Superwash versus Non-Superwash

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Skeins of gray yarn hanging on wooden clothespins.

Superwash skein left, non-Superwash skein right.

Superwash and non-Superwash yarns, what’s the difference? After all, aren’t they both wool? In my view as a knitter and a natural dyer, they are related in the way a horse, and the Emerald City’s Horse of a Different Color would be!

To understand, let’s look at the horse first, or in our case the raw wool! Sheep wool is made of natural fibrous proteins from the keratin group. The keratin is what gives yarn its flexibility, elasticity, resilience and memory. Each “hair” has a complex physical structure, and is made up of overlapping minuscule scales. The scales help repel dirt and allow the fibers to felt. In the case of some non-Superwash fibers, felting does not occur, as in down breeds. In their natural state, the fibers are coated with a waxy coat of lanolin which serves as a water repellent. During wool processing, the lanolin is removed.

Now, let’s look at the Horse of a Different Color, the Superwash. The most common treatment used to transform a yarn into “Superwash” is the Chlorine-Hercosett process. To etch the scales we talked about earlier, the fiber is chlorinated with either chlorine gas or a chlorine solution, followed by the application of a plastic resin to coat the fibers. The result is a yarn you can wash in the washing machine that will not felt.

Before I discuss the difference between the two types of yarn from a dyeing and a knitting perspective, I want to point out some of the negative environmental impacts of the Chlorine-Hercosett process. This process is not sustainable, it uses hazardous chemicals, and creates toxic waste. It uses more water and energy than traditionally processed wools, and the yarns, after they are transformed into garments or household products, shed microplastics during washing.

Because of the negative environmental impacts of the traditional Chlorine-Hercosett process, new processes have been developed to improve the washability of wool, and decrease felting. Among them, to name only a few, are the EXP process which does not use chlorine and instead uses natural salts as oxidizing agents, and the Naturetexx Plasma Process which uses air and electricity.

Now that I have said that, and that I am sure you are looking sadly at all the beautiful skeins of Superwash in your stash, you are wondering what to do. My answer is: use them! The resources and energy that were used to produce them have already been expended, and not using them would be a waste.

So how do the horse and the Horse of a Different Color compare? The two skeins below and their samples were knitted from 100% Merino fingering yarn, one non-Superwash, the other Superwash, with both skeins weighing 20g each.

Body in the skein

Two photos of gray yarn, with the bottom one curling over the edge of a table.

Non-Superwash top, Superwash bottom.

The difference in body between the two skeins is very apparent in the pictures below. The non-superwash skein which appears first has body, whereas the superwash clearly has not retained its natural structure. The yarn is flatter, and denser.

Drape

Four gray swatches of knitting.

No-Superwash top, Superwash bottom.

The difference in body translates into the drape. I knitted two identical swatches. The Superwash Merino drapes more than the non-Superwash, but is also more shapeless.

Color

Small balls of gray yarn.

This is where my experience as a hand-dyer comes in. Superwash yarns absorb color more readily than non-Superwash. Non-Superwash yarns appear more subtle, while Superwash yarns are deeply saturated. Even with natural dyes, my dyes of choice, the color difference is striking. Both yarns were identically dyed together using sequoia. In addition, the absorption of color is faster in a Superwash skein than it is in a non-Superwash skein.

Shine

The difference in color is only accentuated by the difference in light reflection. A Superwash yarn is smooth with a slight sheen, while a non-Superwash yarn is matte with a soft glow.

Elasticity/Memory

Gray yarn swatches hanging on wooden clothespins.

Superwash skein left, non-Superwash right.

Superwash yarns lose their elasticity, and memory. The absence of scales, means the fibers and stitches are sitting next to each other but are not interlocked, so they tend to stretch more readily. This would be fine for a shawl, but less attractive for a sweater. The tendency to stretch is visible when the samples are wet.

Gauge

Folded swatches and twisted hanks of gray yarn.

Superwash left, non-Superwash right.

With an equal number of stitches cast on in these samples, the Superwash swatch is wider and longer than the non-Superwash swatch. The stitches in the non-Superwash swatch are closely connected to each other, while the stitches in the Superwash swatch remain clearly separate, with minute gaps. This will have an impact on the warmth of the knitted garment, with non-Superwash yarn being significantly warmer. The Superwash swatch is flatter. Textured stitches will appear flat in the Superwash Merino, and round and plump in the non-Superwash Merino.

