Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Stephen West

Stephen West holds up a pink striped shawl

Stephen models his Mohairino Medley shawl. Photo by Darren Smith.

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2019 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

If you were asked to compile a list of rockstar knitwear designers, Stephen West would most likely be at the top of it. The Tulsa, Oklahoma, native, who has a background in dance, brings a performer’s creativity to his work, and has seen Bowie-esque transformations, starting with subdued designs like his Boneyard Shawl, transitioning to edgier pieces, such as Transatlantic from his Westknits Book Two, and then to Shrowls and Ribbed Dickeys, and more recently to incredibly complex brioche lace.

Recently, Stephen collaborated with Malia Mae Joseph, the co-owner of the Stephen & Penelope yarn shop in Amsterdam, which Malia originally founded, to release West Wool, a line of non-Superwash yarn comprised of Falkland Merino and Texel, a breed of domestic sheep originally from the island of Texel in the Netherlands.

We’re also excited to have Stephen as the special guest for the Indie Untangled after party at the appropriately-named Dutch Ale House in downtown Saugerties! He’ll be at the 6 p.m. dinner seating to hang out and take photos. Tickets are limited and available here.

How did you decide to become a knitwear designer?

I began designing knitting patterns ten years ago after the owner of my first local yarn shop, Klose Knit, in Urbana, IL, asked me to write a simple pattern during the local Boneyard Arts Festival. I named that first shawl the Boneyard Shawl and started designing simple hats and shawls during that first year of designing patterns. I love the interaction of sharing a design and seeing the colorful variations when knitters customize the patterns and make them their own. I began by modifying patterns which taught me a lot about construction and simple math modifications to existing patterns. Once I started to design my own patterns, my mind couldn’t stop racing with ideas so it was a great fit for me.

How does your background in dance inform your work?

I was very improvisational as a dancer and I also improvise most of my designs while I knit. Sometimes I start a piece thinking it will be a hat or a cowl and it evolves into a modular shawl or sweater. I always loved to create and compose my own dances and that joy and passion for creating something from scratch translated into all of my knit shawls and sweaters. When I was dancing and performing more, I always had down time between rehearsals and performances which I filled with knitting.

Stephen West models a multicolor striped shawl

A collage of Stephen modeling his Cozy Corner Shawl. Artwork by Stefan Gunnesch.

Your aesthetic has changed since your early days of designing, transitioning from neutrals, greens and mustards to bright pops of color. How did that transformation come about?

I have always been fascinated with color, but I started embracing more vibrant colors after I moved to Amsterdam and started collaborating with other artists like my friend Alexandra Feo, a talented photographer, dancer, and knitter from Venezuela. We began collaborating on Westknits photos and approached them with a more mindful planning process. We ebraced fashion, styling, and makeup combined with the knitwear to produce more dynamic images. That was around 2013. That year sparked a joyful shift in my approach to combining colors and I was also traveling much more after that collecting inspiration around Europe and during my visits to Iceland. Soon after, I encountered the work of Belgian fashion designer Walter van Beirendonck. He continues to be an inspiration to me with his vivid use of color and unapologetic style in the fashion world. Yarn companies and hand dyers are always coming out with new colors. I start most of my designs with the yarn first, so yarn heavily influences my evolving design style.

On a related note, what are your favorite colors and have they changed at all since you started designing?

I love yellow, especially golden yellow. Currently, my favorite color is anything fluffy. I love mohair and brushed alpaca yarns.

A model shows off a lacey brioche shawl.

Stephen’s Suriously Holey shawl. Photo by Yunfei Ren.

Tell me about what inspires your designs.

Yarn yarn yarn. I have a colorful cabinet of yarn at home where I start most of my designs. Quite often I’ll create the first prototype of a design with a dozen or more colors. Then, I’ll look at the design and rework it with a more focused color palette. I play a lot with theme and variation so many designs are based off of previous explorations in short rows, and graphic striped effects.

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

I try to write down the pattern while I knit. I used to not write my patterns down the first time so I always re-knit them a second time. I’m getting better at writing patterns down while I knit to save time.

West Wool Bicycle yarn in grey, light blue, gold, light pink and bright blue.

West Wool Bicycle yarn. Photo by Darren Smith.

How did the development of West Wool come about?

Malia and I wanted to create a yarn for our store in Amsterdam and one that we could take to shows as well and something missing from our shop collection was an extensive solid range of non-superwash wool. We wanted a soft fiber that maintains structure and stitch definition so we chose a Falkland Merino blended with 10% Texel which is a Dutch sheep breed. Texel wool is quite toothy and give a little bite and loftiness to the soft merino wool. We debuted West Wool earlier this year in Bicycle, a fingering weight yarn with two plies gently twisted around each other, and a more bouncy DK weight yarn called Tandem. I particularly love Tandem because the stitch definition is so crisp and squishy. We can’t wait to release more colors and bases in the future.

What are some interesting things you learned when creating your yarn line?

We learned that two people with totally different color tastes can put a beautiful collection of yarn together. Malia has a super sophisticated approach to color and loves gray so you will see six shades of gray and some subtle and saturated tones throughout the palette. I always love a vibrant color pop so we injected some statement colors to balance out the neutrals. We are excited to expand the color range to make even more complex color combinations for stranded knitting and striped projects. We both had some yarn production ideas years ago that were never fully realized so we’re glad we waited until now to create our dream yarn just the way we wanted to do it.

We’ve learned to be very patient and thoughtful throughout the process to not rush anything too quickly. I try to carry these lessons through into my design work these days too. I used to be more quick and immediate with my decisions and design process, but now I let ideas simmer and cook longer until they are more mature and developed. The end result is always something I’m more proud of and I have fewer regrets these days. I rarely regret not doing something these days. Developing big projects like West Wool together with Malia or creating my Westknits books is an exercise in patience because there are so many components that go into the final product, but the beautiful result is always worth it in the end.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I learned to knit when I was sixteen years old from some friends in high school while we were rehearsing a school musical. I carried knitting with me everywhere from the beginning and became the knitting guy in high school. I haven’t put my needles down since.

