You can always depend on Heather and Cathy, the owners of The Knot House yarn shop in Frederick, Maryland, to stay on top of trends in the fiber world. Their shop always features the hottest indie dyers and they themselves are prolific sweater knitters.
I asked them to walk us through their preparations for Rhinebeck and Indie Untangled, and give a look at what’s new for their in-house yarn line.
Who are you both most looking forward to seeing at the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show?
I don’t think there is anyone specific we look forward to seeing. The biggest treat is meeting the customers that don’t live locally that support us! We get to put faces with names and hopefully get to see some of their FOs. I love it when Mom and I are separated and people say, “Oh, hi, Heather, where’s your Mom?” Everyone loves Mom. We also love to see other LYS owners, indie dyers, podcasters and designers.
Tell me about some of the most recent dyers that you’ve stocked your shop with.
Thanks for asking about our Knot House Yarns line! I have added La Di Da Worsted base for the 2019/2020 season. It is a 4-ply (plied twice) 100% Superwash Merino (same as the La Di Da DK). Mom and I are currently looking at new bases to add in the spring.
I should also add that Mom and I will be vending at the Black Mountain Indie Extravaganza the weekend following Rhinebeck! It will be our first event out of The Knot House and we are both excited and nervous. Dates for the event are October 25th and 26th it will be held during SAFF at Black Mountain Yarn Shop.
What are your favorite projects that customers have made with your hand-dyed yarn?
Oh my. There are a couple of favorites. I don’t know how many people have made the Ranunculus, but it has been a favorite this summer, along with the Soldotna Crop. It is so fun to see the color combos.
What are you each planning to wear to both Indie Untangled and the New York Sheep & Wool Festival?
I remember my first visit to fibre space. It was at the tail end of a fall 2012 road trip I took with my husband that started in Maryland at the Verdant Gryphon open house and included Charleston, Savannah and Colonial Williamsburg. I had already bought plenty of yarn at the beginning of the trip, but when I realized that our drive home would be taking us right past Alexandria, Virginia, and it would be the perfect midpoint for lunch, I knew I had to go to the shop. I ended up getting my first skeins of Neighborhood Fiber Co. and a recommendation of where to get some delicious cupcakes that fueled our drive back to NYC through the pouring rain.
Danielle Romanetti’s shop has moved locations a couple of times since that visit, but it still retains what I consider yarn store perfection: a welcoming atmosphere with plenty of comfy seating, great lighting and design, and a commitment to indie brands, with a focus on local businesses.
Tell me the story of how fibre space came to be. Had you always wanted to own a yarn shop?
My shop is really an extension of my original business – Knit-a-Gogo, Inc., which I opened in October of 2006 to offer knitting classes in the DC metro area. Initially, I taught beginner and intermediate classes at coffee shops, bakeries and even public libraries in and around Washington, DC. Utilizing these spaces required a solid relationship with the businesses that hosted us and has led to the collaborative philosophy that fibre space now maintains. As my customers grew in number, so did the community of knitters and crocheters, as well as the number of classes being offered and my staff of instructors.
Eventually, the Knit-a-Gogo community really needed a permanent home – a place where stitchers could meet outside of classes, buy quality supplies and and share with other stitchers. In 2009, this dream became a reality when Knit-a-Gogo became fibre space and opened its doors in historic Alexandria, VA. I am so excited to have finally put down permanent roots at our new building, 1319 Prince Street.
What did you do before you became a yarn shop owner and how do you think it informs what you bring to the business?
I was a professional fundraiser and event planner for international nonprofit organizations. I have a background in international development, with a specialization in Latin America. The event planning and marketing background is certainly a huge asset to my business. Working for a rather large international organization helped me to learn a ton about marketing campaigns and how to effectively implement them. I use that experience in planning all of our seasonal marketing, events, etc.
How do you choose the dyers and brands that you carry?
