As an artist, Ridgely Schantz has long brought colors to life on paper and canvas. A few years ago, she added wool to the list, unleashing such striking and complex colorways as Famous Blue Raincoat and Scheherazade on the knitting world. (Seriously. The names of her colors — inspired by mythology, alchemy, movie titles and many other things — are almost as awesome as the colors themselves.)
Only weeks after learning to knit, Ridgely decided to take a dyeing workshop with designer Bristol Ivy at the Portland Fiber Gallery near her home in Maine. A snowstorm the day before didn’t stop Ridgely from attending and, fortunately for those of us on the hunt for that Ultimate Shade of _______, dyeing yarn was not as mysterious as she had imagined.
Coincidentally, after I wrote about the Astral Bath open house last week, my good friend Jess saw my post on Facebook and told me that she’d met Ridgely years ago when she lived in NYC, and remembers the amazing tea paintings she did.
While a skein of Astral Bath may not be as big of an investment as a painting, Ridgely’s yarn is no less coveted than a work of art. Her Etsy shop routinely sells out within minutes of an update. The demand for Ridgely’s gorgeous yarn was actually one of the reasons behind my decision to launch Indie Untangled — I wanted to give knitters a head start in snagging a skein or sweater quantity of Circe or Snackwagon.
As you sit tight for word on Ridgely’s next update, there’s an opportunity to win a skein that she dyed up especially for one lucky reader.
Describe the meaning behind the name Astral Bath.
It’s kind of silly. Around 2010 I put together a website to catalogue my paintings and drawings, and I called the site Astral Bathysphere Cartography. I liked the ABC of it all, and I liked the image of my imagination floating around in an antique diving bell and mapping its adventures. So when I decided to open a shop to sell my yarn, I wanted a name that tied my work with color and yarn to my other creative work. So I grabbed the part of the name that could plausibly refer to dyeing. Also, on another tangent, I was thinking about the intensive Ancient Egyptian embalming processes, where the spirit has left the body, so the body must be “put away” neatly in case it’s needed later. In my case, I’m preparing a body (yarn) to accept a new spirit (color).
Can you say how painting and drawing informs your work as a dyer?
When I started dyeing, I told my mom it was like painting but on a hyperdimensional surface. I think most of how my prior experience as a painter/draughtsman has informed my current work is that I’m comfortable putting a new idea to the test. If it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else. Creating something new doesn’t have to be a white-knuckle experience. Furthermore, I’m extremely comfortable with materials and have always been curious about how to combine them in interesting ways. I’ve always taken an alchemical approach to my painting, so this is in many ways and extension of that and a perfect way to demonstrate how art, craft and science can share the same space.
Do you have a favorite color or colors?
When you asked me that, my mind flooded with all of them. When I say it’s red, it’s really only a certain kind of red—think of the brightest, richest, most light-infused cherry you can think of. It’s not pink but it’s got so much clarity and brilliance under its surface, it hints that way. And I love navy blue and deep teal and black grape and piercing purples. I could go on all day. Lately, I’ve been learning about greys and really getting into their possible varieties. I never wore grey growing up, and I love a new adventure.
Is there a color that you would love to dye, but that is challenging to create?
I’ve been laboring over The Perfect Green off and on for the past few months. Greens are easy to make but hard to perfect and in this process, I’m learning exactly what parts of the green family attract me, and why. The Perfect Green is hard to describe, of course, but it’s a blue-leaning without going teal, and saturated. Slightly darker than medium, but not all the way to pine. I always catch myself humming “Greensleeves” while I’m working on it so it definitely has something medieval going on. There are definitely some contenders in the hand-dyed world, but so far, none of them have been mine. Plucky’s Pinehurst and Tosh’s Laurel live in the same neighborhood, if that helps.
What are the most valuable things you’ve learned as you’ve been running Astral Bath Yarns?
Time management (still getting the hang of that one) and sequential prioritization come to mind first. I’m really getting a handle on “OK, first I need to do this, then this, then this.” Similar skills to what I imagine a chef or a lab chemist might pick up on the job.
Tell me about your non-dyeing background. I know you’ve worked for the menswear designer Alan Flusser. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Virginia Beach. I never felt very much like a local, even though I loved the beach and being so close to the water and made friends and so forth. There isn’t much imbedded culture there; it’s still a tourist town with a naval base and people tend to come and go. I had a pretty idyllic suburban childhood, with more than the usual swimming hours clocked in. But when I hit high school, I got good grades so I could go away to school. Most of the really interesting kids in my school pretty much did the same thing. Fun fact: my high school crush turned into an art world darling.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not dyeing or knitting?
It’s sort of scary how little time there is outside of that nowadays. So, I’m trying to get the hang of balance. That said, I still have a drawing habit and I’ve been getting the needlepoint urge again. And I will read anything with words on it.
For the giveaway, Ridgely dyed this skein of blurple that she named George Cukor, after the director of such classic films as The Women, My Fair Lady (a personal fave) and The Philadelphia Story. To enter, comment on this post and tell us your favorite movie.1 You have until the end of the day my time on Sunday, June 29, and then I’ll be picking a winner by random number generator. Good luck!
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