One of my favourite features on the blog is sharing interviews with all the creative individuals I meet with all of you. Today is no exception and I’m delighted to share an interview with Emma Robinson of Woolly Mammoth Fibre Co. based in Northern Ireland. I met Emma during the Yarnfolk festival last August and instantly fell in love with her ideas. Emma runs a spinning and dye studio and is always happy to chat about all things fibre related. Her Instagram feed is a thing of beauty and it gives you an idea of just how much Emma loves what she does. I’m also a huge fan of natural dyeing and so I asked Emma if she would like to have a chat and talk about her wonderful yarns:
Emma Robinson of Woolly Mammoth Fibre Co.
Hi Emma, Can you give us an insight into your creative background?
I started out studying photography at art college in London. I really enjoyed this experience and I met a lot of interesting folks that got me started in making with fibre as well as with photography. Our tutors encouraged us to be experimental in our approach to making and had no hesitation when I wanted to do some weaving/ woodwork as part of my photography course. Around this time I met Kim Smith through a mutual friend, (she is a wonderful maker who now has a shop in Bristol called Alterknit Universe!), who thought me to knit and spin, and encouraged me to try out natural dyeing! This is where it really all started- I bought my own wheel, graduated, moved home to Co. Antrim and started my photography business, specialising in architectural imagery. I still love photography, and I photograph regularly for architects all over the island of Ireland.
What was the main influence for starting Woolly Mammoth Fibers?
The main influence for starting Woolly Mammoth was as a creative outlet. A few years after I had started my photography business I really felt I needed some time to just make, explore and experiment in a more loose way. I started spinning more and knitting, and I knew I wanted to get back to natural dyeing. I also knew I was going to end up with too much yarn before very long, with a number of colours/dyestuffs etc I wanted to try! I needed an outlet, and I decided to do go all out and order a large amount of yarn form Laxton’s Mill in Yorkshire to give it a go and start an online shop!
Can you tell us where the name comes from?
Good question! For a long time before Woolly Mammoth Fibre Co was official, my husband and I had a joke about starting a yarn shop. He kept calling it “Woolly Mammoth”- it may have been because my pile of yarn was rapidly growing larger! I’m not sure why, but the name just stuck. Apart from that, they were quite an interesting animal!
Why does your brand stand out in this competitive industry?
I guess my brand stands out because my method of making is a little different from others- I only use non-superwash yarns (woolly wools which are spun in Laxton’s Mill, Yorkshire). I love all the beautiful British breeds of yarn you can get- Wensleydale, BFL, Masham, Manx Loaghtan, Swaledale etc, and the large majority of these yarns are in my shop! I do have some Falkland Merino and some Swedish Gotland for sale too. I also use natural dyes on all my yarn. I use as much foraged/ homegrown/ kitchen waste dyes as possible as I feel this makes my yarn ultra special! Where I can’t get colours I’d like locally, I use extracts. So my whole process of natural dyeing is a lot slower than acid dyeing, but I feel it adds some provenance to the whole thing!
I also carry a small range of handspun fibres, which is something else a little special. To top it all off I had my logo designed by illustrator Anna Hussey, who really understood my aesthetic and vision! It was amazing to work with someone who just understood your brand and what it was all about from the get-go.
What does being an indie dyer mean to you?
Being an indie dyer means that I can satisfy the creative part of myself off-screen (with the architectural photography I am often editing on the computer), and it means I can immerse myself in the creative process, a space I felt like I hadn’t had since art college. It also means I am part of a big community of lovely people, who love making too!
Currently, which is your favourite of your yarns and why?
My current favourite handspun has to be Swaledale- it’s so warm, cosy and strong. Swaledale is mountain sheep, but incredibly the yarn feels sheepy but still soft! I have made myself mittens and a hat- neither of which I have any trouble wearing. It also is brilliantly lofty, and I am loving the light grey shade I have been spinning recently.
As for my naturally dyed yarns, it’s really hard to pick!!! I am loving my Mustard Green colourway (in all the bases- Wensleydale, BFL/Masham), and I am loving the Falkland Merino in the colourway Bog Cotton.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is different for me. Some days I am photographing and travelling a lot, other days I am dyeing and spinning. Interspersed with this are days to sort out accounts, admin, e-mails, Instagram posts etc but most evenings I am knitting if I get a chance!
How do you stay motivated during creative down periods?
I would say I stay motivated by making something for myself- with no pressure attached. Either spinning or knitting (or both!), just experimenting or trying out a new technique. Alternatively, I find my local Guild of Spinners Weavers and Dyers a great place to get motivated and learn!
What’s in the future for Woolly Mammoth Fibers?
I have lots of ideas surrounding themed yarn and photography which I would love to make happen early next year! I would also love to keep doing lots of spinning demonstrations, maybe do a collaboration with someone woolly or creative and perhaps someday I’d like to take on a few wholesale orders! Watch this space!
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today Emma! If you want to follow along on Emma’s woolly journey you can do that via Instagram (@woollymammothfibres) where you can catch a glimpse of her beautiful photography and fall in love with that woolly grid just like I did. Please pop over and give her a big hello! If you would like to try some yarn from the Woolly Mammoth Fibre Co. you can pop over to her brand new website www.woollymammothfibrecompany.com . Her next shop update is scheduled for November 30th at 7pm GMT so pop that date in your diary folks!
Thank you all so much for joining me and I will be back on Monday with some more crafty posts.
Best wishes for the weekend ahead!
**All photography is under the copyright of Emma Robinson.
Have you ever considered starting your own yarn company? Today we chat with Daphne Marinopoulos who did just that. Daphne founded The Fibre Co. back in 2003 in Portland, Main, USA and today, she now runs a beautiful global brand from the UK. Daphne very kindly took the time to answer some questions for the blog on starting a yarn company, working with independent designers and the importance of sustainability within the industry.
Hi Daphne, Can you give us an insight into your creative background?
I grew up in an era when all young girls learned to sew. I made my own clothes, embroidered my bell bottom denim jeans and knitted woollen scarves. I was guided towards a non-creative career but always had something going on as a creative outlet. I’ve enjoyed the creative process in sketching, painting, beading, knitting, sewing, mosaics, and renovating old houses over the years.
What was your main influence for starting The Fibre Co.?
It was a personal love of textiles, knitting and natural fibres in general that drove me to start The Fibre Co. I was in a career transition and looking for something to do that was based on something I had a passion for. I wanted to create products to knit with that I had dreamt of but could not find on the shop shelves.
What has been your most memorable success to date?
By far, my most memorable success is having fostered an environment that has attracted the most amazing people who make up The Fibre Co. team.
Open Waters Shawl by Melanie Berg in The Fiber Co. Canopy Fingering
What are the core values of The Fibre Co.?
The original brand statement for The Fibre Co. back in 2003 was:
Fibre expressed as art. Crafted with a passion for the unusual in beauty and texture with subtle variances, intentionally imperfect. These are the characteristics that make up our unique artisan yarns, ready to receive your artistry and inspiration.
Not much has changed over the years as we are still all about sharing a heartfelt passion and creating yarns inspired by nature. As we’ve grown in our fibre journey, we have been able to expand on our ideas and in addition to being passionate about what we do, we now include collaboration, sharing, helping, nurturing and respectfulness on our list of core values. We believe our purpose is to nurture and inspire others by using colours and texture to encourage creativity, bring a sense of well-being and allow all makers achieve their goals.
We’re also very much about the independent designer community. It is humbling to know that the best of the best designers use our yarns – and we’re keen to promote their work and encourage new talent.
Finally, I would add that it has always been about the triple bottom line for The Fibre Co.—people, profit and planet. We’re always asking ourselves how we can improve our sustainability. We know that sustainability is an essential ingredient for our long-term success. We understand that sustainability is a process and see ourselves as a greening business constantly looking for ways to improve our impact on the environment.
What has been the most challenging thing you have had to overcome with The Fibre Co.?
My biggest challenge is carving out time to step out of the day-to-day and give myself the space to observe, think and create. I’m working on it and learning that trust is the key to building an environment that will keep me on top of this challenge.
by Fiona Alice in The Fibre Co. Arranmore; Fell Garth Collection II
How do you make your brand stand out in this competitive industry?
We genuinely care about our community — our stockists, independent designers, knitters, and those who tell the great stories about our industry like Cottage Notebook. I also really love the team that I work with. Caring and loving is a recipe for success no matter what one does in life.
Currently, what is your favourite yarn that you produce and why?
My favourite yarn is the one that I’m working with at any given moment. No really, it’s true! My favourite yarn turns out to be whichever one is in my hands — whether I’m working on new colours, test knitting a new yarn or making up sample cards. If you press me though, I’d say that Terra is very close to my heart as one of the very first yarns I created and with which I learned and developed the art of dyeing.
Many of us have dreams of giving everything up and starting a yarn company but in reality, what does a typical working day look like for you?
My days start early and end late! The typical day begins by reviewing my key projects, making a list of who I need to reach out to, and setting out priorities for the things I must do that day. Sound familiar? Its really what I’ve done throughout my working life, only now with The Fibre Co., I have a passion for the product and community that surrounds me. I’d say to anyone who has a dream, that the most important thing to do is to first be clear about the ‘why’ behind that dream and, then, if that ‘why’ still resonates, go for it.
If you could go back and chat to yourself in 2003 what advice would you give?
I would tell myself to relax, enjoy the process and have more belief.
What’s in the future for The Fibre Co.?
I just finished updating our 5-year plan and there are so many fun things on the horizon. We have plans to round out our range of yarns and expand The Fibre Co.’s brand ethos into other products for our maker community. We can hardly wait for it all to unfold!
Thank you so much, Daphne! If you would like to hear more from Daphne you can pop over here and listen to podcasts about her experiences with The Fibre Co. as she chats about fibres, dyeing and yarn development. You can find tutorials, yarn posts and more from The Fibre Co. over on their beautiful blog, and of course, you can get in touch with them socially on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Thank you all so much for joining me and I will be back on Monday with some more crafty posts.
Best wishes for the weekend ahead!
**All photography is under the copyright of The Fibre Co.
Today’s interview is with none other than our favourite Hat Architect, Woolly Wormhead. Woolly very kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions on her new Elemental Collection that has just been released. For those of you who follow Woolly and have seen her beautiful Instagram feed and those intricate hat designs, I know that you can’t wait to find out just how this collection came together along with the story behind the mysterious yarn bending!
Woolly Wormhead – Hat Architect
Hi Woolly, welcome to the blog! First, can you tell us about the Elemental Collection?
Elemental is a collection of 5 Hat designs – each Hat is inspired by an element, with of course the 5th Hat being the 5th element, or aether/balance.
The Hats are knitted sideways (which is probably my favourite construction method, and what I’m known best for!) with all the shaping and the colourwork being created through short rows.
The eBook brings all of the patterns together with amazing graphic design and layout done by my friend Zab. You’ll also find thorough in-depth photographic tutorials for all of the techniques, which really help. The single patterns include illustrated tutorials, too, so you get what you need whichever format you go for. With this collection, I needed to develop a new way of presenting the instructions, and although at first, the panel maps seem a little complicated or intimidating, knitters have commented on how well they convey the multi-directional knitting. Everything is explained within the patterns, I promise!
Can you tell us how The Last Airbender inspired the collection and what are the key concepts with the 5 beautiful designs?
The Last Air Bender is a brilliant animation that’s also centred around the elements. The key concept is that each of the main 4 elements – earth, air, fire and water – is a nation and world peace is maintained by the avatar (who is essentially the 5th element). Within each nation, there are a number of benders – masters of their elements – who are able to manage and control the elements for purposes of good. It’s that manipulation of the element that I wanted to convey within the designs, as well as aiming for balance within the fabric.
Aran, my son, is a *huge* fan of Air Bender (as is my partner, to be honest) and I’ve no doubt absorbed much more than I realised – I was surprised how quickly the idea of working with the elements came together! They both helped me with the names (all female characters) and it was amazing to see how well each name suited the Hat – the personality of the character can be seen within the design.
Which leads me to ask what exactly is Yarn Bending?
Well, yarn bending is a bit like air bending or water bending – it’s taking control of the yarn and manipulating it into different directions or contours! This is achieved sideways with short rows, and the effect the short rows create, especially in two different colours, resembles the visual effects of element bending in the Air Bender animations. It’s incredibly effective and very satisfying to do. Nearly all the knitters who’ve knitted an Elemental Hat have told me how much fun they are to knit, and that’s such a great thing to be told!
This collection is a collaboration between Love Knitting and The Yarn Collective, can you tell us how that collaboration came about?
Through Carol Feller! I’ve worked with LoveKnitting for some time for various things relating to selling indie patterns on their platform, and they’re a really progressive company. Whenever I get the chance to see Carol, usually at events, we always have a good chat and catch up, and I happened to mention these design ideas I had. Carol and I share common interests in knit construction and engineering of fabric, and she suggested to LoveKnitting that I use the yarn she curated for them for the collection – The Yarn Collective Bloomsbury DK (affiliate link)- and it went from there. It’s gorgeous yarn and the colours suit the Hats *perfectly*.
What is the most challenging thing that you encountered while designing this collection?
