Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Birdie Parker

A woman with red dyed hair and black glasses.

This is the 10th in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.

Metalsmithing doesn’t seem to have much in common with the fiber arts, but Kristi Jensen of Birdie Parker Designs has pulled both together seamlessly. After earning a BFA in Metalsmithing from California State University Long Beach in 2016, Kristi turned her skill into a fiber-focused jewelry business. Her jewels have donned many an ear, wrist and shawl, and she’s expanded into other unique items, such as light switch plates, all bearing her signature stitch designs.

How did you decide to study metalsmithing in college?

I originally intended to major in sculpture, but found that the program at my school wasn’t a good fit for me. A friend suggested that I check out the metalsmithing program and I instantly fell in love. I get to play with hammers and fire? Sign me up!

What led you to turn that skill into a fiber-focused jewelry business?

Like many fine arts majors, once I graduated I was faced with trying to figure out how to turn my new knowledge into a marketable skill. I played around with different ideas and mediums but nothing really fit. All throughout my time in the metalsmithing program, I was avidly knitting and padding my schedule with classes from the Fibers department, and it finally occurred to me: the fiber world didn’t have much going on in the way of jewelry at the time. I turned my focus toward trying to replicate the stitches of fibers arts in metal. After much experimentation, I developed a technique with electro-etching that eventually became my signature element.

Leaf shaped earrings with etched knitting stitches.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled Everywhere?

I plan to introduce a few new products that I’ve been working to perfect with the help of my laser printers: new mirrored acrylic stitch markers, and silicone watch bands for Apple Watches.

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

I think the number one thing is that from day one I have treated Birdie Parker like a business, not a hobby. This has allowed me to grow exponentially, to the point where I have recently moved operations to a large warehouse and I’m beginning to take on employees to help with the workflow.

A silver bracelet with stockinette stitches etched into it.

When and how did you learn to knit?

The first time I picked up the needles, it was from a little kit that I found at Costco, of all places. I later realized that I spent the first handful of projects knitting through the back loop! Life then got in the way and I didn’t knit for about a dozen years. One day I was freezing at the bus stop and I thought, I really should knit myself a hat! I visited the nearest LYS, watched a lot of youTube videos, figured out how to properly execute that knit stitch, and off I went!

Do you enjoy other crafts in addition to knitting?

Around the same time I started that hat, I started to wonder how hard it would be to learn to spin yarn. Within a span of about three weeks, I had built myself a drop spindle, visited an alpaca farm and ordered myself a spinning wheel! In addition to spinning, I learned to weave when I inherited my husband’s family loom. I dabble a bit in sewing, embroidery, cross stitch and sashiko. Since starting the business, my free time has become quite limited, so I seem to have focused my efforts on hoarding yarn. I’m quite good at it.

A leather cuff with silver stitches.

What are your favorite skeins in your stash?

I have a terrible weakness for self-striping sock yarn and rainbow gradient sets.

A leather tray with the image of a yarn ball.

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

Too many! I have 3/4 of a Love Note sweater, a half finished Rift tee, a pair of striped socks, a Junction Shawl and I’m sure a few others that I’m forgetting. The pandemic has been great for getting me to cast on projects but finishing them seems to be another issue!

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Deep Dyed Yarn

Stephanie Stratton of Deep Dyed Yarn.

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.

There are many indie dyers who start their business after learning how to spin yarn. Stephanie of Deep Dyed Yarns is one of those dyers. She’s also one of the few indies selling hand-dyed fiber as well as yarn in the Indie Untangled Everywhere marketplace. Here’s her story.

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

My yarn dying adventures began as a snowball effect. In January of 2007, I bought my first spinning wheel and became hooked. It wasn’t long before I had amassed a large amount of handspun yarn.

There was no way I would use all of the yarns spun, so an Etsy store was created. To my utter delight and astonishment, it all sold. More fiber was purchased to be spun and I thought, Why not try my hand at Kool-Aid dyeing? From there, I progressed to commercial acid dyes and began listing hand-dyed fibers. There came a point where I could not keep up with supply and demand of handspun yarn, so han-dyed, mill-spun yarns were added to the line-up.

