A true yarn diet, plus a review of ‘A Stash of One’s Own’

My Rhinebeck 2017 haul.

I often think of my relationship with yarn as similar to my relationship with food. Obviously this isn’t a huge stretch with the phrases most of us throw around regularly — “yarn diet” and “cold sheeping” — heck, even the term “stash” likens yarn collecting to an addiction.

While I don’t literally need yarn to live, I know I do need it around me to make me happy and keep me sane. But I also know that having so much of it surrounding me, unknit, or going to a place where I’m surrounded by skeins just begging me to buy them, makes me as anxious as being at a buffet and knowing I don’t have room in my stomach (or room in my apartment, enough in my bank account) for everything.

Just like I can be a snob about food, I’m definitely a proud yarn snob. I often recall a passage in the memoir Blood, Bones & Butter in which chef Gabrielle Hamilton writes about an afternoon spent frantically driving around Brooklyn with her husband and two children, starving, but not wanting to stop just anywhere to eat because she had a specific craving that none of the all-you-can-drink brunch places that were open could sate. When I’m looking for yarn for a particular project, I generally don’t head to a big box craft store and just pick up the first skein of a certain color that I see. I’m going to pore over websites and destashes, see if one of my LYSs has something I can’t resist, or wait for a dyer to update her shop with the perfect color that would make this one project exactly what I’m envisioning.

Of course, I’m also going to wait on line for an hour for the apple cider donuts at the Maple Sugar Shack at Rhinebeck, even though I know I can just go to the farmer’s market the next weekend and buy some. It’s not the same.

Yarn on the brain.

When I go away on a trip, I make sure to indulge in the local cuisine. Sure, I can get a basket of bread or a plate of pasta anywhere, but it’s not going to be as memorable as the one I ate while sitting beside a Venice canal on a chilly early spring evening. Sure, those skeins of Portuguese Merino haven’t become a colorwork hat yet, but I enjoy taking them out of the plastic bin from time to time and thinking about how, on my first day in Lisbon, I set off on my own, determined to navigate myself to the city’s best yarn shop, and how I had a wonderful conversation with the woman behind the register about U.S. politics and the allure of knitting around the globe. And, yes, I bought more than one skein, just as I had a second custard tart the next afternoon at Pastéis de Belém, despite one of the women in my tour group commenting on my “hearty appetite,” because when was I going to get the opportunity to have the best pastel de nata again?

To me, Rhinebeck is like Thanksgiving, the one time of year when I feel obligated, like it is my duty as a knitter, to indulge in the special colorways and the sweater quantity of the yarn I see in that amazing sample hanging in a booth. Sure, I may feel like I need to pop a Tums when it comes time to squeeze my newly-acquired lovelies into the four… wait, make that five plastic bins I swore I’d keep my stash relegated to, but that’s what working out/listing yarn in your destash is for.

And it’s definitely hard not to feel guilty about the stash that is overrunning those bins, just like it’s hard not to shame myself when my jeans are not fitting like they did a few years ago, before one too many times giving in to a craving for a plate of sour-cream laden nachos. But, it is because of this that I know yarn is the best indulgence — I can easily re-experience the joy that comes with looking at a beautiful speckled skein or soft hank of Cormo, which gets even better when it’s finally set free to become the hat, cowl, shawl or sweater it was meant to be.

A stash of one’s own

My review of the Clara Parkes-edited A Stash of One’s Own is a little late, because the book came out when I was preparing for the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show, I didn’t get my review copy until the week the book came out and I decided that instead of rushing to devour it so I could write something, I would keep it on my nightstand and nibble on it, savoring each morsel before I went to bed each night.

Before Clara’s appearance at Knitty City in September, I did jump in and read some of it. I was touched by the essay written by Aimée Osbourne-Gille, the talented dyer behind La Bien Aimée, about learning to knit as an American expat in Paris and keeping the spirit of her mother, who passed away shortly after Aimée moved overseas, close via the stash she left behind. And the piece on stashing as a form of feminism by Debbie Stoller made me feel even prouder of one of my main indulgences.

