Pre-Spotlight Untangling: Greenwood Fiberworks

A woman wearing a green knit cowl.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Spotlight, taking place from May 14-16, 2021.

Carolyn of Greenwood Fiberworks is an indie dyer who is the rare triple threat: she knits, crochets AND spins, and so offers yarn, spinning fiber and knit and crochet kits. She’s been dyeing for a couple of decades (!) and shares her deep expertise at events and guilds across the country. While Greenwood Fiberworks is not a new company, we’re so excited to spotlight them and get them on your radar.

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

I began dyeing yarn about 20 years ago, the same time I learned how to spin. I spun literally pounds of white wool on a drop spindle and then wanted to dye it to make holiday stockings in a deep red and green. A friend told me I could use Kool-Aid as a dye, so I purchased a couple packets of lime and black cherry flavored mix. I soon learned that I needed much more than just a couple packets and returned to the store and purchased all they had on the shelf. I was finally able to get the deep colors I needed, but no matter how much I rinsed, there was still a fruity smell. I since learned to use professional grade dyes and love to put color on just about everything.

What inspires your colorways?

I live in the beautiful mountain west and the environment around me inspires a lot of my colorways. We have the beautiful red rock, deep mountains, and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Sometimes, colors come to me from a greeting card, a piece of fabric, or even my own imagination.

Beige yarn with red and blue.

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

Green has always been a favorite color of mine. It suits me since my name is Greenwood! I love it in all shades for the calm and peacefulness it brings.

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

I find it challenging to make colorways with the color red. It seems to overwhelm the other colors I put with it. I’ve been able to come up with a few colorways such as American Diner or Dragon Scales, but it is still a challenge for me to put red in a colorway.

A braid of blue fiber.

What are some of your most popular colorways?

Oh, that’s a hard one. I’d have to say Arcade, which is a more jewel-toned rainbow. Then there is Cappuccino, which seems to have many natural colors of creams, tans, and browns. Colorways with blues always seem popular, especially our Shades of Turquoise.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Spotlight?

I’m looking forward to introducing our new colorway, Dragon Fruit. I wanted something bright and cheerful as we begin to come together again so I put together happy colors. I wasn’t sure what to name it, but my daughter said it looked like Dragon Fruit, and she was right! I’m also wanting to share some of our hand-dyed fibers for spinners and felters.

Pink and green yarn with branches on top.

Dragon Fruit, the Greenwood Fiberworks show special.

When and how did you learn to knit?

I was about seven or eight years old when my mother gave me a pair of long metal knitting needles and some worsted-weight yarn. She taught me to knit back and forth in garter stitch. I knit what was supposed to be a square hot pad, but it turned out to be more of a trapezoid. I still have it after all these years.

I’ve taken up crochet recently. One of my favorite projects is the Lost in Time Shawl that we’ve made with our DK Yakity Yak yarn.

A multicolored shawl.

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

I think one of my favorite projects has been the Hitofude sweater. It drapes so nicely with our Yakity Yak yarn. I’ve made several of these and many of my customers have also. Another favorite is the Peek-A-Boo Lace Shawl because it makes great use of our mini skeins.

What’s currently on your needles?

I’m playing with a pair of jaywalker socks in our April Diamond colorway. I wanted an easy travel project as I’ll hopefully be headed to Boston to meet my new grandson soon!

Pre-Spotlight Untangling: Jessica’s Rabbits

A woman with long curly hair holding a white and gold rabbit.

This is the third in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Spotlight, taking place from May 14-16, 2021.

I had heard about Jessica’s Rabbits and browsed the booth briefly at last year’s Kings County Fiber Festival, a small outdoor event that takes place a few miles from my Brooklyn apartment. I didn’t realize that owner/bunny wrangler/dyer Jessica Schmitz and I only live a few blocks away from each other until she applied for Indie Spotlight! Once I reach my fully vaxxed status, I look forward to meeting Jessica and seeing her adorable buns in real life, but for now I, and all of you, can have fun getting to know her virtually this weekend, and via this blog interview.

Tell us the story of how Jessica’s Rabbits came to be.

 I moved to New York a few weeks before 9-11 to study classical flute. From that time until 2014, I lived in small city apartments — studios or tiny one bedrooms (if the real estate gods were smiling down upon me). But about six-and-a-half years ago I decided I needed to embrace my Midwestern roots and find more space, whether that be in the city or out.