I have a commitment to supporting small and indie brands as much as possible. I often make decisions on a brand because of their origin story or even their owner. I like to support businesses whose owners are amazing, engaging and forward-thinking women. In general, you will find many brands at our shop that aren’t in many other places. I like to keep things unique, as we have so many yarn shops in our area. It helps us to be a destination.
You were carrying indie dyers since the beginning. How would you say the explosion of indie dyers has changed your business?
It’s interesting. We went through a few years of carrying a ton of indie hand dye from many, many different dyers, including international. I made a shift a few years back to focusing on fewer of the dyers but having a wider range of yarns from the ones that we do stock. This seems to be working right now. Our customers know that we are a destination for Neighborhood Fiber Co. [editor’s note: Neighborhood Fiber Co. is also an Indie Untangled sponsor], Miss Babs, Hazel Knits, Freia, the Periwinkle Sheep and Knerd String and more as we get orders from them almost monthly to restock. We also have a good inventory of our locals (Neighborhood Fiber Co. again), Havirland, Fully Spun [an Indie Untangled vendor] and the Fiberists.
Despite the hand dye explosion, we are still a huge stockist of traditional beautiful wool yarns. Our customers buy a lot of De Rerum Natura, Brooklyn Tweed, Kelbourne Woolens and Stonehedge Fiber Mill.
Can you talk about any new products the shop is going to carry or special events in the works?
I am really excited about the new yarn project that Karida Collins and Ann Weaver are working on. We will be launching Plied Yarn at our shop on November 9th. The wool is hand dyed by the Plied team and then plied to create a marled yarn in fingering weight [Plied is also an Indie Untangled sponsor].
We are also hosting Miss Babs for our annual Mega Miss Babs Trunk Show on September 14-15. It is a wonderful event, where Miss Babs brings up a huge quantity of yarn and takes over our store space with yarn, kits and samples made from her yarn.
When and how did you learn to knit?
My grandmother taught me how to knit when I was very young. I made a scarf for my Cabbage Patch doll. I relearned from her when I was in graduate school and visiting. Their dial-up internet access wasn’t sufficient and I was bored! It quickly became a huge part of my life and my therapy for anxiety.
Artwork lines the walls at fibre space.
Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?
I do also crochet, although certainly not as much as knitting. I also sew and run, although its been a few years since I ran a marathon!
Tell me about one of your most memorable FOs.
Well before I opened the shop, I used to attend the trade show with Karida of Neighborhood Fiber Co. to help her sell to yarn shops. Olga Buraya-Kefelian was working on a design in two of her yarns, and I volunteered to do the knitting. It was the Murasaki Pullover. It was amazing to see Olga’s creation process first hand and to be part of it. I was still knitting it on the early morning flight to the show with Olga but we got it done, and I was able to wear it at the show.
You would think that every year, the NY Sheep & Wool Festival would feel a little bit Groundhog Day-esque. In some ways it is — there’s that same wind instrument playing in the background, the same blazing trees, the same Jennie the Potter line. But, each year, my Rhinebeck experience is always a bit different. I go shopping with different friends, or try a new edible treat.
This year, I spent the Saturday of the festival with my mom, who had come up from Long Island to help me with the trunk show. It was also her first Rhinebeck — she was supposed to go with me my first year, back in 2011, but there was a change of plans. My mom is a knitter (we actually started to learn around the same time, and I became much more obsessed than she did) but she hasn’t moved much beyond rectangles. She is, however, interested in getting back into weaving, which she learned in college when she was studying to be an occupational therapist. With that combination, I saw Rhinebeck with somewhat new eyes. Usually, I don’t stop in every booth, since I did that my first year and because I have an idea of which I want to hit. But, without the frenzy of waiting for a Jennie the Potter mug or making a beeline to Miss Babs, I got to see some beautiful woven products, smell wonderful soap and admire the pretty baskets that I usually passed on my way to Dragonfly or Melissa Jean.
