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!

Untangling: Lara Smoot

As a designer, Lara Smoot was an “early adopter” of Indie Untangled, and I’ve loved getting word of her latest designs — from her Game of Thrones-inspired shawls to her incredible colorwork socks — on the Marketplace.

For the 2016 Where We Knit yarn club, I paired Lara up with Dami of Magpie Fibers and they came up with a simple, beach-inspired pair of mitts in an icy blue. I’m hoping to cast on soon to help me get through the winter.

I spoke to Lara about her background and how she starts work on some of her more complex pieces:

When and how did you learn to knit?

My grandmother taught me basic knitting when I was in my early teens. She didn’t teach me how to purl and I wanted the scarf that I was knitting to look smooth (stockinette) so I figured out how to knit backwards. I put my needles down after that scarf and didn’t pick knitting up again until about 12 years ago and this time it stuck!

What made you decide to become a designer?

I wanted to create something new and unique and be able to share it with other knitters. My goal is to create patterns with clear and concise directions that produce beautiful results. Knitting should be fun and I try to have that come through in my designs.

What did you do in your “pre-designer” life and how does that influence your design work?

I showed horses for many years and designed and sewed custom riding clothing during that time. Creating custom garments that fit people taught me a lot about sizing and, of course, measuring. Later on, I worked in marketing for a nationally known insurance company and after that I was the director of social media for a yarn company. Working for the yarn company taught me a lot about the yarn industry and gave me so much insight on what goes on behind the scenes.

The Game of Thrones-inspired Fire and Blood.

Tell me about what inspires your designs.

Oh my gosh, I’m inspired by so many things! Patterns that I see in nature, the beautiful colors in a skein of yarn, music that I’m listening to, my favorite characters in a tv series. All those things inspire me.

You seem to design in a variety of colors. Which are your favorites?

I love bright colors and speckled and variegated yarns to work with. Pinks, purples, blues and green are some of my favorites. I love gray too. It’s the perfect complementary color to go with anything bright.

What’s the first thing you do when you start designing a pattern?

Have a big cup of coffee! All kidding aside, it depends on the project. Sometimes I start with a sketch, sometimes I swatch before I sketch. With my colorwork designs, like Shark Bite and Fright Night, I create the chart first. I have an idea of what I want the piece to look like and keep tweaking the chart until it’s what I envisioned.

The Seacoast Mitts pattern from the 2016 Where We Knit yarn club.

Where is your favorite place to knit?

At home with my pugs in my lap and a good cup of coffee or tea while watching a knitting podcast.

Untangling: Pom Pom Quarterly

Pom Pom Quarterly co-founders and editors Lydia Gluck and Meghan Fernandes.

Pom Pom Quarterly co-founders and editors Lydia Gluck and Meghan Fernandes.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts with the generous sponsors of the 2016 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

Although I run a knitting website, I still do a lot of writing for print, and so I have always appreciated the joy of flipping through a paper publication. When it comes to knitting magazines, Pom Pom Quarterly is by far one of my favorites. It has the feel of a small book and features beautiful patterns (my Waterlily, a design by co-founder and editor Meghan Fernandes, is one of my favorite garments), gorgeous photographs and illustrations and unique articles, such as a recent one on the science behind dyes.

Launched in 2012 by Meghan, an American in London (she has since moved back, and now lives in Austin, Texas) and Brit Lydia Gluck, Pom Pom is available four times a year via subscription and also at more than 250 locally-owned yarn and craft stores around the globe. There’s also a popular Pom Pom blog and podcast. Unfortunately, Meghan and Lydia won’t be able to make it to the Rhinebeck Trunk Show, as they will be busy preparing their display at the NY Sheep & Wool Festival, but I was thrilled when they agreed to be a sponsor. I chatted with them about the magazine and some of their favorite things:

Tell me all about how Pom Pom Quarterly got started.