Luckily, I found a listing for an old, potentially haunted, Victorian home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. This was about the time I was falling deep in the yarn spinning rabbit hole, and a month into residence in my shockingly space-filled new digs I went to Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival.

I didn’t go to Rhinebeck planning to stumble upon a booth with baby angora bunnies, take one home, and build a tiny furry commune in South Brooklyn, but that’s precisely what happened. The little bun that would become Jojo Cinnabun stuck his little head out of the litter box, jumped on me, and Bunny Town, USA was born.

For a few years after that fateful hop, I focused on learning how to spin and building inventory, and then when COVID happened (and flute work temporarily evaporated) I finally got a website together (yay pandemic projects!) Our little business launched in summer 2020.

Pink crimped yarn.

You live not to far away from me in Brooklyn! What is it like raising fiber animals in the city?

It’s amazing! I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, but have extended family in Indiana and farming has always been close to my heart. Having a little micro farm is the best of both worlds for me: I can get my Midwestern on with the buns, but then be close enough to the city for music work.

There are some challenges, however, to raising buns in the five boroughs: mainly getting food. Shockingly, there aren’t any Tractor Supply stores in the city, so I order about 300 pounds in bulk from New Jersey and drive out there every few months. The folks in the store call me “The Bunny Lady.”

Someday I’d also love to add some larger fiber friends to my family, and while I did look into subletting the downstairs apartment to an alpaca, that didn’t pan out (why is NYC always raining on my parade?). So maybe in the future I’ll follow in the footsteps of many a Brooklyn hipster before me and journey to the Hudson Valley.

What inspires your colorways?

It’s funny — as a musician and New Yorker I only wear black. So much of my yarn is the opposite of this fashion cosmic hole, defined by extreme brights and neons. I follow a lot of resin art accounts on Instagram, and the bold, glassy colors that come from alcohol ink in this genre are absolutely stunning.

Because all of my yarn is handspun, I dye much of it “in the wool,” meaning dyeing the fiber before I spin in. I love the variation this method brings, because I can blend colors together once they are already dry to highlight and accentuate different patterns. It’s more work doing it this way, but totally worth it to really make colors pop.

The natural colors of the buns is a big inspiration as well. Much of the fiber that I dye is from white bunnies, but overdyeing the natural greys, oranges, and blacks that the buns produce themselves can be a lot of fun.

Pink and blue yarn.

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

I love retro pinks, turquoises, and oranges (my apartment is a mid-century modern rainbow) and these hues carry through much of my work. When I first started spinning, I actually didn’t use any human-made dye, opting instead for natural dyes with avocado, madder root, etc. While I love these gorgeous soft tones, I couldn’t really find the bright turquoise I was craving with indigo. So I opened up the acid dye door just a tad to find a rich bright blue, and the other neons came pouring in.

I do still occasionally use natural dyes, but the chemistry behind all the subtle shades is a bit intimidating to me (I went to flute school, after all).

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

I’ve been dreaming of speckled ombré kits but haven’t taken the plunge yet. Dyeing yarn after I’ve already spun it is scary to me, because if I mess it up I remember how darn long it took to spin the skein. I think the key to unlocking gradient success will be practicing on yarn I didn’t spin, and then working my way up to angora handspun victory (hopefully 😉 ).

Blue, pink, orange and yellow yarn.

Jessica’s Indie Spotlight show special, Merbun Parade.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Spotlight?

I’m so very excited for Indie Spotlight! I’m planning on introducing folks to my new spring collection, which includes a lot of multi-animal fiber blends mixing angora with mohair, superfine Merino, alpaca, and more. I’m also launching a new yarn exclusive to Indie Spotlight called Bunboo, which is a blend of angora with bamboo fiber. Both fibers are incredibly soft and silky, and they of course take dye differently so the color variation is delicate and subtle.

When and how did you learn to knit?

While I was always a crafty kid, I actually didn’t learn to knit until I was about 30 and my brother and sister-in-law had a baby! I wanted to make my nephew a blanket so I went to Michaels, got a bunch of acrylic yarn, and hit YouTube. I didn’t know that circular needles were a thing, and remember being so incredibly perplexed as to how people made such large blankets on such small straight needles. I ended up making about 40 small squares and seaming them together. I’m so glad those medieval dark days are behind me.