I also took advantage of my mom’s enabling. I ended up stopping by the BeadBiz booth, which is relatively new to the festival, and my mom convinced me I should try a project with beads. So, I picked up a set of beautiful purple and golden ones, which you’ll see in the haul photo below. Then, a short time later, when I headed to the Merritt Bookstore booth to get my copy of Pompom Quarterly, I saw the most beautiful sweater sample — with a beaded neckline (Cicely by Jemima Bicknell). It was fate.
We also caught a sheep auction, waited in epic lines to get artichokes French (which I passed over last year in favor of quicker pierogi) and apple cider doughnuts, which my mom agreed were worth the wait. She also made the smart decision to share a half dozen, and I ended up bringing the third one with me the next day, so no need to stand in yet another line.
The next day, I spent mostly with my friends Dorothy and Jillian, and we started off with a stop at Taste Budds, so I finally got to try their famous chai, which was every bit as delicious as I had hoped. While I had eaten some breakfast at the hotel, Dorothy, and then Jillian, and then I decided that 11 a.m. was the perfect time to try the famous falafel, without the lunchtime lines. Perfect brunch.
Of course, no Rhinebeck would be complete without a Rhinebeck sweater, and this year I had two! On Saturday, I wore my West End Girl, a pattern that my friend Yelena put out earlier this year. I knit it out of Jill Draper Hudson that I purchased at this year’s VKL NYC, in a colorway that just screamed Rhinebeck — and was completely out of my color comfort zone. Leave it to indie dyers to expand my horizons! On Sunday, I wore my Rhinecliff, a pattern by Laura Aylor, with Miss Babs Heartland I had purchased two Rhinbecks ago.
I made sure to set up a time in advance with Connie, LemonTango on Ravelry, for a quick photo shoot of my West End Girl, since I love her FO photos. While waiting, I documented the Tosh Stalkers rainbow photo shoot.
And had fun taking artsy snaps with my DSLR.
Aside from the beads and copy of Pompom, my actual Rhinebeck haul also included two skeins of Dragonfly Fibers Dance Rustic Silk, which will make a lovely tee, as well as a felt bag by Julia Hilbrandt, whose products I had been admiring ever since my first Rhinebeck. My mom agreed they were beautiful and decided to get me one as an early Hanukkah present. I also stopped by the Jill Draper open studio on Saturday night, and while I thought I might pick up some of her Mohonk Cormo, I ended up with four skeins of Rockwell to make Thea Coleman’s new sweater design, Dobbs Ferry. Thea was there wearing the sample and even helped me pick out colors (which included another very unlikely Lisa pick of green). My mom was the one who convinced me that I had to make it — I guess enabling runs in my family. 🙂
The New York Sheep & Wool Festival is an amazing, if occasionally overwhelming, experience. Unless I get swept up in the frenzy of trying to snag a Jennie the Potter mug (which depends on who I end up traveling with to the fairgrounds), I enjoy taking in the beautiful foliage, eating cider doughnuts, admiring all the knitwear and spending time with my friends.
Of course, I also do some serious shopping.
While Friday night’s trunk show might put a little dent in your Rhinebeck budget, this will help: four Indie Untangled vendors — Bijou Basin Ranch, Dirty Water DyeWorks, Hampden Hills Alpacas and Melissa Jean Design — are offering 10% off to trunk show attendees (if you score one of the goody bags, you’ll get a 15% off coupon from Bijou Basin). The coupon will either be in your goody bag or in a paper bag, along with your free raffle ticket. Please note: I will be using the RSVPs to give me an idea of how many coupons to print, and they will be available while supplies last. RSVP on the event page and arrive on the early side if you would like to ensure that you get one.
Here’s a little guide to doing some Indie Untangled shopping at the festival:
Bijou Basin Ranch has incredibly soft Tibetan yak yarns and yak blends, made with fiber from their ranch in Colorado, and I even saw some super luxurious qiviut last year. They have a special line of Outlander-inspired colorways, which would be perfect for the Subway Knits Outlander KAL that starts Oct. 24. You can also get bottles of their Allure fine fabric wash. BBR is also a trunk show sponsor, so you can learn more about them in this recent interview.