Meghan + Lydia: We met while working at Loop, the gorgeous knitting shop in London, and found we had a shared love of knitting and craft, and of magazines too! We both felt that there wasn’t a knitting magazine around at the time that really spoke to us, or reflected the way we felt about craft and the plethora of indie dyers that had sprung up around the resurgence of interest in knitting and crochet. We decided to have a go ourselves at creating the publication we felt was missing, and after brainstorming in cafes and pubs the idea for Pom Pom was born. We designed all the patterns and wrote all the articles, friends helped out with modelling, photography and design, and somehow it all came together into a magazine we loved. We were so happy that other people loved it too! Now we are a slightly bigger operation of course, and work with designers, editors and writers and all sorts of brilliant people to make Pom Pom.

Why did you decide to go the print route?

Meghan + Lydia: We decided on print because we both love owning a beautiful magazine as a physical object, and we suspected that other knitters would feel similarly. It makes sense that people who spend time making lovely handcrafted things would appreciate the paper and quality of printing, and the fact that the magazine is printed in the UK. Because the mag is quarterly we think of it as collectible, and we try to make each issue timeless. For that reason we have no off sale date (until they sell out of course!), and we think of our print copies as little treats for knitters and crocheters, an investment that they will return to time and again… Of course we have digital versions available too for those who like wrinkle proof pages!

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What would you say are the most important skills that each of you bring to the magazine?

Lydia: Meghan says I have good business sense, and I think she has a real knack for innovation. She is always the one wanting to mix things up and try new things, whereas I tend to get stuck in my ways. Meghan has tended toward the social media side of things, she always knows about what’s going on in the craft world way before I do! I am often happier hanging out with Excel, but we both love to chat and meet new people, which definitely comes in handy for what we do! We’ve both learned so much in the last five years, and I think we can both safely say we feel more confident now as stylists and editors. The one thing we definitely bring is enthusiasm for craft, and a love of print as a medium.

When and how did you each learn to knit?

Lydia: I learned to knit from a book one rainy Welsh summer about 10 years ago. A housemate of mine at university was a knitter, and after seeing her making things I was inspired, and decided that if I was stuck indoors while the weather was bad I might as well learn something new!

Meghan: My boyfriend’s mom taught me to knit when I was a teenager. I got really lucky because she was a great teacher and even bought me a sweater’s worth of yarn for my first project as a birthday present.

Who are some of your favorite indie dyers?

Lydia: Oh there are so many I love! I think Viola is definitely a favourite, and Uncommon Thread, Shilasdair and MadelineTosh… and I have always been a fan of Old Maiden Aunt too. But there really are so many brilliant dyers out there!

Meghan: They are changing all the time, and there are too many to count, but I love The Uncommon Thread, Camellia Fiber Company and Julie Asselin a lot at the moment.

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Tell me about one of your most memorable FOs.

Lydia: Hmmm, really memorable ones would probably be disasters like the first jumper I ever made, which did not fit the intended recipient. But memorable successes are the first pattern I ever wrote, my Overbury mitts from the first issue of Pom Pom, and my Quadrillion jumper, which was Meghan’s design, and is still my favourite jumper.

Meghan: My most memorable is probably so because it’s my most worn — my Beatnik sweater by Norah Gaughan. I remember finally getting to grips with cables on that project and having to drop and correct cabled stitches for the first time. It’s so wearable and classic Norah — timeless, clever and so wearable.

Which crafts, in addition to knitting, do you enjoy?

Lydia: I also crochet, and do a little embroidery from time to time, but I’ll have a go at anything! If darkroom photography counts then that is definitely a craft I was very into when I had access to a darkroom! I just loved the magic of seeing the image appear. Without a darkroom on hand I have been experimenting with cyanotypes, which are so easy!

Meghan: In addition to knitting, I love crocheting and calligraphy, and recently I learned to weave which is such a cool way to use the amazing yarns we have access to.

What is your favorite music to knit or craft to?

Lydia: Oh wow, I don’t know if I can pick a favourite. But recently I have been crafting to Emmlylou Harris, Joanna Newsom and Sia. Patty Smith and The Velvet Underground have always been big favourites of mine too. When I tried to do some sewing a few years ago I was really into The Moldy Peaches and Jeffrey Lewis so they always remind me of threading a sewing machine. When I’m drawing I have to listen to something with a beat.

Meghan: Like favourite indie dyers, the music I enjoy knitting to changes all the time too. In the iTunes/Spotify age, I still love listening to the radio — the station KUTX in Austin is a fave, as is the UK-based BBC Radio 6 which I still love to listen to two years after having moved away!