Untangling Christine of Skeinny Dipping

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Skeinny Dipping was one of the first yarn companies to advertise on Indie Untangled, way back in 2014. I was smitten by Christine’s glowing colorways, particularly her rich reds and complex browns and greens (and I am generally not a brown or green person) and learned a little more about her when she vended at the first-ever Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show that same year.

Christine’s background includes working in East Africa with the Peace Corps, which has inspired some of her colorway names (Malaria Dreams and Vervet), as have SNL (I Need More Cowbell and Space Pants) and food (Brown Butter and Blue Raspberry Slurpee).

When she’s not dyeing or traveling around the world with her husband and their adorable Chihuahua, Gracie, Christine knits incredible colorwork sweaters. Her yarn is currently available in the Indie Untangled Virtual Trunk Show.

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

Dyeing yarn was never on my radar. Like many dyers I had gotten to a point in my life where the normal job wasn’t possible and I had to find something to do.

Christine with a “mama” from her village in Kenya.

What did you do in the Peace Corps?

I was an agroforestry extensionist in the Peace Corps. This was my primary assignment through the Kenyan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. I worked with other local Kenyan extensionists in my location (similar to a county) providing technical assistance to subsistence farmers in my region.

My area of expertise was agroforestry, which is a multi-purpose land use system that promotes fuel wood security and improved crop yields on subsistence-sized plots. Together with my Kenyan counterparts we also addressed water and sanitation issues, health education (such as HIV prevention) and any other issues that farmers encountered. I also had some secondary projects like teaching how to bake without an oven, which was a project that happened by accident.

What inspires your colors?

Sometimes it’s a word or phrase that inspires the color (Space Pants from SNL). Other times, it’s the parasitic diseases of tropical Africa or the nut sacks of Kenyan monkeys (Malaria Dreams and Vervet). If it’s disturbing, I’m pretty sure I’ll get a good colorway out of it.

Tinsel-ectomy on Journey Worsted.

Which of your colorways are you most proud of?

I’m proud of them all in their own way, but my favorites are the ones that glow even though they’re extremely saturated and dark. Those take a lot of experimentation to get right, and I have to redo the recipes for each base since different fibers take the dyes differently.

Do you have a favorite color or colors, and have they changed since you became a dyer?

My favorite color has always been green, and there were a lot of colors I didn’t like before I became a dyer, like yellow and red. But I found that I started to like them if I could get them murky and saturated, so I’ve come around to those colors. I still don’t like pink, though, except for Adobe Wan Kenobi, and that’s only because I’ve pushed that colorway to the line between coral and red. I love gray and black, too.

Christine knit Sweaterfreakknits’ Birch Sap shawl in a colorway called Adobe Wan Kenobi.

When and how did you learn to knit?

My grandmom first taught me to knit when I was seven. I only knew the knit stitch, and I had some horrid pink acrylic from Woolworths. Like a lot of kids, I was interested for 10 minutes and then put it aside till I was much older. I picked it up again during my pre-service training in the Peace Corps. We get three months of intensive training in-country before our service officially begins, and it was during this time that our trainers encouraged us to develop another hobby other than reading. We managed to cobble together the rest of the knitting basics like casting on and binding off from within our group. I made a lot of scarves and potholders until the next extension group of volunteers arrived. There was a hat knitter in that group and luckily she was based near me, so I learned how to make Anna Zilboorg’s hats. Aside from when I was in grad school and working full time, I haven’t stopped knitting since then.

Is there a color that you would love to dye, but that is challenging to create?

I cannot dye less saturated colorways to save my life. I do have Salt Marsh, Zingbat, Vintaged and Blue Raspberry Slurpee but I hated all of them when I came up with them. But everyone else liked them, so they got to stay.

Olives on Journey Worsted.

What are some of your favorite projects that you or your customers have made with your yarn?

It’s not so much that there are certain projects that are my favorites, but moreso when my customers make something with a colorway they say is not from a color group that they normally like. Those are my favorites — if I can get you to be open to a color group that you didn’t like before, that is the ultimate compliment.

Untangling C.C. Almon of Javapurl Designs

C.C. wearing her A Walk in the Park Cowl.

Knitting and caffeine seem to go together like, well, yarn and needles. C.C. Almon of Javapurl Designs takes that to the next level with her designs, many of them coffee related, or with a geeky twist. There’s also a bit of Gilmore Girls thrown in (again, coffee) as she often collaborates on collections with her daughter, Dami.

C.C. also often works with dyer Julia of Pandia’s Jewels, and for this year’s Where We Knit yarn club, she created two items: her Brackett’s Landing socks and cowl are now available to purchase.

When and how did you learn to knit and how did you decide to become a designer?

I’ve always been crafty having grown up with a great-grandmother who did needlework, a grandmother who painted and sewed and a momma who did lots of crafts including cross stitch. I dabbled in lots of crafts over the years, but had always wanted to learn to knit. Why? I’m not sure. I didn’t know anyone who knit. It was just always calling to me.

So I finally answered the call in 2005 when I purchase a Learn to Knit kit from a big box store. I was instantly in love! The first few years, I knit mostly blankets and hats.

Things exploded in 2012 when I took a sock knitting class. In 2013, I released my first big pattern (Rescue Me, Chin Boy, & Show Me the Stars – a Doctor Who-inspired Socks) after I was gifted a gorgeous skein of yarn that I knew needed to be a certain pattern, but I couldn’t locate one, so I made it up.

Since then, I’ve designed 60 patterns (mainly socks, but also shawls, cowls, and a few miscellaneous things).

