This is the fifth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Spotlight, taking place from May 14-16, 2021.
I first heard rumblings about Hudson + West during Rhinebeck 2019, where the rustic yarn brand had a soft debut, at the same fiber festival where the idea took root. This small company, started by friends Meghan Babin, the former editor of Interweave Knits, and Sloane Rosenthal, a knitwear designer, source and produce their yarns in the U.S., using a traceable, sustainable, and fair supply chain.
You can look forward to learning more about their two bases, Weld and Forge, and their stylish line of patterns at their virtual shopping sessions, and also learn more about the production of their yarns during their Let’s Talk About Wool session at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Tell us the story of how Hudson and West came to be.
Hudson + West started with two friends who were on parallel paths towards the same goal: making a yarn that would make the kinds of garments we would love to wear and could wear anywhere. Meghan and I met when I was an indie designer (and a full-time lawyer) and she was the editor in chief of Interweave Knits, when she hired me to design the sweater that became Tangled Up in Gray. We got to know each other and worked together on a number of projects over the next few years, and in 2018, both of us were trying to figure out what was next for us in the industry and were both talking to Mary Jeanne Packer, the owner of Battenkill Valley Fibers, about making yarn. MJ suggested that we work together, and we traded samples of potential yarns and got to talking at Rhinebeck in 2018 about how to make a yarn that would have the balance of durability, wearability, and ready-to-wear inspired polish that we craved, while doing it responsibly, ethically, and here in the US. H+W was born from those early conversations at Rhinebeck that year, and we opened to the public in November 2019.
How have you found the sheep breeders you work with?
In our early batches of yarn, we bought our Corriedale from individual farmers and breeders in the Hudson Valley, mainly from farmers with some existing ties to either the Hudson Valley wool pool, or to MJ and our mill directly. We now work with a broader range of farmers in both the Hudson Valley and throughout the northeast and midwest, and buy a range of both raw fleece and combed Corriedale top, since our production needs have now (happily!) grown beyond being able to buy on a farm-by-farm basis. Like most US producers who use Merino, we get our Merino top from Chargeurs in South Carolina, which sources US-grown, ethically raised Merino from Colorado and New Mexico and scours and cards it for us.
How do both of you work together to decide on your color palette?
We have always been pretty aligned when it comes to the color palette, at least in terms of the broad guardrails: the colors had to be really easy to wear in a variety of settings, and feel rich and opulent and saturated while allowing some of the yarn’s underlying heathering to come through. We typically start with Pantone chips, and then I hand-dye samples in my office until we get the shade and saturation right (occasionally alarming my family members when I have multiple crock-pots of ten gram samples going in the bathroom of my office!). We look at those samples under a variety of lighting conditions and in the context of the rest of the existing palette, and the winners go to our dyehouse (Ultimate Textile in North Carolina) to go through their lab dip process and have the first test batches made.
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?
We were super fortunate that we have a lot of overlapping skill sets, but also some distinct experiences that we bring to the table. Both of us are knitwear designers, and we have a lot in common in terms of our aesthetic sense and our overall creative vision for the company, so we collaborate very closely on both design work and those higher-level creative decisions. Meghan has a lot of experience with things like designer recruitment, managing editorial production, commercial photoshoots, and working with other third party publishers, all of which have been really critical to the development of our pattern support program, which has been a really important part of our journey in bringing our yarns to the world. Because of my legal background and previous start-up (and start-up adjacent) experience, and an admittedly deep love of spreadsheets, I end up having a lot of facility with more of the business back end and the production side, as well as managing our wholesale program. But overall, despite our geographically disparate setup, it’s a really free-flowing work environment, and we collaborate every day on both small and large-scale decisions.
Tell me about how each of you learned how to knit?
Meghan: My mom taught me the basics one weekend when I was home from college (I think I was about 19), and she had just learned how to knit, purl, cast on, and bind off. She promptly stopped knitting right after teaching me, but I kept on teaching myself, learning, taking classes, and experimenting with different yarns and techniques.
Sloane: Despite my mom, my best friend, and my mother-in-law both being knitters, I didn’t grow up knitting, and I actually taught myself after my older daughter was born in 2011. I was struggling with anxiety (like a lot of new moms), and the meditative nature of knitting really helped me at the time. I then got fascinated by the materials science of knitting and how our yarn affects our projects (after a few real bloopers on that score), and fell completely off the cabled sweater deep end shortly thereafter.
Can you share some of your plans for Indie Spotlight?
We’re so looking forward to meeting new folks and talking about yarn! We love hearing from knitters about what’s important to them and how and what they like to knit — it’s part of what we’ve missed about this strange, trade-show-less year+. We’re also so excited to introduce Meghan’s wonderful Sunset Shawl, our show special, and to meeting some other wonderful new indie producers.
Do you enjoy other crafts in addition to knitting?
Meghan: Where to start? I enjoy so many crafts, but I definitely don’t have enough time in the day, weeks, or years to practice them all. I’ve ventured into crochet fairly well, spinning + weaving as well not as well, embroidery with enthusiasm, sewing haphazardly, and I’ve always loved cooking, baking, and mixology. I’ve always wanted to try home brewing beer, but I think I’ll have to make friends with an avid home-brewer willing to teach me.
Sloane: Mostly drawing and painting, which I find incredibly relaxing. I also love baking (especially with my kids), and block printing.
Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.
Meghan: I’m currently making myself, for the first time ever, a gorgeous black sweater. It’s Sloane’s Adams in Weld in Raven and I’m loving its sweet, simple texture. I can’t wait to wear it this winter! I als have several swatches going for our Autumn/Winter collection.
Sloane: I’m working on Melody Hoffman’s Aito shawl (from an old issue of Laine) in Forge in Cabernet. I’ve never been a huge shawl knitter (I mostly do sweaters and hats), but I’ve been on a kick of exploring shawls in my personal knitting this year, and it’s been really interesting to a) knit from someone else’s patterns and b) explore knitting something I don’t tend to gravitate towards. I’ve also really loved having something warm to put around my shoulders while I’m working!