A friend encouraged me to try a local festival in the fall of 2007. The first booth consisted of a card table and bread rack. It was such a warm, welcoming, and shockingly successful experience, I began looking for more to attend. Pennies were saved and trailers to haul displays were purchased. A small metal building was constructed that has evolved and been improved upon a little each year. One year it was insulation, another was a ceiling, another was proper ventilation, enclosing the dye area, etc.

It has been a 13-year journey of love, friendship and sometimes tears. There have been so many amazing people who have influenced me. I am so grateful to everyone who has encouraged, uplifted, supported and been there for me in not just my journey as a dyer, but all of us as a community.

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

Black goes with everything in my humble opinion. In all honesty, I love all colors. Maybe a few more than others, as I can’t get away with wearing yellow or orange, but that doesn’t mean I snub my nose at all the pretty shades, tones and hues they contain.

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

No, I pretty much dye what I like. Color combos are tested in the pots and if I really love it, they make it online or to the festival floor.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled Everywhere?

So… I might be a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl. This is a new style of show for me and while ideas are brewing, I do not have a concrete plan in place. I am hoping to showcase some of the most popular colors and colors that complement them. Maybe a little time talking about what it’s like spending so much time on the road. Oh, and there’s always time for showcasing patterns using my colors as well as a studio tour! My one goal is to not drop the ‘F’ bomb, lol!

When and how did you learn to knit?

A funny thing happened on a returning British Airways flight from London Heathrow to JFK in New York. The year was 1997 and it happened to be my first overseas trip for a tour of Scotland.

Upon takeoff, the lady next to me pulled her knitting out of her bag and began to knit a simple corner-to-corner afghan for her soon-to-be-arriving grandchild out of some very lovely yellow wool she bought while visiting England. I asked question after question about what she was doing at the ends and she explained they were yarn-overs to make the blanket grow larger with every other row and purling to keep the edges from curling. And she kindly suggested that I find a local yarn shop when I got home for lessons.

Shortly thereafter, I fell asleep and did not wake up until after the flight landed. No joke, I have slept through tornados and earthquakes, so a plane landing was a walk in the park for me! Once home, yarn and metal needles were bought at a big box store and I taught myself the ‘e’ cast-on and how to knit, purl and yarn-over.

Feeling confident and thrilled with my progress, the next step was a visit to the local yarn shop where more yarn and a simple little pattern was purchased. And, that’s where trouble started. The kind lady on the flight mentioned something about not knitting like her, but I was so groggy that I didn’t remember that part in the thrill of teaching myself by mimicking what I remembered her doing. It was so frustrating because nothing I did would make the pattern show up. K, P, K2tog, SSK, YO….. NOTHING WORKED!

That is until I checked out Kids Knitting by Melanie Falick at the local library. I followed the steps page by page and not advancing until the next step. Casting on and knitting the first row were simple and then the next set of directions said to TURN THE WORK! I about died of laugher! You see, I taught myself how to knit back and forth instead of turning the work because that is what the very patient lady on the plane had done.

Since you sell fiber, do you spin?

I certainly do and feel it has made me not just a better knitter and judge of yarn, but also a better dyer. When you spin, the colors and combinations of colors you use can drastically change the outcome of your yarn.

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

In no particular order:

Monnie’s Vintersol using Grit in colors Seafoam, Whisp, and Smoke.

My Night Shift (Christopher Sala) using Figment in colors Velvet Underground and Appaloosa.

Jan M’s Honey Comb Aran sweater using Grit in color Caramel (pictured above).

ZueZuesKnots’s Tecumseh Using Still in colors Summer Berries, Coraline, and Caramel.

What’s currently on your needles?

Light in Shadows by Milja Uimonen using Align in colors Driftwood and Caramel.

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Garthenor Organic

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A son and mother.

Jonny King and his mom, Sally, of Garthenor.

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.

I first heard of Garthenor Organic and their sheep-y, organic British wool yarn when I attended the Edinburgh Yarn Festival a few years ago. I was excited when they applied to vend at this year’s Rhinebeck Trunk Show (now Indie Untangled Everywhere). Although they won’t be crossing the pond to join us, I’m happy to introduce them to you virtually.