What did you do before becoming a designer and how does it inform your design work?

My final job before I became disabled was as a hospital chaplain. My primary unit was the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I desperately miss working with those wee babes and their families. As a way to continue to bless them, I designed my Top Down Preemie Hat pattern (free on Ravelry) with seven sizes from 24 weeks to full-term. Since 2014, I have knit one preemie hat each week which I then donate to a local hospital.

How did you decide to team up with your daughter, Dami, and how do you work together on your designs?

My Dami (she’s 19 years old and a freshman in college) is a prolific knitter. For a couple of years, she helped me by knitting the samples for my designs. In 2016, she had an idea for a pair of socks inspired by the TV show Elementary. Once she designed those, she continued with eight further patterns and she is now working on a collection of patterns inspired by one of her favourite musicals, Hadestown. We haven’t both collaborated on singular designs, but rather design our own things that then come together in a collection or book.

Tell me about what inspires your designs.

Our pattern design inspirations range from geeky things like Doctor Who and Elementary, to TV shows such as Gilmore Girls and Outlander, to coffee, to colourways that demanded to be something, to locations such as the city of Edinburgh, and more.

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

I need to connect to the specific thing that inspires me (whether it’s a TV show or a colourway or a location or a coffee drink) first and then the design flows out of that.

What are your favorite colors and have they changed at all since you started designing?

PINK!!!!!!!!!! Always PINK!!!!!! (Although I have surprised some people recently by sharing that my second favourite colour is orange, not bright orange, but rather that autumnal burnt orange.) I love PINK so much that we designed an entire book inspired by the colour (Tickled PINK ~ two designers, four indie dyers, eight PINK-tastic patterns).

ks.jpg” alt=”” width=”700″ height=”700″ class=”size-full wp-image-15447″ /> I Love You More Than Pumpkin Spice Socks

Where is your favorite place to knit?

In a coffeeshop with a cuppa coffee (what kind varies by the season, pumpkin spice lattes are my absolute favourite) with either a good friend to chat with or a good book to read or an intriguing podcast to listen to.

Rhinebeck Untangling: Woolly Wormhead

This is the 14th in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2018 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

I have long been a fan of Woolly Wormhead‘s designs — her Castiel is one of my favorite FOs — so I was thrilled to hear that she was flying over from the UK to attend Rhinebeck this year.

Woolly, as she calls herself, is a self-proclaimed “hat architect” who takes the knitted head covering to new levels.

I’m also excited to announce that Woolly will be partnering with Stephanie of Asylum Fibers for the 2019 Where We Knit Yarn Club.

How did you decide to become a knitwear designer?

It wasn’t something I decided upon, it just kinda happened. When I was medically retired from my teaching job I wanted to keep my brain active so I started blogging and writing down what I was making, and how. And it grew from there.

How has your education in textiles, art and design informed your work?

In my mind what I do now is the perfect marriage of my various paths of study. My very first career was as an Electronics Engineer, focusing on systems, logic gates etc, and for a long time I didn’t see the relevance of that to my work! I changed course and studied first Industrial Textiles and then Fine Art Textiles, before finally completing my post grad in Education. All of these play a part in my work but I think my Fine Art Textiles degree was really where my interest in 3D and sculptural textiles matured. Training and practicing as a teacher really cemented my ability to teach effectively, especially as I focused on not only Art and Design during my post grad, but also learning styles and abilities.

Why did you decide to focus on hats?

Again, I can’t say this was a conscious decision but it was an obvious one. I come at my knitting from a 3D sculptural angle and Hats are the most 3-dimensional item we can wear. Having a very short attention span is often a hindrance but with Hats we only need to make one, and they’re relatively quick, too.

Do you think you’ll ever design a different accessory or garment?

Nope! I’ve no interest in garments beyond the few things I make for myself when I get time. And I’ve little interest in fashion, with the exception of sub-cultures.

Tell me about what inspires your designs.

Construction, structure and numerical patterns. I’m very much about the 3D but I do like to have a mathematical structure that resonates and I’m often told this is evident in my work.

When and how did you learn to knit?

My mum taught me to knit when I was 3 years old, and I’ve not had a period of more than a few months without something on the needles since.

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

That depends… it depends on how it’s going to be structured. I don’t sketch my designs, I make notes. I’ll swatch if there’s a particularly difficult stitch pattern involved or a new to me method that I want to try out, but otherwise I treat my sample as my swatch. Sideways designs are usually charted before I cast-on; vertical designs are written as I knit.

What are your favorite colors and have they changed at all since you started designing?

My favourite colours to wear are completely different to my favourite colours to design with! I wear all blacks unless it’s a smooth dark grey. I like an easy wardrobe, when it’s all black everything goes with everything. When it comes to knitting it’s probably useful to remember that I don’t knit for myself! I’m drawn to jewel tones, strong colour and particularly colours that aren’t flat. If I know who’s going to be modelling the design then skin tone always comes into play. I rarely do pale or subtle colours and I’m allergic to white. Over time I don’t think my palette has changed much, but there are a lot more hand dyed yarns available that there used to be, and with more variance and more sophisticated techniques, too.

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: The Perfect Blend

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This is the 13th in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2018 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

Last November, after I checked out the Saugerties Performing Arts Center and decided it was the perfect new venue for Indie Untangled, I paid a visit to The Perfect Blend Yarn & Tea Shop. First of all, I couldn’t not pay a visit to a well-regarded LYS less than a mile down the road. But, I mainly wanted to see what the shop was like before reaching out to the owner, Mary Ebel, about collaborating on the show, which I knew would bring quite a lot of visitors to the little town. Since I hadn’t yet signed the contract for the new venue, I went “incognito,” and didn’t reveal the real reason I was there.