Maintaining balance within the fabric. Getting those effective colourwork patterns AND making sure the panels all had the right numbers of rows at any given point wasn’t easy. I gave myself eye strain after 6 works of staring at the monitor 😉
Balance in a piece of knitted fabric means that every stitch has to have the same number of rows so that it doesn’t distort. Short row colourwork is generally used on shawls or cowls or otherwise flat pieces of knitting because incorporating 3 – dimensional shaping is a whole other level of manipulation, and as the Hats are sideways knit, that means the shaping is also done with short rows. It’s not easy, but I really enjoyed the challenge. Once I’d got the system mastered the next challenge was making the solutions elegant… I can’t tell you how many times I’d start one of the designs feeling that it would work, only to feel that the knitting didn’t flow or felt clumsy or that somehow, that one little extra short row stripe made it feel inelegant. This took more time than anything, really. Incorporating the crown and brim shaping was the best fun because that’s what adds that extra something and makes the knitter feel clever – it’s really not obvious where the shaping is!
(I guess it’s obvious how much I enjoyed working on the designs, huh? ;))
Do you have a favourite Hat within this collection and if so why?
Hmm… Toph was the first one that really felt like I’d achieved my goal; Katara was way more difficult than Toph (single stripes of colour that stop part way through a fabric provide an interesting engineering challenge in terms of balance) and Korra has a lovely flow to it. Azula was also tricky but required a slightly different perspective to the others and I was really pleased with how that one turned out. I don’t think I can pick one, but I’m not surprised that Toph is the runaway favourite.
How do you overcome creative slumps?
I try to work through them, and because these designs had to be 110% calculated before casting on, I went back to the drawing board each time (most sideways designs are the same). As a rule, though, I work through a creative slump with my fingers. I’m a highly kinesthetic learner who does best by doing and being active, so I simply pick up needles and do something. A lot of the time there’ll be half finished designs sat there and they may feel like a waste of time, but they’ve helped me decide what I don’t want to do.
How do you think that Knitwear Design is evolving?
I think the evolution of Knit Design is evolving itself? I like now that there are many different paths that designers have successfully trodden for themselves. It doesn’t have to be about lifestyle photography or selling specific stories or working with magazines or feeling that you have to be out kissed to gain name recognition. It can just be about what’s on your needles and your style and how you like to make things. My 12th anniversary is just around the corner and in that period of times, I’ve seen so many changes! For me, it’s always been about being who I am and talking to knitters. My blog, my social media – all places where I prefer to throw the rule book out and just get on with it (I never was very good at falling into line). Just do your thing, your way.
You are teaching a few of your popular workshops in the Scottish highlands in 2017. What can we expect and are these your last teaching dates for 2017?
Yes, I’m teaching at Loch Ness Knit Fest! Sideways knitting, knitted circles and more – lots of fantastic workshops. I’m also teaching at a Yarn Story in Bath the weekend before LNKF and then in November, I’m at a Devon Sun Yarns retreat then a full weekend of sideways knitting at Purlescence in Oxford. I’m slowly reducing the number of workshops I teach as travel can be quite hard physically, so anyone interested should book a spot while they can.
How would you like to see craft promoted in the media?
Ooh – that’s a tricky question. On one hand, we have the knitting granny stereotype (still) and on the other, we have the full lifestyle approach. Can the media start noticing that there’s something in between? Focus on the skills, the maths, the history – all the benefits we’re all aware of but the media is somehow oblivious to? You can also pick up the Bloomsbury yarn here and if you are quick you can nab them at sale price until midnight tomorrow. What Luck!
Thank you so much Woolly! I know you all want to rush over and pick up your copy of Elemental and you can do that here. If you would like to pick up the Bloomsbury DK you can do that here (affiliate link) and if you are quick there is a flash sale until midnight tomorrow! You can find Woolly over on her blog, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook if you would like to follow along in her design journey.
Don’t forget to tag #woollywormhead for *any* Woolly Wormhead Hat knitting that you might be sharing on Instagram, Twitter etc. Sometimes #woollywormheadhats gets used, and that’s cool, but this one is that bit shorter and more common. #elementalhats is the main tag for anything to do with the Elemental collection and some other tags Woolly uses a lot are:
Thank you all so much for joining me and I will be back on Monday with some more crafty posts.
Best wishes for the weekend ahead!
*Please note that the Bloomsbury DK are affiliate links and they are the only affiliate links in this post.
**All photography is under the copyright of Woolly Wormhead Photography cannot be used without expressed permission.
One of the amazing things that happened during the recording of season one of the podcast was that I got to know knitwear designer Robynn Weldon of Studio Miranda, a little bit better. From her detailed and fun newsletters to her antics on Twitter, Robynn manages to bring a smile to my face on a daily basis. When Lost in the Woods was launched earlier this year, I got to chat with her on the podcast and you can find that recording here but I wanted to send some follow-up questions her way as I realise that not all of my readers listen to the podcast and vice versa.
Robynn very kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to tell us a little bit more about her background, designs, creative inspirations and challenges as a knitwear designer. I hope you enjoy and a huge thank you to Robynn and to Armin Rüede for the wonderful photographs in today’s post. Enjoy!
Robynn, can you tell us when you started designing and describe your creative background?
I published my first design in Knitty in 2008, right before having my first baby. Who kept me from doing much more for quite a few years! I started putting a more consistent effort into designing about three years ago, but since I had two kids by then, it’s been slow going. Some people are great at combining knitting with babies, but I’m really not.
Knitting has been my creative outlet since high school. I can’t draw or sew. It’s all about knitting for me. My professional background is in publishing though (layout and editing), so that feeds into my design in that I have the skills to communicate my ideas. I find the actual publishing side of things, pattern writing and layout, about as satisfying as the pure design side. First I make the knitted object; then I make the pattern. They’re both creative and both rewarding, and I love working with other designers on their layouts, too.
Aesthetically, how do you see your designs worn with a modern wardrobe?
I keep a Pinterest board (“Miranda’s wardrobe” – Miranda, as in Studio Miranda, is my middle name) that reflects the way my ideal customer dresses. I want my designs to fit this aesthetic: they should be distinctive, a bit quirky and romantic, but always wearable. My imaginary customer doesn’t want just another cardigan, but she also doesn’t want an heirloom shawl that keeps slipping off her shoulders. So that’s where Pavonis comes in!
I’m actually wearing Winterbeere right now. I’ve never made a knitted summer top before and wasn’t sure how useful it would be, but I wear it constantly, alone or layered, with jeans or cropped linen trousers or a long flowing skirt… It’s become one of my favourite things. So I like how well my garment designs are fitting into my own wardrobe.
Can you tell us where your inspiration comes from and what are your key concepts in your designs?
Inspiration tends to spring from the latest yarn I’ve fallen in love with, or from fashion – I get excited about shapes and silhouettes and construction possibilities – or just a problem I want to solve. Most often all three strands working together. Right now I’m developing a few designs that are essentially variations on things I’ve already done, but want to update and take further; plus something quite new and quirky that came out of swatching with a very opinionated yarn; plus something to meet the challenge of a “colourful men’s jumper” – my dad’s request!
My ultimate goal is to create designs that are exactly the way they need to be. Sophisticated but not overcomplicated, with every detail – from the specific increase and decrease techniques to the construction – elevating the expression of the concept. I love the buttons on Winterbeere because they serve three functions: they hold the rolled edge in place, they weight the rather floppy sleeves, and they look awesome. It’s just the perfect finishing touch, and such a small thing became a real highlight of the design.
Winterbeere | Lost in the Woods
Can you tell us how the collaboration for Lost in the Woods came about?
Julia had been thinking about doing a forest-themed collection but wanted a partner or two for it. (She’s written about the process from her perspective.) She approached me after seeing an Instagram post about the forest being my happy place, and I suggested bringing in my friend Emily – since I’d knit one of her designs I knew she could deliver great patterns, plus I knew I’d enjoy working with her. So building the team was almost a random process, but it turned out that we had the perfect set of skills between us: Julia’s graphic design and illustration, my own copy writing and editing, and Emily’s technical input. We were very lucky.
There is no denying that the photography in Lost in the Woods is stunning. How did you manage to pull a beautiful, cohesive style together with the designers in three different locations?
Thank you! I think a lot of the cohesion is thanks to the theme – having everything shot in a forest immediately provided unity. Even though they were different forests in different seasons and different countries. Also, a lot of the atmosphere shots were provided by Julia, so even if you’re looking at one of my spreads, it could be her background pictures. And Julia handled all the grading. I think we spent enough time chatting on Slack, sharing inspirations and progress (and refining each other’s ideas), that we were all very much on the same page, so it came together pretty naturally.
What has been the most challenging thing you have encountered in knitwear design?
I have two big challenges. The biggest is photography. The logistics of getting a shoot done are always challenging (finding the right time, with the right weather, and getting the shots before the kids go nuts – so far we’ve always had kids tagging along, and it has to be outdoor shoots because our small flat just doesn’t have the right space for it). Then you’re dealing with me, who hates modelling, and my husband, who loves photography but doesn’t necessarily have knitterly priorities. So sometimes we end up with a beautiful portrait that just totally doesn’t show the item, or a shot that would be fantastic if I weren’t giving really stony “please just get it over with” face. And then I still have a whole lot to learn about processing those shots. Photos are always the biggest roadblock in getting a pattern out.
The other is in learning not to overcomplicate things. Both aesthetically, and in writing the pattern. I wasn’t really aware until working with Emily, as my tech editor on Lost in the Woods, just how much I go overboard. I originally tried writing Pravigan with instructions for one-pass brioche as well as the usual way (with each row worked twice over, once in each colour). Nice idea but completely unnecessary and very tricky to present! So I’m trying to ask myself now, with every technique or tutorial: is this actually necessary, or does it just add confusion?
How would you describe your personal knitting style?
Eclectic! I love to explore new techniques and to knit patterns that have something to teach me. And although it’s not an explicit goal, I am very happy with my own patterns include something a bit different, a new trick for knitters to put in their toolbox. Which I guess is why they all seem to come with tutorials. I’d love to write a pattern that didn’t need a tutorial, it would be so much easier, but for ages now, I’ve had to create at least one tutorial for each pattern. Arguably this is an example of my overcomplication problem – I do make a lot of work for myself – but I think it’s worth it. For my new pattern Wraparoche, I specifically learned a new cast-on and I’m glad that my customers can learn that too!
Aside from knitting, do you have any other hobbies?
I love to read and I love TV – especially scifi. I’m not sure those count as hobbies, but it’s about all I have time for. Any time I think about learning something else – like spinning, or embroidery – I just keep thinking how it would be taking away precious knitting time. And that’s not about work pressure, it’s not about designing. I just want to knit all the things. I’d really love to be able to sew, but learning stresses me out, and as a mom with small kids, I don’t feel the need to spend my very precious time on something that adds to my stress levels. But I hope I’ll get there one day.
How do you deal with creative slumps?
Since design isn’t a major source of income for me, I have the great luxury of being able to just take a break. When I was feeling burnt out earlier this year I just spent a week or so doing jigsaw puzzles, which I find very soothing.
More often, if stuck on a design, I turn my attention to something else. A lot of my designs have come together after percolating in the back of my mind for a long time. I knew the parameters of the problem, I had a vague idea of what I wanted, but tackling it directly wasn’t working… so I just left it bubbling there while I knit or designed something else. And then one day it was all pretty much figured out bar the actual knitting. The indirect approach seems to really work for me.
How would you like to see craft promoted in the media?
I’d like to see more respect for craft as an artistic practice. Not a novelty, not “the new yoga” or “not your granny’s knitting”, but just a way that people make beautiful things. Something that takes a lot of skill and that a lot of people find very rewarding. Those pieces that treat it as a gimmick aren’t only lazy, they’re also really counter-productive – the subliminal message is that this isn’t something to take seriously. Which is why we all hear people say, “Oh I read that knitting is really trendy now,” but not, “I read this great piece about knitting, I’d love to try that.”
Pravigan | Lost in the Woods
What is in the future for Studio Miranda?
A lot, I hope! My younger kid has just started kindergarten, so for the first time in eight years I have a bit of time to really work on my stuff. I’m looking forward to collaborating more (with yarnies and other designers), and to building my skills on all fronts, from photo editing to pattern writing. I’ve blocked Friday mornings off for studying. It’s pretty exciting.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today Robynn. If you would like to hear more from Robynn you can find her on Twitter, Ravelry, Instagram and on her website here and my personal favourite her fortnightly newsletter here. If you would like to catch up on all the interviews here on the blog you can find them here and of course season one of the podcast has some wonderful interviews too.
Thank you so much for joining us!
Best wishes for the weekend and see you all on Monday,
Would you like to support the Blog & Podcast? How about a coffee?
*Disclaimer: All photography is under the copyright of Armin Rüede. Photography cannot be used without expressed permission.
For today’s interview, I thought we could meet Aishling Doonan of Ruby Sasha Designs. This year, Aishling won the Guild of Irish Lacemakers Prize at the RDS National Craft Show for the second year in a row. Aishling’s work is intricate, beautiful and always has a timeless elegance to it. I’m delighted that she could answer some questions for the blog and that I can introduce you to a wonderful Irish Designer.
Aishling, can you tell us when you started designing and describe your creative background?