Tell me the story of how Garthenor Organic came to be.

We’d farmed sheep here at Garthenor for a few years, and in 1999 our first batch was sent to a mill that was just five miles down the road. That first batch was simply that Mum wanted some yarn from the sheep! She sold it at local farmers markets, and at the time there was a real drought of proper wool yarns, so it was a bit of an instant hit. Within a couple of years, we were working with a handful of organic farms to source some other breeds and we really just grew from there!

White yarn.

Garthenor Preseli Basalt

Why did you decide to focus on organic products?

Ever since we’ve lived at Garthenor, the farm has been managed to organic principles. We got our certification in the late 1990s, and it felt like the right approach for making yarn too. We worked closely with the local mill to develop the first ever organic standards for wool, so as a result we actually produced the first certified organic wool yarns in the world! More than any certification, it really feels like the right way to do what we do, by treading lightly on the planet and using amazing, renewable fibre from high welfare flocks.

A man holds a black lamb.

Where is your fiber sourced from?

We work directly with farmers to source all the wool, rather than going through brokers. Each of the farms is based in the UK, with the exception of the fleece we get from a single flock on the Falkland Islands – that’s the only wool I don’t collect myself! By sourcing the wool like this, we have a real connection to the flocks that grow it, and we can also be confident of it’s origin, and that animal welfare standards are being met. All of the wool from our own flock also gets spun, though that’s a fairly small percentage overall!

How much yarn does your company produce each year?

Not enough! Last year we spun around 10-12,000kg, and this year we were hoping for more, but mill closures have put us a bit behind. We’re really conscious that this gorgeous fibre is a finite resource each year, so we’re focusing on making amazing yarn that has a story.

A brown, black and white lamb.

A Shetland lamb.

How big is the team at Garthenor and is everyone a crafter?

Just two of us! I think people are often surprised, but it’s just me and Mum. It gets pretty hectic, especially when lambing and yarn shows are in full swing! I’m quite a novice knitter, but Mum is the expert.

Can you talk about some of the business challenges you’ve had to overcome during the pandemic?

Day to day, we’ve managed to cope fairly well. Being on an upland farm in West Wales has meant that isolation is something we’re fairly used to! We’d normally have expected to be exhibiting at a dozen or so yarn shows, and we’re really missing the community aspect of seeing all our friends there. The two mills that spin most of our yarn also closed for a while during lockdown, so there have been some delays behind the scenes.

Orange yarn.

Garthenor Preseli Sunset.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled Everywhere?

We have a couple of colourways that’ll be launched for Indie Untangled Everywhere, which I’m super excited about. One, in particular is a beautiful rare breed that we haven’t had for ages.

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

I really love them all – it’s such a wonderful feeling to see that yarn that we’ve worked so hard to make being loved enough to turn into a FO! I always lean towards the undyed shades myself, and seeing some gorgeous neutral colourwork always warms my heart.

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: North Light Fibers

A group photo with people and dogs.

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.

North Light Fibers, which I had the pleasure of visiting in 2016, is the very definition of a fiber escape. It’s based on Block Island, a Rhode Island community reachable only by ferry that feels like a combination of coastal New England and the Irish countryside. I’m excited to be working with them after admiring their yarn and business for so long.

Sven Risom, who runs North Light Fibers with his wife, Laura, has a wonderful way of describing what he refers to as a “micro yarn mill,” so I’ll let him take it away!

Tell me the story of how North Light Fibers came to be.

Laura and I started North Light Fibers in 2010. We knew we wanted to move to Block Island (Rhode Island) which is a small community of 900 people in the winter and about 15,000-20,000 in the summer. The island to 7 miles long by 3 miles wide and the place that we wanted to call home. It is lovely.

We then had long discussions about what to do when we moved to Block Island since we wanted to do something with fiber. We had moved all over the country doing different jobs in business or nursing and wanted to do something together with lasting impact. While we considered starting a yarn shop, that was not truly feasible given the seasonality of the island. We then met the people that make the equipment which is now in our yarn studio and fell in love with the plan to produce and create yarn here on the island. The equipment is small and to the scale of Block Island as we produce small batches of kettle-dyed yarns and design the fiber blends to our liking. Laura is a phenomenal knitter and designer and develops different fiber blends, weights, colors and patterns in addition to all the designers that we work with.

