Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dyers In Their Studios: Melanie of BlackTrillium Fibres

Rosaline Shawl in Lilt
This month, it is my pleasure to introduce Melanie Dilworth, the dyer behind Black Trillium Fibres, who will be providing the yarn for our very first Ficstitches Yarns Kit Club! I was introduced to Melanie's work when I was designing the Mystery Crochet-Along Shawl for the 2014 Rose City Yarn Crawl. They wanted us to use yarn from a local dyer for the sample, and I was really drawn to the rich tones of Black Trillium's colorways. I used two shades of her Lilt sock, a merino and mulberry silk blend, and loved it so much are using it for our first Kit Club kit.

During the yarn crawl this year, I connected with Melanie, and she invited us back to see her dye studio. We got to chat with her while she was working, taking recently dyed gradient skeins out of the oven, then hanging them to dry. All that before they are separated into smaller skeins for her gradient kits. So much work goes into one skein of hand-dyed yarn, I will let Melanie tell you all about it, in her own words....

I’ve been dyeing more or less formally since August of 2008, but really started to get a sense of myself as a dyer later, in November 2008. A group of us started dyeing together for fun with a little bit of yarn from our stashes as well as some undyed yarn we bought from Louet. Most everyone was dyeing Louet Gems fingering weight at that time, and a number of other Oregon folks were starting up dyeing operations around the same time. It seemed like a good idea, so we took it outside in the warm Oregon early fall weather and made a family thing of it. I was the only one who really wanted to keep dyeing yarn, so we split things up and I officially took Black Trillium Fibres off on my own.
My personal background is as a Seattle-ite. I went to University of Washington, originally for biology and then later for English Literature and Literary Theory. However, when I started dyeing I was very much a stay-at-home mother and had no particular career path I was working toward.

I don’t consider my chemistry background at UW a special experience, and I certainly do not consider myself an artist. Having an active knowledge of Organic Chemistry has helped quite a lot, though, as a dyer. I feel confident in my knowledge of proper uses of dyes to create a finished product that will retain its color and fiber quality over time. What I’ve found most inherently informs my dyeing palette is color theory and the ways that dyes and various chemical influences work together to create certain effects on wool fibers. 

A little Lilt Love in Snapdragon and Iced Teal
What sets me apart color-wise is what makes every dyer’s yarn unique: personality. 
There is so much room in the knitting world for dyers to express ourselves through
color, so as long as quality is there, beautiful colors and textures will always find an

Building a unique hand-dyed yarn from the ground up starts with where you get the yarn substrates. While there are a number of wholesalers in the US, none of them reliably sources superwash wool from within the US. My dyeing process requires superwash wool, which can then be blended (or not) with any number of interesting things and spun, plied and hanked at my specifications. I love the mill I work with because they’re a family owned company going back a number of generations, they’re extremely high quality and very smart in their business practices. They’re also constantly innovating, and while not everything they’re able to do works with my dyeing style, I know they’ll be around to supply my company with consistent yarns well into the future.

My dyeing style is fairly unique, and mathematically oriented. If I create a color I really like and want my stores to be able to reorder, I need to know exactly what went into the colorway and in what order it was applied. My gradient yarns, which are only available via because of their long processing time, are complex math because I want the transitions to be noticeable but logical. I also want there to be as little differences from one gradient batch to another, while also formulating and maintaining original dyestock recipes for each one.

The ultimate difference between buying yarn from myself or other hand dyers like me, and a machine-dyed yarn like Noro or Cascade, is that you’re supporting an individual’s livelihood rather than a manufacturing scheme. The handmade movement that really took up steam in 2009 and spawned the Maker Movement and the popularity of crowdfunding, built platforms such as Etsy and Kickstarter into household words is all about supporting what is good for the community. I work for myself, so what you pay for my yarn goes directly back into my community. I see it as my responsibility to make wise choices with the resources that have come my way, so I try to funnel what I can back into locally based organizations and companies, or to others that support their families in a similar way to mine.

Finding inspiration, choosing colors and naming them feels like a really organic process to me. I’ll often see something and think that it really needs its own color. A perfect example of this is Red Maple – as we were out walking one sunny afternoon the sun was shining right through the leaves on one of the dark red maple trees, and you could clearly see the green right through the red. That experience became a colorway that very evening. I think ultimately that means I’m channeling sources of inspiration from what speaks to me. Staying open in the moment, and being observant are really the two best ways I can think of to describe where my ideas come from.