Untangling: Stephannie Tallent of Sunset Cat Designs

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I didn’t know very much about Stephannie Tallent of Sunset Cat Designs when I started working with her as part of the inaugural Indie Untangled yarn club, other than the fact that she does wonderful things with lace, cables and textured stitches and that she is a fan of craft beer.

So, I did a little reporting before sending her some questions and discovered she had quite an interesting pre-designer history. As a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, AKA West Point, she served in the Army for four years. It’s quite a nice parallel with Christine of Skeinny Dipping, the dyer I paired Stephannie with for the club, who also has a history of service, with the Peace Corps.

I spoke to Stephannie about her background, her design inspirations and, of course, her favorite brew.

When and how did you learn to knit?

A neighbor taught me the basics, and I learned from books and magazines from there. The internet wasn’t around then!

How did you decide to go to West Point and join the Army?

It sounded interesting, lol. I had no idea what I was getting into with West Point! I do tell folks it was a valuable experience.

I served for four years in the Army as a Military Intelligence officer. I was stationed in Germany, which I loved; I got to live in southern Germany, including Munich. I was able to do some traveling around Europe as well.

I deployed with 1st Armored Division for Desert Storm as well.

Did you meet others in the military who knit?

No; though I knit a little bit when I was stationed in Germany, I didn’t meet any other knitters.

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What made you decide to become a designer?

I started modifying designs then took the next step in creating my own! The Knit Picks IDP was just starting up, and Ravelry was really in gear, when I first started designing. Those two things made self publishing very accessible. I also realized I loved a lot of the tasks ancillary to designing: learning about layout, graphic design, and so on.

Tell me about what inspires your designs.

Anything! Nature to include plants (especially California native plants) and animals, architecture, geology, the ocean, towns and cities, stitch patterns, fabrics…

Caridwen-480-1

What’s the first thing you do when you start designing a pattern?

It really depends on the particular pattern and the reason and inspiration behind it. If I’m answering a call for submissions, I usually brainstorm what I would like to design that fits the call.

If it’s a single pattern to be self published, I generally have an idea of what I want to do (i.e. a cabled cowl) and I start by playing with stitch patterns.

If it’s a pattern for a collection, I brainstorm palette, yarn types and yarn companies, types of patterns, techniques to be used, etc. first before narrowing down individual patterns.

SunsetCat Beer

What’s your favorite beer or brewery?

My favorite brewery is The Bruery in Placentia, California. They do a really interesting mix of beers. Before going to their tasting room, I’d seen some bottles in stores, but they were primarily the Belgian-inspired beers like Mischief. I had no idea of the range of barrel-aged beers they did until we visited the tasting room. I was in barrel-aged beer heaven. They also do a lot of sours, and I’m starting to drink more of those. They’ve just opened a second tasting room (The Bruery Terreux) that focuses on farmhouse wild and sour ales that we’ve not yet visited.

Where is your favorite place to knit?

At home. I usually knit on my couch.

Untangling: Toby Roxane Barna

Toby Roxane Barna

I discovered Toby Roxane Barna when I came across her London Underground collection of shawls (I still need to knit Highgate, which was my tube stop when I did a semester there in 2001) and was very excited when she posted to Indie Untangled last year.

Soon after posting to the Marketplace, Toby expressed interest in participating in the Where We Knit yarn club. Both she and Margaret of French Market Fibers decided to draw inspiration from rivers — the Hudson in Toby’s case, the Mississippi in Margaret’s — so it seemed fitting to match them up.

Toby’s designs are classic, with a modern twist, and pretty much exclusively use indie-dyed yarn — and she recently started dyeing yarn herself! I spoke with her a little more about her time across the pond and her thoughts on color.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I learned how to knit a little later than most people, I think — and it’s kind of a long story. I graduated from college in 2009 and there were no jobs to be had. So, I moved back in with my parents and started working at a local cafe. The owner of the cafe was a knitter, and on Saturday mornings she hosted a little knitting group. Since my mom is also a knitter, I told her about it, and she started going. Once the knitters found out I was the daughter of a knitter and didn’t know how to knit, they decided I needed to learn. They taught me, and it turned out I was good at it — actually, it turned out it was, like, what I was supposed to be doing all along. I’d always done all kinds of art and crafts because I find that if I’m not making something I’m not happy. Knitting turned out to be my perfect medium.