Once I could knit, I designed my own things. I taught myself to crochet from books in the local library and I created an entire wardrobe of crochet dresses for my Sylvanian Family bunny rabbit, that I kept safe in a biscuit tin. As a child, I was a reader and a creator in equal amounts and after ploughing through all the Little House on the Prairie novels, What Katie Did and Little Women, I was obsessed with recreating what I had read. So my Sylvanian bunny had gowns, capes, bonnets and shawls. This obsession never really left me and I have always harboured a deep fascination with shawls especially.
My creative background is really just loving to create things with my own two hands. Clay, fabric, paper, it doesn’t matter, I love colour and patterns. Art was always my best subject at school and I always need to be making something. If my hands aren’t working, nothing feels right.
We know you love working with lace weight yarn and patterns. Where did your love of lace begin?
Before I got married and before the Internet took hold, I remember looking for a nice shawl pattern. There was very few about in magazines or books in the library, but my local bookshop did some research for me and ordered in Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls by Martha Waterman. I knit every single shawl in the book, but the only yarn I could get my hands on was a 4 ply cotton by Patons, and it just wasn’t hitting the right notes with me. I knew what I was looking for, I just couldn’t find it. When I finally got into the internet, after a lot of searching, I found Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller. I quickly bought the book and some 1 ply cobweb and tried some patterns. I will admit that it didn’t go well and I ended up with a felted ball of frustration. I set it aside for a while and after my daughter was born, I slowly crept back to it. Once I got the hang of it there was no stopping me and my first ever cobweb shawl still had pride of place here at home.
Detail of centre crown
Can you tell us about RDS National Craft Show and your recent win of the Guild of Irish Lacemakers prize?
I found out about the RDS National Crafts Competition by accident, in 2010, when I was looking for a country show where they gave out prizes for crafts. I had seen so many fellow Ravelry users in the US sporting their blue ribbons and I was curious if there was anything similar here in Ireland. By a happy coincidence the day I found the RDS Crafts Competition, was also the final day for entry. So I looked through my stash of finished objects for something that fit the criteria and decided to enter my Peerie Smoorikans Shawl. It was all done online and only took a few moments. I was delighted to find out after a few weeks that my shawl had been chosen for the exhibition that year. I have entered a shawl of my own design every year bar one since then and I have made it to the exhibition each time and have also won some prizes.
The Competition is judged in two separate categories, for the established and the emerging maker, over 10 craft categories. There are also 11 sponsored prizes and two top category winners, one for an emerging maker and the other for an established one.
The Guild of Irish Lacemakers prize is a sponsored prize separate to the RDS Category prizes, and I have been lucky to win in two years in a row.
Where did the inspiration for the Ríoga Shawl come from?
I am possibly not very traditional when it comes to inspiration. I have noticed lots of artists are inspired by nature or some other outside influence, a struggle, joy etc. When I am designing I do it instinctively, I love the geometry and simplicity of the Shetland Lace motifs and for every stitch and motif I am drawn to and use, the design seems to flow from there. If it isn’t working, I begin again and keep adding until I am happy with the overall design. Much like writing, a first draft is an unpolished jewel and I will often come back to a design after a break and change or tweak things with fresh eyes. For the Rioga Shawl I knew I wanted a beaded edging and a crown motif. I was halfway through knitting the plain mesh centre triangle when I realised how fitting it would be to have a beaded crown in the centre of it, to tie in all the elements. I am so glad I did, because I think it’s what makes Rioga so special.
Aesthetically, how do you see your designs worn with a modern wardrobe?
I think that any sock weight triangles make wonderful scarves and cover ups. They are so easy to carry and wear, in such a myriad of ways, that I think they could be integrated very simply into anyone’s wardrobe. The finer, larger Shetland shawls, also look stunning when they are worn folded around the neck. They make an eye catching alternative to a Winter scarf. Of course, you can also wear them to more formal events and being so light and beautiful, they are deceptively warm and make the perfect wedding cover up. I think everyone should own a Shetland Hap shawl as a cosy couch companion.
Can you tell us where your inspiration comes from and what are your key concepts in your designs?
I love the three separate areas of a Shetland shawl, the centre or all over, the borders and the edging. Each has their own distinct personality, there is so much scope for design. The centre can be plain or lacy and generally has a smaller repeated design.
Sealtainn Shawl, constructed textiles category winner 2015, RDS
What has been the most challenging thing you have encountered while trying to move into design?
My own confidence in my abilities. I love making and knitting up new designs, I even go as far as writing out a pattern, but then I seem to lose steam and I have moved onto the next new design. Putting designs out there for the public to enjoy is quite a daunting step and I always seem to talk myself out of it.
For the knitters out there, how would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is, let me see, very uncomplicated and unfussy. Classic pieces and clean lines, in all natural fibres. A shawl draped around the neck and shoulders is always very elegant and interesting. It’s almost like jewellery and can really lift an outfit.
How would you like to see Irish craft promoted in the media?
I would love if people could fully appreciate the time and quality of materials that go into a handmade piece and that craftspeople could get properly paid for their work. I don’t think the general public realise what they are actually paying for.
What is in the future for Ruby Sasha Knits?
I have five new shawl patterns ready for test knitting and also 2 new cowl patterns. I am busy polishing up my patterns and double checking them for errors. I have a funny feeling there may be some new fair isle patterns in my future too as the colder weather descends. I think I will always design, I just need to work on the other side to the job, the marketing and publishing.
Disclosure: All images in today’s blog post are owned and provided by Aishling Doonan
Thank you so much for answer my questions Aishling we wish you the best for future designs and projects! If you want to follow along on Aishlings’ journey you can find her on twitter here, blog here, Instagram here and Ravelry here.
Best wishes for the weekend and see you all on Monday,
Would you like to support the Blog & Podcast? How about a coffee?
I love growing an online community and when I see a chance to introduce someone to a wider audience I usually jump at it. I follow Hugh on Twitter (@Horti_Hugo) for his insights into the gardening world. This year I got all caught up in his Dahlia Wars and have followed the development of his potager garden with keen interest. I thought by chatting with Hugh, I could inspire some of you to get out into your garden this weekend.
Question 1: Some of my readers may not know a lot about the gardening world. Could you tell us a little about how you got started in gardening and where that interest originated from?
I’m passionate about plants and gardening. Yes, it’s as simple as that. Since my mid-teens, in the 1980’s, when I first encountered horticulture through working in a nursery, which was open to the public, I was bitten by the gardening bug. Looking, listening & learning. Absorbing all that I could about plants, their native habitats, growing conditions, how to grow them, what to do with them, etc.
So many people would come in to ask questions and talk plants and gardening, and I would regularly hear them say you are so lucky working at what you’re passionate about. More than a few times older retired people would say ‘I worked for 40 years behind a desk, and all I got was this lousy watch. If I could do it again, I would do what you’re doing and work at what I love’.
I spent 20 years working in gardening and horticulture either full time or part time with great people, whom even now, many years on, I still am in contact with. During these years I studied horticulture, initially a certificate course in college and then the three-year diploma course in the Botanic Gardens, which was amazing as I was surrounded by plants and people with lots of knowledge.
Unfortunately, having to support a young family has meant my professional career has moved away from the horticultural industry. I still am very much involved though, through delivering garden talks, some gardening classes and more recently in the social media world, particularly on Twitter.
Question 2: You have been documenting the evolution of your potager garden. Can you tell us how you designed it and why you chose a potager style?
Ha! Yes, great question. Sometimes I think it chose me, in other words, as I’m mad about growing plants and flowers, growing vegetables was something that needed to accommodate this need, I think the ‘potager’ name fitted best, although I’m sure potager purists would completely disagree. To sum up my style … anywhere in my garden there are vegetables, flowers and plants of interest are not far away … Lol
Question 3: For someone who wants to start growing their own food do you have any tips or advice?
Yes, definitely do! Learning to grow your own food is a road to travel, rather than a destination to reach. Along this road each of us have amazing successes and dramatic failures. Build your resilience by celebrating the success and simply talk and discuss what didn’t work with others so you’ll learn for next time. For me with some plants or crops, I’ve simply learned to ‘fail better’ on my path to success ! Start out on your journey with simple things like planting some strawberries or lettuce in a tub, a few peas from seed or trying some onions from sets are almost always a success. Tomatoes, potatoes and raspberries are nearly always a success too. Of course use good compost and look after the soil. If you look after the soil, the soil will look after the plants.
Question 4: I know from trying to work with our garden here that there are times it just feels like Mother Nature has decided she doesn’t like you anymore and it’s personal. What was your lowest point with the potager and how did you overcome that to the wonderful space it is now?
Oh golly. Sometimes it’s us that are the invaders. Mother Nature was there first! My most recent endeavour was to tame the lower end of the potager. It was such a jumble of weeds, old raspberry canes and anything else you could think of. I sketched out a plan of what I was looking for, did some research on how best to go about revamping the area and then set to it. A low(ish) point was putting in hours of work and realising I didn’t really make a dent in what needed to be done. After a little more research I simply changed tact. I marked out the area in beds and paths, removed woody material, roughly churned the soil and then simply covered the rest with black builders plastic for 6-8 months to smother out weeds, after laying some straw and manure over the beds. Worked a treat. The following May the beds were mostly weed free and the soil relatively easy to work.
Question 5: How do you manage your time to stay on top of your garden?
Lists. And lots of them. I have effectively four different gardens on this one site. Each of them I place different levels of importance. And then I work from there. As old Fred used to say, ‘a gardeners work is never done’. It’s not about having everything done the whole time. It’s having the most important tasks done within your current time, and then planning the next tasks. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, that’s part of the fun!
Question 6: What does gardening mean to you?
This a great question, which I could write essays on, so I’ll try to distil it down to a paragraph. There’s a term I like to use now and again ‘gardenfulness’. It’s a play on the term of ‘mindfulness’, bringing all the elements of this to your garden environment, being present, enjoying what you’re doing, being in a flow state when working with soil and plants, allowing creativity to blossom (pun intended… Lol), etc. At times gardening means this to me. Other times it’s the very practical aspects of growing your own food as naturally as possible, getting stuck in and doing what needs to be done.
Question 7: What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?
After being involved with plants and gardens for more that 30 years, in one way or another, there has been many many lessons, some very pleasant and somewhere I’ve received a good kicking. One of my lessons has been to source good information on new things I’m growing, mostly this is from books, sometimes through good social media contacts, and stick to what’s recommended, to begin with.
Another lesson I learned when hauling manure as a young lad, for my dad or grand parents, was to give as much goodness to the soil as possible, this will be repaid through the plants.
And patience is a lesson I’m constantly learning. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, no matter how hard you try.
Question 8: How has the online gardening community made a difference to you as a gardener?
It’s just great to connect with like minded people. When I first came across social media, I found there was a lot of negative narration and people criticising and wasn’t so sure about it. I remember at one point making a conscious decision to start spreading the positive word on gardening, how easy it can be and how we can make mistakes and recover from it. It’s what I do now, showing the joy of gardening, and the failures too. Thankfully the positives far out weigh the negatives … Lol
Question 9: What does the future hold for Hugh?
Well, I’m in year five and a half of a seven-year journey in this place, so naturally savouring each of the moments here, with one eye on the future Horti Hugo growing place. I’m regularly on Twitter, every two to three weeks on Periscope, monthly on YouTube, and then there’s the written blog too … Lol. As the saying goes, watch this space …
Thank you so much for answer my questions Hugh and if you want to follow along on Hugh’s journey you can find him on twitter here, blog here and YouTube here
I love sharing insights in to the craft world and in particular Indie Dyers and Designers stories on the blog. I think it’s important to get to know the people behind those luxurious hand dyed yarns we all covet. Today on the blog I want to introduce you all to Fiona of Green Elephant Yarn. Readers, you may remember her from the Irish Love Collection a collaboration with Mina Loves Designs in which Fiona dyed her favourite colour on a beautiful merino sock base. You may also know Fiona as part of the Irish Dye Junkies on Facebook so I thought we could invite Fiona to tell us a little more about herself.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and where you are based?
Hello! I’m Fiona, the lady behind Green Elephant Yarn. I am a yarn and knitting addict and its a fab community to be a part of. I am based in Waterford, not far from the City. I have a little home office where I stash all my yarn and plan my colourways! I dye all Green Elephant Yarn in my kitchen but hope to build a studio beside our house in the near future. I spend most of my time looking after my two little girls but manage to fit in some craft time when I’m allowed.
Why did you start Green Elephant Yarns and where did the name come from?
It all started a few years ago when I convinced some friends to attend a yarn dyeing workshop with me. I loved every second of it and haven’t stopped dyeing since. I crocheted for almost a year before that and discovered some lovely dyers in the UK and had to find out more. The possibilities with dyeing your own yarn are endless and I love that.
There’s no big story behind the name; I love elephants and I love green!
What is your favourite base to work with?
I love watching the different outcomes when you dye on different bases. I’ve just dyed on a Merino/Silk base for the first time and I am totally in love. The way it takes the colour is fab and it’s so so soft. I can’t wait to make something with it!
What do you think helped you the most to build your business?
Encouragement from my husband and family and an obsession with yarn to start with! Instagram has been a great place for me too, getting to chat with customers and making new like-minded friends is a great bonus to having a small business.
