Karen, just from reading your blog, I can tell you love the fiber arts. You dye yarn, you knit, you weave; how did you get started on all of this? And do you have a favorite in the fiber arts?
I've been involved with the fiber arts since I was a child. I first learned to sew in 1968 when I started 4-H. In fact, I still have my original sewing machine that my parents bought for me back then. I also learned to crochet when I was a child. I don't make my own clothes any more, but I made almost all of them when I was a child and, in fact, for my parents' 25th wedding anniversary I made my Mom a dress and my Dad a suit -- jacket, pants, the whole works.
Fast forward to 1996 or so. John was doing art fairs and I loved going to them with him. I met a weaver at the East Lansing Art Festival, realized she turned her handwoven fabric in clothes, and thought: I can do that. So I took a lesson at the Weavers Guild down in Minneapolis, and never looked back. I haven't quite progressed to making clothes yet but part of my life every summer involves traveling to art fairs to sell my handwoven rugs, table runners, towels, scarves, and the like.
In 2001 I decided I wanted to try and make my own yarn, so I bought a Majacraft spinning wheel. Massives of all different kinds of fleeces soon entered the house, but I realized that I didn't have the time or inclination to clean them, so I send them off to a processor so I get them back ready to spin. Eventually I'd like to use more handspun in my weavings for but now I'm just having fun spinning. My favorite fiber has to be alpaca and I have a dear friend who owns an alpaca farm; she lets me participate in shearing and their farm tour, so I get all the fun without the monetary involvement. Other than buying a fleece from her every year!
In 2003 I decided that I wanted to learn how to knit socks. I have no idea why! (lol) The first sock was not quite pure torture when I got to the heel because I like to figure out stuff before I do it, and I could not wrap my mind around the progression of the directions, so just decided to do one row at a time -- the short row heel turning. Once I got past that, I was fine.
I really don't have a favorite, I love them all. I just wish there were 48 hours in a day sometimes.
How long have you been dyeing yarn to sell? What are some of your business goals for the future? (if you don’t mind sharing)
I've been dyeing yarn maybe 4 -5 years, more or less for fun, but last year for Shepherd's Harvest (the MN Sheep and Wool festival, held Mothers Day weekend) I dyed and sold several skeins of sock yarn so I began to thought that maybe I had something. I kinda let the sock dyeing slide during the rest of the summer because I was busy with art fairs and farmers markets, but in December I determined that either this yarn business had to succeed. Because of the economy, I had been looking, to no avail, for part time work. Nothing was out there, so on a whim I applied to Sock Summit (one of my goals) and the goal was just to apply. I thought, if I was lucky, that maybe I would be accepted in another couple of years. Much to my surprise and delight and ACK! WHAT DO I DO NOW!, I got in.
Being as I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams with my Sock Summit goal, I need to figure out new goals and am still working on that. I suspect the biggest one would be selling my yarn wholesale to a show but I'm not sure I'm ready to do that yet. Ideas are welcome, if anyone has suggestions.
Your Etsy store has some gorgeous yarns. Some are colored with commercial dyes and some with natural dyes. I know nothing about dyeing- how different are the processes with the different dyes? Do you have a preference for commercial or natural dyes? If so, why?
Chemical dyeing involves dissolving the chemicals in water. I've processed the dyed yarn a couple different ways: one involves putting the mordanted yarn in a roasting pan (dedicated to dyeing alone, I won't use it for food), and painting it with the dye and then baking it in an oven for 1/2 hour at 200 degrees. I've also dipped skeins into a simmering dyebath once last summer at a friend's house and really liked that, so I propose to do more of that this year.
Natural dyeing involves soaking the dyestuff in water for a 24 hr period, then I bring it to a simmer on the stove, then strain it, then put it back on the stove. The mordanted yarn is submerged in the dyebath and left to simmer for about an hour, then I take it out, let it cool, rinse it, then let it dry.
I have no preference really. I can achieve much brighter, more varied, colors with chemicals but the natural dyes can also produce some unexpected colors, and it's always interesting to see what I do get. I never really know until I take the yarn out of the dye bath.
these are freshly harvested walnuts. I have to cut them in half to get the seed out, and then lay the halves out to dry. My fingers end up quite brown.
What are some of the natural substances you use for dyeing; and where do you obtain them?
Most of the dyestuffs we procure from our yard or garden, or John's work shop: walnuts, goldenrod, tree bark, hollyhocks, marigolds, indigo. I've only bought one item, some brazilwood, that we proceeded to chip up.
How do you decide what color(s) to create on the fiber?
I can control the colors some when I chemical dye and try to create what I envision. Last year I had a sudden dye fit, where I had to dye yarn revolving around local birds: the loon, the hummingbird, the baltimore oriole. I think I mostly succeeded. With natural dye I can hope but nature makes the color, not me.
walnut stellina superwash sock yarn.
I understand you dye out of your home. Do you have a special studio, or is your kitchen multi-purpose?
Our kitchen is multipurpose, but I refuse to use anything toxic, like the copper and iron mordants, as they are difficult and require special procedures to dispose of. I always clean up afterwards, and anything I use for dyeing is not used for food preparation.
You’re going to be at Sock Summit, (I’m very excited to see you there and get to actually pet some of your yarns!) do you go to any other fiber festivals during the year??
This year I will be at Yarn Over (the MN Knitters Guild get-together), Shepherd's Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival, and of course Sock Summit. I have an application in to the Michigan Sheep and Wool Festival and I’m on their waiting list. Crossing fingers ....
Thank you so much for letting me host you on your tour, Karen. I wish you luck in getting in to the Michigan Sheep and Wool Festival!
Karen has provided a 10% off coupon for one of my readers in her Etsy store. Leave a comment here before 12pm March 12th, and you will be entered in a drawing.