Just The Facts
I have well over 250 repeatable regulars colors, 55 gradient colors, and a number of other varieties of things that don’t have names. I’ve pretty much lost count on the regulars (things like Hedwig, Nutmeg, Oz, etc) but some I’ve been dyeing since 2009 and they’re just as popular then as they are now.

I try to create several new sets of colors every year, as both a creative exercise and to expand my portfolio. I also work with a number of store owners to create colors for their needs, although I don’t create special order colors for individuals.

I use superwash wool bases, blended with things like silk, nylon and cashmere. All of my yarn substrates come from one mill in South America. My yarns are available on my own website,, as well as about 20 brick and mortar stores from Oregon to New York.

I think of myself as a purple person with a heavy dose of black (see my Black Trillium colorway, that’s pretty much me). However, my stash deviates heavily toward blue. I love wool and silk.

I learned to crochet when I was five, although my Gran didn’t teach me how to read charts. I learned to knit when I was 11, although it didn’t become something I did every day until I was in my late twenties. I’m self-taught in so many things (knitting, dyeing, sewing, music, quilting, wood working, gardening, etc) but spinning really took me for a drive. I had to sit down with an instructor to really get the concepts. I pretty much stink as a spinner, but it is a form of zen you can’t find anywhere else.

Link Up

Most photos ©ReCrochetions, from my visit to Melanie's studio, and yarn for our kits. The first photo is from Black Trillium's Facebook page, and the Rosaline shawl photo is ©RCYC LLC.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Introducing Ficstitches Yarns! A Crochet Kit Club with a Twist!
I'm so excited to finally share the project I have been developing along with two of my equally creative, geeky friends, hook carver Monica Lowe and writer C. Jane Reid. We make a great team, with all of our various skills coming together to create an awesome, one-of-a-kind product, and I get to work with two of my best friends.

Over the past year, I have been working with indie dyers on my Dyers In Their Studios Series and Hooked On Hand Dyed Patterns. I have been profiling various hand dyers here on my blog, and publishing patterns on Ravelry using their yarns. This project led to branching into putting together kits with Monica, including her crochet hooks, my patterns, and locally dyed yarns. The kits have sold well at the craft shows where she sells her hooks, so we have decided to take them to the next level!

Ficstitches Yarns is a quarterly Kit Club launching April 1st (unless the April Fool gives us any surprises). In addition to hooks, my designs, gorgeous yarn, and other hand-made goodies, we are working with "speculative fiction" writer, C. Jane Reid, who is writing historical crochet fiction stories that tie the kits together. Making this truly a brand new kind of Crochet Kit Club! From the stories, to the design, to the surprise hand-made gifties, you will find an adventure in every package!

So, if you:
  • Loved "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" type stories as a kid
  • Like getting fluffy yarny goodness in the mail
  • Enjoy fun crochet projects that use mostly basic stitches, but provide tutorials for any unusual techniques
  • Adore hand-dyed yarn, or just want to try different fibers and weights
  • Enjoy the feel of long, hard wood in your hands - oops, er. hand carved hooks
  • Have been waiting for something new in crochet fiction
  • OR just want to support some awesome creative women in a new venture
Then this is the Crochet Kit Club for you!

But in order to be a part of the Adventure you have to preorder a kit!
Here's how it works:
  • Preorders will open every 3 months (April, July, and October for 2015)
  • One month needed for Hook-carving and Yarn-dyeing
  • Kit will ship the following month (June, September, and December)
Pre-orders for our First Kit Club will open on April 1st (and will be available through April, or until we sell out). Be sure to check out our Ficstitches Yarns Website, and join the mailing list to be notified as soon as the Kit Club opens!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Road To Teaching Crochet

OR How Being a Cashier at Michaels Led Me To
Teaching at The Knit and Crochet Show!
Classes go on sale tomorrow morning for the CGOA's Knit and Crochet Show, this July, in San Diego, CA. I will be teaching three classes there, including an all-day class on Reversible Intarsia, and half-day classes on Crochet Cables Over The Edge and Bling It On (adding Beads and Sparkle). Although this is my first year teaching at a large national conference, I feel like I have been working toward this for most of my adult life...

Nearly 20 years ago, in the summer of 1996, I was a newlywed who had just moved to a new town for my husband's job. I needed a part-time job while I was finishing up school, and thought it would be fun to work at my favorite craft store. I began working as a cashier at the local Michaels Arts and Crafts Store, but quickly moved on to the Frame Shop. There I soon became known as the go to person for all "needlework" department questions, whether yarn, cross-stitch, or other fiber crafts.