What does a typical day look like for you?
At the moment it’s summer holidays so it’s a bit more relaxed than during the school year. My girls are my top priority so I spend most of my time running around after them. On a dye day, I’ll spend a few hours in my kitchen making potions and hopefully creating beautiful yarn! I try to plan beforehand to make sure I know what I’m doing to make the most of the time I have to work with the yarn. Most days I find a few minutes for knitting too!
How do you stay motivated and keep the shop updates going?
I love dyeing yarn and seeing everyone’s reactions to the result. I guess that’s what keeps me going and makes me want to keep trying to create something special.
What does running a creative business mean to you?
It means putting a lot of yourself into the business which I think reaps the best rewards. If I didn’t love what I was doing then I think you’d be able to see that in my product. I always want to keep the yarn I’ve dyed for myself and I think it should be that way. I love knitting and crochet too so being able to create things and seeing other people create amazing things with my yarn is a massive win for me.
What does the future hold for Green Elephant Yarn?
Who knows? Hopefully, my amazing customers will continue to support me and I’ll keep doing my best to create yarn that people love!
The near future involves vending at a new yarn festival in Belfast called Yarnfolk this weekend. I’m currently up to my elbows in yarn 🙂
As part of the craft section of the Notebook, I get to chat with dyers and designers that make up this amazing community of independents making their mark on the Irish craft scene. Recently I got a chance to catch up with Rachel of The Fibre Kitchen
. Rachel has a strong eye for colour and an attention to detail that makes it easy to fall in love with her skeins. I first met Rachel at The Constant Knitter during the Christmas Craft Market and yes I went home with an alpaca base in beautiful subtle colours aptly named ‘Berry Yogurt’. I am very excited to share this artist with all of you. Take a look at what inspires Rachel and what being an Indie Dyer means to her.
1. Rachel, Can you tell us how The Fibre Kitchen got started?
Yes! I have been knitting for about 14 years, and I am bit colour obsessed. I was looking to find a way to turn something I loved into a small business. Since I couldn’t find yarns in the exact tones I wanted, in the bases/weights I wanted, I started dyeing, with the intention of offering people like me more options, and hoped other people might appreciate the colours as I do.
2. Can you tell us why you wanted to create hand-dyed yarns?
Hand-dyed yarns are unique, no two are alike, everything you make with them is technically one of a kind. It’s brilliant. I love that dyeing yarn is an artistic process that results in something of use to people. I love when an idea goes from my head, to my pot, to my hands. It’s amazing that it is actually out in the world, I can be holding it and using it, and so can others.
3. What are the best bits and the worst bits of your job?
Best bits, the creativity, and all the wool! They say don’t steal from your own stash, but what do they know? I keep whatever I want! 🙂
Worst bits are honestly how messy it is. I am not graceful, it looks like someone is having a water fight in my kitchen when I am working. My clothes look splatter painted! My hand towels are all multicouloured messes. It’s also quite physical, and I’ve been having a lot of issues with my rotator cuffs (shoulder injuries), so sometimes the process is painful. No pain no gain I guess!
4. Can you describe what a typical working day looks like for you?
I work a full time weekday job, so I dye on weekends. Sometimes evenings, and I’ve even got up at 4 am to dye before work. Typically on a weekend, I’ll wake up and start dyeing, then take breaks while the yarn cools and do whatever (dog walks!), and then when the yarn has cooled, start up another batch.
5. What are your favourite bases to work with?
To dye, merino bases for sure. I love the way merino takes colour. Generally I like the way wools take colour. I’ve found that other animal fibres (alpaca, mohair, silk) take colour differently than wool, so I choose to use different colours for those, based on how I think they will develop. As for my favourite to knit with, well my dirty little secret is I am a DK knitter, I rarely use fingering weight (4 ply), that is all for other people! The merino-bamboo DK is a dream to knit with.
6. Where does your inspiration come from?
I know it’s weird, but almost everything I look at, I picture as a yarn. I get a lot of ideas from art, and especially cartoons and animation! And of course, because of my business name, food.
7. How has social media helped you build your business?
Instagram has been the best! What an amazing community of yarn people – I had followed loads of yarn and knitting people and businesses, before I started TFK. On instagram, I’ve been welcomed by they yarn community and have “met” some amazing people. The support is fantastic. I love seeing what other people are doing as well.
8. How do you deal with working by yourself while dyeing? How do you stay motivated and enthusiastic?
It’s not hard to stay motivated, as it’s something ultimately I do for me, as personal fulfilment and an artistic outlet. I have a family which includes professional artists. I have always drawn, done pottery, mosaics, cake designing, etc. art has been a part of my life. I really consider dyeing my latest artistic outlet. I know some dyers measure,and document, and follow a process. I don’t do that. I see what mood I am in, what colours I am feeling that day and just start going. I usually have an idea of what I want to dye, and some inspiration photos or items, etc. But sometimes I start out with a colourway in mind and end up with something completely different, simply because a different song comes on, or who knows what. I posted a photo on instagram of a rainbow-ish yarn I dyed one day – it was literally because I put on Kylie Minogue and was dancing around and I ended up with rainbow yarn. I did not plan that! So when you buy my yarn, you get something really genuine.
9. How do you control the business/creative balance between having to produce yarn for the business but yet want to give into your creative side?
Even though it’s a creative endeavour, I take the business piece very seriously. I feel pressure when I have an order or an event, and I know people are waiting on me or expecting it. It does effect me, so the business end can be stressful. I work hard to be on time and deliver as expected, with a proper invoice and stock listing. I need to get better about having more stock on hand, so I am not under too much pressure when orders come in. My goal is to do mostly wholesale to shops, for further distribution. There is also a lot of maintenance with the website, photography, yarn data, tracking stock, making labels, shipping, etc. I do that all the time as needed, 7 days a week.
10. What does being an independent yarn dyer mean to you?
It means being part of a community. It started out as something to do for me and became a way to meet and engage with a fabulous community of people all over the world! The dyer, the pattern designer, the knitter, the crocheter, we all share in this creation of something. Knitting and crocheting is really special. It is tangible, shareable, practical art with a purpose, and a community.
11.What’s in the future for The Fibre Kitchen?
I definitely want to focus on wholesale to shops.There are so many cool shops that sell indie dyed yarn. I know from my web sales and shop sales that my yarn is in The US, UK, Ireland, Denmark, Prague, Brazil, France, and more. I like dyeing batches just for a shop’s order, so what they have is exclusive to them. It makes it more of a personal experience between me and the shop too. Yarn shops have always been such a place of happiness for me, with so many possibilities and loads of inspiration to create! If my yarns are in shops, hopefully they will make more people happy like that too.
A huge thank you to Rachel
for taking the time to answer these questions and to share her creative side with all of us. You can find out more about Rachel by following her on her on Instagram
or on her website here
Today I thought we could take a look at Laura Hogan aka the person behind Ellie & Ada. If you have been following the blog for a while you would have seen lots from Laura as I personally love her work. Laura was the first hand-dyer I ever met and the first skein of hand-dyed yarn I ever used all those years ago and I hold her somewhat responsible for my descent into this yarn business. Laura is also a fantastic teacher, artist and has some amazing print designs and I thought it would be nice to share one of my favourites with all of you. So, sit back and have a scroll through and I will not be held responsible if you end up in her Etsy shop:
Snow Queen – Hand-Dyed Merino Sock
Can you tell us how and why you started Ellie and Ada?
Ellie and Ada, at the moment, is a shop on Etsy. I dye yarns and sell them in my Ellie and Ada shop. I also sell yarns in The Constant Knitter and The Trim Wool Shop.
I guess you can say that Ellie and Ada was a slight rebranding. I stopped dyeing yarn for a couple of years and was designing greeting cards and prints. My previous business was called L.Hogan. I never really was satisfied with calling it L.Hogan. I sold hand dyed yarns, hand dyed fibre and handspun yarns under the name L.Hogan. Ellie and Ada is named after my two grandmothers. In naming it after my two grandmothers, I felt it was personal to me. I also wasn’t sure if I was going to dye yarn again so I wanted a name that I could produce whatever product I wanted at whatever time and also I wanted a name that I would not outgrow or would not be dated.
Rosemary from The Constant Knitter rang me and asked me if I would like to dye yarns again. I had wanted to return to dyeing yarns again and said that I would love to. I am grateful this. I now sell yarns and teach knitting at The Constant Knitter.
Avril Floral Blank Card by Ellie & Ada
Can You tell us how you became a textile designer and what inspires your collections?
I originally studied Fine Art Print in Dun Laoghaire. It was great but I never felt that fine art was as good a fit as textiles. After graduating from Dun Laoghaire, I went on to study Textile Print at NCAD.
I love the process of print and perhaps that continues with the yarn, dyeing and knitting. I love producing multiples and always want to see all the different colours and possibilities. I love experimenting and play. This also explains how I don’t get bored of knitting socks and my handspun raglan sweaters. I love to see the repeats of items. Also printing, dyeing and knitting can be technical and like recipes.
The main things that do inspire my print collections would actually be books and quotes and, of course, most of all colour. Typography has always interested me. I also love 1950s design. I love the prints and the furniture of that era. I love the idea colourful twinsets and knitwear after a grey wool rationed war.
Currently, Which is your favourite of your yarns and why?
I do love all the bases that I dye at the moment. I am hoping to expand and dye on other bases soon.
But at the moment, I am obsessed with sock knitting due to the DKC Sock Knitalong and I am really trying hard to focus and finish socks. I keep on casting on new socks because I want to see how things knit up. Basically, I am a knitting magpie. I get distracted and cast on new things. I am knitting a lot with the Merino Nylon Sock Yarn and the Gold Sparkles.
I am really enjoying dyeing semi-solid yarns on the merino singles base. I enjoy dyeing the yarns that I dye for the Sock Club. I would like to dye up more sweater quantities of DK and Aran weight yarn. I have knitted a lot of sweaters using handspun in the past. I would like to knit some more sweaters in hand dyed yarns.
How do you deal with working by yourself while dyeing? How do you stay motivated and enthusiastic?
I have to say I really enjoy working by myself but having a dog is great because it forces me to go outside and get fresh air. Sometimes, ideas come to me when I am walking the dog. I love being outdoors. It is healthy for me to step away from what I am working on and come back with a new perspective after a walk.
I also have an amazing family that I can depend on. My mother helps me out with the photography and various things. My family have always been a great support to me.
I stay motivated by looking at Instagram and sometimes Pinterest. Ravelry is amazing, but I am sure that is not something that I would need to say to your readers and followers. I love looking at pictures of yarns and knitwear. It never gets boring.
The funny, quirky things that help keep me motivated is watching Netflix whilst doing mundane things. It keeps me half distracted from checking my phone and looking up something on Google that I was wondering about say last Thursday. Really cheesy pop music during the boring paperwork works wonders for me. Basically, myself and Katie Perry fill out invoices. She sings and I croan from time to time.
Home Again – Hand-Dyed Merino Fibre
As an accomplished spinner, what is your favourite fibre to work with?
Wool. I love wool. Soft wool to scratchy wool, I love it all. I am happy to spin merino, Blue-faced Leicester and Falkland wool as well.
Aside from the Crafts mentioned, do you have any other hobbies?
As I mentioned before, I love being outdoors. I love going running and cycling. At the moment, I run more than I cycle. I was really into cycling when I was younger. I have been out a few times recently and am hoping to get back into it. I was in a bad crash when I was younger and am forever grateful for wearing a helmet. I can’t recommend them enough. I hope to participate in more running and cycling events this year.
I love food. I love cooking. I love eating. I have some dietary restrictions so it is helpful that I do enjoy cooking.
I love reading. I love my Kindle. I love being able to carry that many books around at one time. I love knitting and reading at the same time. I am hoping to get into listening audiobooks as well as some more podcasts.
I also make face cream and hand cream. It first started out when I realised how sensitive I was to some products. I love learning how to make things and enjoy making them.
Out of all the social media which platform do you think has the more impact on building your brand/following the most?
Without a doubt, Instagram. Instagram suits me the most because it is visual and it suggests people to you based on your interests. Therefore, Ellie and Ada is shared or suggested to other people.
I never had this level of contact with customers before. With Instagram, customers share photos of yarn when it arrives or take photos of what they knitted using my yarns. Our exchanges are enjoyable and have made great friends as a result. I genuinely care if they are happy with the product. The knitting/crocheting/crafting/fibre community is amazing. I do not say this lightly, I am blessed to be amongst such talented and intelligent women and men.
I also interact with customers on Ravelry and Etsy. I am on Facebook and Twitter. I do feel that the Irish Dye Junkies Facebook Market Night has been a great success.
Inherit My Heart – Hand Dyed Merino Sock Yarn
Can you tell how Irish Dye Junkies got started and what’s in store for them in 2017?
The Irish Dye Junkies was created by Fiona Waters. Fiona Waters is the hand dyer behind Green Elephant. She asked Terri Carroll of Fine Fish Yarns, Yvonne McSwiney of Dublin Dye and myself to join her in this endeavour. We have monthly yarn markets with a special theme. It has been wonderful working with these women and I hope we continue to do so. It is fun and a different way of working for me. It is nice to be pushed creatively. I have learnt a lot due to the Irish Dye Junkies. We are very different dyers and I love that I am a part of it.