Softness

Both are soft, though in a slightly different way. In the case of Merino yarns, Superwash feels sleek and non-Superwash feels pillow-y.

Water

Water sitting on gray stockinette swatches.

Non-Superwash top, Superwash bottom.

The Superwash yarn will absorb water faster as opposed to the non-Superwash yarn which will repel the water. A non-Superwash garment will allow you to stay warmer even when wet.

As a natural dyer, a knitter and a spinner, I prefer non-Superwash fibers. Each breed-specific fiber has unique properties that make one fiber or another ideal for a particular project. The same way a Superwash Merino is drastically different from a non-Superwash Merino, Merino fiber is drastically different from let’s say Suffolk or Wensleydale. And as I hinted earlier in my post, some fibers felt and some do not. There is a perfect natural fiber for any project! This could be the subject of a whole new post, but for now, I hope you will look at your stash a little differently, and that you will explore the possibilities in using non-Superwash fibers.

References

It’s Not You, It’s the Yarn: Superwash Edition by Jillian Moreno

Why Not Superwash Yarns? from Knitting the Natural Way

Why Is Superwash Yarn Not Sustainable? by Making Stories

Are There Sustainable Superwash Options? by Making Stories

The Structure of Wool

How knitting a sweater brought me out of a COVID slump

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Hands knitting a coral sweater.

In the winter of 2020, while browsing at Backstory Books & Yarn, a local used book and yarn store in Portland, Oregon, I stumble across a giant hank of pale gray yarn lurking on a top shelf. I immediately pick it up and trace the softness of the Targhee strands with my fingers. The label states it’s from Blue Moon Fiber Arts, a local dyer I’m familiar with, and best of all, it’s enough to make a sweater. A quick peek at the price tag makes me even more jubilant — I have enough store credit to cover the purchase, basically making it free.

I find the perfect pattern for the yarn, Myrna by Andi Satterlund. Vintage-inspired, it’s cropped and form-fitting and will pair perfectly with dresses for the colder months. After almost a full episode of the BBC series “Pride and Prejudice” and numerous turns of the yarn winder, I have a ball of yarn the size of a newborn’s head that is ready to be knit. Once I have knit a swatch to figure out what size I need to knit, I cast 70 loops on my needles and start the sweater. The yarn is lovely to work with. Soft and supple, each stitch is clearly defined like a spider’s web in the rain.

Shelves filled with books and yarn.

Backstory Books & Yarn in Portland, Oregon.

After fits and starts and several weeks, I’m almost done with the back of the sweater. I hold it up to myself and grimace. Even accounting for the stretch, it simply looks too small. I put it aside to deal with it later. Every knitter is familiar with “frogging,” which means ripping back your work — you “rip it, rip it,” like the “ribbit” of a frog. And as accustomed as we are to frogging, it does not mean we dislike it any less. You can just see weeks of your time circling down the drain. But knitting is a wonderful craft because, as in life, you can almost always go back and fix your mistakes (except for mohair, but we will not speak of that).

I could ignore the mistake and try to convince myself that, “Oh, it will fit with some stretching and blocking,” but I know that I’ll be even more devastated to have finished the entire sweater and not have it fit. I tear the stitches off the needles and begin the process of undoing the rows, leaving a wave of crinkled wool in my wake. Knitting teaches us about falling and getting back up minus the bruises and scrapes, leaving just the toll it takes on our patience.

Then COVID-19 strikes in March. One day my knitting friends and I are huddled together in a car for 10 hours as we zigzag across the Portland area to participate in the annual Rose City Yarn Crawl. Then the next week, seemingly everything is shut down. Instead of seeing each other as people, all we see is potential virus vectors. The days blur into one giant loop. We are stuck in Groundhog Day with only slight variations letting us know that time has passed.

I simply cannot see the point in continuing with the sweater. Where would I wear it? There is nowhere to go. And how would I wash it? A handknit wool sweater is not meant to hold up to endless rounds of sanitizing in hot water and bleach. And who would see it to admire the handiwork? My knitting friends are huddled in their houses and not stirring, not even for yarn. My sweater is at a standstill, the needles silent, much like the outer world. I have trouble looking at either.