Mary welcomed me and my mother-in-law warmly, and she and I chatted like knitting-obsessed folks do about the projects we were working on and hoping to make one day. I learned about the yarn club the store runs, with hand-dyed colorways inspired by the beauty of the Hudson Valley. Mary brewed some Harney & Sons tea for us to sample and I picked out a colorful navy, teal and orange basket that now holds all my WIPs by my living room sofa.

Later, after I reached out to Mary and revealed the true reason for my visit that day, she became an indispensable part of the planning team for the fifth annual Rhinebeck Trunk Show, connecting me to local resources and rallying together the local merchants to give Indie Untangled visitors a warm welcome not unlike the one I received during my first visit, with a free shuttle service, sit ‘n’ knit stations and even an after party — plus a little yarny surprise.

I recently learned a little bit more Mary about how she became the owner of one of the Hudson Valley’s loveliest yarn shops.

Tell me about the decision to open The Perfect Blend. Was running a yarn shop a longtime dream of yours?

Yes it was a long term plan — as I imagine lots of knitters have dreams of opening a yarn shop, too!

Fortunately for me, I had the support of my family and friends to make it happen. My husband retiring early from law enforcement and taking on a second career in sales allowed me to leave my full-time job and pursue this yarn shop dream job (though I dreamed it much differently… I thought there would be time to sit and knit).

After eight years of teaching friends at home and my husband settling into his new career, I “retired” and opened a shop. Seemed everything fell into place as I worked towards the opening. The location, in the small village of Saugerties, was the only storefront I looked at. And it’s perfect – a bit rustic with brick wall and charming atmosphere.

Why did you decide to focus on yarn and tea?

Growing up with a family of makers, my mother was always knitting, but she also, sewed, crafted, tried just about everything — except cooking. My dad, an engineer, loved building, woodworking, fixing things, problem solving. He and friends built our family cottage in Maine in 1950s. There are seven of us “kids” and we were all encouraged to learn a craft. For the last 30 years or so, our family Christmas has been handmade. We make something six times, one for each family member. It’s creative and fun!

Though each of my siblings have some sort of hands-on crafting talent, mine was knitting. I have sweet memories of knitting with my mother during quiet early mornings in Maine. I love knitting, and teaching people to knit.

And the tea: well, a few reasons. First reason was I wanted something other than yarn to bring people into the shop. Turns out, that was a good decision — they’re looking for tea, and wouldn’t normally walk in a yarn shop, then discover the beautiful yarns, and talk about how they “always wanted to learn” … ”Oh, and you teach classes?” And bam — new knitter!

We’re Irish and there are lots of tea drinkers in the family. The tea kettle is ON when we’re together, from early morning to late at night!

As with knitting and crocheting, making tea is slow process – it’s peaceful and calming. It’s what you do to relax and unwind, or to help you feel better. And it all works with The Perfect Blend: of yarn, or tea blends, or of the community of knitters and crocheters.

What you do before you became a yarn shop owner and how do you think it informs what you bring to the business?

Prior to opening the shop, my career was in human resources. The last 13 years in benefits and employee relations for our local hospital system. Though my background did not include retail or anything in the fiber world, I’m a good listener, confidential and love to help people.

My position at the hospital was to serve the people that took care of people, helping them resolve an issue so that they could get back to their jobs of patient care. That’s why an LYS is better for me than an online store. Though we tried for a few months last year, it’s not for me, and most of our online sales happened in the shop. We like the interaction with our customers and have fun! And just like HR, we don’t discuss politics and we’re confidential — I won’t tell anyone how much yarn you bought!

Why did you choose the dyers and brands that you carry?

The brands and the products change over the years and will continue to. We started carrying basic, core brands that I was familiar with: Cascade, Noro, Classic Elite, etc. In the beginning, I used the advice and guidance of reps for what to buy and what was trending. Now, I research myself, attend TNNA and always listen to my customers.

As we evolve and grow our shop, the yarn choices will change too. There’s always something new that we must have! Although we carry many classic yarns for the projects you’ll have 10 years from now, we do carry a variety of yarns, not novelty, but some trendy yarns for our adventurous knitters and crocheters. From Cashmere and yak to cotton and wool, and lots of perfect blends in between.

Who are some of your favorite designers?

Hardest question right here! There are so many talented designers, who could ever pick a favorite?

Let me say this though, we just had two days of classes with Ann Budd (she’s amazing!). Her Intro to Sweater Design Class – wow! We all know that there’s tons of math in knitting, but now I have a whole new respect for what it takes to design it, from concept, to gauging, choosing the right yarn, sizing… there are so many factors. It was an amazing class! One person commented that “We don’t pay enough for patterns.”

Can you talk about any new products the shop is going to carry or special events in the works?

We met a few new vendors at TNNA trade show in June. Gleeners recently arrived and we’re planning a demo day soon. We’re also bringing in some fun products from Knit Baah Purl — sheep-y wine glasses, mugs and notecards. We’re also xcited to bring in Dragonfly Fibers.

As for special events, it doesn’t get any better than having Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show a half-mile away from the shop! We’re thrilled and super exited to have this event come to Saugerties!

When and how did you learn to knit?

I was taught by my mother on the porch of our summer cottage in Maine. Not sure of my age, I think around nine, but I remember where I was sitting and the yarn (split-y cotton) and the big wooden needles. Pretty sure there were other neighborhood kids learning at the same time, but I clearly remember where I was sitting and the moment I “got it!”

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

Through the years there were definitely many proud moments when I discovered a new technique, such as German short rows, or when I made my first sweater, or did Fair Isle for the first time, and a cabled sweater. After all these years there’s always something new to learn — that only another knitter can be excited about, too!