I am feverishly trying to finish a pair of Monkey socks using yarn that I dyed for our Christmas Market night. The colourway is called Feliz Navidad. It is on the Gold Sparkles Sock Yarn base which is gold stellina, superwash merino and nylon sock yarn. I am hoping that we continue the yarn markets and work on some fun projects together.
Yarn Folk which is a yarn festival in the North is in August. Also, there is Atlantic Knitscape which I have been to twice and hope to go again this year. Atlantic Knitscape has a yarn market and I have been selling my yarns there.
How do you find the business/creative balance between having to produce yarn for the business but yet want to give into your creative side?
I don’t mind the business side too much. I was making necklaces and selling them to classmates as a child. I always wanted to produce a product and sell it. It is all a learning process.
I do crave knitting. If I am working late, I spend at least half an hour before bed knitting. I would like more time to knit. I am hoping to carve out more time for myself to knit.
What is in future for Ellie and Ada?
Hopefully, there will be a continuation of exciting projects. I want to expand my line of yarns. I enjoy working on projects with other people and but also enjoy working by myself. Ellie and Ada is far from where I would like it to be but I am enjoying the work. I want the name to represent great quality, friendly service and beautiful colour.
I suppose I can’t mention all the things that I am hoping to accomplish in 2017. I know one thing for certain, I really want to accomplish my goal of knitting 12 pairs of socks in 2017!
Thank you so much, Laura, for taking the time to answer these questions and I hope that you all enjoyed getting to know the person behind the yarn. If you have any questions for Laura you can pop them below. I will see you all on Friday
Disclaimer: This post does contain affiliate links.
You all know how much I love the yarn industry and that I like to bring us all a little closer by sharing some questions with independent dyers and designers with all of you. If you are part of the members-only area of the site you would have seen Angelina’s logo from very early. Angie has been here from the very early episodes of the podcast and it has been fantastic to watch her yarn business, Gamer Crafting Yarns, grow. I thought that we could all get to know her a little better so I asked her to answer some questions below. Enjoy!
Angie aka Gamer Crafting Yarns
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and where you are based?
They call me Angie: I’m a diehard crafty creative with a penchant for yarn. For now, I’m based near London, but who knows where I’ll be this time next year!
Q: Why did you start Gamer Crafting Yarns and where did the name come from?
I wrote a series of articles for LoveKnitting about how to DIY hand dyed yarns with stuff you have around the kitchen: Kool-Aid packets, food dye, vinegar, onion skins, and so on. I quickly became obsessed with dyeing, spent six months experimenting and learning about professional grade dyes and processes, and here I am a year after launching the GamerCrafting Etsy shop. I wasn’t sure what name to take on: after all, what’s in a name? (Well if you’re starting a business, everything!) My good friend and fellow maker, Merion, suggested GamerCrafting because I’m always going on about video games. It stuck, I think, because it fits who I am.
Q: What is your favourite base to work with?
It really depends on what I’m after: crisp speckles call for a superwash sock yarn, but I’m pretty obsessed with the smushy impressionist look that you get from using a non-superwash yarn. I’m pretty obsessed with the luxury aran base right now, even though it’s high summer – merino wool, mohair, and silk. YUM.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up at stupid-o-clock to dye yarn and pack orders before I have to start work on my freelance contracts. There’s usually a lot of coffee involved, but breakfast needs to happen or I turn into The Hulk; the hanger is real! Freelance work, more yarn dyeing over my lunch break, more work, dinner, working on patterns for THE BOOK (getting there, slowly!), knitting, bed. Rinse, repeat, pretty much 7 days of the week.
Fiona the Human
Q: What does running a creative business mean to you?
It’s rewarding, but it’s hard work. It means some seriously long hours, researching things until your eyeballs fall out, and always trying to come up with new creative ideas and innovations.
Q: How do you stay motivated during creative down periods?
I had a music mentor once tell me that inspiration and motivation will desert you 75% of the time. You can’t depend on those muses because they’re unreliable and fickle, so the rest of the time you have to just show up and put in the time. You won’t always feel like a creative genius; in fact most of the time you won’t. But you keep on getting up early and flinging colour around, and sometimes you’ll create something that you’re proud of.
The new Sparkle Sock Base (it’s just so hard to choose…..)
Q: Can you tell us about your other interests and hobbies?
Well I studied music in university, and that’s always going to be a big part of my life even if it isn’t a sustainable career for me at this point in my life. Music is going through a huge overhaul with the advent and popularity of streaming services like Spotify, so, for now, it’s writing little folk tune arrangements for small ensembles I work for, and eventually writing that album I’ve been talking about for 10 years!
I also can’t deny my deep and enduring love for video games: the introduction of Steam as a gaming platform has totally revolutionised gaming. Now independent game developers are creating new kinds of games that the big platforms wanted nothing to do with. There’s been a big influx in “walking simulator” exploration style games which I love, like Everybody,’s Gone to the Rapture, choice based games like Life is Strange, and crafting based games like Stardew Valley and Don’t Starve. Of course, I still play the big games like Skyrim and The Witcher 3 but I really think we’re in a golden age of gaming.
Q: I am in love with your new sparkle base, can you tell us a little bit about that?
I’m SO excited about the new sparkle base! Seriously, I am obsessed. I spent a long time deciding the theme and finally landed on Adventure Time, which I think was the right choice. These are 100g skeins, 75% superwash merino wool, 20% nylon, and 5% sparkle. It is a proper sock yarn that you can use for socks, or for any other 4-ply or fingering weight pattern. If I had to pick a favourite from this collection, it would have to be Lady Rainicorn!
Q: One of the reasons I am drawn to your yarn is names of the colourways. It speaks to my inner sci-fi/gamer self. How do you decide to name your yarns ?
The themes always come first: it could be something I’m currently obsessing over (as is the case with the Witcher 3 themed set and the Stranger Things set), or something I remember fondly, like with the Nintendo themed cotton yarns or the Pokemon sock yarns. I decide on a theme and then colour the yarns as appropriate, and try to stay true to the characters or ideas behind the shade names.
Q: What does the future hold for Gamer Crafting Yarns?
Well, I’ll be doing my first Big Yarn Shows this year, with Perth Festival on September 10th and then Yarndale the weekend of September 23rd. I’ll also be attending the first ever Nottingham Yarn Expo in November, and then in January 2018, I’ll be at Waltham Abbey Wool Show. Expect more yarns, new shades, new bases, new stitch markers as soon as I get my act together, and hopefully, possibly, THE BOOK for release in October I’m hoping. I’m self-publishing so there’s a long road ahead, but almost everything has been knitted up. It’s the photography, tech editing, and formatting that might kill me!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions, Angie! If you want to hear more from Angie you can check out her podcast episode here and you can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and of course her fabulous new website here.
Disclaimer: All images used in this post are provided by Gamer Crafting Yarns.
Aoibhe Ni wearing her gorgeous Freya Shawl.
This week I am taking a closer look at one of Ireland’s beautiful crochet designers Aoibhe Ní Shúilleabháin. Aoibhe very kindly took the time to answer some questions for the Notebook. Today is Part II which focuses on hobbies and future projects. If you missed it you can find Part I here. I hope you enjoy this insight into Aoibhe’s hobbies and I take a look at her beautiful new shawl Selkie.
On Hobbies and GIY
Aside from crochet, do you have any other hobbies?
SOOOO many. I grew up in a small patch of farming countryside between two distant towns, so keeping myself occupied was a life skill I developed early on. Most of my time was therefore spent trying to make one thing out of other things.
I built rickety tree houses in the apple trees in the orchard with a hammer and nails and mis-matched planks of wood, I made bird houses, polished rocks (please, don’t ask…), did mud pottery and fired them in a self-built kiln, I knit, crocheted, did patchwork, and dress-making for my toys on an old hand-crank Singer sewing machine from about the age of eight or nine.
Later on, when I had money and access to resources like libraries, I added some rudimentary weaving to my quiver, along with drop spinning (not allowed do that anymore because of RSI, though), wheel spinning, needle and wet felting, dress making for me (so many wrap around skirts, omg!), jam-making, baking all sorts of cakes and bread, cooking meals from scratch (can you call that a hobby in this day and age?), and gardening, of course. I love growing berries particularly.
I know you love growing your own food and being out and about in your garden. Where and when did you get bitten by the gardening bug?
I was told when I was tiny that I got my grandfathers’ green thumbs. One was a farmer, the other was an avid gardener, I believe. These skills didn’t skip a generation, of course, and my mother had me helping out planting bulbs and weeding flower beds when I was quite young.
I used to get a great kick out of digging, too, so while I was still in the process of losing my baby teeth, I had mastered the use of a shovel and spade with my Dad’s help (…even if I did have to jump up and down on the spade a few times to get it to bite into the soil!), and volunteered any time a pickaxe was needed. There’s something truly life-threatening about physical garden work that I can’t put my finger on. All I know is a good, well-used shovel always makes me smile.
We had these amazing blackberry bushes and elder trees along the hedgerows around our field, too, so their berries were a treat to gather every autumn once I’d learnt to avoid the bramble prickles.
As I grew up, I was granted a small section of grass down the end of the orchard at home to turn into a wild flower meadow, and I spent years collecting a few, precious seeds from outside my meadow from the flowers along the roadside, sewing them in trays and transplanting them when they were mature enough, into my little meadow. I had all sorts of Irish blooms in there and took great pride as a young teenager in being able to name them all.
I also managed to grow chestnut trees from seed as a girl. Those trees are now producing their own chestnuts every year in my parent’s field. It’s a strange feeling to be a chestnut grandmother!
I guess, the bug bit me with these early successes, and the almost manic joy I derive from donning my wellies, grabbing a shovel and getting mucky. There is nothing in this world more glorious than being covered in mud and sweat, with a gigantic, tired smile on your face. I’d recommend it as a mood enhancer to anyone.
Why is growing your own food important to you?
I think it’s a combination of several things, actually.
There is simply nothing like the taste of food you’ve pulled from your own garden. And knowing that it is at its nutritional peak is very satisfying indeed. Feeding it to the people you love brings it to another level, too.
Even the dog benefits from carrots that are too small to bother fiddling with in the kitchen. She becomes very attentive in the garden when it’s time to start pulling what we have to call “orange vegetables” from the ground.
Beyond that, as a diabetic, knowing what I’m eating and where it comes from gives me a lot of comfort. There is so much these days to consider when preparing a meal, it’s nice to take one thing off that list. I know my veg is grown with the least amount of pesticides (I try for zero, but sometimes, that’s not possible), and the least amount of chemical interference, so I trust it more.
Also, I think a knowledge of veg farming and foraging, along with clothes-making and food preservation, will be essential life skills during the zombie apocalypse. What can I say? I’m terrible in combat, so I’m hedging my bets!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions today. Can you leave us with the answer to just one more: What does the future hold for Aoibhe Ni?
Well, I have no saintly idea, but I can tell you what I hope will happen.
I hope that I can continue designing, for one. That’s paramount. It’s what gives me the greatest joy, and I hope that my design ideas never run out. But whether I can continue with it as a job or not, you can be sure I’ll keep making things out of other things.
Right now, I’m enjoying the freedom and support that my Patreon family have given me. Each month, I gift them with a mini pattern (like a baby blanket pattern, a crochet toy, a pretty household pattern) and I record a How To video explaining a solution to a common problem, or an interesting lesser-known technique, to them. In return, I am funded by them for as little as $1 each.
It’s surprising what the extra few bob and that kind of a vote of confidence can do to your self-esteem and your bravery. I owe them a lot, and I urge anyone interested in supporting an artist on Patreon to give it a go. For me, recently, it’s been the difference between churning out any pattern I come up with in order to make ends meet, or working with love and time on particularly interesting designs.
Doing the videos is also quite a lot of fun. Despite how nervous I get before rolling, I am genuinely enjoying being in front of the camera, so who knows where that may go in the future too. Aoibhe Ni Craft Show anyone?! That’s a pipe dream, but then, so was “being a crochet designer” before I did it, so I’m not going to limit myself before I’ve fallen properly into the water and splashed around a bit!
Also, I’m very enthusiastic – now that I have a steadier influx of finances and can focus on more than the essentials – in getting Legendary Shawls published in book form. I wanted to do that for years, and I think there’s an audience out there for it, but I have not actually had the time to look into getting it printed before now. The fact that I’m actually able to toy with the idea again is another direct consequence of the support I have got from my Patreon family.
Beyond that, I plan to harvest a veritable truckload of raspberries this summer. I guess that, along with all of the above, is firmly in the laps of the gods.
Thank you so much Aoibhe for taking the time to answer all of my questions and for allowing me to share them with all of my readers. Since Aoibhe has answered these questions she has gone on to release the beautiful pattern Selkie made with Green Elephant 2 ply lace Merino. One of the reasons I admire Aoibhe so much is her constant support for Irish Independent Dyers. In an industry where collaboration helps everyone more forward, Aoibhe has worked with Hedgehog Fibers, Ellie & Ada, Dublin Dye, Coolree to name but a few. When I got to chat with Aoibhe I asked her why Green Elephant Yarn was chosen for Selkie and she said it with the design in mind it was the beautiful tones of the blue that reminded her of water and the beach in summer.