When the store needed a Class Coordinator, I moved into that position, which worked well around my school schedule. When corporate decided that all stores needed to offer crochet classes, I didn't have anyone else to teach, so decided to give it a try. I had been crocheting off and on since I was 11 or 12, but had never tried to teach anyone because I am left-handed.

The first few classes, I taught the way I had learned. I demonstrated with my dominant hand, facing the students, and had them work mirror image to me. This worked most of the time, but over the years I have learned to work right-handed well enough to demonstrate (which also slows me down, making it easier for students to see what I am doing).

Over the next 15 years, through several moves, graduate school, and early motherhood, I continued to teach crochet at other Michaels stores, and a couple of smaller yarn stores. When I didn't have a store to teach in, I taught friends, my classmates, and later fellow moms in my local MOMS Club to start the Remembering Rowan Project (which was very healing when I needed it most). Whenever I had the chance to share my passion for crochet, I left with a giddy feeling of satisfaction from seeing my students have that "Aha!" moment when the basics of crochet clicked for them.

In the spring of 2011, I ran a Crochet-Along on my blog to help those making blankets to donate to NICUs learn more stitches. Having my designs recognized at the CGOA Design Competition that summer also gave me the confidence to begin submitting designs for publication.

The following year, I turned my crochet-along sampler into my first book, ReCrochetions Presents: Rowan's Learn to Crochet Sampler, where I collected all of the stitch tutorials and tips I thought would be helpful from those years of teaching beginners to crochet. Also that year, my Reversible Rowan Tree Vest won the grand prize at the CGOA's Design Competition.

I knew one of the regular instructors who would be at the conference was from my area, and had asked her to bring my vest back after the conference. We met at her local yarn store and had lunch together nearby. Having seen the Reversible Intarsia technique I used in my vest, she basically told me that I had this unusual technique that no one else was doing, and I needed to be prepared to teach that technique at national conferences. Because if I didn't, someone else would start teaching it.

From that point on, I think nearly everything I have done has been working toward this goal. I wrote and published my second book, Reversible Color Crochet, on the intarsia technique. I published several articles and patterns using that technique, as well as many others, in various magazines. I have attended every conference I could, and taken classes with lots of different teachers, as much to observe their teaching style as to learn a new technique. I also taught an Intarsia Make-n-Take at the Knit and Crochet Show last year.

Then I began locally, submitting classes to local fiber events last year, and in the fall I got to teach at Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival (OFFF) and Astoria Stitchfest. Once I had some experience at these larger local events, only then did I submit classes to The Knit and Crochet Show. I really wanted this to be my year, because it is on the West Coast (for the first time in many years) AND it is in my hometown. But I knew there were a lot of other wonderful teachers submitting for just a few spots to teach, so I was thrilled when my classes were chose!

So, if you are planning to attend the conference, or live anywhere in Southern California, be sure to check out The Knit and Crochet Show Class Schedule (full class descriptions here), and Reserve your spot in one of my classes (or one of the many other awesome classes). There are not as many options for classes this year, so they many fill up quickly, so don't delay!

I myself am now off to check out the classes available the days I'm not teaching, so I can sign up first thing tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Stitches West Book Signings this Weekend!

Fresh from a trip to Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat last weekend, I am now busy packing for my next roadtrip: Stitches West in Santa Clara, CA. I will be doing Book Signings at the Yarn Barn of Kansas booth on Saturday the 21st at 2pm and Sunday the 22nd at 12pm. We will have copies of all three of my books, Reversible Color Crochet and ReCrochetions Presents: Rowan's Learn to Crochet Sampler (Left-Handed and Right-Handed editions).

This will be my first Stitches, so I am looking forward to checking one of the few big yarn shows on the West Coast, especially the marketplace. As we drive (well, whenever I'm not actually driving) I will be finishing up some samples of designs I've done for several of the yarn companies that have booths at this event, including Colinette (from Wales) and Spincycle (local dyers who I profiled here last month).

Perhaps when I return I'll manage to write a post about both events. Madrona was really great for connecting with local dyers, designers, and teachers (mostly knitters and spinners). But I know Stitches is a much larger event, so it will be a totally different experience.

So, if you are in the Santa Clara area, or coming to Stitches, I hope to see you there! If you have one of my books, bring it for me to sign! Now back to packing, before I go pick up my travelmate Monica Lowe (of Craftwich Creations) from the train station, so we can leave bright and early tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

WNW: Textured Waves Shawl

What's New Wednesday

I had a lot of fun working up the Textured Waves Shawl in the new Spring Issue of Crochet! Magazine. The design was inspired by a stitch pattern I found in a Japanese Stitch dictionary I picked up at Vogue Knitting Live in Seattle last spring.