“Put the sweater down and start another project,” a friend advises. “Let it hibernate.”

I take half her advice, but have trouble figuring out what to do next. Numerous articles and studies have listed the physical and mental health benefits of knitting — it induces an enhanced sense of calm, lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and boosts serotonin levels. That is great when all is said and done, but it does not solve the problem when you can’t even get motivated to start that first stitch.

A dog wears a teal sweater.

April’s dog, Nandi, shows off an FO.

I’m doomscrolling when I get a text from a friend from high school.

“Sorry, this week has been kind of crazy. We actually just had our kid yesterday. Delivered a healthy baby girl. 8.6lb, 21 inches…”

Accompanying the text is a photo of my friend wearing a mask and cradling a newborn to her chest. I shoot off a text of congratulations and then immediately start browsing patterns for baby sweaters. I may not have anywhere to wear a handknit sweater, but this baby clearly needs a wool sweater to keep her warm. COVID-19 may reign, but new life continues. And human connections are so fraught right now, I grab at any strand that resembles hope.

I dive into my stash of yarn, stored under my bed in plastic bins, to discover that I have absolutely no yarn that is suitable. No sensible parent wants to carefully hand wash a delicate baby sweater every single time the baby throws up or drools. So, I make a rare trip into the outside world for yarn. I’m equipped with a handmade mask and hand sanitizer and mentally calculate how far 6 feet is from any person I see.

As I walk down Alberta Street, it’s a ghost town. Dark windows look forlornly out onto the street, and passersby walk by briskly with their heads down and masks on. But when I step inside Close Knit to look for the right yarn, it’s like stepping back into the past. Piles of brightly colored yarn dot the walls, and that slight hush you get from a space overly insulated with fiber prevails. Then I look again and see a jumbo-sized container of hand sanitizer and a giant sign at the entrance declaring the COVID-19 protocols. A plexiglass shield guards the staff from customers.

I debate between two vividly colored hanks of worsted and ultimately go with the coral. The shade, Malabrigo’s Living Coral, evokes eye-popping colored macaroons, which is fitting as the sweater pattern, by The Noble Thread, is named French Macaroon and I met the new mom in our high school French class.

It’s almost exactly the shade of the 2019 Pantone color of the year, living coral. The color was declared to be an “animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.” Babies also affirm life while anchoring us to the future. Stepping back into time is a futile endeavor. But it reminds me that this too shall pass and one day we will gather together once more.

Hands knit a coral sweater.

The bright coral stitches fly smoothly across the needles, leaving behind a gentle click-clack sound. It feels strangely foreign to be knitting again, but my hands remember what to do. Unlike the monotony of COVID-19 life, I can see visible progress as the sweater steadily grows, inch by inch. With each stitch, I knit in my thoughts and hopes for the future. As the ball of yarn dwindles, so do my troubled thoughts. The knitting blogger A Friend to Knit With once calculated the number of stitches in a sweater she was knitting: 70,532. If we were to think about that sheer number, we would never knit a sweater. We take it one stitch at a time. Like each stitch, we trudge forward to the next, waiting until the day when we are whole.

As I knit, I can feel the invisible threads connecting me to women of the past who used knitting to cope with the troubling times of their era. Knitting teacher and designer Elizabeth Zimmermann wrote, “Knit on with confidence and hope through all crises.” Women knitted through the two World Wars and the Spanish Flu and countless other crises and elections. And they likely will again in the future. Knitting leaves us with a tangible memory of time and helps us cope with our fears and anxieties. It reminds us that life goes on. There will always be a baby who needs warmth. And one day I will finish that gray sweater.

Indie Untangled 2020 Year In Review Part I: Indie exclusives

Purple, pink and orange yarn and the words Indie Untangled 2020 Year In Review

It’s certainly been an… interesting year. Surreal. Heartbreaking. Challenging. But one of the things that has helped us retain a feeling of normalcy and comfort is, of course, our knitting. It makes me feel especially warm and fuzzy to see the special colorways that I worked with dyers to create, from the Knitting Our National Parks yarns to event exclusives, turn into beloved FOs.

Here are some projects using special Indie Untangled colorways that were finished in 2020.

A green lacy sweater.