How did you end up studying knitwear design in London?

Once I got good at knitting and began working at yarn shops, I realized I wanted to find a way to make a career out of knitting. Designing seemed like the best way to do that, and I thought about going back to school. After doing a bunch of research, I found a summer course in knitwear design at the London College of Fashion… I had never been to Europe and I really wanted to do some travelling, so I saved some money and went. I LOVED it! I would love to go back one day.

TobyRoxaneBlueShawl

What did you learn in school that translates into designing patterns for hand knits?

Well, ninth grade geometry turned out to be shockingly useful! I go through graph paper like you wouldn’t believe. The course I took in London was focused mainly on designing knits to be mass produced, which isn’t the direction I’m going in right now, but I did learn a lot about planning and creating a cohesive collection from start to finish. Now that I’ve begun dyeing my own yarn (stay tuned for more news on that front…!) I’m excited to be able to design palettes of colorways to use for designing knits.

TobyRoxaneRedGold

Tell me about what inspires your designs.

A lot of time, it’s the yarn. I’m all about hand-dyed yarn, and I find that it often tells me what it wants to be. I also like to read fashion and runway magazines and look for silhouettes that might lend themselves to interesting interpretation in knitwear.

What’s the first thing you do when you start designing a pattern?

That’s a really good question… I’m not sure it’s ever the same! It depends a lot on the pattern. For accessories like shawls, which don’t require specific measurements the way sweaters do, I usually just start knitting. I sometimes don’t know how a pattern will turn out when I start it. For sweaters, I do a ton of planning before I even touch the yarn. I’ll make a swatch, and then do a schematic on graph paper and decide what sizes would make sense to include in the pattern, then I calculate all the relevant numbers for all the sizes using an Excel chart, and THEN I start knitting. Then I usually translate the Excel chart into a written pattern, either as I’m knitting or after it’s finished.

How have your color preferences changed since becoming a designer?

You know, I’d never really thought about it until now, but my color preferences and — how to phrase it… color awareness? — have definitely changed since I became a knitter. I’m not sure it changed when I started designing, but when I started knitting and fell in love with hand-dyed yarns, I became SO much more aware of color. I used to (and still kind of do) wear mostly black and gray—I had a major goth phase in high school and they say you always carry with you vestiges of the first style you ever thought was really cool. Anyway, I still wear a lot of blacks and neutrals only because they’re perfect starting points for layering a really colorful shawl or cardigan. 🙂 I find I’m drawn to jewel tones and colors with a lot of depth—you can really only get that depth from hand-dyeing. It requires some layering of colors.

TobyRoxaneCicada

I understand that you weld. How did you start and what other crafts do you engage in, aside from knitting?

Oh man, what art media HAVEN’T I tried? I have done varyingly extensive work in pencil, charcoal, oil paint, acrylic paint, piano, cross-stitch, pen & ink, marker, sewing, watercolor, print making, clay molding, crochet, book making, spray paint, crayons, oil pastels, and that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. I learned how to weld in a sculpture class in college and to be honest, I spent more time chiseling off things I’d accidentally welded to the table.

Where is your favorite place to knit?

At the moment, my favorite place to knit is at a little park by the river, here in Saugerties. It’s quiet and lovely and full of trees and I find it very rejuvenating.

Indie is the new black

Cease and Desist

Recently, when my almost-5-year-old nephew requested a black hat to go with his school uniform, I was at first a little disappointed. Like most knitters, I’m generally drawn towards vivid colors — black is for boots and store-bought cardigans, amiright? — and I figured I’d also have to go with a very plain pattern because any interesting detail would get lost in black yarn. Then I remembered that a bunch of dyers have black colorways, so I went clicking through the Indie Untangled marketplace to see what I could find.