Although I often start with inspiration from a stitch dictionary, the stitch pattern seldom stays the same as I play with the stitches. I was intrigued by the changing stitch heights combined with rows of front and back post single crochets.

The post stitch rows create ridges between the waves and are alternated front and back so there are ridges on every other wave on both sides. By skipping every other stitch to create the dips in the waves, you get the open lacy look of a 'feather and fan' pattern.

Although it is worked in fingering weight yarn, this is a very quick project to work up, on a nice big J (6.00mm) hook. The hand dyed Jitterbug yarn I used for the sample comes from Colinette Yarns, in Wales.

I have had the pleasure of doing a lot of designs with Colinette yarns lately, and just LOVE the rich, multi-tonal colors they have. Jitterbug seems to be spun a little more densely than some fingering weight yarns, so a different yarn may give you even more drape. But I tend to wear my shawls more as scarves, wrapped around my neck, and have been enjoying wearing this sample when I head out on a cold evening.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Learn To Crochet Sampler Classes at Blizzard!

Do you know the basics of crochet, but want to expand your knowledge of stitches and pattern reading? Want to learn to "read your stitches" so you can fix mistakes?

This month I started teaching an ongoing class series at Blizzard Yarns and Fibers in Vancouver, WA. Each week we are making one square from the Sampler in my first book, ReCrochetions Presents: Rowan's Learn to Crochet Sampler.
The goal with this book was to include all of the various things that commonly come up in crochet patterns, with a focus on the various insertion points. I have a great class of 6 regular students (plus a few drop ins). In January, we learned everything from the basic chain to basic stitches (single, half double, and double crochets). Tonight we will be branching out into shells.
But there are still a few spots open in the class for the coming months! If you already know the basic stitches, sign up for the next session in February, to learn:

Look for Blizzard's brand new sign
at Fourth Plain and Andresen!
Week 1: Waves - Treble Crochet and Working in Back Loop Only
Week 2: Chevrons - Increases & Decreases
Week 3: Crosshatches – 3-Double Crochet Shells and Working in Chain-2 Spaces
Week 4: Katherine Wheels -- Combining Shells and Clusters

Sign up for all 4 classes each month for $80, or pick and choose the stitches you want to learn for $25 per class.
Hope you can join us! And if you are not in the area, check out my book and give the Sampler a try on your own! (remember there's a left-handed edition too!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dyers In Their Studios: Rachel and Kate of Spincycle

This month, I am excited to introduce Rachel and Kate of Spincycle Yarns. They are another local indie dyer, out of the Seattle Washington area. I have had the honor of meeting them at several local fiber events, including Urban Craft Uprising, just last month. And am having fun working up TWO different patterns which will be available soon on Ravelry (between the holidays and crocheting party favors for my daughter's 5th birthday, it's been a slow month!).

Spincycle yarns really stand out because rather than dying after the fiber has been spun, the "Spinsters" (as they call themselves) create yarn that is "dyed in the wool". Dying the wool first makes it possible to create yarns with nice long color changes as well as a barber-pole effect that gives it a very distinctive look. I will let Rachel explain more about how they dye their yarns and fibers, and where they get their inspiration...
How long have you been dying yarn?
We started working together as Spincycle Yarns ten years ago this coming Easter! Before that, we were both doing a bit of dyeing on opposite coasts.
How did you get started dying?
I (oh hi! ...this is Rachel!) started dyeing with plants and lichens when I was living off the grid in North Carolina, circa 2002. I was just starting to learn about fibers. I actually got into dyeing and drop spindling a couple of years before I ever learned to knit. Kate is the offspring of ex-hippie homesteaders and grew up with a spinning wheel in the corner of her living room.  After hearing romantic stories of buying a fleece straight from a farm, spinning in the grease as your hands gets sticky and birds lift your hair out of your eyes and magical squirrels hand you fresh bobbins, she bought roving and acid dye and went to town.  Mixed results of course, but she learned a lot.
What is your background?
Both of us are completely self-taught dyers and spinners. We developed our respective styles before we met, and since then have strongly influenced each other. It might have been nice at some point to have gotten a bit of proper fiber education, but then again, we credit our DIY approach as being the reason our yarns are unique.
Do you have any special experience with art or science that influences your dying?
I (Rachel here, still… in the name of full disclosure, I do most of the “words” and Kate mostly does the “numbers.” When I have to deal with the financial things, I usually goof something. Kate is a notorious misspeller. We are perfect together. So anyway...) have a degree in geology. I don’t use it now, but I think that in some indirect way, the tremendous amount of time I spent outdoors in different places gave me an appreciation for the colors of nature. Even though we use nontoxic synthetic dyes rather than natural dyes, we have a subtle hand for blending and combining and are constantly influenced by nature. As for Kate, she is greatly influenced by Wu Tang.