Getting ready for Rhinebeck with Mason-Dixon Knitting

This is the 12th in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2018 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner of Mason Dixon Knitting have been corresponding about knitting since 2003, so they know a thing or two about Rhinebeck. This year, they will be the hostesses with the mostest in what is being dubbed the MDK Lounge at the fifth annual Indie Untangled Trunk Show.

I recently asked Ann and Kaye about their plans for the big weekend:

Who are you both most looking forward to seeing at the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show?

An event like Indie Untangled gives us the opportunity to see our invisible internet friends in actual 3D human form — it’s incredibly good fun. We’ll be in the Indie Untangled Lounge all day — beginning at 1 p.m. rope drop! — so we hope to say Hi to as many folks as we can. Really looking forward to talking yarns and designs with everybody. Pub nights are kind of a branded thing with us. We love a good sit ’n’ knit.

Tell me about some of the most recent dyers that you’ve stocked your shop with.

The MDK Shop, our online yarn emporium, features a bunch of dyers that we admire and respect so much — a number of them are Indie Untangled vendors, and we’re proud to be working with them. Recently, that group includes Julie Asselin of Julie Asselin Yarns, Amy Lee Serradell of Canon Hand Dyes and Alice O’Reilly of Backyard Fiberworks. We met them all at Indie Untangled, so it’s a bit of a reunion to get to see them again. And we have an MDK exclusive, beautiful yarn coming soon from Karin Maag-Tanchak and Jill Draper.

Are there any indie dyers and designers that you think should be on knitters’ radars?

We often say we’re living in a golden age of yarn — it’s hard for us to keep up with the dyers who are emerging on the scene, but what a wonderful problem to have. Naturally-dyed yarns are really making us happy these days. Brooke Sinnes of Sincere Sheep is brilliant at pairing beautiful fibers with her color sense. Marcia McDonald of Lana Plantae gets these incredibly vibrant colors from plant dyes. And Meg Anderson of Nutmeg Yarns is working in the gentlest, softest palette imaginable.

Ann’s Birkin by Caitlin Hunter.

What are you each planning to wear to both Indie Untangled and the New York Sheep & Wool Festival?

We hope for a daily high of 57 degrees, because that is the perfect temperature for SWEATA WEATHA. Ann has about a half dozen potential sweaters, ranging from Carbeth by Kate Davies (in case there is a blizzard—that thing is HOT) to Birkin by Caitlin Hunter (fingering weight). Kay is madly knitting away on a vintage Kaffe Fassett kit from 1986 that is going to ROCK THE FESTIVAL one of these days (three years since cast-on! This could be the year!). If the Kaffe is not quite ready for showtime, and even if it is, Kay’s brand-new Savage Heart Cardigan by Amy Christoffers is going to make its maiden voyage this year.

What do you think is going to be the most-seen sweater at Rhinebeck this year?

Our prediction: many, many, many yoke sweaters. When have we ever had such a bumper crop of yoke designs? My guess: Humulus (Isabell Kraemer). More Birkins (Caitlin Hunter) Fades being found all over the place. And Carbeth, our Bang Out a Sweater sweater of 2018, will surely be everywhere if the temps are cool enough. (You could cast one on right now and get it done in time. We aren’t kidding when we say BANG OUT.)

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

Ann: Making a giant Parallelogram Scarf by Cecelia Campochiaro from MDK Field Guide No. 5: Sequences. And Thea Colman’s Appleseed Mitts from MDK Field Guide No. 8: Merry Making. And every other pattern from that Field Guide because we’re in the midst of a giant Bunchalong on MDK, where knitters are making holiday gifts in multiples. I’ve got ten weeks and a mighty momentum getting warmed up.

Kay: Currently blocking: three (three!) Stranded Diamonds Hats from MDK Field Guide No. 8. Next up: untold numbers of Slip-Stitch Caps and Appleseed Mitts and Chalice Cowls from Field Guide No. 8. I’m going to win the Bunchalong. (Wait — I’m not eligible to win the Bunchalong. But: bragging rights!)

Stranded Diamonds Hats from MDK Field Guide No. 8.

What are each of your favorite FOs from the last year?

Ann: I love my Birkin yoke sweater by Caitlin Hunter so, so much. I used Backyard Fiberworks Sock in the shades of Jamberry and Patio, aka the loudest colorway I’ve ever made. It makes me feel pretty and witty and bright.

Kay: My most recent FO is always my fave. I love love lurve my Savage Heart Cardigan, and may cast on a second one in Spud & Chloe Sweater, because it’s such a perfect match for the pattern. I also have to give a big thumbs-up to the Parallelogram Scarf from Field Guide No. 5. I’ve made 2, which are really 3, since the second one was a double-wide version. Once you start some soothing sequence knitting with Freia Fibers’ slow-changing Shawl Balls, you can’t really find a good stopping point. Just… keep… knitting…

The Knot House gets ready for Rhinebeck

This is the 11th in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2018 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

The Knot House in Frederick, Maryland, is an LYS that really supports indie dyers. It’s where trunk show vendor Dami of Magpie Fibers learned to knit and launched her company and always showcases the latest and greatest at their indie pop-up during the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

I asked owners Heather and Cathy to give us a look at their plans for Rhinebeck and also learned about a new dyer who has come on the scene…

Who are you both most looking forward to seeing at the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show?

Hu Made. We haven’t met Amanda, so we are looking forward to meeting her and seeing her yarns in person.

Tell me about some of the most recent dyers that you’ve stocked your shop with.

We have two that we have added recently:

1) Nice & Knit – We love their Sock and DK. They have great colors and are just a pleasure to work with.

2) Chasing Rabbits – Love the Sock and her colors.

Cathy and Heather

Are there any indie dyers and designers that you think should be on knitters’ radars?

I have to give myself a plug here. We have our own hand-dyed yarns now. We launched our La Di Da DK and Mo Debonair Mohair earlier this fall. With the focus on sweaters, we have focused on tonal solids.

