I'll admit it. When we open boxes of yarn that come from our dyers, I gasp and flap my hands like a child nearly every time. I often say "Oooooo" while doing a quick bouncing-up-and-down dance. I have the same reaction as those who walk through our doors for the first time- the newbies often reveal themselves with a sharp intake of breath and a somewhat confused look with furrowed brows. Then eyes widen and smiles creep in. After nearly eight years of opening boxes of yarn, I get the same thrill. Perhaps the thrill is even greater because after dyeing our own line for a year I know what it takes to get things just right.
So imagine the dance I did when this arrived.
Erica is the dyer behind Fiddle Knits, and I have two bases for you- Aria Sock, which is this gorgeously dyed merino/nylon/sparkle shown throughout this post, and Dye-a-Tonic, merino/nylon with a nice twist that will hold up to wear.
Bobbi, one of my Canadian test knitters, knit the below sock in the Nightfall colorway, and I'll have her favorable review for you shortly. Today, I'm sharing with you a bit of question-and-answer from Erica. I always like learning more about a dyer and her methods. Just scroll below the photos to get to know Erica a bit more.
Allison: Tell us a bit about how you learned to knit and share with us what keeps you perpetually interested in fiber.
Erica: First it was crochet. I learned as part of my homeschool program when I was about 10 (5th grade). I stuck with it for a little while, refusing to following patterns and just doing my own thing (lots of squarish shaped things). Then it got put down only to be thought about when it was cold out and I wanted a new scarf. After I graduated high school I took some time off to try and figure out what I wanted to do about college. (After 2 years I decided to get my BS online in cultural anthropology and performance.) I was already involved in the arts world full time teaching dance, violin, and performing music professionally with my family band, The Homegrown String Band. I decided that I quite enjoyed this craft filled place I was in and I wanted to get even more involved and do everything hand made that I possibly could. Mostly I was thinking about my wardrobe, which seemed extremely important at 19 years old. I didn’t want crocheted garments because I thought of them as “old” (keep in mind all I was familiar with about crochet at this time was granny squares and single crochet rectangles), so I headed to the library. I got 2 books on knitting (The Big Book of Knitting and Hip to Knit) and then hit Michael’s (the only place I knew to get yarn) and bought some black faux mohair. My first project was a seed stitch scarf. I wanted to poke my eyes out. I gave up half way through. Looking back I’m impressed I didn’t quite then. My second project was a pullover hooded sweater, also in black, with a Celtic knot done in intarsia on one sleeve. It came out great and I think I actually completed the finishing on that better than any other garment I’ve made to date. The only problem was I didn’t realize what gauge was and hadn’t yet learned I knit very loose. I could have fit 3 of me in the sweater. It got shoved in a closet. My next attempt was socks and they came out great! I just did a simple stockinette ankle sock in a self striping yarn by Lion Brand. I still have the socks and wear them pretty often. They’re now 8 years old, but the superwash merino and nylon blend has held up well against the test of time.
A lot of my learning to knit was done in the backseat of the family minivan on the way to gigs. I somehow discovered podcasts and through them discovered the online knitting world and that there were places to buy yarn besides box stores. If we passed remotely close to a yarn shop on our way to a gig I’d make my family stop. That’s how I discovered hand dyed sock yarns. I decided I would by [at least] a skein of sock yarn from every shop we passed on the road, and I did. And even though I now dye yarn I’d still buy sock yarn.
Allison: Many of the dyers my shop supports have day jobs outside the realm of fiber, and dye in their kitchens or studios at night. Is this the case for you?
Erica: Knit design and dyeing yarn is pretty much all I do. My family band still performs, but to a lesser extent than we did a few years ago. It used to be that I played gigs and taught music full time and just dabbled in the knitwear design, but in the past 2 years a lot has changed. Now the yarn world is where I live full time and music is something I do on the side.
When I started dyeing I did do it in the kitchen. I cleared a section of the counter and covered it in plastic to try and keep the white counters from getting too messy. That worked for a while, but I could only do one skein at a time and I also was getting tired of seeing my dye supplies all over the kitchen and dining room, so I had to find another spot. I ended up converting the garage into my shop. Half of it has a my photo studio set up and the other side has tables and pots and powders and everything I need for dyeing. It works a lot better like this.
Allison: What compelled you to take the leap from dyeing for your own personal use to a full fledged dyeing operation?
Erica: The whole dyeing process is only about 2 years old for me. First I was dyeing only to go along with my designs. I started doing yarn and pattern clubs and would dye a limited number of each color for the club members. Colorways started getting requested more and more frequently and I had folks on all my various social networks encouraging me to dye more so they could get the yarns I was using in my patterns. Then I got contacted by a few yarn shops. I hadn’t really thought of doing wholesale until I was asked about it a year ago. With the aid of some helpful LYS owners I worked out how I could make it happen. I’m still in the process of growing my business now. There’s a lot of steps to take and hurdles to leap!
Allison: What method do you use to apply color to your skeins? Do you use a different method for different colorways?
Erica: I use a few different dye methods. The top three are kettle dyeing, painting, and dip dyeing. Since I never had any training in color or dyeing I have my own names for how I do everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if the instructions I write for myself mean nothing to another dyer.
Solid colors like Forest Dweller, Chocolatier, and Passion are all kettle dyed. I mix the dye powders to get the color I want and add everything to a huge kettle. (I never use dyes just straight as they’re bought because I want unique colors and not something anyone could get.)
A colors that appear to be a blend of two colors (in reality they’re many more) like Dryad, Nightfall, or Blood Orange are dyed using a method I call overlaid colors. I start with one color and keep adding on top of it and blend them together. It’s sounds similar to overdyeing, but it’s not actually the same process.
Allison: If you were to choose your dream job, what would it look like?
Erica: I’m doing it! I’d probably ask for a bigger dye studio and an adjacent room that was comfortable were I could sit and work on my knitting designs between steps in the dye process. Other than that I can’t really ask for another dream job because I already love what I do.
Allison: What is your project of choice?
Erica: Shawls. Fancy shawls, plain shawls, up shawls, down shawls, side-to-side shawls. I love them all. The shawl obsession started at the same time I started dyeing sock yarn. Back when I first started knitting I went through a sock knitting phase (since it was my first successful project), but after that I wasn’t very interested in sock knitting. I’m really picky with what I’ll wear on my feet. If I knit socks they need to be tight fitting ankle socks in plain stockinette, and there’s only just so much plain sock knitting I could stand. I love sock yarn though, so discovering fingering weight shawls was amazing. Now shawls are my go-to project. It’s very rare that I don’t have one on my needles.
A big thanks to Erica for sharing your words and fiber with us! I look forward to seeing many more of your colors over the years.