Your Yarn
What makes your yarn special or unique?
We started out as a handspinnery. For most of the years we’ve existed as Spincycle Yarns, we were making every skein by hand on our wheels. When we decided to expand and work with a mill, we insisted that the yarns maintain the look of handspun. That is, we retained the rustic thick-and-thin look to our aran singles, the slow color changes of our 2-ply sport, and so on. We still make the Feral line by handspinning and the Knit Fast, Die Young line is all hand-plied. If we feel like the yarn would be compromised by being millspun, we go back to our trusty old spinning wheels!
Can you explain how ‘dyed in the wool’ is different from most other hand dyed yarns?
Dyed In The Wool is just that; the fiber is dyed before it’s spun. (The other method is to work with an already spun yarn by dip-dyeing or hand-painting, resulting in a very different look from a yarn dyed in the wool.) Our color shifts are loooooooong and gradual. And unpredictable. Every skein is different, even from the same dyelot. All the hues of the colorway will be there, but the order in which they repeat, the lengths of the repeats, even the in-between colors that happen in the blending are all one-of-a-kind. And especially with a 2-ply yarn like DyedIn The Wool or Knit Fast, Die Young, the possibilities of combinations are endless. And, by the way, all of our yarns are dyed in the wool, not just the eponymous line!
What is something interesting about your dyeing process that non-dyers might not know?
Our process is not the easiest way to dye yarns! But we stick to it because the yarn we produce is so unlike everything else out there. We just built a new dye kitchen this year, and it’s been awesome. We now have two huge propane stoves and two 15+ gallon dyepots, which is about all one spinster can handle at a time. We are very meticulous about our colorways (and we have our own colorways that we’ve perfected… we never get into each other’s recipes!) but it all happens very fast because we are working at the high end of the temperature range. Again, it’s our DIY techniques at work again, but we have a specific look we’re going for and we like the control that high temperature gives us, even if it isn’t a very forgiving method. It’s kind of exciting, though!
How do you choose your colors and name your yarns?
Oh, this question… Hah! Well, we listen to a lot of music while we dye, so many names are from songs. In fact, every yarn from the line of Knit Fast, Die Young has the name of a hip-hop or rap song. We’re also suckers for a good turn of phrase, double entendre, or just a little naughty implication. A few of our favorites are Burning Sensation, Venus in Furs and The Saddest Place.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. We are constantly on the lookout for color combinations. We take a lot of pictures. Tear pages out of our magazines where there’s a nice combination. It’s everywhere.

Just The Facts
How many colorways do you have?
Without stopping to count the pages in our handy colorway Rolodex (yep, that’s right, keeping in real, 1980’s style), I’d guess upwards of sixty.
Do you create seasonal or special order colors?
Absolutely! We’ve done lots of custom colorways for shops and individuals. The yarn stores of Portland in particular seem to be quite keen on custom colorways, probably because it’s such a lush and inspiring environment down there.
How many and what types of bases do you use?
We currently use Bluefaced Leicester as well as an American wool blend that includes the absolutely luxe breed Rambouillet.
Where do your yarn bases come from?
The BFL is from the UK; all the rest is domestic, from the USA! We are slowly shifting to 100% domestic, though.
Where can we find your yarn? LYSs and online?
We have a lovely website, at . And there are lots of LYSs that carry us, the names and locations of which you can find on our website. And we are always at StitchesWest, as well as some of the Vogue Knitting Live events.

What are your favorite colors? All.
Favorite fibers?
Our American wool blend is amazing. Soft, bouncy, light, yum. We also have a source for maybe the best kid mohair grown in the US, which we use in our Feral line.
Do you crochet, knit, or spin? What came first?
We are hanging our heads as we admit that we are both terrible crocheters. We can knit just about anything, and, of course, we can spin in our sleep thanks to years and years of handspinning.

Link Up
Ravelry Group? Rav profile: spincycleyarns      Rav group: knit with spincycle yarns
Twitter? spincycleyarns
Instagram? spincycleyarns

All Photos © Spincycle Yarns