Selkie is a perfect summer shawl and project. In part I of the interview, Aoibhe told us how she worked Tunisian crochet with a lace design in mind and Selkie really does show both techniques off brilliantly. The pattern is easily memorable but it does require attention and the swirling design has a beautifully feminine finish as it sits around your shoulders. Yes, I am biased as I have been a lover of her work for about 7/8 years now since the days of the Tea Garden Craft meet ups but I’m not easily impressed and I have a mind that can be distracted easily. So, why do I keep coming back to Aoibhe’s work?
I’ll tell you a secret, I only learned how to crochet so that I could make Venus. Her tutorials and pattern support are fantastic. They are clear to follow and she is always encouraging (read she will not take I can’t do it as an excuse) and is to be found on her Ravelry boards or Patreon if you have an issue which is rare as she extensively tests all of her patterns. She also has a fabulous group of testers on Ravelry who really take the testing phase seriously but with some fun along the way. I’m not a lover of crochet but I yearn for her shawls. I see them as she dances into another workshop happily supporting another newbie group into the land of crochet with ease and laughter, her shawl usually stays in my hand for at least an hour and I show it off to as many people as I can in that time.
I really hope you enjoyed this week’s feature with Aoibhe and I hope it inspired some of you to try design or to pick up a hook and learn how to crochet. If you would like to find out more about Aoibhe, you can find her on Ravelry, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and of course Patreon. Don’t forget you can pick up Selkie discount on pre-sale at the moment and if you would like to nab 25% off the digital copy of Aoibhe’s Legendary Shawls Collection than all you have to do is subscribe and head on over to the VIC area to pick up your code.
Until Friday, thank you for reading!
*Disclaimer: All photography is under copyright of Aoibhe Ní/J. Matkin. Photography cannot be used without expressed permission.
Aoibhe Ní Shúilleabháin wearing her stunning Freya Shawl
This week I am taking a closer look at one of Ireland’s beautiful crochet designers Aoibhe Ní Shúilleabháin. Aoibhe very kindly took the time to answer some questions for the Notebook. Today is Part I which focuses on design. Aoibhe is a talented lady with over a decade under her belt as a published crochet designer, she has inspired a new generation to pick up a hook and try their hand at a modern take on an age-old craft. I’m delighted to be able to share with you an insight into the life of such a young, inspirational Irish designer. Read on and enjoy:
This is your 10th year as a crochet designer which is an amazing achievement. When did you decide that you wanted to be a crochet designer?
I actually think I had it decided for me if I’m honest.
I can barely remember a time before I had a hook in my hand and yarn about the place at home. My Mam was and is a very creative influence; I’m convinced being a military family, with Dad gone for long stretches, and a younger sister to care for, she probably saw anything that kept me occupied for longer than five minutes as a bonus.
But it wasn’t til the recession hit that I started to see this crochet malarkey as a possible career path. I guess I’m not alone in that. We have a steadily growing generation of creatives, artists and makers-of-things coming forward now because they all lost their “sensible” jobs during the first few years of the recession. For me, I was laid off as a graphic designer, and after a brief and extremely stressful period as a free-lance designer, I thought to hell with it, time to do something I actually love for a change.
I dabbled in submitting patterns to magazines as it seemed like the safest first step, but I found the payoff was not equal to the work, and the lack of control of the final edit, pattern name, the delay between writing the thing and seeing it on the shelves, and the fact that I had no access to anyone making the pattern to help them if they got stuck was not ideal, so I do that rarely nowadays.
But, it did give me a start, and when the concept of Tunisian-lace hit me one morning in bed, I was in a good position to work on it solo and see what I could make of it.
Ravelry was a huge deal for me starting out. Having a ready audience of crafting people all focussing on one website meant that someone with a good idea could make an impression, and as this was ten years ago or so, there were far fewer patterns on Rav to compete with. I guess after I saw the initial reception of my first few patterns, and the joy there was to be derived by offering my creativity up for others to enjoy, I set my course.
Can you describe your journey from the initial idea of designing professionally and how you made this a reality?
It was… nebulous.
I think I’ve come at this career in a very similar way to many, if not all, of my patterns. I kind of fall into things and splash around til I get the hang of it. I hate big changes, they worry me, so any new things I encounter need to be approached at a diagonal like I’m trying to trick myself.
I fell into crochet design by way of a published pattern in the second ever issue of Inside Crochet, and it sort of grew from there. It took a few years, though, for me to hit on the idea of using Tunisian Crochet, coupled with basic knitted lace techniques to create something wholly new. That, literally, was a eureka moment.
I’m not overstating it when I say that my head is a strange place.
I literally revel in the sound of deadlines whooshing over my head and become unaccountably truculent when required to work to any schedule but my own. I guess it all comes down to the fact that my creative impulses come and go in waves, and can’t be controlled, really. It’s not an ideal way to work, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for any knit or crochet designer who can treat their career like a proper, 9 to 5 job with a predictable process, and a sensible framework. But I’m as likely to wake up in the morning with a desperate need to bake sourdough bread all day, or whittle twigs into hair sticks, or spin flax, or make a wrap-around skirt from an old duvet cover, as I am to feel motivated to crochet into the small hours of the next day.
These things are all equally fulfilling to me, the only difference is that the crochet pays the bills, so that’s what I call my “career”.
I think that your work has an immediately recognisable aesthetic and your designs are instantly recognisable. Can you tell us a little about your development of your design style?
I came up with the idea of Tunisian lace shortly after a friend who is a magnificent lace-knitter sat me down to explain exactly HOW lace knitting worked. I think I had admired her latest completed shawl and had lamented how difficult it must have been to make, so she was definitely setting me straight on that score.
As someone who was far more familiar with the hook than needles, my mind started trying to find a way to understand what she was saying in terms of crochet rather than knitting.
It all jumbled in my head for a while, and when the spin cycle was complete, I realised that traditional tunisian had un-tapped potential as a way to make lace.
As to my design style, honestly, I didn’t try to control that, I had no plan, and I don’t intend to develop one. That’s simply not how my process works.
But working in thick layers of crochet does limit what you can do, and working within those limits is where I’m happiest working. In art school, I was once told that accepting the imposition of limits on what you are allowed to do creatively on any given project paradoxically inspires more creativity, not less. You start to negotiate with the space you’re given, start to think sideways, and backwards, and you begin to view the tools at your disposal as more flexible than their accepted use.
If I gave you a blank sheet of paper and told you to make art, you’d be lost. But if I told you, you could make art only with things you found in your garden, suddenly, the creative gates open. It’s an exciting way to work, and I guess that’s why I have a recognisable style.
That, and the fact that I’m terrible at combining various colours, so I resolve to work in solid blocks of hand-dyed yarn. To me, that’s an example of accepting a personal flaw, and working around it.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
It’s funny because, several years ago, I was asked this question, and I was completely stumped. How do I answer a question, when I have NO idea where I get my ideas from? Gah!
But in the intervening years, it has come to my attention that I see the world as a series of shapes that either fit together nicely or don’t. For my shawls, I use a level of mathematical intuition (as in, I don’t work to perfection when it comes to my maths, I work til it feels right) to ensure whatever texture I work up will lie flat. After that, it’s a question of what I can remove, and what I can add in as compensation to make a pleasing pattern.
Often, I will imagine a shape in my head, almost like it’s computer code, and will then start negotiating with it til I think it might function in the real world. Then I jot down what I have, experiment with it, and decide where to go from there. I basically pick my patterns out of The Matrix.
Which other designers do you most admire and inspire you?
I love Doris Chan. I love the confidence with which she makes crazy shapes fold together at the last second to make clothing that fits. The number of times I’ve had crochet students come to me with a Doris Chan pattern that looks more like a bag-pipe cover, in a panic saying “This is meant to be a dress!”. I advise them to trust the pattern. Next class, it’s all starting to make sense. I love that.
It’s like a crochet pattern version of a magic eye poster; crochet long enough and it all falls into place!
I’ve also got a lot of admiration for our very own Carol Feller, even if she IS a knitter! 😉
I admire not only her output, and how much she’s done to modernise Aran knitting, but also her support of other designers, her willingness to give sound advice when asked, her work ethic and how good an example she is for those coming up behind her in clothing design. It’s many’s a time I’ve said “I wish I was as inspiring as Carol.” It’s a good mantra!
What are your favourite yarns to work with and how do you choose them?
Anything with silk in it is a favourite of mine, purely for blocking reasons. And because, as previously mentioned, I’m a disaster at combining colours in a pleasing manner (there’s a reason most of my clothes are black, folks). I love to work with hand-dyed yarns because I trust the dyers to know what they’re doing, and I have yet to be anything but thrilled with the outcome.
On that score, I love pretty much every single thing Ellie & Ada do (I used her yarn for Anaconda), and Coolree (Bel), and Hedgehog Fibres (Pax and Nova), and I’m dying to get working with some Townhouse Yarns laceweight, too.
My only criteria are that the yarn must be lace weight or a very light fingering weight and the skein must be made up of tints of the same colour, not dramatic blocks or sudden colour changes. Those yarns are gorgeous, to be sure, but they don’t work well in my style, sadly.
On a Decade of the Design Business
One of the great things about running a craft business is that you are constantly learning with having to turn your hand to business, marketing, customer care among other things. What has been the toughest part of running a craft business for you and how did you overcome that?
I find almost all if it a joy, I really do. And I think if you’re going to pull yourself along as the sole employee in a creative business you simply have to wake up each morning happy to get working on some aspect or another of your career. You have to genuinely love answering people’s questions, addressing their complaints, making people happy as you go.
If you’re all foot-dragging, that’s gonna come through in your work, and the people will look elsewhere for their creative sunshine. It has to be the thing you’d still do if you became independently wealthy tomorrow.
That said… I can’t stand official forms. I find them completely impossible to fill out. So, when it came to filling out tax forms, registering my business, doing all the government things necessary to keep the wolf from your door, that was a real struggle for me.
I know it’s necessary, but by god, I wish it wasn’t.
They most definitely do not make those websites navigable to the creative mind, which is a real pity, because, I have no doubt in my mind that our government would see an industrial boom if they make the process of paying income tax and all the rest easy for sole traders.
Overcoming that is an on-going battle. I have enough set aside now that I have been able to hire a local accountant, so the form-filling is now in the capable hands of someone who does that for a living, which is a huge weight off my shoulders.
With running a business by yourself it can sometimes be hard to stay motivated. How do you manage to keep the momentum going?
Is it OK to say that I don’t?
Like, honestly. I don’t think it’s possible to “turn on” your motivation. Some weeks, I do loads, I mill through possible shawl patterns, I wake up at three am, sneak my legs out from under the sleeping dog and go sketch out a shape I just dreamt up, and some weeks, it’s all I can do to remember to put socks on.
I think, in a creative job, you have to surf a lot. Go with what your head needs you to do, and don’t beat yourself up if you just.. can’t…do the thing today. Wallow if you need to, you know? You’ll get to the important stuff again when the wave picks up.
That all said, I do have a regular schedule of classes I teach, so I never really get to wallow too deeply in my own creative morass. But if I was to name any one thing as a good motivator, it’s learning to work around your lack of motivation. You know those days when you just wanna stay in your pyjamas and watch Star Trek all day? DO that, but crochet part of a project that doesn’t need you to work out a spreadsheet full of shaping maths or colour work while you do it. Maybe your head just needs a break that day.
Use your lack of motivation in a positive way, and you’ll get out of it faster and feel better for it, I promise.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I sleep late. One of the joys of being my own boss. Rosie the dog (who sleeps at the end of the bed) usually gets sick of waiting for me to wake up around nine, half nine. She’ll come up to me, poke me in the shoulder with her paw and stare til I get up and feed her.
Then, it’s coffee, Netflix and what I call zombie crochet. I do the more boring bits early in the day because I tend to get into my creative flow later in the evening. So, any class samples I need to finish, any long stretches of repetitive tunisian, that stuff gets done around noon.
The afternoon is usually spend walking the dog, feeding the dog, talking to the dog, then after lunch, the crochet experiments begin.
If I’m lucky, one of my ideas will pan out and will evolve into my next pattern. If not, the random crochet piece is consigned to a box where I may come back to it later.
After dinner, Rosie, Dave and I usually settle down on the couch and watch a movie, or some TV while I continue to work on the more interesting end of my design work, then we all head to bed around midnight, or 1am. I read for a bit, something completely unrelated to my work (at the moment, I’m rather enjoying a historical account of the life of Isabella of France, but I’m as likely to be caught reading any number of a selection of classic sci-fi, or anything by Jane Austen or the Brontés). I fall asleep with my book in hand usually, and wake up to start the process all over again!
What do you think helped you most to build your business?
Not knowing how tough it would be!
OK, that’s only really half serious, but I do think it has merit.
The emotional support of my family and my partner were absolutely key, too. No-one, I’m convinced, can create anything of merit in a vacuum. At least, I can’t. I know from experience the value of a genuine word of praise, so when I teach, I try to ensure I point out something good in each of my student’s work. It makes so huge a difference to someone’s ability to do something they haven’t tried before. And for me, every pattern is new, so knowing I have their backing is vital.