I ended up contacting the lovely Christine of Skeinny Dipping, who had actually, a few months ago, suggested her new Cease and Desist color as one of the stripes for my Nangou (I ended up going with pink and teal to match Duck Duck Wool’s Night Bokeh). Christine dyed up two skeins of C&D on her Journey Worsted base, one of which I’m using for Stephen West’s Windschief — it’s just complex enough without having anything go missing in the darkness.

Since I thought black was such an interesting color choice for a dyer, I decided to ask Christine a few questions:

What made you decided to create a black colorway?

If you look in my closet you will find a lot of black. My dresses are black (or a really dark color), my store-bought cardigans are black, etc. My husband says I always look like I’m ready for a funeral. I like it because it matches everything easily and the last place I want to spend time at is a clothing store. But while there’s black everywhere in store fashion there isn’t a lot of black in the yarn world — certainly not enough for me. Ask me to pair two colors together? I can do it but I’ll really want black to be one of them. Three colors? Impossible (this is why I still haven’t knit a Color Affection). I need one of them to be black so the scarf goes with my cardigans and dresses. Voila! Cease and Desist was born.

Without giving too much away, how does one actually create a shade of black? Do you use black dye, or is it a combination of other colors?

Like any other colorways it depends. My Cease and Desist is very simple — one dye. But you can create very beautiful blacks — just have a look at Blue Moon Fiber Arts. They have an amazing line of blacks in their Raven Clan series.

Is it challenging to give a black colorway “depth”?

Again, it depends. Are you going for a semi-solid black, a tonal, or something using a resist? I feel like tackling a black color presents the same challenge as any other color.

What pattern suggestions do you have for black yarn, with it either as a main or accent color?

For an accent color, I love Aileron by Dieuwke van Mulligan. Colorwork projects are also great for black, like Pointy Pointy Mittens by Adrian Bizilia or Jazz Hands by Kate Davies. Stripes are great, too: Accelerating Stripes Fingerless Gloves by the Churchmouse Yarns people, Mon Petit Gilet Raye by Isabelle Milleret. And anything brioche. I also use black for the heels on a lot of my hand-knit socks.

Here are some of my other favorite black colorways by IU’s artisans:

Slick by Dark Harbour Yarns

Black is Black or Black Pearl by Dragonfly Fibers

The Pit by Invictus Yarns

Baby Got Black by Magpie Fibers

Peter’s Shadow by Duck Duck Wool

Untangling: Janina Kallio

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Janina Kallio 600px

I first learned of designer Janina Kallio when I spied one of her ads at the bottom of the French Market Fibers Ravelry group almost a year ago. I contacted her right away about posting to the Marketplace, and then I took advantage of her Buy Two, Get One Free New Year’s sale (it was actually hard to narrow it down to three patterns). I was thrilled when, a few months later, Janina expressed interest in participating in the Indie Untangled yarn club, the first installment of which shipped out this week.

I figured it would be challenging to decide who to pair Janina up with for the club, since her simple, elegant patterns let any hand-dyed yarn shine. I asked the dyers and designers pick the top three people they wanted to work with, and Janina made it easy, expressing interest in partnering with Ami of Lakes Yarn and Fiber. And the rest, as they say, is yarn club history. Their Drops of Honey collaboration, which should be arriving in mailboxes starting today, is stunning, and I can’t wait to knit this shawl. Read on to find out where Janina’s inspiration comes from and what her all-time favorite TV show is — which seeing as she’s from Finland, this New Yorker was quite (happily) surprised by!

When and how did you learn to knit?

Knitting and crocheting is taught in schools here in Finland from a young age, and I’ve been knitting basic socks and scarves with bulky market yarn on and off ever since. But the tipping point for me was discovering Ravelry with its inspiring knitting community and luxury yarns. It literally changed my life. I’ve met amazing people both online and offline, discovered the limitless possibilities of knitting, and left my day job to pursue career as a full-time designer and entrepreneur. And most importantly, I’m definitely never going back to market yarns. 🙂

What made you decide to become a designer?

I published my first Ravelry pattern in October 2012 just for fun, and then a few others in Summer 2013. The response was so encouraging that I threw all caution to the wind and left my soul sucking day job in September 2013. That was a crazy move, but I haven’t regretted it for a second. I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe that this is really happening. The only thing I miss from my “pre-designer” life is work colleagues as being a solopreneur can be lonely, but fortunately the awesome community of fellow knitters on Ravelry and social media more than make up for it.