How did you decide to dye your own yarn?

I don’t really know. I had thought about it before but never really thought of myself as an artist. But Mom and I thought I should try to supplement the shop. So Mom ordered yarn and I ordered dye and got started.

Where do you dye?

I currently dye in my home kitchen but we are working on building out a small studio in the basement.

What inspires your colors?

I have always loved textiles and have been known to spend way to much on decor fabrics. I love a room done well with pops of color. So I get a lot of inspiration from home decor pictures and fabrics. I also love timeless fashion. Matter of fact, I took a picture of Uma Thurman in the streets of NYC in 1987 and used it to come up with a small collection. In my option, yarn colors have to be truly wearable. I will be doing a sock weight in variegated fun stuff soon!

What are you each planning to wear to both Indie Untangled and the New York Sheep & Wool Festival?

Not exactly sure yet, but I’m sure Mom and I will both be wearing something from Boyland Knitworks and/or Andrea Mowry.

An FO of Caitlin Hunter’s Tecumseh.


What do you think is going to be the most-seen sweater at Rhinebeck this year?

Tecumseh and The Throw Back!

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

Mom is working on Caitlin’s Ramblin Woman Cardigan [a pattern that is debuting at Indie Untangled] using Knot House La Di Da DK. I am working on Millie by Nice & Knit and the Aim True Hat by Caitlin Hunter.

Cathy’s Sipila sweater.

What are each of your favorite FOs from the last year?

I think mine is still Sunset Highway and Mom’s is her Sipila sweater.

Viola’s ‘Knits About Winter’

This is the 10th in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2018 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

Ever since I discovered indie-dyed yarn, Viola has been one of the dyers whose yarns I have lusted after. Emily’s colors are lightly speckled, but not the eye-poppingly bright speckles that have become popular in recent years. They’re more like gelato, with subtle swirls that look good enough to eat.

While following Emily’s business over the years, through her work experience with UK-based mill John Arbon Textiles — which created a line of colors inspired by her — to her move to a studio in Mooresburg, Ontario, and development of bases, like her Mooresburg DK, it was my dream to have her vend at the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show. So I was thrilled when, earlier this year, Amy of Pom Pom Quarterly asked if Emily could have a booth to sell her yarns, which would be featured in Knits About Winter, a book of Emily’s designs that Pom Pom Press was publishing in the fall.

In advance of the premier of Knits About Winter at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival (you can preorder your copy from the Merritt Bookstore to pick up in their booth at the festival), I spoke to Emily about the book and her work as a dyer.

What inspires the designs in Knits About Winter?

Knits About Winter is entirely inspired by the winter landscape surrounding my home in Mooresburg, Ontario. I moved here at the beginning of a very cold and snowy winter a few years ago and was almost instantly captivated by the quiet magic of winters here. Winter can be cold and harsh but also mysterious and magical. My goal with each of the designs in Knits About Winter was to create patterns that would be warm and comfortable in the cold of winter, all the while remembering the colours, shapes and light of winter.

Did you come up with new colorways for the collection?

Yes! There are four new Viola colourways that are launching at the same time as the book. Each colourway is also inspired by Mooresburg winters past and present. I knew roughly what I wanted each colour to be, but did a lot of visual research and experimenting before I landed on the finished colourways. Visual research is one of the most fun jobs that I have, especially in winter, because it involved frequent snowshoeing adventures with my camera! Each colourway is inspired by a variety of different sights in my winter landscape. I decided to combine elements of texture, light, shape and, of course, colour that stood out to me and suited the palette I wanted to achieve.

Do you have a favorite pattern from the collection and, if so, why is it your favorite?

My answer to this question changes every day, so I suppose they’re all my favourites. My focus was to create designs that would be versatile and serviceable, yet beautiful. I also wanted to create pieces that would be easy to layer and wear together, so I think of these patterns as a knitted outfit rather than individual pieces. I can honestly say that I can’t wait to wear all of them, and am so pleased with their minimalistic beauty and wearability.

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

After working in a small knitting store in Toronto, I discovered the wonders of hand-dyed yarns. It didn’t take long before I was experimenting with dyes for myself, and just a little while longer before customers at the shop claimed skeins for themselves. The business grew quickly from there, along with my dyeing and business skills. I learned everything as I went along, through lots of trial and error and lots of making mistakes.

How did you decide on the name Viola?

That was an easy decision actually. Viola is the name of both of my grandmothers! Both women were seriously talented knitters and made my sister and I countless amazing outfits. One grandma is even known to have been able to knit whilst reading a book and snacking (I think apple slices were her favourite).

Do you have a favorite color or colors, and have they changed since you became a dyer?

That’s even trickier than choosing a favourite design from the book! I find that my colour preferences change reliably with the seasons, even more than they change through the years. Since I started dyeing yarn I have developed a more focused way of observing colours around me. Right now (and I think always) I know that I am drawn to complex, layered and hazy colours. I’ll always pause to inspect a colour under frost or water or behind mist. Reflections in puddles or the sky hidden by clouds. A bright colour might catch my eye, but it is usually the murky tones, textures and light around that colour that interest me. I also like to explore the balance between warm and cool in colours, and often prefer shades that land right in the middle.

That said, I do have some favourite starting points, they become more faded and subdued in the winter and a little more colourful towards the summer. All types of pink, copper, peach, beige, gold and olive are my go to shades, and I use these colours more often than you might think in all Viola colourways.

Is there a color that you would love to dye, but that is challenging to create?

This happens to me quite often, actually. The more layers of dye in a colourway, the easier it is to tip too far in one direction or another and become too hazy or simply transform into another colour altogether. Often I discover great new ideas when overdyeing colours that I’m not happy with, and that’s just what happened with a colour called Peat that I’ve been struggling with for months. I’ll get there, because it is a beautiful and moody colour (and I want to knit a sweater with it!) but often the first run of a colour is almost impossible to recreate for me.