On the purely practical side too, living in a socialist country where I have never had to worry about the cost of my diabetes care is definitely on the top of the list. Not having to work in order to meet my more complex health needs is something I will always be grateful for. I can’t over-state that. The accident of the country of my birth has much to do with my sustained ability to harness my creativity and to do this job.
So, thank you, Ireland!
What does running a creative business mean to you?
As both a diabetic and someone who suffers occasionally from mild bouts of depression, I find it’s incredibly important for me to be able to say “stop, I need to look after myself” on any given hour of any given day.
Having a career that allows me to do that is why I have had the happiest and healthiest decade of my life so far.
I find that knitting and crochet are all the treatment I need to help improve and maintain a healthy outlook on life, but having the power to take time to breathe and centre myself if I need to is really why I keep doing this as a job.
Is there anything that you know now that you wish you had known 10 years ago when you first started designing?
That it’s important to have a solid support network and to tune out anyone whose advice is unsolicited, self-congratulatory or continuously negative. That sounds like I have a cross to bare, I know. I don’t, at all, but there have been times when I was close to quitting because people told me it couldn’t be done.
It’s heartbreaking to be told the one thing that keeps you happy and simultaneously maintains your bank account isn’t “worth it”, so my advice, if I’m qualified to give any to strangers, is to be sure that the people whose opinions you rely on are on your side. That way, if they tell you they think something is a bad direction to go in, you can be sure they have your best interests at heart.
I’m very lucky to have a partner and a dog both of whom appreciate my creative drive and are there with a kind word and a helpful ear when I need it, and I can say with all honesty that I would not be working as a crochet designer today if it wasn’t for their combined pep talks, emotional support, snuggles and help with the rent during low-sale months. Admittedly, the dog isn’t so good with the rent help, though, but she does what she can regardless.
I hope you enjoyed part I of Aoibhe’s interview. There is more from Aoibhe on Wednesday, so don’t forget to pop on back for part two as we take a look at Aoibhe’s other interests and her beautiful new design Selkie. It is currently on pre-order sale at the moment with a portion of the sale going to the Irish Seal Sanctuary and if you would like to nab 25% off the digital copy of Aoibhe’s Legendary Shawls Collection than all you have to do is subscribe and head on over to the VIC area to pick up your code. If you would like to find out more about Aoibhe, you can find her on Ravelry, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and of course Patreon.
Grow, Craft, Love
*Disclaimer: All photography is under the copyright of Aoibhe Ní/J.Matkin. Photography cannot be used without expressed permission.
Around the third week in January I always seem to hit a slump and as I look around groups on Ravelry, Facebook and other platforms, I realise that most of you in one way or another are feeling the same. So, this blog post is for all of you.
In each interview on the podcast or in person, I have asked some variation of the question “How do you deal with creative slumps?” The answers are always inspiring, motivational or thought provoking. Today, I even threw out the question to my twitter followers and I’ve put together this list of answers from designers, dyers and writers, in the hope that you will read this and know that you are not alone.
Writer, maker and curious sole. From Twitter:
I think the word creative puts to much pressure on us. I try to recognise all the things I grow, cook, write, sew on a daily basis and celebrate that my ability to create persists across the board even when I feel it has hit a lull in a particular area. The knowledge that my ability to create is a default even in difficult times provides reassurance it will return. There’s comfort in knowing being creative is innate even if the form and outlets may ebb and flow.
Hat Architect. From CLN Podcast, episode 3 (15min:30sec)
I have to work through that as I’m running a business and what makes me sad is that I feel like I’m creating things that I’m not that excited about because I’m running a business. That the business side is taking over from the creative side through need because you have to work through it. Being able to stop and bring your creativity back to the table, is a luxury that you don’t have when you rely on it to support your family, so you have to work through that. Ruts are hard to get out of and I usually use instinct.
Knitwear Designer. From Twitter:
They are a lot more frequent than most people admit. You’ve got to really love what you’re working on to push through the crap parts so that you’ve got the parts you like to look forward to.
Evin O’Keeffe – EvinOK
Author & Publisher. From CLN Podcast episode 4 (8min:00sec)
I thought, I can do this and if I don’t I will fail trying. What’s the worst that is going to happen? I can still get up and dust myself off and try again.
Designer. From CLN Podcast episode 5
I suppose for me a way of battling the creative slump is to get my camera out and go for a walk. I find the landscapes, building and things I see while out do help spark some ideas for designs. Then I doodle some sketches and it helps get my mojo back. Reflecting on this I think definitely taking some time to relax helps settle the foggy brain and let me focus again.
Designer. From Twitter:
I often feel a bit overwhelmed and lose a bit of my creative impetus. I feel as though I should be working on something but I don’t know what. At times like that, I often find that going through my stored yarn really helps. Something about the physical touching (and yes, maybe sniffing the yarn too) helps to reconnect me with what I love about my craft. It often sparks new ideas and inspiration and them I’m off and running (or rather, knitting) again.
Independent Yarn Dyer. From Twitter
Honestly, go for a walk. Get fresh air. Read a book. I have to seek creativity elsewhere or fall into EXISTENTIAL DREAD.
Writer, blogger, gardner. From Cottage Talks
I’m so glad I decided not to give it up because it has gone from strength to strength. Sometimes I still think “Fudge! This is too much. The weeds are a joke. The weathers too bad. My potatoes have blight. Slugs ate my seedlings.” But then I see a hare on my plot or I pick some tomatoes and I know I’ll continue to grow, despite all the challenges. The joy of the garden outweighs the hardship.
Independent Dyer. From Cottage Talks
I don’t spend big blocks of time in the studio, it’s always in and out from the house so it’s not too solitary (my house is rarely quiet!) But sometimes I am just not motivated, and then I do what I need to keep things going, filling orders (etsy and wholesale) as they come in, and otherwise take a bit of a break. I spent a lot of time and effort on the business last year… and wore myself out in the process. So I’ve let it take a bit of a back seat recently, and I’m playing around a bit more with some different things that interest me. New yarns, new colours, and the Irish Dye Junkies market have encouraged and motivated me. That’s also how the mini skeins got started, I wanted to try something a little different.
Author. From Twitter:
I tell myself I’ll be doing this till I die. There’s no rush. I’m doing it because I love it. Then I go out & enjoy myself!
Knitwear Designer & Editor. From Twitter:
For me a slump comes from either burnout, or too much pressure. Unlike in my day job, I really don’t respond well to pressure in creative work. So I try to avoid it – for instance by not submitting designs to magazines. But if I do find myself in that situation, and I’m blocked, the best thing is to take as much time away from the troublesome project as possible. Let it simmer away in the back of my head and the knots will work themselves out far better than if I fight with them every day. If it’s a more general slump – burnout – the answer is basically the same, scaled up: don’t push it. Don’t try to knit or design when it’s just not fun. Rather take time to do all the other things I enjoy – run, read, watch movies – and the creative pot will refill itself. Always.
Blogger & Venture Camper Extraordinaire. From Twitter:
For big emotional slumps, I focus on self-care: good food, move my body, be kind to myself, get outside, etc. And for inspiration needing slumps, I turn to a different creative medium (new craft, a new recipe, a new art medium) & create just for fun. Also adventures: going to a museum, hiking, thrifting, exploring a new place to fill my creative tank. Julia Cameron’s book The Artists Way is great and says we need weekly “Artist Dates” although I’m not sure I do them quite weekly.
I admire everyone that I have quoted and after reading this before publishing, I felt sad but also inspired to create. My way of dealing with slumps is usually a beach walk followed by a comedy show or I read a blog post from a favourite blogger and I try to laugh. I’ve even punched the air singing at the top of my lungs from my desk to old rock songs. It usually gets me focused or hyper in which case a swim is needed.
To all of you reading this, I’d like to ask you my question:
How do you beat your creative slump?
Let me know in the comments
Happy Friday to you all! It’s time for another Spotlight on the blog. I think the craft community has been hogging the limelight in previous weeks, so I am delighted to introduce the fabulous Fiona Kelly from the award winning blog Fiona Grows Food. I just cannot read enough of Fiona’s writing and after reading this spotlight, I know you will be looking to learn a little more about her. Grab that cuppa, get comfy and read on:
Question 1: Some of my readers may not know a lot about the gardening world. Could you tell us a little about how you got started in the Malahide Allotments and where that interest originated from?
I began my little allotment project in 2012. I had been out of a job for a long spell and the country was in the midst of a bad recession. At the time, I was looking for something to pass the days while I was looking for work.
My parents had gotten an allotment in 2010 in a beautiful walled garden in Dublin and I had spent a bit of time visiting their plot and enjoying their harvests. I guess I always followed in their footsteps; being an only child, I have a really close relationship with both my Mam & Dad and their influences have really shaped me over the years. So, when I saw an advertisement up for a new allotment project in Malahide, I was first to put my name on the list. I got quite lucky to get a plot so quickly, most allotments here in Dublin have waiting lists that stretch for years. The first day on site was overwhelming! It was just a huge, empty field with the plots marked out with a post at each corner. Because Malahide Allotments were a brand new project, I didn’t take over a previously worked plot and I had a 100 square meter pile of muck and had no idea where to start. It was a long process to get it from where it was then until now. I was the first plot holder in Malahide to plant anything on site, which will always be my own personal claim to fame; that and my pink shed!
The fabulous Fiona Kelly
Question 2: Congratulations on your win at this years Littlewoods Blog Awards, I’m sure that feels amazing! You started your blog and allotment venture quite young. Can you tell us why you decided to blog about it?
Thanks a million! It’s a bit surreal, there were some really amazing blogs in my category so I was shocked to get an award. Garden blogging is pretty niche so it wouldn’t have as many followers as the other lifestyle blogs out there so to win was a pretty big deal for me.
My age seems to be one thing people always comment on when they ask about the allotment (that and my gender), probably because allotment gardening is often associated with older males; though a trend is emerging of more young women involved in allotments and community gardens so perceptions are beginning to shift in that regard. I guess I was pretty young when I started my allotment, the very first day on site was my 27th birthday, so I share a birthday with my plot which is pretty special. I never saw my age as an inhibiting factor and in fact, in regards to the blog it has worked very much in my favour.
I suppose I began the blog as I just love writing and I felt it would be a nice way to keep my friends updated about the garden. I also wanted to encourage young people to grow some of their own food. It’s pretty spectacular to marry my love of gardening with my love of writing. The blog turned into an entirely different beast than I ever envisioned. It started as a small little project to keep me busy while unemployed but turned into a great way to connect with other growers & horticulturists around Ireland. I’ve made brilliant friends and have great supporters, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.
Question 3: How do you managed to balancing working full time, look after the allotment, blog and manage to write for Grow?
In a nutshell? Five hours sleep a night.
I don’t talk about my job much online but I have a busy, full time management job which I’m tied up with for most of my week. Making time for my allotment can be challenging at times. Sometimes, I have to forgo time in the garden in order to see family and friends but most weekends, I get to visit for a while. It’s far easier in the summer months when I have long evenings after work but in winter, my time in the garden is more limited. I guess it just takes a bit of determination and dedication, there’s little room for laziness in the food garden. Unfortunately the blog is the thing to suffer the most when I’m busy, I have to make the garden my priority, so I don’t update the blog every day, I’m more of what’s known as a “slow blogger”, I’d rather have quality content over a daily bombardment just for the sake of it.
I think the reason I manage to juggle my job, blog, garden and other commitments is that I just love what I do. I’m excited by it. It makes me happy and that is always worth spending time on.
Question 4: For someone who wants to start growing their own food do you have any tips or advice?
Where to start?! I guess the best piece of advice I could give you is don’t be afraid to fail. Growing food is all about patience and time. Nature does all the work for us, all we need to do is plant the seeds. Sometimes, crops just don’t work out and it’s not your fault.
You don’t have to have a large garden, it’s possible to just grow a pot of herbs or a chilli plant on a windowsill, take baby steps.
Grow what you like to eat.
In terms of practical advice, I can tell you, soil is the soul of a garden. Always spend time on your soil, even if you’re just growing in containers. Avoid weed killers and chemicals of any kind, they destroy the environment and kill our pollinators, grow organic. Read your seed packets, keep a diary and label your plants. Keep your plants well weeded. Water, water, water.
Question 5: I know from trying to work with our garden here that there are times it just feels like Mother Nature has decided she doesn’t like you any more and it’s personal. What was your lowest point with the Allotment and how did you overcome that to the wonderful space it is now?
I’ve had to admit defeat so many times over the years in the garden and it’s a humbling experience but there was only one occasion when I really wanted to give it all up.
It was during the summer & autumn of 2013. I’d had the plot for a little over a year and I really loved it but that June I had a major upset in my personal life and was unable to visit my allotment for four weeks. When I finally did pluck up the courage to go, I remember I looked around the plot and just burst in to tears. The place was a disaster, the weeds were hip height, my crops had died and I was so overwhelmed by what had happened to my life and my garden that I just sat there and cried for an hour. I had a bereavement a couple of months later so the allotment suffered again. At that point, I really couldn’t see how I could continue and I considered giving it up. But with some encouragement from my Mam, I decided to keep it at least until the lease was up the following spring. Of course, by then I had gotten on top of everything and in fact, the allotment became the place I went to when I was racked with grief so it really became my haven. The garden kept me going (until I broke my foot but that’s a whole different story).
