I received the first skeins of travel yarn in 2016 from a friend who attended a destination wedding in Iceland. She gifted three skeins of Léttlopi in a deep dark blue that, in turn, became a travel gift for a Swiss cousin. But, even though I had been knitting for years, I did not purchase any yarn on our 2017 retirement road trip – Minnesota to Spokane to Seattle to Vancouver and home again via the trans-Canadian highway. I am sure there must have been yarn stores along the way but none made our travel itinerary.
I corrected this omission during our 2018 European adventure – Amsterdam to Spa-Francorpschamps in Stavelot, Belgium to Ingolstadt, Germany to Switzerland and Italy – with purchases our first day in Amsterdam and on our last day in Zurich. Now I make a stop at a local yarn store as a planned part of our travels, whether I am in Arizona for Cubs spring training (2019) or just two weeks ago while in Tennessee for a mountain top wedding.
These most recent acquisitions to my stash were handdyed exclusively for Smoky Mountain Spinnery in Gatlinburg and represent the four seasons in their Smoky Mountain Collection. Each colorway is based on a photograph that captures the location’s natural beauty: delicate spring flora, the vibrant colors of summer twilight, cascading water amidst fall’s changing leaves, or the bright blue winter canopy over frosty hillsides. With two skeins of each, the possibilities for future knitting projects are endless.
My knitting time during these deep winter months (January into March) has focused on small, quick-to-complete projects while I await participation in my first test knit. The sage colored cowl uses yarn I hand-dyed with Kool-Aid as part of a class with Heather Best and I did a stash dive for the wool, alpaca, mohair, silk blend that resulted in the soft, squishy cable bordered shawl.
The pattern I volunteered to test is currently in the making by Jennifer Berg, Native Knitter. While her projects often incorporate geometric images in contrasting colors reminiscent of Acoma pottery or Navajo blankets, a first glimpse of her new design reflects the dramatic colors the raw southwestern landscape. Proceeds from the sale of this soon-to-be released pattern will benefit MMIW – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
While I tracked my first hand-dyed installment from Idaho, I wondered if the new skeins would blend with the predominant hues already in my stash or provide challenges from the color wheel. Both of these thoughts proved true. The solid aqua skein was well within my color comfort zone. The variegated skein is one I definitely would never have selected with its repeating runs of un-dyed natural cream to yellow to coral to burnt orange.
I knew I needed to use this odd yellow skein right away or it would languish for years. A new shawl pattern from Marie Greene featuring lacy contrasting stripes was released at just the right moment for a February project inspiration.
Martina Behm’s Strickmich! Club has gone on hiatus for 2023 so no squishy packages will arrive this winter from Damsdorf, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Lest I miss the excitement of mystery yarn deliveries, I have filled the gap by joining the Sew Happy Jane Hand Dyed Happy Yarn Club.
Heather Best is an amazing fiber colorist. I used her DK tweed in the Brighter Day colorway for my Fireworks pullover and a matching cowl. The yarn was lovely to work with and that sweater is among my favorites for a bit of warm color on a gray winter day. Using her Kool-Aid formulas, (Yes, the sweet summer drink concoction!) I took five skeins from au naturel wool to subtle hues all the while learning that my passion is not as a dyer.
She begins dying each month’s palate only after club orders are placed. This ensures accurate quantities without overstocking and enables members to choose Fingering or DK weight yarn in single 100g. skeins or to double the fun with a pair of perfectly coordinated hanks – 1 tonal and 1 painted. And, if beautiful yarn is not a prize in itself, each themed box includes curated gifts. Club members may vary weights and quantities each month and even pause participation for a month or two without totally disengaging. The flexible subscription plan is great for participants, although I imagine this marketing approach requires more recordkeeping. Waiting is the only downside of this new yarn service. On these gray January days, while Heather is deep in color-filled production, I must wait to discover the treasures of my February Happy Yarn Club box.
I can attest that the normal excitement felt when the FedEx truck parks in front on your house is compounded when knowing that the only expected delivery is an international priority from Damsdorf, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. My Strickmich! Club yarn arrived today making it a Valentine’s Day treat! Inside the FedEx mailer were four individually packaged projects. The recyclable opaque paper bags were designed to keep the mystery alive, but carefully color coded 1-4 to match the Strickmich! Club logo and the corresponding cast-on dates.