Tell me about the decision to work for John Arbon. What were some of the best things you learned while there and how did it inform your dyeing?

About three years after I “accidentally” started Viola I was feeling overwhelmed by how quickly the business had grown. It was a fluke that John and Juliet had a job opening up exactly when I contacted them, and even more of a fluke that they took a chance on a Canadian girl they’d never spoken to before! I think it only took about a month or two from contacting them, to boarding the plane to England.

I loved working for John and Juliet as well as living in beautiful North Devon. I learned more that I could have ever hoped to about fibre, yarn construction and operating loud and dangerous fibre processing machinery. I think the most useful thing that I took away from my time at John Arbon Textiles was John and Juliet’s attitude, creativity and work ethic. I never slacked off at Viola, but would often struggle when a problem arose. Running a small business, this happens at least once a day. Watching John and Juliet navigate similar issues rationally and calmly taught me that there is no ready made solution and I have to figure it all out for myself. I still struggle with complicated problems and decisions, of course, but take comfort in the fact that I am in control of the journey as well as the outcome.

How has having a new studio space changed your business?

I have been working in the new studio space for just over two years. When we renovated the space I was optimistic that it would make my dyeing process more efficient and as of about three months ago, it finally did. My answer to this question two years ago would have been that the new space will allow me to dye more yarn and be more productive. While that would have been fantastic, I think my business gained something even more valuable – resiliency. Countless things have broken, gone wrong, fallen apart, frozen, blown up and been eaten by ants. Just at the moment that one problem was fixed, the next one materialized. Amidst it all, I simply had to keep going and deal with the issues as they arose. The new studio space as taught me that good things take time, and lots of patience. It’s working really well at the moment, but I am still braced for the next potential catastrophe.

Kitterly gets ready for Rhinebeck

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From left to right: Kitterly co-founders Elizabeth Rowen and and Mari Bower.

This is the ninth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2018 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

Can you believe it’s exactly one month until Indie Untangled — and Rhinebeck?! Before this popular knitting weekend extravaganza, I asked Elizabeth Rowen and Mari Bower, the founders of Kitterly, which sells knitting and crochet kits, to talk about their plans for Rhinebeck and their predictions for this year’s most popular Indie Untangled and Rhinebeck sweaters.

Who are you both most looking forward to seeing at the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show?

We’re really excited to see the variety of products, new products that inspire us and catch up with our vendors and meet new ones!

What are each of your Top 5 favorite Kitterly kits from the last year?

Mari: From a site popularity standpoint, the Sushi Scarf by Stephanie Shiman and Wonderland Yarns is a perennial favorite with our customers.

We’ve been so fortunate to work with so many amazing designers like Andrea Mowry, Isabell Kraemer and Melanie Berg, to name a few. It’s been fun to meet and feature designers from all over the world.

Liz: I love them all! Our designers as so talented and it’s always so inspiring to work with them.

Sushi Scarf by Stephanie Shiman.

Are there any indie dyers and designers that you think should be on knitters’ radars?

Mara of Aya Fibers
Steffi of Uschitita
Renee of Spun Right Round
Aimee of La Bien Aimée

There are so many more we could list but we’re running out of space!

What are you both planning to wear to Indie Untangled and the New York Sheep & Wool Festival?

Mari: Depending on weather I’m going to wear my newly knit Humulus pullover by Isabel Kraemer knit in The Fibre Company Cumbria and Spincycle Dream State. I hope to be able to finish my Rose cardigan, knit in Olann Sock Sport, in time.

Liz: I’m going bring my Sheltered poncho by Andrea Mowry, my Sipila pullover knit in Olann Singles as well as my Impressionists shawl by Helen Stewart. Hoping to have my Comfort Fade cardi in Olann complete too!

The Throwback © Andrea Mowry

What do you think is going to be the most-seen sweater at Rhinebeck this year?

Mari: I’ll think we’ll see a bunch of The Throwback cardis by Andrea Mowry, Sipila by Caitlin Hunter, Rose cardigan by Andrea Mowry, Carbeth Cardigan by Kate Davies and Weekender by Andrea Mowry.

Liz: I imagine we’ll see many Fading Points by Joji, Comfort Fade Cardi by Andrea Mowry and The Doodler by Stephen West.

Tell me the things that are currently on your needles.

Mari: Rose cardigan by Andrea Mowry and Separate Ways by Joji.

Liz: Comfort Fade Cardi by Andrea Mowry, Neridah by Ambah O’Brien and a test knit for Lesley Robinson of Knit Graffiti.

A WIP of Mix and Mingle by Andrea Mowry.

What are each of your favorite FOs from the last year?

Mari: Weekender by Andrea, Mix and Mingle, a Kitterly Special project for Kitterly by Andrea Mowry, and Kobuk by Caitlin Hunter.

Liz: Too many to name!

Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Amor Valdez of Crave Yarn

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2018 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

The upstate New York LYS Yarn Culture has been a fixture at knitting marketplaces around the country — this will be Patti and Mitch’s fourth year as a vendor and sponsor for the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Show.

Yarn Culture always brings a variety of dyers and indie yarn companies. This year, they will be representing Crave Yarn, Spun Right Round, The Uncommon Thread and WalkCollection. I decided to learn a little bit more about Amor Valdez, the New Mexico based dyer behind Crave who also has an LYS of her own — AMORES in Santa Fe.

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

My dyepot journey was catalyzed by a hunt for pistachio green. I wanted to knit a shawl for a friend in her favorite color, as a personalized gesture to say, “I see you and love you.” Her favorite color, you likely guessed, is pistachio green. The hunt in my LYSs was in vein, but it did lead me to the doorstep of perhaps the most life-changing lighting bolt of an idea… maybe I can dye the color myself.

