Friday, January 1, 2016

Dyers In Their Studios - Sarah of Bumblebirch

This month I am excited to introduce Sarah Kurth of Bumblebirch. Sarah was actually the dyer who gave me the idea for this whole series of Dyers In Their Studios Profiles! When I met her during the Rose City Yarn Crawl a couple of years ago, she suggested that some time I could come out and see her dye studio. We still have not managed to get together in her studio in Portland, but she just happened to have the perfect yarn for our next Ficstitches Yarns Kit Club (on sale this month). The mystery accessory design for this kit required more than the average 400+ yards of most skeins of fingering weight yarn. Bumblebirch's Glen yarn not only comes in a giant 600 yard skein, but with 20% silk, it's a absolute dream to work with!
Glen yarn in Mushroom and Blackberry
Now, let's get to know a little more about Sarah...

How long have you been dyeing yarn?
About 7 years. Sometimes I feel like an amateur! There's always something new to learn, which is really fun.
How did you get started dyeing?
A friend sent me a swap kit that included bare yarn from KnitPicks and some packets of Kool-aid. It's so easy because the Kool-aid has the dye and the mordant all in the packet. The colors are fun and bright, and it smells great!
What is your background?
I have an architecture degree from Cal Poly. I learned how to be a creative problem solver, and how to meld my artistic side with my logical side. Most of my practical work experience is in office administration, so it's helpful for running my own business.
Do you have any special experience with art or science that influences your dyeing?
My schooling included design concepts and how to apply them to physical things, including experiential spaces. Color theory was only a small part and I mainly work on intuition and experimentation when developing colorways. Working in the architecture studio setting for 6 years, I naturally developed my own work process and it affects my operations today.
What makes your yarn special or unique?
Every skein is unique. The kettle-dye process ensures the dye absorbs slightly unevenly, which means the resulting yarn will look watercolor-y when crafted into a fabric. I choose each yarn base carefully: it must be soft, bouncy, and create a sturdy, heirloom-quality garment when knitted or crocheted.
What is something interesting about your dyeing process that non-dyers might not know?
You might not know that I use organic dyes and mordant. The whole dyeing process takes about 4-5 days from start to finish. First, the yarn gets tied up to prevent tangling. Then has to soak in a mordant bath before being dyed. It cooks for several hours in the dyebath and must cool completely before being spin-dried, usually overnight. It gets hung up to air-dry in a cedar-lined drying room for another 2 days, then gets twisted up and labeled. In total, I handle each skein at least 6 times throughout the process. My hands and all the imperfections they create along the way (measuring dye, squeezing out excess water, submerging yarn in the dyebath, gentle stirring, etc.) are integral to my tonal colorways.
How do you choose your colors and name your yarns?
Portland has some spectacular plant life, everywhere from the International Rose Test Gardens to city parks to my neighbors' backyards. There is no shortage of inspiration around me as I venture out for a hike or stay home to work on my own little plot of land. Sometimes I accidentally make a cool colorway and just have to stare at it for awhile and wait for a name to pop into my head.
Where do you find inspiration?
Mostly in the natural world. You'll notice that most of my colorways are earthy. I developed the bright ones over a summer when I spent a lot of time in my garden. We sowed some wildflower mix all around the edges of the vegetable garden and were surprised with a wide variety of bright colors and textures that summer (and the one afterward).
Like me, Sarah is a mom and has her own little helper to lend a hand.
How many colorways do you have?
There are currently 24 colorways in my classic collection.
Do you create seasonal or special order colors?
I do, and it's so much fun! Often a store will commission an exclusive, limited-edition colorway. I also like playing around with colors and making some seasonal limited editions. These are mostly variegated colorways.
How many and what types of bases do you use?
There are currently 6 standard bases in the Bumblebirch collection, all superwash Merino and superwash Merino blends, ranging from lace to worsted. They are all exceptionally soft, strong, and consistent. I also introduced the seasonal Vernacular base this year, which is 100% domestic wool, grown and milled regionally. In 2015 it was 100% Cormo wool. In 2016 it will be Cormo blended with another regional wool so I'll have much more of it to dye. Keep your eye out for it!
Where do your yarn bases come from?
The classic bases are from a mill in South America, where Merino wool is plentiful. The Vernacular base is from small farms in the Pacific Northwest.
Where can we find your yarn? LYSs and online?
You can find a selection of my yarn and limited edition runs in my online store on my website, There you can also find a list of retailers throughout the US.
What are your favorite colors?
I love gray, green, blue, and warm, earthy colors too.
Favorite fibers?
I love a lot of soft wools and am especially in love with anything blended with silk. Merino/silk, BFL/silk, Alpaca/silk—I love it all!
Do you crochet, knit, or spin? What came first?
I learned to knit first, when I was a child, and picked it up for good in my mid-twenties. I also taught myself some very basic crochet stitches so I could work edgings and flat circles when needed. I recently had a spinning lesson and decided not to start that hobby until I'm retired! I also just started weaving on a small hand loom last month and it's very addicting.
Anything else you would like to share?
I encourage everyone to try dyeing their own yarn, at least once. There's something magical about the process and all the labor that goes into it, and you get a completely unique product in the end, which is very satisfying.

Find Bumblebirch on Sarah's WebsiteRavelry GroupFacebookTwitter
and Instagram!
(all photos courtesy of Sarah Kurth)
Happy New Year to All! We are looking forward to another great year of yarny goodness here on ReCrochetions and Ficstitches Yarns!

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