When I think of the process of hand dyeing or hand painting skeins of yarn, I usually envision something fairly artistic, or sometimes I picture a mad scientist working in a lab coat. When I heard that Catherine Gamroth of caterpillargreen had used her engineering and computer science background to create a more efficient way of creating self-striping yarn, my mind went to some Rube Goldberg-esque contraption. Turns out, I wasn’t too far off…
Catherine, who’s based in British Columbia, earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, working for several years in the sustainable building design field and for the local water utility. She later returned to school for her master’s in computer science. Catherine started knitting while in graduate school and it immediately displaced all her other hobbies. Her business has taken off since she posted on Indie Untangled a year ago, and the self-striping shawl yarn she released last fall has been wildly popular (and even got a mention from The Yarn Harlot!). Catherine was kind enough to give a glimpse into her intriguing process:
Tell me how you got started dyeing yarn.
So, I was minding my own business one day when I was bitten by a radioactive spider. I thought nothing of it at the time, but woke up the next morning with the ability to shoot colourful yarn right out of my wrists…oh…wait…that’s not right.
What got me started dyeing was the challenge of finding a more efficient way to make self-striping yarn. Anyone who has dyed their own self-striping yarn will tell you that it is a very labour intensive process. The first skein I ever dyed took me what felt like days, mostly spent unwinding and untangling yarn.
So most of my time has been spent developing a dyeing process, rather than learning the techniques and subtleties of the art of hand-dyeing. As a result, I am very much a one-trick pony, but it’s a really neat trick.
Can you tell me a little bit about your custom dyeing process? How does your engineering and computer science background come into play with dyeing?
Oh, you mean my army of robots? Yeah, they were going to take over the world but I convinced them to focus on yarn domination first.
I kid. Mostly.
We have quite an elaborate set-up for our dyeing – pulleys, motors, valves, etc. – that takes makes our process much more efficient. That’s not a royal we, either. My husband is my co-conspirator in all of this.
What’s the story behind the name caterpillargreen?
I think I got it from a paint chip while I was trying to think up a user name for Flickr. Great story, right?
What would you say inspires your colorways?
Overall, I would love to create self-striping yarns that don’t scream “novelty” but have some of the depth and elegance that you see in semi-solid hand-dyed yarns.
Is there a colorway that you’ve found is challenging to create, or to get “just right”?
I feel like I am still on the steep part of the learning curve for designing with colours. So far, I have just played around until I find something I like. I’m not sure I’ve achieved “just right” yet, but it is a fun challenge.
Victoria, BC, appears to have a very vibrant knitting and fiber community. Can you say how that has impacted your business?
I have been blown away by the encouragement and support we have received from our local fiber community. Our first day of business – the first time anyone outside our immediate family had seen our yarn – was at Victoria’s big fiber festival, Fibrations. Not only did people buy our yarn (!) but they came to introduce themselves, to congratulate us, and to welcome us to the local scene. From a business point of view, making those connections and getting our yarn into the hands of prominent knitters, designers and bloggers has been a huge part of our success so far.
Catherine has generously offered a skein in the colourway of the winner’s choice. To enter, comment with a link to the shawl pattern you would like to make with the yarn (Catherine has some great suggestions on her website). You have until the end of the day my time on Sunday, June 28, and then I’ll be picking a winner by random number generator. Good luck!