Samantha’s Love Note by Tin Can Knits with Plies & Hellhounds Yarn Marie Cutie in Quiescence

A purple shawl.

Kathy’s Snowflake Party by Martina Behm with Earl Grey Fiber Co. Darjeeling Sock in The Highest Peak

A woman models knitwear.

svm’s Ande Donut Hat by Pierrot (Gosyo Co., Ltd) with Onyx Fiber DK in Cider Donut Dipped In Coffee
(Also pictured is the Zeen Top by Alisa Hartzel in Lavender Lune Yarn Co. Merino DK and the Hocus Pocus Cowl by Thea Eschliman Plies and Hellhounds)

A gray speckled cowl.

Diane’s Spring Thing by Espace Tricot with La Bien Aimée Merino Singles in Hudson and Kingston

A gray speckled sweater with a teal trim.

Kathy’s The Traveler Pullover by Tif Neilan – tif handknits – with La Bien Aimée Merino DK in Automne A Rhinebeck

A purple, blue and gold textured cowl.

Annie’s Linen Stitch Cowl by Carly Stipe with Pigeonroof Studios American Sock in Mountains and Valleys

The Pearl Project: A tribute to Knitty City owner Pearl Chin

A collage of colorful yarn and an orange oyster with a pearl.

There are few New York knitters and crocheters who don’t know about the Manhattan yarn shop Knitty City. But beyond connecting the local yarn community, Knitty City‘s founder, Pearl Chin, has been instrumental in helping so many indie dyers and fiber business owners get their start and providing valuable advice as they move forward. Pearl has also been a role model for how to be a craftivist, using her platform as a leader to raise money and attention for important causes.

When I heard the devastating news about Pearl’s cancer diagnosis, I got in touch with a group of indie dyers that Pearl has been instrumental in guiding and championing. We thought it was fitting to turn our sadness into action. As we now grieve the loss of our friend and colleague, we can think of no better way to honor Pearl’s legacy.

A woman stands in front of colorful yarn.

We have created special colorways and designs, and are hosting giveaways to raise money for organizations she has supported:

• Julie Asselin has created a colorway called Dear Pearl, with proceeds donated to help budding knitwear entrepreneurs attend the CAN Retreat hosted by Marceline Smith and Anne Choi

• Christina of Chelsea Yarns has created a colorway called String of Pearls, with proceeds donated to Moms Demand Action

• Amanda of Hu Made has created a colorway called Pearl Power, with proceeds donated to the Asian Americans Arts Alliance

• I will be designing a hat pattern called Pearl’s Oyster, with proceeds donated to the NFC Momentum Fund (I’m still knitting up the sample and hope to publish it next week)

• Marian of Marianated Yarns has created a colorway called Thank You, Pearl, with proceeds donated to City Harvest

• Debbie of Murky Depths Dyeworks has created a colorway called Pearl of The West (Side), with proceeds donated to Womankind, an organization serving the Asian community in New York, helping survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual violence

• Mariana and Nick of Nooch Fiber will be hosting a series of mini-skein giveaways, with proceeds donated to Heifer International

What to stash this week: A Twisted, indie New Year

Champagne glasses and confetti in jewel tones.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that the goal of Indie Untangled is to bring together and support indie dyers and makers. I’m so excited and honored to bring that passion to an amazing collaboration between 31+ dyers, makers and designers!

This box, called A Twisted Year’s End, will be filled with at least 31 items, including 20g, 80-90-yard, fingering-weight mini skeins dyed in a jewel tone color palette and other yarn-y treats by a stellar lineup of indies, along with a few patterns to tie it all together. Count down to the end of this crazy year with the ultimate December calendar! 

Purple, cream and green yarn.

Mary Annarella of Lyrical Knits is building on the comfort of quarantine baking for her latest mystery knit-a-long. Stark Baking Mad: Great British Baking Shawl 2 is another homage to The Great British Baking Show. Mary says that, “Like the show, the MKAL will rise to the occasion with a bit of camp, a recipe with each clue, and an occasional pun.”

Purple, red and black drawstring bag and yarn.

Debbie of Murky Depths Dyeworks and Alisa of KnitSpinQuilt have done it again! Their third collaboration is the limited edition Stained Glass Window Kit. The bag has a rainbow stained glass print, which reminds Alisa of the medieval cathedrals she visits on her dissertation research trips to Europe, while the yarn is dyed to reflect the fabric. Preorders are open now in both their Etsy shops.

