My yarn colour inspiration comes from flowers and the environment. Most of the Milburn range has an equivalent shade in our hand-dyed yarns - I send off the shades to the dyers (both also Yorkshire-based, which is rather satisfying) and they match them, send them back to me for approval, and then if I approve they go ahead with the dyeing. In short (I'll write more about this in my next blog post), when Milburn first started we were limited to five shades because of spinning and dyeing minimums; that was really hard to choose. As we’ve expanded the palette I’ve become gradually more whimsical with the shades as that is what ECY is built upon, and that’s working out really nicely. The excitement of seeing my slightly leftfield shades dyed on this beautiful yarn never wanes. Also now that the palette is expanding, I feel that it’s gelling together more and more - I’m quite precious about stuff like that so that pleases me!
Here's the full story of the development of the palette up to the current 20 shades. :)
The first five - the struggle is real!
When I first started with Milburn 4ply as a concept back in 2013, the main hurdle I had to navigate was the fact that the minimums on both spinning yarn and dyeing colours was huge. I think it was 50kg per colour, if I remember correctly. So that’s… (maths happening here)… 1000 x 50g balls of each colour. It’s an intimidating quantity, isn’t it?!
So with that in mind, I was only able to start with five colours. FIVE. I already had a pretty extensive palette of regular shades by that point - it was incredibly difficult to whittle it down to just five shades. I really wanted colours that could work together if possible, so that made it even harder.
Where do you start with a task like that? Well, trying to think about it sensibly I decided my best approach was to kind-of choose a colour from each portion of the colour wheel. So one blue, one yellow, one red, one green, and one neutral. If you’ve been following me for a long time you’ll know that I didn’t start with a green, so what happened there? Well, it just didn’t go with the rest of the colours. I actually started with the neutral, as that was easiest to pick - Steel - a warm to neutral grey. I love grey, and I have quite a range of greys in my palette, so I went down the middle and picked what I hoped would be a classic. Choosing a blue and yellow were fairly easy - Night Sky is a beautiful rich blue but not too dark, and Harvest Gold (originally called Mustard but that’s another story!) - both of those go beautifully with Steel. I didn’t pick a proper red as such, instead I went for Rust, because it contrasts beautifully with both Harvest Gold and Steel. Finally, I left the fifth colour down to whim. I knew that if I chose a green - any green - it’d either be pale and look odd, or it’d be rich and then the palette would look too immature (well for me, anyway!). So I picked a random colour that I thought went nicely with the rest of the colours, and for me that was Damson. And there we have it - the original palette of five colours of Milburn 4ply.
For some time after that I was wanting to get more colours in (because five just really isn’t enough!) but wasn’t able to for various reasons - not just the huge minimums but other logistics, too.
Rust quickly fell behind the other shades in terms of sales, so I thought I’d best discontinue it.
The second chapter - finding some whimsy
The next chapter in the evolution of Milburn 4ply was moving from skeins to balls. It’s something I’d wanted to do for a while but of course all these things add extra expense. It was really exciting when we finally did it to get those first beautiful neat donuts yarn through. I like selling my yarn prepared like this because I like the fact that you can cast on immediately! There’s an argument for selling in skeins because we associate skeins with higher end yarn, which this is, but I’m glad I stuck to my guns to be honest, as the yarn now looks how I want it to look, and with it in balls you can really see the sheen on it.
Anyway, back to colours.. The next batch of new colours happened quite a long time after the first ones, so both the dyeing minimums had changed (yey!) and my business was in a better place to invest. Plus by that point I’d developed a lot more self-confidence in my conviction that I should choose colours that were very ECY-specific rather than trying to please everybody - it’s easier said than done, believe me!
So with that in mind.. what I decided was that I would choose colours more on a whim, on the basis that because I generally have a cohesive palette generally anyway, they’d look lovely together whatever I chose. It felt really risky and it probably was, but fortunately it paid off. I chose… Tea Rose - probably my most risky colour as it’s really not for everyone. It’s similar to Apricot Tulip which I’d released as a hand dyed shade the spring prior to this point. It’s a delicate peachy sort of shade - very floral-looking (I think anyway) and everyone has an opinion as to whether it’s orange or pink - for me it’s orange but for my other half it’s pink. How weird is that?! Further to that, I also decided to have Natural. It might seem a bit odd getting in undyed naturally cream yarn to sell but the thing is, I wanted another neutral to show off the whimsical colours I was going for, so it made sense to me to pick natural. The next thing I really wanted was a pink. I pinks are probably my main or widest palette points so I felt like I needed to being them into Milburn 4ply asap. So I chose Bramble - a pink for people who don’t usually like pink. It’s a soft blackcurrant shade, not too dark and not too light.