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Tell me about what inspires your minimalist designs.

I believe that simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. And with luxury hand-dyed yarns you really don’t need any bells and whistles from the pattern. For me, knitting is meditative, relaxing experience, and the pattern should be simple enough to follow while watching TV or chatting with friends and family. I aim to design Netflix-friendly patterns that are simple yet interesting to knit with drop-dead gorgeous results.

What’s the first thing you do when you start designing a pattern?

Every design starts with a sketch. My sketchbook is full of scribbles and funny looking sketches, and big part of the design process is deciding which ones to follow through with. Next step is calculations and drafting the instructions. But the knitting part is where final design decisions are made, or sometimes the entire design rejected. No matter how thoroughly I plan in advance, sometimes the yarns just have a mind of their own.

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Do you have any plans to design sweaters or other garments, or do you prefer to stick with accessories?

I get requests for garment patterns with my design aesthetics from time to time, and it’s certainly something I’m intrigued to dip my toe at some point.

I see you’re a big fan of Netflix and wine. What are your favorite shows and what’s your favorite red varietal?

With wines, I’m an annoying snob with a soft spot for French and Italian, but when it comes to Netflix, I’m not that picky. Hubby’s always mocking me — lovingly, of course — with all the ridiculous shows I watch while knitting. I guess the better ones would include Suits, White Collar, The Americans, Downton Abbey and House of Cards, but I’ve also been caught watching shows like The Glades and lately (don’t judge!) The O.C.

My favorite show of all time is Seinfeld and if it ever comes to Netflix I’m never leaving the couch.

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Where is your favorite place to knit?

At home on the couch watching Netflix and sipping red wine or sweet tea. 🙂

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Patti Odinak of Yarn Culture

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YC TUT

This is the last in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

When I decided to approach some small businesses about sponsoring this year’s trunk show, Patti Odinak of Yarn Culture was the first person I emailed. Patti opened the store two years ago in Fairport, New York, which is just outside of Rochester and a little under 300 miles from Rhinebeck. Both the store and the online shop, as well as the knitting events that Patti and her husband, Mitch, travel to, have a well-curated selection of indie dyers, including The Uncommon Thread and Eden Cottage Yarns, both from the UK and both part of the Indie Untangled marketplace. It’s the kind of shop I would definitely make my local if I lived nearby.

Not only was Patti willing to do a featured sponsorship, but she also asked if she could have a booth at the show, bringing some TUT and Eden Cottage. I was sold, and loved the idea of having Yarn Culture represent two of my favorite Indie Untangled dyers. It aligns perfectly with what Patti says is the shop’s goal — to partner with these artisans and make their products more widely available to knitters.

Tell me about the decision to open Yarn Culture. Was running a yarn shop a longtime dream of yours?

I didn’t have a dream to own a yarn shop per se, but I knew I wanted to own a shop. I’ve always loved yarn and knitting, so it made sense to see if I could make it as a business.

What did you do before you became a yarn shop owner?

My professional background is in marketing, working for small and large companies for 17 years. In 2000, I co-founded a marketing and communications company that is still operating today. From 2007 to 20011 my husband’s work was based in Europe, so our family enjoyed the ex-pat life for four years. It was a great experience for me and was the perfect setting to rethink how to best combine my skills and passion into a work experience that was very different from what I had been doing.

YC Shop Photo

Why did you choose the dyers that you carry?

We look for dyers, designers and manufacturers who have something that is unique and recognizable — their own design signature. Our goal is to position Yarn Culture as “partners” with these artists to bring their products to yarn and knitting enthusiasts. When a customer visits Yarn Culture – whether in our store, online or at an event — we want them to find yarn that isn’t readily available other places.

Eden Cottage Yarns and The Uncommon Thread are both excellent examples of artists who we love to represent.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I learned to knit as a young girl in pursuit of a knitting badge in Girl Scouts. We moved a lot when I was a child, so the portability of knitting was perfect for car travel.

Who are some of your favorite designers?

