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.

What to stash this week: Nurturing your garden

A dusky pink knit hat with a floral pattern.

I’m excited to introduce you to the Winter Garden Hat, a new pattern by Faye Kennington, and to the recently-launched Knitrino app. This pattern, which is available only on Knitrino, features an addictive flower bobble stitch — long stitches that are wrapped over the previous work — that makes the most stunning textured fabric. Faye used Julie Asselin Nurtured, a blend of Rambouillet, Targhee and Merino, in the Indie Untangled exclusive Leaf Pile colorway. The Small size, which fits a 21″-22″ head, requires only one skein, while the Large (23″-24″) and Extra Large (25″-26″) sizes take two.

This is a great way to try out Knitrino, a new app for interactive knitting patterns. The founders, sisters Alison Yates and Andrea Cull, describe it as how Google Maps changed the atlas — it turns knitting patterns into an interactive experience. The patterns are designed to allow you to focus only on the row you’re working on, plus you can view video instructions with the click of a stitch and track your progress as you follow the pattern. You can download Knitrino on your Android and Apple devices.

To celebrate the release of the Winter Garden Hat, you’ll receive a Knitrino project bag free with any purchase of Nurtured in Leaf Pile, while supplies last.

Skeins of gray, white, pink and gold yarn.

Speaking of Julie Asselin, it’s the last call for Nurtured Mini Boxes, a special partnership for Indie Untangled. You have a choice of three color combinations, each one consisting of six mini skeins so you can try out this rustic Aran-weight yarn and see the nuanced colors in real life. The boxes are available to preorder only through this Monday, January 11.

Melted clocks and the words Salvador Dali 2021 Monthly Yarn Club.

Lisa The Knitting Artist is taking inspiration from another artist, Salvador Dalí, for her new yarn club. During each month of 2021, she will create a new colorway inspired by one of his works, starting with his earliest and ending with his last. Each installment will come with one or two small relating relating to that month’s color and card of fun facts about the artist. Signups are open on a rolling basis.

Hedgehogs holding hearts.

Celebrate love with these adorable heart-holding hedgehogs from Jillian of WeeOnes. She also has monthly surprise stitch markers themed around Hibernation.

Twinkling lights in snow and the words Fairies in the snow mystery knitalong.

Lena of Softyarn Designs is reuniting with Jilly and Kiddles for the Fairies In the Snow MKAL. The knit is a crescent-shaped shawl made with two skeins of fingering/sock yarn and the pattern is 40% off through Tuesday with code Fairies.

Michele of Misfit Yarns is debuting two mystery yarn clubs for 2021. The first, which runs from February to July, is inspired by the TV show The Office and the second, which runs from February to June, is inspired by the Great Lakes.

Colorful round metal loops next to a silver tin labeled with the words Yank Your Yarn.

Bonnie of Yank Your Yarn has new multicolored wire stitch markers in sets of 30 or 50, in addition to her silver and square markers with a variety of colored beads.

Indie Untangled 2020 Year In Review Part 2: Indie makers

Blue marled stockinette fabric and the words Indie Untangled 2020 Year in Review

There’s definitely nothing quite like showing off your latest FO, either at a fiber festival or online (and I’ve definitely spent this year trying to perfect the art of the knitwear selfie!). I really enjoyed seeing what people have finished in 2020 with yarn from Indie Untangled dyers.

Here’s a roundup of ones that caught my eye and that were also submitted by Indie Untangled followers.

Sweaters

A red colorwork sweater

Jeraldine’s Knitorious RBG by Park Williams in The Wandering Flock Worsted Merino and Mohair Fluff

A man with a dog wearing a colorwork sweater.

Spalding’s Noux by Suvi Simola in La Bien Aimée Cashmerino and La Bien Aimée Mohair Silk (purchased at IU 2019) and various other companies

A gray and purple colorwork sweater.

Danielle’s Junction by Andrea Mowry with Dark Harbour Yarn

A pink gradient sweater.

Maggie’s V-Back Tee DK by Jamie Hoffman in SpaceCadet Lyra Sport

A green sweater.