I’m so glad I decided not to give it up because it has gone from strength to strength since that day. Sometimes I still think “Fudge! This is too much.The weeds are a joke. The weathers too bad. My potatoes have blight. Slugs ate my seedlings.” But then I see a hare on my plot or I pick some tomatoes and I know I’ll continue to grow, despite all the challenges. The joy of the garden outweighs the hardship.
The famous pink shed of the Malahide Allotments
Question 6: What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?
To be patient, not something I’m always good at. You can’t speed up time in a garden, you have to work with the seasons.
That it’s ok if a seed doesn’t germinate or a crop doesn’t succeed, it’s ok to admit defeat and start over. Gardening has grounded me.
Slugs hate coffee but love cabbages. Slimy little weirdos!
That gardeners are generally the soundest and most generous people around. I’ve been blown away by the support and kindness of the gardening friends I’ve made over the past few years. If you want to experience kindness, befriend a gardener.
That there’s more to learn about muck than you can possibly imagine.
Oh and that fingerless gloves are the greatest item of clothing ever invented.
Question 7: We are big fans of GIY International here and their magazine Grow. Can you tell us how your collaboration with them started?
Glad to hear you’re a fan! GIY are a great organisation to be involved with and I’ve been a fan for years. When I first got my allotment, I joined a local GIY group and I found the meeting so helpful and it was nice to meet some other growers and share tips. I was contacted by GIY in April of this year. They had read my blog and asked me if I’d like to write something for their summer edition. I had to pinch myself really, it was very unexpected. For me, it was pretty much a dream come true. I think what GIY are doing for Ireland is inspiring and very important. The staff are an incredibly warm supportive group of people and it’s a joy to work with them.
Question 8: I have to ask, do you have any craft hobbies?
My Mam is a brilliant knitter and taught me from a young age. I was a serious stitch dropper though and always, always ended up ripping back the whole thing countless times before crumpling into a ball of frustrated tears! Thankfully as I’ve gotten older I’ve improved somewhat and now I’m a pretty ok with needles! The day I mastered cable knitting was a huge deal for me and my clumsy hands! Sadly, I don’t have the time to knit very often with all my other commitments. I’ve dabbled with making jewellery, I can weave with a bead loom and do some wire work. I also went through a big crossstiching phase when I was about 12 and even tried my hands at quilling for a while.
So, I do like to make things with my hands, particularly for my garden. I guess I see writing as my true craft though, I’m happiest when I’m stitching words and weaving stories.
Question 9. With such a strong love for sustainable living, what do you want your legacy to be? or how do you want to be remembered?
Terrible gardening puns. That’s what I’d like to be remembered for.
Nah, I don’t see myself as having a legacy, I’m a live-in-the-moment kind of person; but I would like to know I helped the bees in some way and if I can encourage just one young person to get growing, that’s the best I can ask for.
Question 10: What does the future hold for Fiona?
I’d love to undertake study for an RHS qualification in Horticulture (you know, because I’m not nearly busy enough already) but it all depends on time. I do have some exciting plans as far as my blog is concerned but I’m keeping that under wraps for now. I’ve also got some more collaborations with GIY in the works so I continue to be blessed. Mostly though, I’m just hoping for plenty of days spent digging, watering, harvesting and dancing around my garden in the summer rain.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today Fiona. I have to admit after I read these questions, I was in awe. If like me your looking for more from Fiona, you can find her Seasonal Container Growing segment on GIY Soundcloud . Fiona has also appeared with Peter Donegan on The Sod Show were they chat about starting the allotment in Malahide and how to rock a sexy wellie. If you want to get in touch with Fiona and congratulate her on a fab interview, you can find her on Twitter, Instagram and of course her blog FionaGrowsFood.com.
I love sharing Indie Dyers on the blog and this week I am catching up with Yvonne from the Dublin Dye Company
. You have heard me mention one or two things about her over on the podcast but today let’s hear more from the lady behind those skeins:
1. Yvonne, Can you tell us how you got started with the Dublin Dye Company and how that has developed into the Dublin Dye we know today?
As you mentioned in the podcast Dublin Dye started out with a few people from This is Knit, I don’t think I was even one of the first! But as time moved on (and the shop moved out of Blackrock) I somehow ended up in charge! Physically the ‘studio’ has moved from the shop in Blackrock to a garage in Dun Laoghaire, and then to it’s current home in a shed in my garden. It’s developed very organically, definitely a hobby business which I spend more or less time on as I have it.
2. Can you tell us about some of the designers that you have gotten to work with?
I’ve loved working with Irish designers over the years, Carol Feller being the most well known and I agree that she’s got a great eye for details. I love the Pavonis pattern from Studio Miranda that you mentioned in the show. And I’ve been totally in love with the Gleninsheen Cowl by Eimear at Playing with Fibre ever since I first saw it. At some stage, I will get around to knitting myself one.
Yvonne McSwiney the face behind those lovely Dublin Dye Company Fibers (Photo credit: L. Sisk)
3. If there was a designer out there that you haven’t had the fortune to work with yet but would love to, who would that be?
Oh, that’s a hard one, there are so many good designers out there. I had to browse my Ravelry queue to answer this! I love Lisa Chemery’s
childrens stuff and I really admire designers like Kate Davies
, Woolly Wormhead
, who’ve worked so hard to get where they are. Heidi Atwood-Reeves
and Hannah Fettig
also show up a huge amount in my queue, so I have to include them!
4. Your days must be hectic so how do you balance being a hand-dyer and working full time?
Dyeing yarn has to fit in around family life, which is why the studio lives in my garden! If I’m home in the evening then I’ll be back and forth between the kitchen and the studio, adding dye to pots in between cooking dinner. Most of my yarns are kettle dyed, and they don’t usually mind much if it takes me 20 minutes to get back to them instead of 5.
5. What are the best bits and the worst bits of your job?
The best bit is playing with colours. I particularly like when someone comes with a photo or idea and asks me to create it in yarn. I think my least favourite part is mixing up the dye stocks, for some reason that always seems like a bit of a chore.
Dublin Dye Co. Swing Sock Gradients
6. We know you love all your bases but what are your favourite yarn bases to dye with and knit with?
I love the Swing Sock base
, it is great to dye as well as to knit. I’ve used it for shawls, socks and sweaters, it works for everything and stands up well to regular use. But I’m a real sucker for anything with silk, and recently knit a shawl with my new Silken 4 ply. It’s wonderful to work with, and the shine of silk adds so much to the colours.
7. Out of all the projects that you have knit, what is your favourite?
I think my most well work hand knit (besides all my socks) is my Centrique shawl
, it gets pulled out every winter and still looks amazing, Malabrigo lives up to its reputation in this case. Another is Ravi Junior,
which I did as a test knit for Carol and my little girl wore it for about 2 years! Finally, I’m currently working on a Pavement sweater
for the winter which I can’t wait to get off the needles!
8. How do you deal with working by yourself while dyeing? How do you stay motivated and enthusiastic?
I don’t spend big blocks of time in the studio, it’s always in and out from the house so it’s not too solitary (my house is rarely quiet!) But sometimes I just am not motivated, and then I do what I need to keep things going filling orders (etsy and wholesale) as they come in, and otherwise take a bit of a break. I spent a lot of time and effort on the business last year… and wore myself out in the process. So I’ve let it take a bit of a back seat recently, and I’m playing around a bit more with some different things that interest me. New yarns, new colours, and the Irish Dye Junkies
market have encouraged and motivated me. That’s also how the mini skeins got started, I wanted to try something a little different.
9. Aside from yarn do you have any hobbies and do you garden or grow any veg?
My husband is almost entirely in charge of our garden, except for the small edible bit. There are some herbs, rhubarb and strawberries which are my little section, I had blueberries but they didn’t like my soil. Otherwise, I knit of course and sew. And to keep myself from melting into the soft I run and do the occasional Pilates class.
10. What do you see for Dublin Dye’s future?
I don’t have any sort of 5-year plan for Dublin Dye, It’s going to continue to grow organically and I’ll take opportunities as they arise!
If you would like to catch up with Yvonne you can see her at the K&S Show
this weekend at the RDS. Don’t forget that you can still win a Dublin Dye DK skein in petrol, just leave a comment on Episode 2 of the podcast
and I’ll announce a winner next Friday at the start of Episode 3! Do you have any questions for Yvonne? Drop a note in the comments and I’ll pass it along.
I’m excited to be able to introduce to you a new feature on the blog. Every second Friday we will be hitting the spotlight on a Designer/Hand-dyer/Author/Gardener that have meant something to us here at the Cottage. I thought it was only fitting that we should start with Jennifer Sisk from Townhouse Yarns. Jenny has been a close friend of mine since bouncing into This is Knit with a giant smile and endless enthusiasm a few years ago. I have admired her passion for yarn and colour and I think it shines through into her dyeing. So grab a cuppa and come meet the person behind Townhouse Yarns:
Jenny, Can you tell us how you got started in This is Knit and how that led to you starting Townhouse Yarns?
Jennifer Sisk aka Townhouse Yarns herself!
I started in This is knit over 4 years ago now, it’s funny how far things have come in such a short period of time. Even though it’s a family business, I must admit I never thought I would find my calling in it. I had knit a bit but it was anything garter stitch and square (although it never ended up square!) Lisa or Jacqui would have to cast on/off and fix any mistakes. The shop was short on staff one weekend and Lisa asked if I could lend a hand and I’ve never left.
Like most, I absolutely love hand dyed yarns and I became so intrigued with the process. In early 2014, I approached Lisa and Jacqui with the idea, they humored me and I’m so glad they did because I love my job!
Can you tell us about some of the designers that you have gotten to work with?
The fabulously talented Carol Feller (Georgian Heights
) and Woolly Wormhead (Sophora
) have both used Townhouse Yarns – Grafton 4ply in their designs. They both even chose the same shade! For the past 2 years I’ve also collaborated with Carol
for the Irish Yarn Club which has been such a pleasure. I adore her patterns and have knit quite a few over the years. The most recent designer to feature Townhouse Yarns is Gillian Harkness who designs under the name Mina loves Designs
, for a gorgeous shawl design, Flijot
using Fade St, a merino and silk single. She’s definitely an up and coming designer to watch 🙂
With Permission from Left to right: Georgian Heights by Carol Feller, Sophora by WoollyWormhead and Fljort by Gillian Harkness
If there was a designer out there that you haven’t had the fortune to work with yet but would love to, who would that be?
There’s so many..! I love a lace beaded shawl so BooKnits would be amazing, Ysolda.. Joji, Vera Valimaki.. and Stephen West!
Your days must be hectic so how do you balance being a hand-dyer, mum and TIK staff member?
It can definitely be hectic, I’m still learning to delegate my time to make things run smoothly and some days things just don’t go to plan. Sometimes homework and bedtime stories take priority over dyeing and housework usually goes to the bottom of the list. I have great support from my husband and family and I couldn’t have made Townhouse Yarns what is it today without them.
What are the best bits and the worst bits of your job?
Best bits I think are the freedom to create and play with colour and such beautiful yarns. Seeing people’s reactions to them on the shelves and hearing the feedback. Enabling yarnies is so fun.
Worst bit if I had to choose something is the achy arms I get sometimes from dyeing/winding the yarn into skeins.
We know you love all your bases but what are your favorite yarn bases to dye with and knit with?
I adore Fade St
to dye and knit, it’s just a fabulous all rounder for me. Coming in a close 2nd at the moment is the latest addition, Clarendon Sock
Claredon Sock in Rippleberry – drool go on stroke the screen, I know you want too!
Out of all the projects that you have knit, what is your favorite?
That’s a hard one to answer, Garment would have to be Riyito
from Carol Feller’s Short Row Knits
book and Accessory would be Voodoo
by BooKnits which was a Mkal.
What do you see for Townhouse Yarns future?
I’ve nabbed a domain and am working away albeit slowly on a Townhouse Yarns website and I’ve also just launched a shop on Etsy. Irish Yarn Club 2017 is in the planning stages and I also hope to exhibit at a yarn festival in 2017!
Aside from yarn do you have any hobbies and do you garden or grow any veg?
I wish I had more time to dedicate to my garden, unfortunately our garden has a terrible slope which leads to flooding so even growing grass proves difficult. It’s on the list, somewhere after housework! Hoping to pick up lots of tips from the cottage notebook 🙂
Thanks so much for the chat Nadia!
Thank you so much Jenny for taking the time to talk with us and for all of you dying to get your hands on Jenny’s yarns you can head on over to her Etsy Shop and she has kindly offered a 10% discount when you use the code ‘townhouse10’ and you better hurry it finishes up on October 10th. You can see what Jenny is up to over on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and of course Ravelry! Do you have a question for Jenny? Then pop a comment below and we will get right back to you!
Next Friday sees the release of Episode 2: Potatoes to Dye for, over on the Podcast. You will need to prepare yourselves for gold digging toddlers, KAL chat and some interesting yarns! Did you enjoy catching up with Jenny? How are your Wips coming along? Don’t be shy and drop us a comment below!