Like most knitters, I have a lot of favorite designers! Those who I’m particularly attracted to right now include Melanie Berg, Amy Herzog, Thea Colman, Lori Versaci, Julie Weisenberger and Joji Locatelli. While each designer has her unique design signature, they all create designs that are fashion relevant and timeless while being achievable by most knitters.

Thea Coleman's London Mitts in The Uncommon Thread.

Thea Coleman’s London Mitts in The Uncommon Thread.

Is there an FO that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m proud of every project I finish, and I finish more now that I’m a shop owner! I like being able to talk to customers about designs from my personal knitting experience. It helps me anticipate when someone might need a new skill or need to be particularly vigilant as they knit along.

Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?

I have tried weaving and really enjoyed it and I’m planning to learn to crochet in the next year.

What are some of the best things you’ve learned while running your business?

1) Working in a business where I have a real passion is fun! I work as hard or harder than ever, so it I’m glad I love it.

2) There are a lot of really nice and talented people in the fiber arts world. I love the opportunities to meet and work with them.

What does the future hold for Yarn Culture?

We’re still a new business, so we are continuing to focus on finding as many opportunities as we can to get the word out about our shop and the yarns we carry. For the next year or two, that will mean a lot of shows and events like the Indie-Untangled Trunk Show. Thanks for allowing us to be part of your event!

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Cathryn Bothe of Signature Needle Arts

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cathy photo-2015 2 resized

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

When I first started knitting with hand-dyed yarn a bunch of years ago, I also began hearing about Signature Needles. At $42 for a full set of circulars, they seemed like a decadent choice, though thinking about it, not so decadent when you’re already spending $30-plus on a skein…

The brand has a fantastic origin story: Knitter Cathryn Bothe, who is president of Bothe Associates, a Wisconsin-based, family-owned company that makes custom metal parts — everything from surgical tool components to mining safety equipment — was frustrated with the points of her needles, so she took them into work and had them altered, bringing the “stiletto point” into the fiber world. Founded in 2006, Signature Needle Arts offers convertible circulars, straight needles and double points in sleek aluminum with a choice of points, as well as needle and cable lengths.

Cathryn now runs both companies, and I was thrilled when her independent, woman-owned enterprise agreed to help sponsor this year’s Rhinebeck Trunk Show. While there won’t be needles for sale at the show, the company sent me a set of circulars, straight needles and DPNs for people to try out. The goody bags, which you can snag if you’re one of the first 100 trunk show attendees, will have a $10 off coupon from Signature, so perhaps that will push you to try out the Rolls Royce of knitting needles.

Would you say the knitting needles and the other products that Bothe Associates manufactures have any similarities?

When we first started it was extremely annoying to have some of the outside suppliers roll their eyes when we talked to them. I could tell they thought it was just some silly “woman’s project.” Even some of the male machine operators thought it strange we were making something so unlike the industrial parts we have made for 65 years.

Now, of course, it is very different. Those folks working a lot on needles are very committed to making the product and are very proud to be part of the Signature part of the business.

The similarities from some of the other parts we make are in materials, tolerances, quality control — we try and not ever send anything out of the building that is not perfect.

Signature group

Have any people at your company been inspired to learn how to knit after you started Signature?

Yes our Financial Manager has learned and excelled in many projects. Others who were already knitters have increased their knitting efforts.

It is also interesting to see how many folks in the office or shop know so much about knitting even though they have never done any. We have so many options and it is great to see folks here who know everything about the product.

circs

Which is the most popular needle point?

Stiletto is the runaway favorite, but for that small percentage of people who like the others, they can feel like someone is looking out for them, too.

What are some of the biggest challenges in manufacturing knitting needles?

The actual manufacturing was not a challenge. In fact, when we first started and did some measuring of some of the low-cost needles on the market, people here were shocked at the lack of precise measurement.

In our shop we often are asked to measure parts to =/- .0003, which translates to 1/10th of a human hair.

Since knitting is really a series of diameter of stitches and guage is so important when you get a Signature needle that is, for example, 4.00 mm, it really is and you can count on that measurement for your stitches.

The only real challenge is finding a cable that works for all the things we need it to do: be strong, be flexible — but not too flexible.