Find Bijou Basin in Building C, Booths 13 & 14.
Dirty Water DyeWorks was one of my favorite discoveries at my first Rhinebeck four years ago — and I actually finally finished a shawl in the two skeins I bought from Stephanie back then! She has luxurious blends, including her popular Bertha MCN, as well as more exotic fibers, including a Polwarth and silk blend.
Dirty Water DyeWorks is also in Building C, in Booth 42.
Hampden Hills Alpacas is unique in that aside from hand dyeing yarn, they also raise and breed alpacas in Hampden, Massachusetts. Erica has been bringing her hand-dyed and hand-painted alpaca and alpaca/silk blends to Rhinebeck for the last 14 years. Find Hampden Hills in Building 39, Booth 9.
Melissa Jean makes beautiful ceramic and wood buttons. I adore her button earrings and always make sure to grab a pair when I’m at Rhinebeck. Find her in Building 36, Booth 9.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As someone who has attended Rhinebeck for the last few years, I was familiar with Bijou Basin Ranch, but didn’t really know much about them until they started posting on Indie Untangled. What I have learned about owners Carl and Eileen Koop since, and what they have posted — from their Outlandish colorways, inspired by the Outlander book series and the Starz TV show, to their collaborations with Miss Babs — has definitely impressed me. That’s not to mention how incredibly soft their yarns are. I can’t wait to knit with the Himalayan Trail, a 75/25 yak/Merino blend, that I picked up at Rhinebeck last year.
Their company has a fascinating origin story. Both Carl and Eileen are East Coast transplants to rural Colorado, and Eileen worked for many years in consumer product development for several big companies — you may have even used some of the products she invented and worked on, including Binaca breath spray, Colgate gel toothpaste and OxiClean. These days, aside from running their yak ranch, the Koops have also come out with their own wool and fabric wash, called Allure (and if you’re lucky enough to score a goodie bag at the trunk show, you’ll be able to snag a sample).
And now, I’ll let Carl take it from here:
Tell me the story of how Bijou Basin Ranch came to be.
One of the reasons that Eileen and I moved from New Jersey — yep, we were born and raised 5 miles from NYC — was to get to a somewhat more rural setting. So, after living in Colorado for a while, I decided that we needed to be truly out in the country and away from town as much as was reasonable. I had quit my job and was back in school working on an animal science degree, and found a really nice ranch outside the town of Elbert, which is about 65 miles southeast of Denver as the crow flies.
To keep our agricultural tax status, we needed an agricultural based business that utilized the ranch, so the idea of becoming ranchers is how Bijou Basin Ranch started and we started looking into fiber animals. FYI, the name is from the fact that West Bijou Creek runs through our property, which is in the Bijou Basin, a small valley on the Colorado plains.
After I received my degree, I became a licensed veterinary technician and was working for an equine dentist. On a ranch call one day, while attending to a client’s horses, two small six-month-old yaks walked out of the barn. I asked the owner what they were (I didn’t sleep through that many classes and I knew my text books had all the latest animals in them) and she said “Tibetan yaks.” As an aside, her husband would keep treats in his back pocket, which to the yaks meant all men did, so all day while I was there I kept getting nibbled at on my back pockets as they looked for treats.
Eileen was in China at the time on business (she was the head of R&D for the company that made OxiClean) and called to see how I was doing, so I told her that I knew what we would do for our tax status — we would raise yaks. She responded with, “I’m sorry we must have a bad connection since I would swear I just heard the word ‘yaks.’ ” I assured her the connection was fine and that since yaks come from China she should stop at the duty free shop and pick a few up. I thought that they should do just fine in an overhead compartment.
Actually, before that phone call, I had looked into Tibetan yaks and saw that while there was a breed stock and meat market for them, it appeared to no one was doing anything bigger than a true mom and pop fiber business and had decided that we should give it a try.