Since I don’t think there is anything to critique here, I would just say if you are a knitter who likes to read, you need this book on your shelf, just like you need that particular skein in your stash.

And I’ll leave you with a one of the quotes from the book that stood out to me, from the incomparable Stephanie Pearl McPhee:

Most of my yarn is for knitting, but some of it has a more complicated destiny as support staff: It is there to make me want to knit. It’s absolutely possible that I need the green Merino to inform how I’ll use the blue alpaca, and that ball of gorgeous variegated yarn? You bet I’ve had it for ten years, and I completely admit that it’s a yarn pet. I have no intention of ever knitting it, but it’s earning the real estate it takes up with how it makes me feel about knitting. It is the textile artist’s equivalent of a painting hung on the wall. It’s there to be beautiful and to help me dream of possibility.

Untangling: Felicia Lo of SweetGeorgia, author of ‘Dyeing to Spin & Knit’

Felicia Lo started SweetGeorgia Yarns in 2005 like many indies, listing a batch of her hand-dyed skeins on Etsy, the handmade marketplace that had also just launched. She eventually turned SweetGeorgia from a one-woman show into one of the best known artisan yarn companies.

While leading the SweetGeorgia team, Felicia has been traveling to share her wisdom with a new generation of indies — I was fortunate enough to take one of her classes at Vogue Knitting Live NYC back in January. She also recently published Dyeing to Spin & Knit (disclosure: this is an Amazon affiliate link), a comprehensive guide to color and dyeing techniques for yarn and fiber, and how best to use these works of art in your projects.

The book is a must read for anyone venturing into dyeing, as an expansion on, or alternative to, Felicia’s classes. It is also a fascinating look at how your favorite skeins come to life. Aside from a guide to dyes, dyeing safety and measurements, there are tutorials on specific techniques, including immersion dyeing, to produce semisolid colors, and low-water immersion dyeing, used to get gently variegated skeins. The book also includes a section on spinning techniques and — bonus! — several knitting patterns that work well with hand-dyed yarn.

I had the opportunity to ask Felicia some questions about the book and her journey from indie to “mega indie.”

What inspired you to start dyeing yarn?

I came to dyeing after I learned to spin my own yarn and so really, I was first inspired to dye wool fibre. All the spinning fibre that was available to me locally was ecru or raw, undyed, and I couldn’t fathom spinning yarn that was devoid of colour. I tried buying some dyed fibre off Ebay early on because Etsy didn’t exist yet and had a terrible experience of it. So I figured I had to teach myself how to put colour on fibre myself. I started blogging about dyeing fibre and then quickly moved to dyeing yarn as well.

Low-water immersion dyeing.

How did this book come about?

It’s been on my mind for years and years that I’d like to write a book about colour and textiles but it was always the wrong timing or exact topic was eluding me. So when Kerry Bogert, the acquisitions editor at Interweave Press, approached me about writing a book, it was the perfect timing and she helped me see how I could contribute my voice to this beautiful and creative industry.

What do you think it adds that other yarn and fiber dyeing tutorials are missing?

It’s true, you can absolutely learn to dye yarn and fibre from online tutorials and blogs, but often those resources only provide you with simplified instructions without a great deal of insight into why we do things a certain way. Coming from both a science background (I studied Pharmaceutical Sciences in University) as well as an arts background (I studied and worked in graphic design for over 10 years), I love combining the analytical with the aesthetic. So this book shows how you can get significantly different appearances to your hand-dyed yarns simply by changing different variables in your dye process like modifying the volume of water or changing the time at which you add the acid to the dyepot. Seemingly insignificant choices can produce significantly different results. I go into great depth to show those experiments.

Heat setting a skein dyed in sections.

When you started the book, were you worried about creating competition from new dyers?

I truly, truly believe that being worried about creating competition is a symptom of a scarcity mindset and have tried to live and work in a way where I share my knowledge generously with the community. These fibre arts need us to teach each other, share our experiences, and grow the knowledge base in order to endure. It is my heart that we encourage each other to become new dyers, new spinners, new knitters, or new weavers. Only then can we all experience the joy that colour and craft can bring.