Further to having a pink, I also felt like I really wanted a lighter blue. Night Sky is lovely but it doesn’t actually go with much else apart from Steel and Harvest Gold. I didn’t want to go with a really pale blue, so I went down the middle with a lovely almost-denim blue, Millpond.
Finally, I chose Autumn Fields. It’s similar to my hand dyed soft gold colourway Falling Leaves and again it’s not for everyone but I feel that it softens the whole palette and adds an earthy feel without being a proper brown (I love all shades of brown but commercially they’re hard to pull off as they don’t sell as well as any other colour!). You might not expect it but it goes really nicely with Estuary and Bramble as well (bearing in mind that at this point we didn’t have Rust any more).
The third chapter - total whim
It wasn’t long after the second batch of shades that I decided to keep pushing forwards and get another five. I felt that having 15 shades to choose from really should be a minimum, as any fewer than that and you’re a bit limited, however well you choose your palette.
With this batch, I decided to properly go for it and choose the colours on a whim. Milburn 4ply was selling well and my confidence had increased. It’s still scary, don’t get me wrong, ordering all that yarn, but it does get easier.
So… firstly I chose Thyme - a pale sage. Something I’d had in mind for ages for Milburn. It’s beautiful and pretty on its own but also goes well with my pinks, which is quite satisfying. Then, talking of pinks, well I just HAD to have something similar to Rambling Rose. I think it’s probably an ECY signature colour; one of my oldest and most popular - it’s never waned. And so Althaea was born. A sort-of dirty pink, or an ‘earthy’ pink perhaps.. ‘muted’, even. It goes with so many other shades as well.
Next up, another muted shade - well they all are, but this is particular favourite - Catmint. A soft teal-grey. To me it’s a soft teal but most people describe it as ‘greyish’ so I’ve come to accept that it is a bit grey. I think it has a feel of a classy Farrow and Ball paint, the sort of thing you see in home styling magazines. It goes with a lot of skin tones and hair colours, which is always a bonus in my book.
Finally, Black Tulip. Oh Black Tulip, how you stole everyone’s hearts. It’s funny isn’t it how these things happen.. this colourway was simply dyed and named for my favourite black tulips. I noticed how they go with a surprising range of other flower colours, I didn’t notice that it was probably a bit too similar to Damson which I already had, and I didn’t anticipate how popular it’d be. But yeah, as it turns out, it’s a wonderful, wonderful colour.
The fourth chapter - mixing it up
So.. we had 15 colours, all was going well, and we were feeling good about it. But it still felt like there were some glaring gaps in the Milburn palette. Since we were having more spun anyway, early last year we asked - could we get five more autumnal shades created in time for Yarndale. Yes we were told, that should be fine. Awesome, we said! And so we chose five more shades. I wanted more greens. Proper greens. So Moss and Fern were created. A rich woodland green and an earthy lime green. I thought Moss would be more popular and Fern would be the risk. Wrong! Fern is way more popular than Moss. I also knew that I wanted a darker grey - we had a mid-grey and a light one, so a dark one was very much next on my list - hence Charcoal.
You remember I mentioned Rust, and how we ended up discontinuing it? Well, I got it in my head that we should try re-introducing it, because it was really gorgeous and now with the rest of the palette of colours, it’d have other shades to work with. I did um and ah about that but once I’d got the idea in my head it kind-of had to happen. So.. Rust was brought back (and that’s why one should always keep a sample skein of discontinued colours, just in case!).
Finally.. we had one more colour option to play with, and one more glaring, gaping hole in the shade card: red. We had no actual reds. I rarely hand dye reds, either, so it seemed the logical choice. And if you’re goring to have a red, it’s got to be a proper red, right? So of course it had to be Dogwood. A nice, rich, not-too-bright shade. It doesn’t go with much else, I’ll be honest, but it’d beautiful all on its own exactly how it is.
Remember I mentioned Yarndale? Yeah, we didn’t have any of these new shades in time for it. This has now happened so many times that we have learned to roll with it - you have to!
And there we have it. All 20 colours of Milburn 4ply.. mostly harmonising and looking like they belong together! I hope it’s been interesting hearing about the inspiration behind all the colours - I know it’s a lot to read - it was a lot to write! But every single one is there for a reason - we didn’t just randomly pick 20 colours or anything like that. And they’re ALL very specifically dyed to match the exact colour samples that I sent to the dyer (who is also in Yorkshire by the way, which is rather satisfying). I’ll tell you more about the processes involved in yarn production another time - if you’ve read this far then well done and thankyou!