Stacy’s Magnolia Chunky Cardigan by Camilla Vad in Murky Depths Harbour and Mirage

A gray speckled sweater.

Kathy’s Ursa in Lavender Lune Yarn Co. Bulky

A grey sweater with rainbow stripes.

Nathalie’s True Friend by Veera Välimäki in Canon Hand Dyes Bruce Yak Merino Fingering and Canon Hand Dyes Bruce Yak Silk Singles

An orange colorwork sweater.

Kim’s Threipmuir by Ysolda Teague in Astral Bath Yarns Astral Sport

Shawls

A brown red and blue shawl.

Stephanie’s Slipstravaganza in Undercover Otter, Three Irish Girls and various other companies

A purple striped shawl.

Alexis’s Edison in Birch Hollow Fibers Phillis DK

A large fuchsia shawl.

Donna’s Jolene by Bristol Ivy in Skeinny Dipping Journey Worsted

A purple lacy shawl.

Adrienne’s Paris Toujours by Isabell Kraemer in Astral Bath Yarns Tesseract DK

Socks

Purple striped socks.

Marie’s Simple Skyp Socks by Adrienne Ku in Canon Hand Dyes

What to stash this week: Giving and receiving

A cotton bag with an orange and brown flower pattern filled with orange-labeled beauty products.

Kismet of Lolo Body Care is passionate about giving back. Throughout the year, aside from soothing crafters’ skin with moisturizing body bars, lip balm and face lotion, the company also supports several non-profit organizations, including making a donation to One Tree Planted, which fights climate change by planting trees, every time a LoLo Eco-Bag is purchased. For this holiday season, Kismet has extended that promotion to every order. 

In addition, 5% of all Lolo Body Care holiday sales will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, which supports and builds affordable housing. 

A skein of gray yarn speckled with gold on top of a ball of navy yarn.

I brought together super soft Cashmere yarn from fellow Brooklynites Rebecca Kevelson of Clinton Hill Cashmere and Geraldine Yang of The Wandering Flock for my Cashmenorah hat. I think this combination of bespoke yarn and unique hand-dyed would look beautiful in so many other mosaic hat patterns, so I’m offering the yarn as a bundle and including one discounted pattern of your choice. Check out my pattern suggestions here. I’m currently working on using these yarns together for a mosaic constellations hat, so if that intrigues you, snag the yarn while it’s still available!

A green sweater with multicolored bobbles.

Stephanie Earp has released a fun sweater design that’s perfect for mini skeins or playing with leftovers — or get a dyed-to-order kit from dyer Annie Paaren. The Bobble Buster sweater comes in both kids and adult sizes, and Stephanie is hosting a cast-on party over on Instagram in the New Year.

A golden mountain reflected in a lake, and light blue yarn speckled with gold and purple.

Rachel of Six and Seven Fiber’s wintry Grand Teton-inspired colorway is available to preorder on Indie Untangled through next Sunday, December 27 on three bases: Alfalfa, a luxurious 80/10/10 Superwash Merino/Cashmere/nylon heavy fingering-weight yarn, and Amaranth and Soybean, two rustic but soft non-Superwash Merino fingering and DK-weight yarns that would make excellent sweaters.

Six mini skeins of gray, white, purple and aqua yarn.

This set of Julie Asselin’s Nurtured yarn, a unique blend of Rambouillet, Targhee and Merino that Julie and Jean-François hand dye before it’s spun at Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont, is definitely one of my favorites, with the aqua Picnic and deep plum Tisane that brings out the pinks in the special Leaf Pile colorway (third from the top).

This is one of three color combinations available in the Nurtured Mini Boxes from Indie Untangled. These sets come with six mini skeins so you can try out this rustic Aran-weight yarn and see the nuanced colors in real life. The boxes are available to preorder only through January 8.

Champagne glasses and confetti in jewel tones.

After packaging and shipping out 100+ new year countdown boxes, and auctioning one off the benefit the American Nurses Foundation, Inc., I have several extra goodies that I decided to put together in mini mystery packs. You’ll receive four 20g, 87-92-yard, fingering-weight mini skeins dyed in coordinating jewel tones and one non-yarn goodie. (Please note that these packages are not individually wrapped and will ship on December 28.)