Unfortunately, when we decided to move forward with the yarn studio and had negotiated for a long-term lease on a building, we were informed by the Town that there was no “permitted use to make a product” on Block Island. So, we had to spend the next year and 12 public hearings to change the zoning laws by creating a “light industry” permitted use. Since then, a few other small companies have started and now a furniture maker is starting up on Block Island making small-batch furniture. We are one of the only year-round businesses and the only manufacturer and exporter from Block Island.

The only offshore wind farm is located 3 miles off the Island’s south bluffs. Based on this, it turns out that North Light Fibers is the only manufacturer in the U.S. that is 100% powered by offshore wind! We also installed solar panels and have developed extensive green practices. Our vision in 2010 was to have a zero carbon footprint and we have attained that goal!

A pile of colorful yarn sitting on a rock.

North Light Fibers Water Street.

How do you source the fiber for your yarn?

North Light Fibers is located on a small animal farm, the 1661 Farm and Gardens. The animals range from alpacas, llamas and camels to yaks and Scottish Highland bulls as well as Jacob sheep and a variety of goats. There are also many more animals that make the farm quite an interesting place. While we use the fiber from the farm in our felting kits, bird balls and dryer balls, we do not use it for yarn as it is older and not to our quality standards.

We have been very fortunate over the years to work with many small alpaca and sheep farms around the country, mostly in the Northeast, including Virginia and West Virginia. While at one point we were sourcing fiber from 116 different farms, we have narrowed that down a lot and have also been sourcing fibers from around the world more broadly.

Over the past 10 years we are have learned a lot about fiber and how the environment, animal health and feed can dramatically impact the quality of the fiber and therefore yarn. For example, our Cashmere comes from Mongolia and some of our wool from the Falkland Islands. This is very important for we also use a lot of domestic Merino. While all of our wall is a Merino they are not sourced from the same location by intention. As you may know, the Falkland Islands Merino has a longer staple length, is finer (smaller micron count) and also has a different shaped crimp compared with the domestic Merino. Each is very good in their own respect. For example, we designed for our Water Street yarn (40% Cashmere/60% Super fine Merino) with the highest-grade domestic Merino and blend it with Cashmere. The fiber length and crimp blend well together to create an amazing yarn. On the other hand, our Atlantic and Spring Street yarns are 100% Merino wool sourced from the Falkland Islands. The fiber for it is softer and has better drape than the domestic Merino. So not only do we use different fibers but we also source similar breeds from different locations to make the best yarn possible.

How much yarn does your mini mill produce each year?

That is a very interesting question, but before talking about capacity, I would like to make a few clarifications. First of all, we do not consider North Light Fibers to be a mini mill. In the past, we have called our business a “micro yarn mill” which is very different. Mini mills follow a service model as they process fibers for different farms. For example, if a farmer has 40 alpacas or 30 sheep, they can send the fiber to a mini mill, which will turn their fiber into yarn. North Light Fibers does not produce any yarn for other businesses. Our business is more like a microbrewery — a small-scale brewery, or in this case a small-scale yarn producer or mill.

Over the past two years, we have begun to shift our focus to the two key areas of our business: the Dye Studio and the Yarn Studio. As we will share during the Indie Untangled event, we kettle dye all of our fibers in 10-pound batches. Usually we produce 20 pounds when we dye as we have two vats. The key thing is that we dye fibers and not finished yarn.

When the dying is finished, we bring the fibers up to the yarn studio where are we pick, card, spin, ply, steam and finish the yarn. While there are machines, a significant amount of hand work goes into the yarns along the way. We physically touch each yarn at least 20 times during the process and QC all the yarn by hand.

As far as the total volume that we produce, it’s very subject to the types of yarns and blends that we are making. Most importantly, we produce enough so that our knitters can purchase yarn from the same production date to finish their project. I mention a “production date” because we blend colors within the manufacturing process — therefore the date of dying is less important to us as the date when the colors are blended on the carder or throughout production process.