Star Trek Christmas and Hanukkah Yarnie Pack

Dawn of Fairy Tale Yarn Co, another Twisted Year’s End participant, has some holiday goodies as well. Her Hanukkah and Christmas sets are Star Trek themed and come with 10 50g hanks of yarn and four extras, each packaged for your chosen holiday and available in fingering weight and DK weight.

Charms with fall leaves and a doughnut.

If you miss the fall leaves and doughnuts of Rhinebeck, get your fix with Jillian of WeeOnes’ special stitch markers.

For her last Sweater Quantity Discount shipment of 2020, Kate of McMullin Fiber Co is offering two colorways at close to wholesale pricing. Ink is a rich navy blue and Sunflower is a sunny golden yellow. Act fast, because these installments sell out quickly!

Christmas greens border and the words Stocking Knit-a-Long

Join Jill of Jilly & Kiddles in casting on for a holiday stocking Knit-a-Long on November 1, with weekly prizes, encouragement and help.

Boots with purple cabled cuffs.

Marny’s Autumn Wander Boot Cuffs are a cozy and fashionable way to dress up your boots while you stroll through the autumn leaves.

A plum and pink hat with a pink pom pom.

This new pattern by Christen Clement uses Janis and Christen of Queen City Yarn’s Berryhill yarn held double, getting you ready for fall quickly.

A sheep print bag with a clear window.

Nancy of Tika Bags has launched an every-other-month bag club. Each shipment features a surprise fabric that may or may not be in her current lineup OR ever be available in her shop again.

Christmas yarn.

Dana of Un Besito Fibers’ Holly Freakin’ Jolly sock set comes with a 100g main skein and two 10g minis to make a variety of Christmas socks. Make them for a gift or keep them for yourself.

A pink basket with a strap.

Keep your WIPs at hand and organized with these baskets, woven by hand by marginalized women from Boostani Crafts owner Lois’s tribe in Kenya.

Halloween yarn.

Emerald of Stardust Fiber Studio’s newest collection, All Hallows’ Eve, has eight colorways and a spooky stitch marker set. There are also two sales running in her studio.

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: Northern Bee Studio

Melissa of Northern Been Studio with a friend.

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

When we and other people envision knitting, crocheting and fiber crafts, we often conjure up images of frolicking amongst sheep, goats and other farm animals, though for most of us our fiber story is set against a backdrop of binge-watched TV shows and honking horns (though the latter is mainly me and my fellow city-dwellers!).

The name Northern Bee Studio is a true expression of dyer Melissa’s setup in Rib Lake, Wisconsin: she and her husband have bees, chickens and cats, and this year they welcomed some Sannen goats, the largest of the dairy breed. They milk them daily and make cheese, yogurt, ice cream and soap from their milk.

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

It really started with spinning. I had wanted to learn how to spin for so long. When we lived in Juneau, Alaska, a friend messaged me that she had just bought a couple wheels off of Craigslist. This would have been about 2008-ish. She wondered if I was interested in buying one of them for her because she thought she didn’t need both (hah!). Sure! Well, I watched videos and requested books from the library and made some stuff that eventually resembled yarn. The problem was, I didn’t know where exactly to get hand-dyed prepared top to spin besides Etsy. I had ordered a bunch from Etsy when I first started and shipping was killer. So, I decided to find somewhere to order undyed top in a kind of large amount (back when I thought a pound would last me a while) and played around with Kool-Aid and food coloring. I had so much fun with it and got such great feedback that I decided to try dyeing yarn.

I started out with Knitpicks Bare and went from there. I would make longies for our kids and little hats and things and people in my knitting group loved my colors. Well, the owner of the shop that I used to work at liked the yarn too and asked me to dye as much as I could for the upcoming tourist season. This is when I used to dye yarn one skein at a time on the stovetop. So much has changed! Fast forward 12 years and here I am with a dedicated studio space, dyeing thousands of pounds of yarn a year and still enjoying every minute of it.

What inspires your colorways?

I get inspired by nature so much of the time. I get inspired by the different flowers in our gardens, the plants and trees around us and if it is the middle of winter and I want to work on a new colorway, I love to look at pictures of nature on Pinterest where the colors are broken down.