Blue, pink, orange and yellow yarn.

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

I’m always so amazed with the gorgeous items my customers make! One of my recent favorites was with my Bunicornyarn, a bulky 2-ply of brightly dyed angora and white alpaca, where the customer used 80 yards as the cuffs and neckline on a white form-fitting sweater.

What’s currently on your needles?

Know what’s crazy? Nothing! I’ve been spending all my time spinning and dyeing, I’ve run out of time to knit. But, once spring lightens up a bit I have a Knit Collage cardigan I’m dying to make that uses some super bulky wool in black and hot pink. I’m also soon to be in fall-pattern-planning mode for some bulky spins for cold days, 2021.

Pre-Spotlight Untangling: Jilly & Kiddles

A woman wearing a blue and orange sweater stands over a table of colorful yarn.

This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Spotlight, taking place from May 14-16, 2021.

I first met Jill of the yarn company Jilly & Kiddles at a Brooklyn yarn event (remember those?) a couple of years ago, and she is just as fun and approachable as the name of her company would suggest. In fact, Jill received a slew of nominations for the Spotlight show from some of her loyal customers, and their words say it all:

“Jill is an amazing dyer – her yarn is absolutely amazing and should be shared. I belong to her Sock of the Season group where her gorgeous colors never disappoint. I also purchased her 2020 Advent which was extraordinary!!” –Eileen

“I would like to see Jilly & Kiddles in the spotlight. Jilly’s yarn is amazing to work with. The colors and color combinations she creates are exquisite! She works hard to create fun collaborations with other makers. Her newsletters are like receiving emails from your favorite friend. She manages to make each of her customers feel special.” –Christine

“I have made a few colorwork sweaters recently and of all of the main color yarn I enjoyed working with and the final project of Jilly and Kiddles yarn. The yarn is lush and springy and the dyer is helpful, answering questions quickly and thoroughly.” –Susan

If you’re up for some fun on the Saturday of Spotlight, and want the chance to win some of Jill’s beautiful yarn, sign up for our virtual trivia game, which Jilly & Kiddles is sponsoring. She’ll also be hosting an informative session in the Spotlight lounge on Saturday on yarn substitution.

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

Around five or six years ago I started to become pretty obsessed with hand-dyed yarn. I loved the bright colors and creative combinations I was seeing, but found when I knit them up, they weren’t what I expected. It was difficult to find indie yarn that created the finished objects I desired. If you’ve ever adored a skein of yarn, but not the fabric it creates, you know exactly what I mean.

I began looking for colorful yarn that created more of a muted, soft overall color. I wanted the varied colors of hand-dyed, but in something that was really wearable for me and fit into my own style and wardrobe. Along the way, I found a couple of larger companies making the look I wanted, but not many. I wondered if I could do this myself and be able to get exactly what I wanted. I’d taken a yarn dyeing workshop with an indie dyer many years ago at a retreat and loved it. Maybe this is something I could learn?

I started watching tutorials and reading every yarn dyeing book I could get my hands on. I bought some supplies and started experimenting in my garage. Boy, was dyeing fun! Long story short: I loved it and I couldn’t stop. Sometimes I got what I wanted and sometimes I didn’t, but I was learning so much and I knew this was something I wanted to continue doing. There were other people who were looking for the same kind of yarn I was looking for and I wanted to be able to offer it to them. That’s when my yarn dyeing business became a dream I needed to make reality.

What inspires your colorways?

My colorways are inspired by nature, in two ways. There’s the usual way… something in nature catches my eye, like a flower, sunset, or landscape, and I want to recreate it. The other way nature inspires my yarn is the way I create colorways, layering and mixing colors. Have you ever looked at a purple flower really closely and realized that there are a ton more colors to it than just the purple your eye first registered? You might see purples, blues, pinks, and even maroon, brown or gray! Nature uses many hues and shades to create beautiful colors, and I use this concept in my own yarn dyeing and colorway creation. My colorways feature lots of layers of different colors to create something wearable and pleasing to the eye.

Purple, orange and pink yarn.

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

This is a great question! My favorite colors have always been orange and blue and they still are. However, creating colors from primaries really opens your mind to different hues and variations of colors. I’ve found that there isn’t a color I don’t like, if I can get the right version of it. For example, it’s not that I don’t “like” pink, it’s that I don’t like every pink. Find the right one, and it can be magical!