A pile of marled yarn.

North Light Fibers Seaside.

What inspires your colors?

Being 15 miles off the coast and located well into the Atlantic, we have amazing light and colors as well as different shades of earth tones here on the island. The bluffs show layers of soil millions of years old and the number of ponds is amazing… all within 1.5 miles of the ocean. The animals on the farm, the island itself, the ocean, the beaches, the sunsets, the sunrises and the rocks on the shore inspire us daily. If you follow us on Instagram, you’ll see that we post a lot of pictures of the island and different colors and blends. The island is an inspiration.

In addition to inspiration about colors, we also get really inspired by how to blend fibers and make the colors in unique ways. For example, Water Street has beautiful heathery colors that come alive when the garment or accessory is knit or crocheted. The flecks of different colors creates a unique palette. For example, we produce a green color in Water Street that we called Enchanted Forest. While one may think of this color as a dark green, there are actually flecks of purple and light green within the yarn that bring it alive and make it very complex and exciting.

In our recent introduction of Seaside, we have blended 50% Supima cotton and 50% Merino wool to create a very exciting worsted weight yarn. Given our acid-based kettle dye process, we are not able to dye plant fibers so therefore Seaside has a very soft palette as the cotton is white. The color, though, is unique as the yarn is designed in a marled fashion with each ply being a different color, creating a beautiful fabric or textile that really moves with the colors.

The water Street and Seaside colors differ greatly from our Atlantic and Spring Street yarns, which have much deeper hues.

Another big aspect of North light Fibers yarn is that all our lines have at least 14 colors. Forever Lace (80% alpaca/20% bamboo) has about 27 colors! We work hard to have a full line of colorways with exciting and unique main and contrast colors for different designs.

A pink cabled poncho modeled on a beach.

The Sailboat Poncho in Seaside designed by Deborah Newton.

Can you talk about some of the business challenges you’ve had to overcome during the pandemic?

Being on a small island connected by only a ferry or small airplane creates unique challenges. As we mentioned earlier, some of the zoning issues that we faced impacted our business for the first two years, but we overcame those. Of course, shipping gets to be a little bit more expensive, but the island provides an amazing inspiration and a beautiful place to live and enjoy. Nothing like being in the middle of nonstop inspiration!

Probably the biggest challenge that we faced in those early years was “how to make a really beautiful yarn that we were proud of.” While it seems relatively straightforward, making a high-quality yarn is not a simple task. On a daily basis, we have challenges in the dye studio or with a spinner or on one of the carders, but that honestly is part of the fun of running North Light Fibers: being able to overcome those challenges and create a product that we love.

2020 has been especially difficult for everyone in the yarn industry. We’ve been working very hard to present our yarns in the best way possible, yet clearly, the reduction in shows and delayed retreats has impacted our business significantly. We are very excited to be part of the Indie Untangled Everywhere event and look forward to helping knitters, crocheters and fiber enthusiasts learn more about our business.

One of the things that we have enjoyed most has been working with designers. We are awed by the ability of many of the designers we work with to create unbelievably stunning fabrics and garments in creative ways. Seeing their inspiration and their ability to turn a design concept into reality is fantastic.

Does everyone on the North Light Fibers team knit or do other fiber crafts?

Yes, everyone is involved in fiber in different ways. While Laura is clearly the leader of the company and an amazing knitter, weaver and crocheter, she is also the inspiration for so much of what we do. Many of us have made hats and different garments, done a lot of needle and wet felting, created kits and designed new knitting and crocheting kits. But Laura is the clear leader and knitter. We all feel and know the pleasure of creating a finished garment or design from the yarn that we created.

A green and white geometric shawl.

The Islander by Melanie Berg.