The four (just begging to be opened) bags hold one-of-a-kind skeins representing the artful collaboration between four independent European dyers and designer Martina Behm. Each exclusive skein was specially colored to compliment a new original pattern. But even if I succumb to a sneak peak (which I have not, as yet) the patterns will remain a mystery since they will only be released electronically on the specified cast-on dates. And, on those dates, just as this year’s club theme Together celebrates, I will join other knitters from around the world as Martina hosts two Zoom parties – one in German and corresponding to Central European Time (CET) followed by an English workshop at a time conducive to US participants. As Martina explains:
In Strickmich! Club 2022, the people who make our yarns come from very different places, and every project I design for the club will reflect that. But what’s important is that knitting brings them – and us – together. That’s why our motto for 2022 is “Together”, and we will celebrate that with every design and club project we knit.
Just 12 days until I can open package #1. Happy club knitting!
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Throughout the week, we tackled a colorway a day. My original plan was to set up a temporary dye studio in the garage with a borrowed Coleman camp stove as my heat source. But that was me worrying unnecessarily about Kool-Aid spills and stains on the parquet floor. Dyeing in the garage required far too much extra work to move cars, assemble a work surface, and collect tools and supplies each day since the Audi Q5 and VW GTI would need to be parked back under cover at night. Our final production line was in the kitchen with water, heat, and tools all close at hand.
During Knit Camp at the Coast, Heather Best from sew happy jane promised to “turn some pretty skeins into some Pretty Amazing skeins.” While we carefully mixed our Kool-Aid combos and watched the pot (to make sure it didn’t boil) our skeins of bare merino DK yarn artfully shifted from au naturel to subtle hues. As a readily available foodstuff, in a multitude of flavors (which translated into colors) the Kool-Aid packets provided easy to mix, manageable quantities that already contained citric acid, thus they eliminated the need to add chemicals possibly less friendly to the environment. One by one, each skein went through a multi-step immersion process:
(Speckle & steam – just sometimes.)
Two days into our routine, with Kool-Aid Sage twisted into a loose hank and Speckled Peach Melba steeping, I made a discovery – dyeing would not become my new passion. As the work continued, we had fun creating the lovely semi-solid fibers, as well as sprinkling contrasting specks. By skein five, I even concocted my own colorway – Tutti Teal (a variation of Heather’s Tutti Fruiti). But I am comfortable knowing my excitement comes from the craft of knitting – finding the perfect yarn, pairing it with the ideal pattern, and creating just the right gift while, hopefully, learning a new technique rather than playing with pigments.
When I first started buying yarn, facing a wall of color in different weights and textures was a bit overwhelming. Now, I can easily spend an hour or more immersed in tactile and visual sensations enjoying whatever my local yarn store (LYS) has on display. While, possessing only the most rudimentary understanding of yarn production, I already recognized that a lot of work went into each skein in my hand. That appreciation has grown exponentially with this micro-dyeing project. But hand dyeing, to paraphrase the witches in Macbeth, at least for me, is akin to “double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Although, in the interest of full disclosure, my fire and cauldron consisted of a white LG glass top stove and a Marshall Field Marketplace stainless steel stock pot. Then again, one does have to wonder what colors might emerge if, instead of Kool-Aid, the pot contained any of the natural ingredients from my high school drama role as Second Witch.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1
Last summer while slogging through Covid quarantine days, Marie Greene and her amazing Olive Knits team organized, on short notice, a fun-filled virtual retreat that was so successful so as to necessitate a sequel. I count myself lucky to have landed a “seat” again this year for Knit Camp at the Coast. For three days, September 16-18, I will join 100s of knitting enthusiasts in 16 unique sessions where we will learn new techniques from a cadre of talented guest instructors. The class itinerary offers an old nemesis – socks, but also an exclusive pattern with a newly designed stitch and yoga breaks to ease muscles feeling the strain of feverish knitting. Plus, although well out of my comfort zone but intriguing will be the workshop offered by Heather Best from sew happy jane – Not Your Average Kool-Aid Dye Party. Who knew, all those decades ago when drinking that sugary summer staple (cherry was my favorite) or slurping ice cube popsicles, that the sweet food dye filling the glass would be perfect for “creating gorgeous custom colors for hand-dyed yarns.” Happy Knitting!