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

I’ve always struggled to create the perfect olive green color, but I just recently nailed it and I’m so excited about that! Something about it was such a huge challenge, and it feels good to have made it work after years of trying to get the color in my mind onto the actual yarn. The other color I think many dyers struggle with is a great black. It can be tough to get the saturation you desire.

Multicolored skeins of yarn.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Spotlight?

Nope, it’s a secret. I’m just teasing! Of course I can. For my Indie Spotlight show special, I’m offering limited quantities of several different minis sets in unique colors. These are not going to be produced again, so this is the only way to get your hands on them. They’re on a new fingering weight base I haven’t offered before and I couldn’t be more excited about it! Indie Spotlight is going to shine a light on my small business, and all I can say is it’s going to “sparkle” under it! These ready-to-ship minis sets are exclusive to Spotlight and in limited quantities.

I’m offering free shipping worldwide with any purchase of $100 or more (USD) and any order of $40 or more will receive a free stitch marker too! (These offers are valid the weekend of the event and include standard shipping only. Stitch markers are while supplies last.)

I’m also doing a How-To demo Saturday from 4-5 p.m. on Yarn Substitution from a Dyer’s Perspective, that I think will be really helpful for a lot of makers. It features ways to save money and use your stash — even the stuff you don’t think you can wear. I’ll give you tricks to make the yarn you want to use work in more patterns, and we’re going to talk a lot about color — how to substitute so it looks amazing, how to pick colors that work for you, and how to “fix” colors you love but don’t think you can wear. Be sure to join us and bring your questions!

When and how did you learn to knit?

After many attempts to learn as a child over the years, I finally learned to knit in 2005 while I was pregnant with my third child, or “Kiddle” as we like to call them. I taught myself. I had a little how-to pamphlet book from a craft store, some plastic needles and acrylic yarn. When I got stuck, I looked online at tutorials (back then they were more of the photos style, not videos like you see now) or in my pamphlet. I took out books from the library and just figured it out on my own. Ravelry was just starting out while I was learning, and that was a great resource for me, too.

A lilac sock.

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

Gosh, there are so many great ones! One of my customers chose a dark gray (now called Graphite) and an orange (Lava Lamp) to make Stephen West’s Starflake shawl during the KAL and he did SUCH an amazing job. The colors are right up my alley and I’ve wanted to make one of my own ever since. It’s gorgeous. I adore my Clayoquat sweater, designed by Tin Can Knits, and knit in Ideal DK base. It was my first (and only) steeked project and it turned out so well. I wear it all the time and it still looks great! My friend Nadine made a beautiful magenta pink version Denise Bayron’s Waves of Change Jacket in Aurora Aran and I love the way it turned out and that the Sassy Pants colorway she chose is a perfect fit for her personality! My favorite FOs of my customers are often when they choose colors that I wouldn’t normally wear or choose for myself, but they’re the exact right fit for them. I can tell how happy they are with the projects and it brings me a lot of joy to share in that with them.

What’s currently on your needles?

I’m working on a Jayne Hat for my son in custom dyed colors (any Firefly fans out there?) and I have the Current Mood shawl by Knit Graffiti going right now as well. It’s my first Brioche project and it’s a lot of fun.

An orange shawl.

You are passionate about empowering makers to use the yarn they want. What’s your favorite yarn substitution story?

This is a toughie. I help people choose and substitute yarn all the time, so it’s hard to narrow down to just one. Any time I can help someone choose a combo of “their” colors that work with a colorwork pattern in the same way it was originally designed, it’s a win in my book. There is one substitution I helped customers make a lot, and that was when Andrea Mowry’s Weekender sweater first came out. It called for worsted weight yarn, but in a very fluffy and light yarn. My Aurora base is an Aran/heavy-worsted weight, but it’s very soft and drapey and isn’t a great fit for that particular sweater if you want it to look and feel the same as the original version. I found if I worked two strands of Velvet Sock (my single-ply fingering-weight base) together, I created yarn that was worsted weight, with just the right amount of drape and spring to it to make the Weekender perfectly!