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

North Light Fibers has been honored to work with many great designers such as Deborah Newton, Melanie Berg, Olga Buraya-Kefelian, Andrea Mowry, Bristol Ivy, Thea Coleman, Patty Lyons, Mary Jane Mucklestone, Nora Gaughan, Gudrun Johnson, Charles Gandy, Kate Gilbert, Melissa Leapman and many other world-renowned designers as well as local designers such as Sophia Scallora, Charon Littlefield, Renee Batchelder and others who designed their first garments and patterns here at North Light Fibers. It is hard to pick our favorites, but there are a few relationships that stand out. Deborah Newton, who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, has become a major part of our little company. She has designed many garments and has offered advice along the way that’s been immeasurable. A few example designers and FOs include:

Charles Gandy is an outstanding designer that we met earlier in the life of the company and he designed a pair of wristers with titled welted squares — still one of the most fascinating and intriguing designs we have.

Andrea Mowry designed Ramble in Water Street, which is a stunning blend of brioche and garter stitch.

Fiona Ellis designed one of the most amazing sweaters we have ever seen in Proscenium with our Atlantic worsted-weight yarn. The cables, design, button sides and A-Frame design are truly beautiful.

Melanie Berg recently designed The Islander in our Forever Lace yarn that has a stunning geometric structure. This will be classic design for years to come.

In addition to working with great designers, we have also worked hard to form partnerships to knit and weave finished goods for our studio store, given how many tourists and non-knitters visit the island. For example, we have formed a lifelong relationship with the Hartford Artisans Weaving Center, a non-profit weaving center for blind and visually-impaired people. In addition, years ago we started working with Women for Women International, a nonprofit that helps women in war-torn countries to knit a range of garments and accessories for the store. We have worked with Stitches 22 in Bosnia for over nine years, sending them our yarn and designs, which they turn into finished garments that we sell here. These relationships, and the ability to help those who are less fortunate, is a real actualization of our early vision for North Light Fibers.

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Knit Chats

A woman with black hair wearing a pink scarf.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.

Over the last six months, many of us have been propelled, or pushed more, into a world made up primarily of virtual interaction. For KnitChats, a small company of knitting coaches that provides on-demand, real-time knitting help as well as community, this is a moment they were ready for.

The idea behind KnitChats is that it’s the virtual version of the table at your local yarn shop — owner Josie Flores once owned her own LYS, Cardigan’s Knit Shop in Santa Barbara. Knitters can type their project questions into a chat box on the company’s website and get help from trained instructors. They can also join the KnitChats community via an online communication platform called Slack and get access to a public forum, a private Help Line channel and direct messages with the KnitChats teachers. And they can book paid one-on-one help sessions via Zoom.

Josie will be in the Indie Untangled Everywhere Virtual Lounge at 1 p.m. Eastern to discuss her help line!

Explain what Knit Chats is and how it came to be.

KnitChats is an on-demand knitting and crochet help line served by a small team of professional instructors.

The original idea was born in 2017 and is credited to a smart fellow whose larger plan was to build a platform offering real-time help across DIY areas via video chat. Knitting was chosen as the beta platform to test. That larger plan has since been scrapped, but because we loved the idea so much, some of the teachers from the beta team made the commitment to move forward on our own.

Three years into KnitChats, we’re still very much an evolving business.

How has your business evolved since it started?

It has changed so much since we launched back in January 2018. We began by offering real-time knitting help by text, voice and video chat using Slack as the venue. It was nice to discover that not only could we offer an efficient way to deliver knitting help, we were also able to build a self-contained community as a result.

The last several months we’ve experienced a strong bump in the use of our service and we’re enjoying a steady stream of newcomers to our Slack community. Although the impetus for this growth was the result of many people staying at home, we’ve been honing our virtual teaching platform from the very beginning. KnitChats’ work over the last two years has prepared us to meet the moment.

What are the most common problems you help solve?

By far, we get lots of pattern-specific, technical queries: things like how to decipher pattern language, or interpret shaping instructions on a garment, or explaining a garment’s construction process.

Figuring out mistakes is another common question. “What am I doing wrong?” is a good catchall phrase we hear a lot!

What’s the most unusual or memorable issue you’ve had to help with?

We received an email once from a fellow who was asking if it was possible to fix the neckline of a child’s sweater. After some back and forth, he revealed that he wasn’t the knitter, but that it was his wife who was making the sweater for their grandchild. She was so upset about messing up her project that he took it upon himself to search online to try and find knitting help. He found KnitChats, the issue was successfully resolved and we voted him Best Husband of the Year.