Do you and Eileen knit?
No, neither of us knit or crochet, we just raise the Tibetan yaks for their fiber and then design the yarns we sell. Eileen was taught how to as a child, but it never really stuck. I have just started to do some weaving, but at this point I have so little time I can’t even tell if I am good or bad at it. Should we do a WAL this winter — I think so!
The BBR Outlandish blues.
How did the idea for the Outlandish colors come about? Are you Outlander fans?
The idea was MarlyBird‘s — she is our creative director and a rabid Outlander fan. Eileen had read the books and was also a big fan, so once Marly brought the idea up it just really took off. It has been a lot of fun watching how many knitters are Outlander fans and discussing the books and TV show with them. I think we also brought a lot of new fans to the books who had never heard of them before.
A recent BBR/Miss Babs collaboration.
The colorways you’ve created with Miss Babs are gorgeous! How did that collaboration come about?
We have been huge Miss Babs fans for years and over the years on the fiber show tours have gotten to know them very well and have become good friends withe everyone on “Team Babs.” They are a great group of people! Anyway, when we decided to try having indie dyers work with our yarns for us, Babs was far and away at the top of our list and when we asked she agreed, which obviously made us very happy. All of the colors have been developed by Babs and her team with just a wee bit of input from us. We think it would be crazy for us to tell her how to dye yarn so we just let her be creative about it. And I think you must agree that she has done an excellent job so far.
With Eileen’s background in consumer product development, did you always plan on creating a wool wash?
Pretty much, yes. We have used other products, and the big names that everyone recognizes are all great, but Eileen has a different way of looking at them since she is a consumer and a chemist. With Allure, she was able to create a fine fiber and fabric wash that, as she puts it, “has everything a wash needs and nothing it doesn’t,” one that cleans and protects fine fibers but is equally as good for all fibers and fabrics. And, quite frankly, it is not easy to get Eileen out of the lab!
How would you say Allure differs from other wool and fine fabric washes?
Allure contains no lanolin, phosphates, enzymes, dyes and optical brighteners, and is completely natural and biodegradable. It is a true no-residue wash, which means it is a true no-rinse wash. But what we can say about Allure that is most important is regarding the components that Allure is made with. They are top quality, all natural ingredients which, when put together properly, create what we think is by far the best fiber wash available.
What’s next for Bijou Basin? Can you reveal any upcoming plans?
We just released Xanadu, our newest yarn, which is 100% pure Mongolian Cashmere! It is truly unbelievably soft and rich and we think knitters will love it! It is a light fingering weight, 400 yards in 2-ounce skeins and is available in seven different colors, with more on the way.
We also are starting to have more indie dyers work with our yarns and creating some wonderful new colorways for us. These dyers include, but will not be limited to Modeknit, Lost City Knits, Lattes & Llamas, Miss Babs, Neighborhood Fiber Co. and Anzula! It is a wide variety of colors and dying styles and I know people will love them. We will be releasing these colors either late this year or early next year so watch our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for details.
Lastly, we will be putting out an incredible kit for the holiday season. A lot of details are still being finalized, but I guarantee that this kit will knock your socks off! Stay tuned…
I’ve definitely had a lot to digest over the last week and a half since coming back to Life After Rhinebeck. The weekend of the New York Sheep & Wool Festival has always been this happy exhaustion, where I stay up way too late with friends I haven’t seen in a year, or have just met for the first time off Ravelry, and then spend my days pretending I’m not going to shop, but leaving the fairgrounds with bags that are way heavier than when I came in.
My Saturday started off as it did for many, many people, in the Jennie the Potter Line. I never actually intend to wait in the line, but usually end up doing it anyway. It is a really fantastic people-watching spot, and I did actually end up snagging one of the mini dinosaur cups, which later in the weekend I ended up leaving with a friend who I’m sure wanted it more than I did.