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

Almost any blue has always been and will always be my favorite color. Especially the turquoise-ish blue of the bee in my logo. It is such a great color that goes so well with so many other colors.

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

I am still challenged by Grellow. I mean, I really like the one I do now but I don’t feel like it is exactly right. And I have experimented and overdyed so much yarn over the years trying to get just the right tone, I have kind of just told myself that I just need to be happy with the Grellow I have, not the Grellow I want.

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

Sure! We have been working on setting up a mini-booth in the Studio and I plan to have a wall with a skein of every one of our colors on it. That way I can show everyone how the colors play across the skeins. I have our show special colorway that I can’t wait to show off more —- it is inspired by the Indie Untangled Everywhere logo and I just love it. I also plan to have my Yak Sock mini skein sets ready for the event and maybe it is aiming too high, but I hope to show off the Advent sets that I have been working on. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

When and how did you learn to knit?

When I was a kid, my mom taught me how to crochet. Every winter, she would sit and crochet blankets for everyone. I cherish the blankets I have, even though over the years, the Red Heart yarn has gotten kind of scratchy. Fast forward to 2006. My husband and I had been restationed to the island of Saipan [Melissa’s husband serves in the U.S. Coast Guard] and I was pregnant with our first child. I had read about this nifty new website, Ravelry, on someone’s blog and was seeing more and more fantastic knitting projects. My mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and her sleeping schedule was really wild. So, we would talk during my day (which was her night, Saipan is 15 hours ahead of Central Standard Time) and she would help walk me through the basic steps over the phone. She was an avid thrifter and garage sale junkie so anytime she saw yarn or knitting needles, she would buy them and send them to me. I still have so many of those old aluminum straight needles she sent me, I don’t think I could ever get rid of them. With her help, random tutorials I found online and a new friend that had grown up on Saipan and was a knitter (hey Deece!), the rest is history.

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

You know, I really love seeing all the FOs and WIPs from my customers. One of my favorites is seeing the Advent set projects, those for me are such a challenge… coming up with 24 to 25 new colors that work together every year really pushes my creativity in a good way. And I love all the different designs that the designers do, we have so many great patterns to choose from. I also love seeing my yarns being used with other indie dyers’ yarns in large projects. It’s fun when you know the dyers personally, and you can see how your yarns play so well together and know how the purchases really help them, too.

Three goats with fall leaves.

Melissa’s Sannen goats.

What’s currently on your needles?

Oh gosh, that’s a slippery slope. I am a serial starter. I am really trying hard to make more pairs of socks this month. It is Socktober after all. But I have so many WIPs that are just sitting, so the struggle is real over here. Currently on the needles:

High Desert Socks
No Frills Sweater
Octopus Mittens (probably my 10th pair, they’re so fun!)
Dissent Cardigan
Scrappy Pillows (crochet version)
And a secret Advent test knit for Ambah

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: 29 Bridges Studio

A woman with brown hair wearing red cat-eye glasses.

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

It’s always so fascinating to hear what people did before they took on the official title of Indie Dyer. While Mary of 29 Bridges Studio has a professional background — working in various positions a large, federal medical library — that doesn’t seem to overlap with her business slinging yarn, her college education was heavy on the fiber arts.

I got to meet Mary during the Business Untangled event that I organized back in January. This is my first time working with her through Indie Untangled and I’m looking forward to sharing her yarns in the marketplace.

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

I was very fortunate to discover the fiber arts program at my college. I was not pursuing a studio art degree but needed a creative outlet. The first time I saw a floor loom I was in love. I focused my program on weaving and learned to dye the yarn and fiber for my projects.

In my college program, after I completed the first two required courses I continued in an “independent study.” I did this for two years and also included textile history and a science-based class that included testing and analysis. My weaving work was shown in juried student art shows.

After college, I focused on my career, but in 2016 dyeing started calling to me. I jumped back in, was accepted to my first market in 2017, and I’m looking forward to what the future brings.

What’s the significance of the name 29 Bridges?

The name “29 Bridges Studio” is inspired by my hometown, Pittsburgh – the city of bridges. The bridges connect the diverse communities of the city and you can’t go anywhere in Pittsburgh without crossing a bridge. To me, my company name also symbolizes the bridges and connections we are building in our fiber community. Yarn and fiber have a way of bringing people together and I’m lucky to work with amazing people in this industry.