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

I’ve learned how important it is to be flexible and nimble. Our business plan is fluid, so when I recognize that something isn’t quite working, I can try something else. Once you realize that there are no terrible consequences in shifting gears, just learning opportunities, you gain more confidence in making decisions.

KnitChats is all about people, who happen to be knitters. I’ve learned that listening, empathy and authenticity are critical in connecting with people and sustaining a community for the long term.

People knitting around a table.

KnitChats at Stitches West.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I first learned how to knit from my wonderful home economics teacher in high school, Mrs. Beechok. She was the OG Martha Stewart.

What are some of your favorite yarns to knit with?

It changes all the time! I love the artistry of hand-dyed natural fibers, but at the moment I’ve been enjoying quiet, neutral colors in the softest fibers. My desert island yarn is Cashmere.

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

At last count I had 14. It’s an embarrassing amount of WIPs! I’m currently focusing on making hats for a local pre-school serving homeless children.

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Lanivendole

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Two women, one in a gray sweater and one in a black and gold colorwork sweater.

From left to right, Giulia and Stefania of Lanivendole.

This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.

I first learned of Lanivendole at Barcelona Knits last November. While the Italian company was already on my list to check out, I was seriously enabled by May Khaw, a talented Singapore-based designer who I met and befriended during that wonderful trip. She had done some damage in their booth at Woollinn in Dublin earlier in the year and was planning some upcoming designs in their yarn (May’s latest design for Spanish knitting magazine Bellota is in Lanivendole’s A Chic Blend, comprised of Brogna wool, alpaca and mohair).

After taking in their soothing colors, I was then captivated by the story of the company. Owners Stefania Benzi and Giulia Pighi Guerra create and hand dye yarn custom milled in Italy, comprised of wool and alpaca fibers from local breeders. I was surprised to learn that small-batch, breed-specific yarns weren’t all that common in a country with a long history of textile production.

I had been planning to host their yarn in my booth at the in-person Indie Untangled show in October, but instead I’m excited to introduce you to them virtually.

Tell us the story of how Lanivendole came to be.

The idea took shape after a few years of conducting a textile arts association in Genova; by that time we managed to get a good knowledge of different fibre types and especially their behavior in both dyeing, blending and spinning by hand. We met during a hand-spinning workshop and soon after we started to figure out how to build our own yarn production. It was a slow process, that began with a long search to find the right mills to work with small batches, that are not so common in Italy; then, we started to test yarns’ compositions and structures, to start dyeing and test all the shades we had in mind.

Skeins of soft orange, pink and blue yarn.

How have you found the sheep breeders you work with?

In Italy there are not so many farms that raise herds for fibre purposes, and when we started the whole thing 10 years ago, there were nearly no small local yarn producers as well, so when we started searching for local fibres to use in our workshops, we easily got to all know each other! It was basically done through word of mouth from one trusted breeder to another, and that was how we met also the first mill we worked with.

How do both of you work together to decide on your color palette?

The very first palettes of our hand-dyed bases were studied and decided at the table, making tests and choosing together which colors better represented our ideas. Now we do like to create more freely shades and collections, so it happens that some inspiration comes to life from one of us and is presented to the other, or we plan a theme/mood board to follow, get to the pots and share the results… and modify the samples until we agree on the best result.

A basket of yarn in light and dark grays.

What are each of your responsibilities when it comes to the business? What are the unique things that each of you bring to your company?

Stefania: I deal with all the paperwork and administrative jobs, purchases and commercial promotion with shops and designers, and write our newsletter.

Giulia: I take care of all the photography for both our website and social media, our Instagram profile and keep in contact with breeders and the mills.

We share all other activities and decisions, from order fulfillment to dyeing, from planning to email replying — the best thing about this collaboration is that we balance each other.

A skein of pale blue and gray yarn.

Tell me about how each of you learned how to hand spin and knit.