Many of my customers ordered Velvet yarn for that pattern, sometimes all in one color, and sometimes two different colors held together for a marled effect. My favorite combo was a very colorful variegated called Rustle held with a busy tonal green called Spruced Up. I have a sample in that combo and several of my customers made that exact version as well! It is a great base substitution that allowed for some fun color play and ended up using less yarn overall than making it in aran/worsted weight. So my customers saved money and got the results they were looking for, which is really satisfying.

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: 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: 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.

Weaving together Stardust in Basin

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A red and yellow sunset through mountains and a weaving project that echoes the scene.

A few weeks ago, after Robin of Birch Hollow Fibers chose an inspiration photo for her installment of Knitting Our National Parks, I contacted the photographer to get permission to use the photo and send a use fee.

Through my text thread with Nina Mayer Ritchie — her husband, Eric, was the photographer for the Great Basin National Park photo that Robin picked, but they both take the stunning photos in her feed — I learned that there was a deeper connection to the fiber arts — and a fascinating story that the reporter in me had to tell.

Nina has been taking Navajo weaving lessons from Emily Malone of the Spider Rock Girls, a family that has been weaving rugs for four generations. Emily’s mother, Rose Yazzie, owns a Hogan, a traditional dwelling of the Navajo people, and has a flock of sheep that provides the wool for their pieces, which they sell (I’m planning to post an interview with Emily as well). Above is an in-progress rug that Nina is weaving inspired by a photo she took of sunset through the “Window” at Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Nina and Eric also have an impressive track record in the national parks, having visited 48 out of 62, some with their two young children. Both Nina and Eric are MedsPeds physicians (dual board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics), and they have been working over the last several months in Chinle, Arizona, the geographic center of the Navajo Nation, which for a period of time had the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita in the country. Eric is the chief medical officer of the Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital there and Nina works with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health as a public health doctor.

I spoke with Nina about learning Navajo weaving, her family’s parks visits and about the public health response to the coronavirus in the Navajo Nation. In addition to supporting the parks, 10% from the sales of Robin’s colorway will be donated to the NDN Collective COVID-19 Response Project.

Weaving with raw fleece.

Emily Malone of the Spinder Rock Girls uses raw fleece for a weaving project.

Tell me about your weaving lessons. Have you done any other fiber crafts (knitting, crochet or spinning)?

I started taking weaving lessons from a local weaver in March 2018. She is part of a family of weavers called the Spider Rock Girls. Her mother weaves and taught her, and then she taught her daughters. They live near Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly. According to Navajo teachings, Spider Woman lives atop Spider Rock and bestowed the gift of weaving to the Navajo. The Spider Rock Girls keep their own herd of sheep and sheer them to spin the wool into yarn for weaving.

This weaver has been offering weaving lessons to a small group of us over the last few years. She made looms for all of us, and we would typically meet one to two times per month to weave and learn together. Now with COVID, that has been put on hold, but we each have our own loom at home and weave individually. I learned how to crochet with my Yiayia (grandmother) when I was a little girl, but weaving in the traditional Navajo way with a loom is completely different!

A Native American woman spinning cream-colored yarn.

Emily spinning yarn from her sheep before weaving.

It sounds like you and Eric are longtime hikers! When did you start visiting national parks?

We actually didn’t start “seriously” hiking until our honeymoon to Kauai in June 2008. After that, we immediately moved to Boston to start our residency training and found that during our off-time – without having access to a car – we would walk/hike the entire Boston area pretty regularly… roughly 11-12 miles on an average weekend day.

The first national park we visited together was the Grand Canyon, where we hiked North Rim to South Rim with my father during the last week of June 2009. It was the first time we had ever visited the Southwest, during record high temps, and we were smitten. It was one of the most formative experiences of our lives and we truly became enchanted with this part of the country. After that, we kept seeking ways to return to the Southwest to visit more national parks and to complete clinical rotations with the Indian Health Service.

We had always felt strongly about providing medical care to underserved populations and the Indian Health Service seemed like the best fit for us. As we visited more and more national parks, both out West and back East, we realized that our time spent in the parks was incredibly restorative and balancing especially while juxtaposed to our hectic schedules as medical doctors. We have visited 48 out of 62 national parks so far and it is our bucket list to visit them all together. As we started having children, our little boys visited the Grand Canyon as their first national park when they were each 2 weeks old. They have visited over 25 national parks each.

A mom and dad, each with a child on their back, pose in front of red rocks.

The Ritchies at Arches National Park in Utah.

Do you have a favorite national park?