Skeins of fuzzy yellow and pink speckled yarn.

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

My favorite color is a nice dark mustard. I will buy things just because they are mustard colored not because I need them. I am a neutral lover at heart which may seem incongruous with being a dyer but that’s my jumping off point for anything I dye. I start neutral and then add color.

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

Anything really bright. Dyeing with bright colors stresses me out but I hope to conquer them someday.

Skeins of colorful yarn.

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

We’re very excited to debut some new samples for project inspiration (with kits!) as well as a new Indie Untangled Everywhere-inspired color.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I was an artistic and crafty kid and making was always my happy place. When I was five, I pretended to be sick so that I could stay home from school and hang out with my mom. That day she taught me to knit with some 1970s gold-mustard yarn. This might be why my favorite color is mustard!

A stack of colorful knits.

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

I’m always blown away when I see something that a customer has made with my yarn. Fiber and yarn lovers are so creative and the combinations that they put together are as unique as they are.

I remember the first time that a customer came up to me at an event in sweater she had knit my yarn. I was speechless. It was an Alyeska sweater and it was gorgeous. I like to think that I make the colors and my customers paint the masterpiece.

Skeins of teal, yellow and gray yarn.

What’s currently on your needles?

I’m working on the sleeves of a Felix sweater using my own DK MCN in Aubergine. So as not to embarrass myself, I won’t tell you how long I’ve been working on it! But I think my timing is going to be perfect because the leaves are turning and sweater weather is right around the corner.

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.

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Scratch Supply Co.

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The owners of a local yarn shop.

Travis, Jessica and Karen of Scratch Supply Co.

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

Four years ago this month, Jessica Giordani and Karen Zook launched Scratch Supply Co., a craft store and inclusive home for makers in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Since then, they along with their partner Travis, have transformed the shop into a showcase for indie, women, POC/BIPOC, queer and otherwise underrepresented dyers and makers.

Scratch’s monthly Cast-On Club — I’ll be curating the October box! — celebrates the diversity of the fiber community with an exclusive colorway, and the shop features many indie brands that are familiar to Indie Untangled readers — Cat Sandwich Fibers, Fuzz Family, Julie Asselin — and some that may not be.

Since Petrina, Indie Untangled’s event producer, introduced me to the Scratch folks at Vogue Knitting Live NYC in January, I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and share in their enthusiasm for our amazing indie community (they’ll also be sponsoring the Bingo night that Petrina is hosting the Friday of Indie Untangled Everywhere, which means some great indie prizes!).

Tell me about the decision to open Scratch Supply Co. Did you ever think you’d own a yarn shop?

Not really! We didn’t even decide to open a yarn shop at first — we started as a multipurpose craft store with a handwork makerspace in the basement.

When we first opened the doors, we barely had any yarn at all. We had like two shelves with 40 skeins of yarn total and some hopeful shade card boxes — and we were SO proud of those two shelves. The best thing you could say about us was that we were scrappy. If you wanted to knit a sweater you could make something with stripes or wait for us to order a sweater’s quantity of one color. We were trying! Fortunately for us, our enthusiasm resonated with the knitting community, and they stuck with us through this awkward period while we found our footing, fine-tuned our offerings, and started stocking a full range of colorways in quantities large enough to make something bigger than a hat.

Over the last four years we’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to create a welcoming and inspiring space, and grow — with our amazing community of makers — into the LYS we were meant to be.

A bathtub full of yarn.

What you each of you do before you became yarn shop owners and how do you think it informs what you bring to the business?

The three of us met after Travis and Jessica moved to Connecticut after Travis left the Marine Corps. Jessica opened a small bakery and Travis and Karen met while they were enrolled in a PhD program in Comparative Literature.

We all have experience with research and working independently, and we’ve all been teachers in some capacity at some point. Jessica has previous experiencing running a retail shop, Karen has a background as a freelance writer, and Travis has government training in getting shit done.