Stefania: I learned knitting from my grandma as a child, paused and took up the needles again many times during high school and university, and then it became a vital habit in my life since my first pregnancy. By that time I self studied hand-spinning, reading books and watching online courses… that was one of the most satisfying goals I reached!

Giulia: I started knitting a few years ago, mostly self-taught and keen to take needles only in chilly seasons, also because my farm duties give me a little more spare time. I learned hand-spinning attending a workshop that Stefania held, with the aim to spin my own cashmere goats hair… I soon realized that the opportunities could be far wider if I got the heavenly fibre spun.

Anyhow, we both would love to hand spin a special edition yarn someday!

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled Everywhere?

The main news we’re thrilled about is that we’ll have two bases with brand new palettes debuting at the event!

One is our Stormy Blend DK weight — made of 70% wool and 30% black alpaca — that we’re now hand dyeing in an earthy palette on the darkest grey base Ombra.

The second one is our beloved 100% wool base, A Pure and Simple Wool, from selected flocks of Abruzzo uplands that we’ve been expecting from the breeders for two years, and now we’ll finally have a rich new array of shades to show off.

Last but not least, our custom color on A Chic Blend – made of 60% wool, 20% alpaca and 20% mohair – which we hand dyed exclusively for Indie Untangled Everywhere! We can’t describe the color without spoiling, but we adore it!

Rustic Sample Box subscribers will find the custom color, along with shade cards of both the new bases mentioned above.

A peach and forest green colorwork yoke sweater.

Do you enjoy other crafts in addition to knitting?

Stefania: Being the only niece of a skilled seamstress, I always carry the dream to sew my own clothes… but never actually started, but I must admit that my crafty side is well satisfied with knitting, dyeing and spinning, anyway.

Giulia: I recently discovered photography to curate our IG profile, and found out a new world I love!

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

Stefania: I’m onto the sleeves of an awesome Jupiter Crop by Boyland Knitworks, and towards the end of Hikari Tee by Yamagara.

Giulia: I’m in the middle of a dreamy Pink Velvet by Andrea Mowry, and just started my very first pair of socks, Garia from Laine 52 Weeks of Socks.

Introducing: Indie Untangled Everywhere!

An illustration showing various animals in brown, orange and teal knitting, crocheting, spinning and enjoying yarn while connecting through various devices.

Illustration by Eloise Narrigan

By now, many of us expected to be casting on projects to finish in time for the fall fiber festival season, when we could look forward to showing them off while doling out hugs and those appreciative pets that only our fellow yarn people understand.

2020 had other plans for us… A couple of months ago, after we realized that an in-person Indie Untangled trunk show was not in the cards, IU event producer Petrina and I kickstarted our idea for a virtual alternative that would provide the connections we’ve all been craving.

We’re excited to announce that Indie Untangled Everywhere will be taking place on October 15, 16 and 17 and you’re invited to join us from wherever you are!

Previously, we were limited in what we could do by space, time and cost. But now, no matter where you’re located or what your schedule is like, you can gather with us, our indie vendors and some special guests for three whole days of fiber fun.

I’m sure you’re asking: How will this work?​ Well, since you already follow Indie Untangled, it will feel a little familiar, but there are also many new, interactive things we’re excited to include.

General Admission tickets will go on sale next Friday, August 7. Your $5 ticket will take you to a special section of the Indie Untangled website. From there, you’ll be able to browse virtual vendor booths that will feature video introductions and tours, photo galleries, and access to special products and discounts. You’ll also be able to meet dyers and makers during interactive shopping sessions and pop into a virtual lounge where you can connect with fiber friends old and new.

Once you purchase your ticket, you’ll be able to preorder mini boxes that will let you feel and squish our vendors’ Superwash and rustic yarns before you buy full skeins online, purchase Indie Untangled tote bags and swag, and register to attend events, including interactive chats with guest designers.

Additionally, because we know this year in particular has been economically challenging for many people, we are also partnering with one of our generous sponsors, New Hampshire yarn shop Scratch Supply Co., to provide financial assistance to six members of our community.

So, mark your calendar and browse our list of nearly 50 vendors. You’ll see some familiar faces, along with many new ones.

We look forward to seeing you at Indie in October!