Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Portrait in Yarn: the hand-dyer

Nancy used to be a ceramicist (potter) and art teacher before she tore her rotator cuff in an accident and had to undergo surgery and a significant period of rehabilitation. Ceramics' loss is knitting's gain as Nancy now pours all of her creative (and entrepreneurial) energies into her fascination with fibers.

How did you get started knitting?
I first learned to knit when I was a girl, but I hadn't done anything with it in many years, until Black Sheep Knitting opened nearby in 2003. I went into the shop and I got instantly obsessed. At the time I was still teaching ceramics and art at a private school, but I remember telling the shop owners that working in the store would be my ideal job. Eventually I began working there part-time; then I started teaching knitting classes as well. I'm now retired from my school teaching job and I work in the shop, teach classes, and run my hand-dying business on the side.

How did the hand-dying start?
It was Dani, of Sunshine Yarns, who got me started. She now lives and runs her business in Colorado, but when she started she was also working at Black Sheep Knitting in Needham {ed: Massachusetts}. She showed me how to dye yarn, and later I took a class to learn more. Out of that I started my hand-dying business.

How do you sell your yarn?
Bashful Bags and Fibers is my retail line, which I sell through shops like Fresh Purls. I'm not in a lot of shops. Right now I don't produce that much yarn, and it's usually in small lots, so I'm not really set up with color cards and a line of established yarns, like larger dyers. I also have an online store on Etsy called ChestnutBayFibers that I started with my sister. We both have horses: hers is a chestnut, mine's a bay, so that's how we came up with the name! Recently my sister left the business, so ChestnutBayFibers is just me right now.

Why Bashful BAGS and fibers?
Oh! I sew knitting bags. I have my own designs which I sew, typically using Amy Butler fabrics.

Where do you do your actual dying?
In my basement at home. I have a room down there that used to be my ceramics studio, but now pots of dye are stacked on the potter's wheel. I have my base dye colors pre-mixed in jugs, and I pour them out and mix them in small batches, then apply them to skeins of yarn. Some people set their colors by steaming the yarn in pots on the stove, but I prefer to soak it in a solution of white vinegar and slowly cook it in an old microwave. It works quite well. But the reds are the hardest to set. Even after steaming you have to rinse the yarn really well to get the loose dye out.

Where do you get your undyed yarn?
From a variety of sources! I'm working with a lot of different fibers. I've found that they take the dye differently, which is one of the things that makes it interesting. I've tried a lot of different combinations of wool, cotton, silk and alpaca in weights from lace to chunky. The yarn comes in cones, and I spend a fair amount of time winding and measuring the undyed yarn into skeins. It's rehab for my shoulder. I've started experimenting with dying unspun roving, too.

What's next for your dying business?
I've been giving that some thought lately. Right now it's a one-woman operation: I do the purchasing, the dying, the order fulfillment -- even taking photos and updating my Etsy store with new content. I have to decide if I want the business to get bigger, which would probably require me to get more people involved.

1 comment:

  1. I'm almost done with one of your kits; the "Embrace Shawl". Love the colors!