We have people in the shop who are very committed to making the needles beautiful which is wonderful to see. They, to a person, want our customers to be happy.

SNA cables

Tell me how you learned to knit.

My grandmother taught me how to crochet, but I taught myself to knit. I always tell people that although I have knit many things over many years I was a completely “solitary” knitter. I never took a class or joined a group and, actually, I still have not. However, the internet has proved invaluable for allowing me to learn new techniques.

What are your favorite projects to knit?

I like to do baby things since I have been through several years when many friends/family have had babies and grandbabies.

I am currently working on my “masterpieces”: we have three grown children and they all share the same birthday–over a 10 year span. I always tell people that I am organized if nothing else. Actually it is sad, but our youngest always had trouble in young years convincing people that he and his brother and sister were all born on the same day of the year — April 6.

This past year, for the first time in many years, we were all together on the birthday. I committed to doing a special afghan for each of them which told the story of their life. The first one has three panels: one shows stitches that reflect the things he loves; the second panel shows things about his work life; and the third shows all the love and good wishes we send to him as he lives far away. I am working steadily on that and when it is finished I have a notebook of stitch patterns for each of the other two.

SNA snas

Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?

While I can crochet, I don’t do much. I am in the enviable position to be able to knit as much as possible and always can say “it’s for work.”

When our son came home from California once he noticed my yarn room in the basement and commented on how much there was. I didn’t even hesitate or make excuses for the vast quantities: “It’s for work” was all I had to say.

I do a lot of gardening. In our previous house I had a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden with many flowers besides. Now in a smaller space, I have figured out how to have a great many plants and plantings, which I love to do in the short growing season here.

What’s next for Signature Needle Arts? Can you reveal any upcoming plans?

I have lots of ideas for new products. I can’t really say much more right now.

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Susan Post of A Good Yarn Sarasota

AGY Susan Post

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with the fabulous sponsors of the 2015 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

While there’s no shortage of indie dyers you can buy from online, there’s really no replacement for a great local yarn shop — especially if they have a fantastic selection of hand-dyed yarn. Susan Post opened A Good Yarn Sarasota in Florida in 2009 and she’s done some unique collaborations. Some of her shop’s exclusive colorways — dyed by such indies as Dream in Color, Handmaiden, Lorna’s Laces, Sweet Georgia and Zen Yarn Garden — are inspired by underwater photograps that Susan’s husband, Murray, takes while traveling (it’s a tough job — in the description for the shop’s Sea Slug Glitter Sock, he mentions making 21 dives and taking nearly 2,000 photos to get just the right one of a pink, orange and black flatworm).

Here, Susan tells us a little more about how she started her LYS and about the shop exclusives:

Tell me how you came to open A Good Yarn.​

I always wanted to own my own business and an opportunity presented itself.​

What did you do before you became a yarn shop owner?

I was a stay-at-home mom raising three children. I have a degree in marketing from the University of Arizona and when the youngest was in high school I started to think about what I might want to do when he left. I went to work at a couple of LYSs, but found they didn’t carry the kinds of yarns I wanted to knit with. I was ordering yarn online. I started to think I couldn’t be the only knitter in Sarasota who felt that way.

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle colorway.

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle colorway.

How did you decide to turn your husband Murray’s underwater photographs into yarn colorways?​

His pictures are beautiful, and I was looking for a way to make us unique.​

What is the process like for developing the custom colors?​

We send a picture to one of many dyers and ask them to come up with a color. They will usually send me a sample​, from which we might tweak.

One of the colorway inspiration photos, taken by Susan's husband, Murray.

One of the colorway inspiration photos, taken by Susan’s husband, Murray.

Are there plans for custom colors based on other photographs?​

Strictly underwater or marine life​.

Are there any indie dyers you’re particularly interested in collaborating with?​

I love them all. We keep expanding to include new ones.​

When and how did you learn to knit?​

I learned to knit in high school while volunteering after school in an assisited living facility.​

Some customers in Susan's shop.

Some customers in Susan’s shop.

Who are some of your favorite designers?​

Olga, Shellie Anderson, Romi Hill… so many.

Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?​

I have quilted and done needlepoint. Still love them both.​