Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Anne Vally of Little Skein In the Big Wool

A woman sits at a desk looking down.

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

For most people, crafting evokes the same feelings as getting into a good book. Anne Vally decided to bundle that feeling up into curated kits for knitters through her business, Little Skein In the Big Wool. While Anne has expanded beyond her hand-sewn project bags to include her own hand-dyed yarn, she has continued to remain true to the values that she started out with.

Tell me about how you started a project bag business?

I started Little Skein with the idea of making project bags and kits that would bring to life my love of books. Knitting is something that’s central to who I am — and so are books. I make the things I want to use: project bags that tell a story, kits that not only make me eager to knit them, but that also fill me with the happiness and rich emotion of a favorite story.

I started out on Etsy with my first kit (Velveteen with Susan B. Anderson) but pretty quickly moved to littleskein.com. Details are important to me, and I wanted to create an experience where shopping for a kit or project bag of mine felt like being welcomed home. Something special, full of good feelings, just for you.

What did you do before you launched Little Skein In the Big Wool and how do you think it informs what you bring to the business?

I live in San Francisco and before starting Little Skein, I was a program officer at a large California foundation for more than a decade. Foundation work is not easily explained, but the big picture is that I made grants to nonprofits around California that were (and are still) working to create positive social change.

My foundation work absolutely informs how I run Little Skein. My degree is in economics, so I’m particularly attuned to how I run my business. I talk a lot on social media about fair pay for makers, the importance of art, and making room at the table for everyone.

I believe the way a business operates adds something intangible and important to the final product.

An African American person holds a bouquet of colorful yarn

When did you decide to incorporate yarn?

I’ve always worked with other yarn dyers for my kits, but I started dyeing yarn myself about three years ago. I realized I was becoming increasingly involved in designing the colors, and I also had a vision of the final fabric I wanted. It became a passion for me to figure out how to make that vision come to life.

Like many knitters, I often fall in love with yarn that’s showy in the skein but doesn’t always create a fabric I enjoy. So, my journey in learning how to dye yarn was to create a yarn that makes a subtle and complex color of fabric—one that might look semi-solid from a distance, but up close would have little hints and gradations of color with itsy bitsy, random pops of intensity.

For the first year, I studied, experimented, and dyed only for myself. But now I have an outdoor dye kitchen (an essential in foggy San Francisco) and I do periodic Live streams on Instagram where I show what I’m dyeing. I still work with other dyers, but about 90% of the yarn I offer is now dyed by me.

Tell me about how your yarn is sourced and dyed.

I source my yarn from three mills: two in the U.S. and one in Canada. I’m especially interested in what each yarn will be used for: a sweater? socks? a shawl? I’ve chosen bases that are ideal for a particular purpose. I think my start as a sewist and project bag maker is a big influence. I’m interested in the fabric.

For example, my sock yarn, House Sock, is 90% American Targhee wool and 10% nylon. It’s different from the multi-purpose sock yarn that most dyers offer. Mine is especially perfect for socks. The Targhee wool is soft and sproingy when you knit with it, and it makes a plush, hard-wearing sock.

A woman knits with green yarn

When and how did you learn to knit?

It feels like I always knew how to knit. My Nonnie and grandmother knit, but their knitting was for utility. I remember knitting as a young adult, but it was when my son was about 2 that I felt this deep urge to make things for him. I picked up my needles to knit fruit for his play kitchen (I started with this strawberry!). Oddly enough, I didn’t feel daunted by the tiny stitches or knitting in the round. I just kept at it, and my boy’s delight at getting a new piece of “fruit” every few days was rocket fuel to me.

Then, I discovered Ravelry and, boom, down the rabbit hole I went!

Do you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?

If it involves making something by hand, I have probably tried it. I am a sewist, I draw, embroider, cross-stitch, play with polymer clay, and have recently begun block printing on fabric. (I’ll be debuting something special with my new block prints at the Rhinebeck trunk show!)

A project bag with a city skyline holds two skeins of gray and aqua speckled yarn

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

That it’s possible to do good and do well at the same time.

I believe that knitting, reading, and making things by hand is art, and art matters. Using your imagination ripples out into the world in powerful ways. Art changes you, and in turn you change the world for the better. (Not an original idea, though! This is from Neil Gaiman.)

I try to lead by example. I make sure that everyone who works with me is compensated and valued. I believe diversity makes our community better, and I believe in sliding over to make space at the table for everyone. This shows up in the causes I support, in the inspiration for some of my kits, and in discussions I lead on Instagram.

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