Stitch markers in red and white peppermint candy colors.

If you need a last minute stocking stuffer, Amanda of Doodle Dew Designs has some Christmas stitch markers left! This includes markers made with real candy canes and with fun holiday colors.

Stardust Fiber Studio has a new Winter Wonderland collection.

The knitter’s bookshelf: A gift list from Indie Untangled

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A book sits in front of a pile of colorful knitwear.

As much as I’ve embraced the digital world, there is definitely still part of me that needs physical books in my life. I know it’s cliché, but flipping through the pages, taking in printed photographs and taking pride in a colorful stack of spines on your bookshelf or nightstand… It’s actually kind of similar to having a yarn stash. I probably won’t knit every single pattern in every book I own, but I appreciate knowing that they’re there, to take me on a journey when I might need it most.

I’ve come across many books over the past few years, and while I don’t think I can do them all justice with a “proper” book review, I thought it would be helpful to provide a guide to some of the ones that have found a special place on my IKEA Kallax. And if you happen to find the perfect holiday gift, even better! (This posts contains affiliate links, meaning a small percentage of your purchase may benefit Indie Untangled.)

Wool & Pine Book One

I may be biased about this book because I’m offering it in the Indie Untangled shop, but the reason I decided to carry this book is why I’d recommend it. I’ve admired the designs of Abbye and Selena, the team that makes up Wool & Pine, since I first saw the Sorrel sweater pop up on my Instagram feed. Aside from being a bound collection of the pair’s patterns and gorgeous photographs, the book provides access to video tutorials with instructions and tips for each design. I know I’m going to be referring to the Sorrel videos after I start my sweater.

The book is also bound in a way that it stays open to the page you need very easily. I certainly love the look of matte or hardcover books with thick spines, however, I find that if I want to knit from them I need to photocopy the pages or download the PDF (this book also comes with access to the PDF patterns if you prefer to knit from one).

The Power of Knitting: Stitching Together Our Lives in a Fractured World

by Loretta Napoleoni

I wasn’t familiar with Loretta Napoleoni until earlier this year, when her assistant contacted me about this new book. Napoleoni is a journalist who has covered the financing of terrorism — her first book, Terror Inc: Tracing the Money Behind Global Terrorism, is a bestseller that has been translated into 12 languages. The topic of knitting is decidedly softer, but Loretta tackles it with a well-researched expertise, weaving together the history of our craft with her personal experiences.

The book does include 10 patterns at the end, including a version of the Pussy Hat called the Pussy Power Hat. While the patterns seem a bit like an afterthought, and I think Loretta’s writing is strong enough to stand on its own, it is nice that they have connections to passages in the book, and the simple illustrations are quite lovely.

Seasonal Slow Knitting: Thoughtful Projects for a Handmade Year

by Hannah Thiessen

I was already a fan of Hannah Thiessen’s first book, Slow Knitting, which was everything I could ever want in a knitting book: stories about the creators of artisanal yarns that I’ve been fortunate to work with, including Anne Hanson, Jill Draper, Julie Asselin and mYak, and beautiful patterns to tie these stories together. Seasonal Slow Knitting is just what it sounds like, breaking up our mindful craft into seasons.

Whereas Slow Knitting brought together patterns from a variety of designers, Hannah designed all 10 patterns in this book, which was released in October, so the collection feels much more cohesive and is a beautiful showcase for the rustic yarns.

Vanishing Fleece: Adventures in American Wool

by Clara Parkes

No knitter’s bookshelf is complete without the work of “yarn whisperer” Clara Parkes. In this book, released last fall, Clara recounts her Great White Bale project, in which she crowdsourced the transformation of a 676-pound bale of fleece into skeins that found their way into the hands of knitters. As you may know if you read my newsletter, I’m a sucker for a road trip, especially one that includes yarn, and Clara is an expert guide, taking us along with her to Catskills Merino in New York to the Saco River Dyehouse in Maine and many places in between, all in the pursuit of yarn.

Two people wearing knitted items stand in snow next to horses.