What would you say has led SweetGeorgia to stand out in the fiber industry?

Over the years, SweetGeorgia has become known for rich, vibrant, and stunningly saturated hand-dyed colour. Even though dyeing trends come and go, it is my hope that SweetGeorgia also is known for our commitment to producing truly excellent handcraft colour. What I mean is not just colour that captivates but also colour that is consistent from batch to batch and colour that performs reliably in washing and wearing. I think, ultimately, if we stand out in the fibre industry, I hope it is because pursue our dye work passionately and professionally.

At the start of your book, you recount many of your own “color stories.” Do you have a favorite color, or favorite colors, and how has dyeing changed them?

I do have a thing for fuschias and plummy purples… but then I also have a thing for harvest gold and olive greens… and also limey chartreuse… and sea glass aqua. There are just too many colours that I love. But dyeing my own colours has allowed me to deconstruct colours into layers of other hues and rebuild them in a more engaging way.

What have been some of your inspirations when creating colors for SweetGeorgia?

Always music. Since the beginning, I’ve always been inspired by songs or bands and live music, especially. But I’ve also been enamored with telling stories through colour… ideas like, how do you tell the story of unrequited love through a colourway? How do you express wistfulness or longing in a colourway? Those kinds of things keep me going. For me, it’s not about creating pretty colour. It’s really about using colour to communicate a message.

Can you explain your role at the company and what a typical day is like (if there is such a thing!)?

Since I founded SweetGeorgia in 2005, my role has evolved and I’ve gone from being a one-woman show where I did all the dyeing, bookkeeping, website design, customer service, emails, and twisting, tagging, and packaging yarns (phew) to leading a team of amazing artisans and creative people in this fibre arts adventure. My official title is “Creative Director” so that encompasses my work in designing new yarns, colourways, and palettes for each season as well as coordinating with team on our knitwear design collections, trade shows, and marketing work. There is no typical day, between juggling two kids, working on our podcast, writing blog posts and plans, and communicating with our team from my home office, every day is different!

‘Knitlandia’ by way of New York

Knitlandia 1

When I first saw the title of Clara Parkes’ new book, Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World, I knew I had to read it. After I read the fantastic Washington Post review (without a knitting cliche to be found!) I knew I was going to buy the actual book. While I generally prefer audio- or ebooks, this written documentary of our wonderful community was getting a coveted space on my desk.

As luck should have it, I learned that Clara, who founded online magazine Knitter’s Review more than a decade ago, was going to be doing a reading and signing at the Strand bookstore, a 20-minute walk from my apartment. So, last night, I found myself in the store’s third-floor rare book room, surrounded by musty first editions and, of course, by my people.

Clara started off her talk lamenting the way knitters are often presented in popular culture — she actually bet a friend 50 bucks that the Washington Post review would reference grandma. Fortunately/unfortunately, she lost. She mused on why there aren’t any knitting documentaries (I’ve said the same thing to my husband while bemoaning my lack of filmmaking skills) and explained that this was her written version.

“I wanted to present us to the world,” she said. “It’s my attempt to kind of capture as many butterflies as I can.”

Clara and her famous 'claramels,' which she gave out to lucky knitting trivia contestants.

Clara and her famous ‘claramels,’ which she gave out to lucky knitting trivia contestants.

Knitlandia takes the reader on a journey from Taos, New Mexico, where Clara met and befriended legendary natural dyer Luisa Gelenter (who purportedly left Julia Roberts starstruck when the actress spotted Luisa in a grocery store years ago) to the familiar turf of the Dutchess County Fairgrounds on the third weekend of October. In a chapter about the first Vogue Knitting Live in New York City in 2011, she makes the perfect observation about what happens when you bring knitters together:

A funny thing happens when more than one knitter gathers in a public place. A solo knitter, presuming she is a woman, quickly fades into the backdrop like a potted palm or a quietly nursing mother. We are a cultural metaphor for invisibility–something Agatha Christie knew quite well when she gave Miss Marple her needles and yarn. What better cloak of invisibility from which to observe the evil-doings of the world? A single knitter is shorthand for “nothing to see here, move on.

