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!