We bring a lot of flexibility and a can-do, make-it-work spirit to Scratch. Since we all live together this is truly a family business. We’ve put our hearts into creating a space and a community that reflects who we are, and we like to make the members of our community part of that in any way we can. Our path from idea to execution is lightning-fast — our real area of expertise is in Doing The Thing. (Sometimes the thing is fixing your knitting, sometimes the thing is installing light fixtures, sometimes the thing is finding a way to keep our community connected during a pandemic.)

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

First and foremost, we fill our shop with the yarns that we want to knit with! We have a carefully-curated selection that is constantly evolving. We are committed to supporting small makers and small mills, and providing our community access to with quality materials that they won’t find in just any LYS. We are enthusiastic about working with talented people in our industry whether they are established or just starting out. The fiber industry is diverse, and we believe that the dyers and makers that we work with should reflect that.

For us, there’s no value in filling our shop with yarn that you can get everywhere else. Our favorite thing is when people walk into the shop and announce “You have all the yarns that I follow on Instagram!”

The interior of a yarn shop.

Who are some of your favorite designers?

We love designers who are doing interesting things! It’s cold in New Hampshire so we’re sweater knitters at heart. We love Jessie Mae, Fatimah Hinds, Shay Johnson, Lavanya Patricella, Isabelle Kraemer, Maxim Cyr and Jacqueline Cieslak.

Crochet designers we’re following are Toni Lipsey, Vincent Williams, Twinkie Chan and Stephanie Erin.

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

In September we just celebrated our fourth birthday, which is our biggest event of the year and kicks off a wildly-busy fall season!

We’ve been expanding our yarn selection since March to get ready for the long winter. We’ve recently brought in three bases by Julie Asselin, DK and bulky weight yarn from The Farmer’s Daughter Fibers, fresh Spincycle, lace mohair, worsted and fingering-weight yarn from SweetGeorgia Yarns, the Nightshades from Harrisville Designs and two new fingering-weight bases from Junkyarn.

One of the best things about Cast-on Club (our monthly subscription box) is that we always have something amazing on its way to us — every month a different dyer sends us something new and exclusive! Indie Untangled is curating our October box, and in November our featured dyer is Doug Lopez of Knittinbro.

A family in knitwear, with a dog, sits on a sofa.

The Scratch family, including Violet and Scarlet.

When and how did you learn to knit?

Karen learned as a child from her mom, and knit/unknit/reknit a rectangle from the same skein of red Red Heart until she left for college. She couldn’t tell the difference between the right side and the wrong side of her fabric, so she had a strip of masking tape wrapped around the bottom of one of the horrendous plastic straight needles to help her keep it straight. After college she started a post-bacc program with an endless workload. She was living in Philadelphia and there was an amazing LYS right around the corner, so she started obsessively knitting just to hold a finished object in her hands once in a while. (Fortunately by then YouTube had been invented, which gave her the opportunity to increase her skills!)

Jessica learned to knit when she moved to Minnesota for grad school. There was a woman in her program who would knit through seminars, and since she didn’t know anyone and it was very cold, this seemed like a great hobby to take up. She didn’t know that LYSs existed, so she picked up a Susan Bates pamphlet and some bouclé yarn and taught herself how to knit while watching Pulp Fiction on repeat. She had been knitting for three years before she could read a pattern and learned a lot of problem-fixing techniques through trial and error.

Travis doesn’t knit (we’re wearing him down!), but has a lot of opinions about color, fiber content and design.

A letter sign that reads ALLAREWELCOME and @SCRATCHSUPPLYCO in pink and white.

Tell me about each of your most memorable FOs.

The first sweater Karen ever knit for herself was bottom-up with seamed sleeves. She was very excited about knitting it and bought crazy-expensive alpaca yarn that wasn’t really suited to the pattern… it turned into such a fiasco that it’s currently stuffing a dog bed.

In 2011, Jessica promised her mom a sweater. She knit all but one sleeve, and that sweater lived in project bags until it was finally consigned to the bin in 2020. It just wasn’t meant to be… but don’t worry, mom will finally get her sweater this year.

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

Jessica is knitting the Ghost Ranch hat using Dyed in the Wool in Payback and Street Light in Nightshades. It’s the squishy, Halloween-y hat of her dreams!

Karen is working on a gift knit that she’s going to try to keep a surprise so won’t spill the beans on that just yet. She just cast on a Pressed Flowers shawl by designer Amy Christoffers in Juicy DK from The Farmer’s Daughter Fibers.