheep seem to have the same Mary Poppins’ handbag-type tendencies as the Primarni ones, in that you put loads of stuff in it, but it all sort of disappears and you think you don’t have much. Until you get to the till, that is. I’ve never left Black Sheep having spent less than £35; in Primarni, that kind of spend would net you a lifetime supply of socks and enough clobber to outfit a rebel Army. I digress…
The pattern section is good and contains all the usual suspects. I like the way the pattern books have been neatly arranged on some library shelving units, so it is easy to browse. I sometimes find the way some yarn shops cram as many as possible into a lever arch file, rendering it so heavy you can barely hold it up, let alone have a shuftie through it, a bit annoying. None of that here thankfully, and all the single pattern sheets are in the ordinary files, which are arranged right next to the yarns you need. Couple this with the afore-mentioned, highly pleasing pull-out shelves and you have many a hour of happy browsing ahead.
There is also a large range of cross stitch and embroidery bits for those who are that way inclined, along with with the usual array of notions. For those of you who need a little liquid refreshment, there is also a cute settee area, where you can grab a cuppa and have a rest.
As far as the ‘meh’ section goes, there isn’t a lot to complain about. The Black Sheep used to carry KnitPro needles, but have stopped. The very nice lady told us that they seemed to have a lot of problems with getting them in, so have decided to look into another supplier and will hopefully be getting a different range in soon. This is a ‘meh’ as I have recently got a KnitPro interchangeable set and it’s good to know you can get the bits locally if you have a million wips on the go and desperately need to cast on another. Also, I would like to see them stock some yarns from Indie dyers. On the opposite end of the yarn scale, I think if you are a acrylic aficionado, you might be a bit disappointed. There are large balls of acrylic available, some little toy balls and a great selection of Sirdar stuff. If you do a lot of charity knitting or are tight on cash though, you might find these a bit expensive compared to the vast and amazing array of acrylic awesomeness available on the yarn stall in the Indoor Market in Wigan, and probably every other indoor/outdoor market across the North West. I do dread to think what would be left if they ever had a fire though.
After a hard hour of so’s mincing in the Craft Barn, we decided that some cake was in order. We took a short hop in the car to Bent’s Garden Centre to take afternoon tea. And what a tea is was. Well, the tea was pretty average, but the cakes were amazing. There was a huge selection, all of which looked really tasty, if extremely calorific. I was a bit bamboozled by the sheer cakey goodness, so plumped for the fanciest looking one, which was a pecan pie topped with cream, a white chocolate stick and a physalis.
I was pleased that Sal went for my second choice, which was a very rich looking chocolate tart.
If you’re travelling up or down the country on the M6, this yarn/cake stop duo would be a great way to break up the journey. If you never find yourself in the North West, however, Black Sheep also do mail order. You can also find them on all the usual social networking sites and Ravelry via the buttons on their website.