I found an online course created by Kim McKenna. In this course Kim guides you through the process of creating a color wheel in tiny mini skeins to get acquainted with color theory and dyeing methods simultaneously. Well, once I got started I just couldn’t stop with the mini skeins and color play. Approximately 200 mini skeins later, I dyed my first full skeins in, predictably, pistachio green. Even though I was at the tail end of graduate school at the time, I dove full tilt into the realm of color and fiber. And when I completed my degree, I respectfully tucked it away, and started Crave Yarn… as I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything else.

Explain how your Crave yarn is dyed, as I understand it’s done on a much larger scale than other home or studio-based dyers.

Crave operates on two scales simultaneously. As my wholesale representation expanded, I found myself dyeing 10+ pots a day of a single colorway and eventually felt that there must be a better way to fulfill this portion of yarn demand. At that time, my colorways were primarily semi-solids. So I explored the prospect of working with a small batch dyehouse. Of course, a dyehouse small batch is 10 to 20 times larger than my personal dyepot capacity. So I focused my energies on creating beautiful color stories in the form of cohesive color palettes. For each palette, I dyed an average of 50 samples per color to find precisely the hue that I was after to fit in with the full color spread. I made a tandem shift toward custom-milled yarn bases, giving me the freedom to create the fiber blends, weights and yarn structures that I dreamed of. These yarn lines are the result of my artisan passions, but can now be maintained and reproduced on a scale that allows me to reach more shops and fiber artists with my fiber and color love.

Another reason for this shift was to create space in my studio schedule to return to my artisan passion for color play with more freedom. Alongside my solid colors, I threw myself into the creation of one-of-a-kind colorways on my custom bases and on any other yarn bases that inspire me to explore the beautiful and infinite possibilities of color. These colorways are available in my Santa Fe Shop, AMORES, and soon online. They will also be featured in the Yarn Culture booth at the Indie Untangled Trunk Show!

Tell me about the decision to open AMORES and how it stands apart from other yarn shops.

AMORES Yarn Shop + Studio is my wildest fiber dream come true. The first time I stepped into a yarn shop, I was immediately struck by cupid’s arrow. That was eight years ago, and I think I have been planning my own shop since that very moment. One year ago, I felt that the time had arrived to pluck the notion from my daydreams and begin the search for a location. In 300 square feet and with the endless support and talents of my family, AMORES was born. It is a beautiful sunlit showroom where I feature the fibers that I love and the colorways I create. Along with a wide selection of knit samples that inspire my customers (and myself) to try new techniques, to embrace the elegance of simplicity and to imagine the power of color to uplift mood and self (not an overstatement). Aside from a small lovingly-curated collection of notions and tools, the shop is focused on my fiber projects and collaborations.

By far, the greatest gift received by opening the shop is the community. I have met the most amazing and kind individuals, fellow Santa Feans and visitors alike. It really has been wonderful to join and serve our ever growing knitting community in a new way— and to create a space where fiber lovers are valued and celebrated for their craft and friendship.

Do you have a favorite color or colors, and have they changed since you became a dyer?

I definitely have favorite colors, but since becoming a dyer it is basically a rapidly changing and hugely expansive category for me. I fall in love with new colors every time I step into my studio or hang a new colorway in the shop. So I would have to say that more than changing my “favorite colors,” my dye life has changed the way I see and value color.

My favorite colors change with my mood, with the quality of the light, with the season, with a song transition on the radio. It’s an extremely dynamic and playful aspect of my life, for sure. Above all, I think I am acutely tapped into the way colors make me feel about the moment, the day, myself, the place I find myself in, the world and about what is possible.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I learned how to knit 14 years ago when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter. I made a garter scarf… although as I think of it now, I’m not sure I actually finished it. It didn’t really stick at that point. Then I got curious again in 2008 and like a message from the gods I stumbled upon the newly minted Ravelry. Fun fact about me, my right brain (the artist’s realm) basically has two speeds, meh OR let’s buy the farm. When I found Ravelry and started knitting again, I was an overnight zealot.

I also crochet, which was the first fiber art I learned sitting at the hem of my grandmother’s skirts. My grandmother whispers to me through crochet stitches, and in that there is love. But my design life and most fervent passion resides in knitting. The super short story of all this is: I LOVE YARN!

Is there a color that you would love to dye, but that is challenging to create?

I strive to capture the beautiful color transitions of our New Mexico sunrises and sunsets. Santa Fe is surrounded by mountain ranges in virtually every direction and the sun’s comings and goings at the edge of those mountainous peaks is magnificent. Those are the colorways that I often seek in my dyepots. I’ve arrived at many beautiful colorways in this pursuit, but I’m still reaching to capture the incredibly dynamic color symphonies of our northern New Mexico skyscapes.

What are some of your favorite FOs you or your customers have made with your yarn?

Rather than specific projects, I think my favorite FOs fit into a particular category, gift knitting. I am always impressed by the generosity of knitters to execute thousands upon thousands of stitches in completing a beautiful project, to then turn around and gift it to someone. Wow! Knitters knit for family and friends as a gesture of love, they knit for strangers in crisis, they knit for peace and advocacy. Amazing! And in this category I also include the occasional gift of knitting for oneself. When a knitter takes the time to bestow a kindness on themselves through the slow and mindful practice of knitting, to create beauty and know that they deserve to enjoy the fruit of their energies… that too is a well deserved gesture of love.

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

The entrepreneurial community of the fiber arts industry has revealed two outstanding truths to me: 1) Women are AMAZING; operating at levels of ingenuity and integrity that are endlessly inspiring; 2) Kindness and empathy are as relevant in business as they are to all human experiences; passion and ambition fit just fine alongside the goals of leading a just, compassionate and charitable life.