Knits About Winter

by Emily Foden

I knew that I needed this book on my shelf ever since I heard that it was being published by Pom Pom Press. Emily Foden of Viola was one of the first indie dyers that I fell for as a new yarn collector and the 12 patterns in this book show them off beautifully. I haven’t knit any of them yet, however I scored two skeins of her Shadow DK (a blend of Polwarth, Wensleydale and Zwartbles) in a shop update over the summer and realized it’s the perfect match for her Skyhill hat.

The book is filled with beautifully styled and composed shots of knitwear against the snowy backdrop of Emily’s home in Ontario, Canada, though for me it is definitely meant for admiring and not knitting from. Fortunately, the book comes with a code to download a PDF version via Ravelry.

What to stash this week: Trick or knit

Brown leather cases.

Stephanie Earp has a sequel and a rebrand for her needle case. Her Knitter’s Book Case is now called The Original Case, and is joined by two new designs, The Flip Case and The Stretch Case. available to preorder in leather through November 9. The Flip Case stores up to eight needle tips, and has two pockets for cables, while the Stretch Case allows you to access your notions without having to open the whole case up.

Winter wishes illustration.

If you missed out on A Twisted Year’s End, participant Anzula Luxury Fibers has put together another multi-dyer/maker December box, teaming up with Lorna’s Laces, Mod Yarns, Mrs. Crosby Yarn, Slipped Stitch Studios and Tattooed Ewe for a package of yarn, project bags, notions and more. There are three sizes and three different color schemes to choose from to light up your December.

Rows of rainbow colored yarn.

If you’re in need of some comfort knitting, be sure to check out the yarns from Rebecca from WildWestDye. She specializes in all naturally-dyed yarn, which she hand dyes in her home studio in British Columbia (and ships with flat-rate shipping). Rebecca has also developed kits for a variety of projects. From cosy socks and hats to blankets, there are colorful kits for every style of knitting. Some kits even come in cakes that are big enough for an entire project, meaning fewer ends to weave in, making it even easier and more comforting. 

Skeins of pink, green and gold yarn.

Sharon of Garage Dyeworks has a new base called Bentley DK, a non-Superwash Merino with a generous 328 yards per 100g skein. These colorways and more will be on her website this week.

Natural colored socks.

Before the end of October, make sure to check out Gothfarm’s sock special: Buy one sock yarn, get another skein 40% off with the coupon code “sockz” at checkout.

A long taupe cardigan.

Get 25% off Lena’s new Tasselated Cardigan, an easy piece to knit with a sideways cuff-to-cuff construction, through Sunday with code Tasselated on Ravelry and Etsy. 

The October Virtu-Wool Fiber Festival is getting a little spooky, with 22 vendors sharing some “tricks” of the trade in 45-minute live video sessions.

Black and red yarn and fiber.

Natalie of Fiberdog Fibers is also getting spooky. Her Halloween colorway, Beyond the Veil, is available as both yarn and fiber, dyed on 100% Corriedale cross wool.

Get your order in for the Fall Sock of the Season Club, a nature-inspired mystery kit collaboration between Jilly & Kiddles and BritStitchery Designs.

Orange and black paw charms.

If you want to do some last-minute “stitch or treating” there are still some Halloween stitch markers left in the Doodle Dew Designs shop.

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Birdie Parker

A woman with red dyed hair and black glasses.

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

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

How did you decide to study metalsmithing in college?

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

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

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

Leaf shaped earrings with etched knitting stitches.

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

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

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

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

A silver bracelet with stockinette stitches etched into it.

When and how did you learn to knit?

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

Do you enjoy other crafts in addition to knitting?

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

A leather cuff with silver stitches.

What are your favorite skeins in your stash?

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

A leather tray with the image of a yarn ball.

Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.

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

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Deep Dyed Yarn

Stephanie Stratton of Deep Dyed Yarn.

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

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

Tell me about how you got started dyeing yarn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When and how did you learn to knit?

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

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

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

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

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

Since you sell fiber, do you spin?

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

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

In no particular order:

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

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

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

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

What’s currently on your needles?

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

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: 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.