This is the toughest question for us, and we get asked this all the time! I think we love different national parks for different reasons, and each could be considered a favorite in their own way. We are also very lucky to live close to so many of them, and we get to revisit these ones (roughly 15 of them) over and over again. Before spikes in visitation over recent years, I think we would easily say that Zion, Yosemite and Glacier were our top three, as these parks truly fill you with awe and wonder when you are immersed in them. However, as those parks have become more and more crowded, even during the “off season,” we have a new appreciation for the parks that are either off the beaten path or have enough space to really spread out. These include Death Valley and Big Bend.

A boy in front of a large tree.

James, the couple’s youngest son, in front of a Bristlecone Pine in Great Basin National Park.

What’s the story behind your photo of the tree at Great Basin?

This photo is from an incredible camping trip we took a few years ago to celebrate our youngest son’s first birthday… with the oldest living things on the planet: Bristlecone Pines in Great Basin National Park! This was his 17th national park visited during his first 12 months of life.

We had the coolest campsite up on Wheeler Peak, and spent an entire afternoon hiking around the impressive Bristlecone Pines, scouting out a favorable one to photograph later that night… My husband then hiked back out over a mile in the dark (while I stayed back, cozy with the kiddos in our camper) to reach this awesome tree and photograph it with the night sky. Such a fun memory!

How did you and Eric begin working for Native American healthcare organizations?

During our first year of residency, we attended a Grand Rounds held by two other married physicians that had completed our same residency program a few years prior. They had been working with the Indian Health Service in the middle of the Navajo Nation and everything they shared with us about their experiences truly spoke to us. We arranged to have two clinical rotations with the IHS, one in 2009 and the other in 2010, and fell in love with the communities we served. We decided to join the IHS in Chinle, AZ (the geographic center of the Navajo Nation) after completing our residencies in 2012 and have been here ever since. I transitioned into public health in 2014 with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health and Eric is still with the IHS.

Can you talk about how the COVID-19 crisis has hit the Navajo Nation and Native Americans particularly hard and what kind of work have you and your colleagues been doing to address this?

As many have probably seen in the news, the Navajo Nation had the highest rate of cases per capita in the country for a period of time. Contributing factors include remote and impoverished living conditions (difficulty accessing resources, such as medical care, grocery stores, etc.), lack of running water and electricity, multigenerational/overcrowded households where the virus can easily spread throughout the family, higher incidences of underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and lung disease, limited access to broadband/internet, as well as difficulties with “staying home” when folks have to travel long distances to obtain supplies. With strict and comprehensive public health measures, such as universal masking, social distancing, limiting capacity in essential businesses, and curfews, the Navajo Nation decreased their case counts and have been flattening the curve. The mortality rate among Navajo is still the highest of any ethnic/racial group. Through our work, and collaborations with other philanthropic groups, we have been integrally involved in the public health responses here: increasing testing, increasing hospital capacity, increasing resources and securing PPE, developing and distributing educational materials, expanding contact tracing, supporting communities through delivery of goods and water to households, etc.

A snow-covered mountain reflected in water at sunset.

Oxbow Bend at Grant Teton National Park in Wyoming.

How has the pandemic impacted your travels? As physicians, do you have any advice for people looking to safely explore the country?

The biggest way the pandemic impacted our travels is that it prevented us from taking previously scheduled time off. With Navajo Nation weekend curfews and the increased workload, we needed to stay put and work. No more weekend camping trips for around three months straight, which is very atypical for us (we usually camp almost every weekend). As things have slowly improved on the Navajo Nation, we have been able to venture out a little more, but we are sticking to dispersed/boondock camping in more remote areas to remain physically distanced from others. We are now discovering some hidden gems.

I think the advice we would offer folks looking to safely travel during pandemic times is to think about their own risk tolerance and how that (and their actions) may affect others. Getting through this is going to take a “team” effort and we all need to do our part.

Outdoor spaces are generally the safest option for recreating, and getting there by personal vehicle is preferred. Identifying places that are not crowded is ideal.
I know we all love to visit our iconic national parks but these spaces are at risk of being “loved to death,” especially during these challenging times when everyone is looking to get outdoors and away from others. It’s getting harder to achieve this as our national parks get more and more congested. I would encourage travelers to look for hidden gems closer to home in other public lands that don’t normally get as much attention as our national parks.