But when knitters gather, we become incongruously conspicuous. We are a species that other people aren’t used to seeing in flocks, like a cluster of Corgis, a dozen Elvis impersonators waiting for the elevator.

Of course, that’s how we’re seen to outsiders, but one of the things I love about this community is how comfortable it feels. When I walked into the massive third-floor room last night, waved over to the third row by my friend Regina, who was nice enough to save me a seat, I was greeted by a number of familiar faces: there was Susie of Chiagu, Gretchen from my Sunday knitting group, Yoko from my weekday knitting group, not to mention the knitterati, including dyer Jill Draper and fellow Manhattanite Kay Gardiner of Mason Dixon Knitting, who just wrote a blog post about the event, as well as a blurb on the back of the book (I have to admit to feeling a little Julia Roberts-like and am still kicking myself for not introducing myself to Kay afterwards).

Nearly everyone was decked out in beautiful handknits.

Nearly everyone was decked out in beautiful handknits.

But still, even surrounded by knitting celebrity, it all felt incredibly warm (and no, not just because of all the handknits). Before Clara signed my book, she asked if she could take a photo of me in my West End Girl, which I wore for the occasion. It’s nice to be a citizen of Knitlandia.

IU book review: Mini Skein Knits

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Image ©Connie Santisteban

Image ©Connie Santisteban

I have to say, I was pretty excited when Connie, the talented photographer of my Rhinebeck sweater and also an editor at Lark Crafts, emailed me about reviewing their latest book, Mini Skein Knits: 25 Knitting Patterns Using Small Skeins and Leftovers ($14.95 U.S./$16.95 Canada). When I blogged about knitting at the newspaper I used to work for, I was approached a few times about reviewing books, but they were usually for designs I wasn’t really interested in — yes, I can see the appeal of super-chunky baby knits, but not of knitting “sleep sacks” that are mainly meant for newborn photo shoots and not much else.

© Lark Crafts

© Lark Crafts

On the contrary, this is a book I can definitely see myself knitting from — and I already have a few patterns in my favorites. The idea is that collecting mini skeins is so addictive, whether you buy them yourself or participate in mini-skein swaps, or both, but it can be tricky to figure out what to make with them. This book has a great variety of patterns, from simple coasters and coffee cozies, all the up way to beautiful sweaters, including two (A Mermaid Darkly, pictured below, and the Rainbow Cardi) designed by Sweater Expert, and the creator of my Rhinebeck sweater pattern, Yelena Dasher.

© Lark Crafts

© Lark Crafts

There’s also tons in between — scarves, socks, shawls, cowls. My favorite — and the one I favorited first — is Jess Kallberg’s Head in the Clouds Hat, pictured at the top of the post. I love the subtle scallops, and I think it will be the perfect pattern for the mini-skein set from Pigeonroof Studios that I purchased ages ago — like, before Indie Untangled even launched (I was going to make a pair of gradient mitts, but I generally haven’t been gravitating toward projects much smaller than hats). The yardage information is fairly detailed, so useful if you want to swap out mini skeins and use up leftovers.

© Lark Crafts / Touch of Color Legwarmers by Susie Dippel

© Lark Crafts / Touch of Color Legwarmers by Susie Dippel

Aside from the lovely patterns, the two things I like most about this book are the beautifully styled photographs, which still show off the important parts of each design, and the prevalence of indie dyers, including IU’s Astral Bath, Kim Dyes Yarn and Western Sky Knits (not to mention, Madelinetosh, Orange Flower, Julie Asselin, Dragonfly Fibers and The Copper Corgi…). If you frequent this site, I’m pretty sure you will love this book.

Connie and Lark Crafts have generously offered up a free copy of the book to a lucky Indie Untangled reader. To enter, comment on this post by the end of the day Sunday, Nov. 15, with the pattern (or patterns — I know it’s hard to pick just one!) you’d most like to knit. You can see them all here on Ravelry. The winner will be chosen via random number generator.

This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to the winner, Lynn!