Please join me in welcoming back Heidi from Vegan Yarn ?. We first met Heidi in 2014 on the blog Dye to Perfection. Since then her indie small business has grown like the weeds she uses for dyeing! With our Je Ne Sais Quoi MKAL, I thought this the perfect time to check back in with her to discover how her adventures the past few years have molded the growth of Vegan Yarn.
Q1. On your FAQ page on why vegan you state: “To be really simple, we prefer to allow animals to live their lives free of the intentional or unintentional violence of a human-made industry. Like the saying goes, ‘live simply, so others may simply live.’ Please keep in mind, we’re not here to judge other people’s yarn choices, or make you feel bad. Our goal is to be a positive presence in a wool-dominant yarn world, where people who want awesome artisan yarn made from plants can enjoy knitting again. We also offer a variety of fibres for any crafter to explore and enjoy. Even dedicated wool-people enjoy a change of pace from time to time.” Over this nearly decade in business, how have you seen your positive presence in the wool-dominated yarn world grow?
I’ve noticed that quite a few of the major online yarn retailers have added vegan or plant-based as a category! This tells me more people are looking for plant-based yarns, and that yarn store owners are seeing it as an emerging market. On social media #veganyarn has gotten a lot more use lately, while over here at the studio, I’ve definitely seen increased demand. A more subtle difference is at yarn shows, where far fewer people ask me what vegan yarn is, but more often tell me that they or someone they knit for is vegan.
Q2a. Thank you so much for your prize donation of Pakucho yarn! I love Pakucho yarn and how it comes in colours without the need of dyeing. It reminds me a lot of heirloom tomatoes – all different colours, yet all delicious. As you state it, “By purchasing these and other organic cotton yarns here, you are directly supporting biodiversity and the amazing heritage of colourgrown cottons.” Prior to Pakucho, I never knew cotton came in colours beyond the standard American off-white. How does dyeing the Pakucho differ from dyeing conventionally considered organic cotton?
I dye the pakucho cotton yarns using a natural base, which is off-white. Its typically half pima, and half Tangüis, a heritage variety that is more resistant to disease and requires less water. Natural dyes require a very different process than synthetic dyeing, and it takes much more work and is very time-intensive. It’s more fun though, being able to go through the process of preparing the yarn and dyeing it using techniques that in some cases are thousands of years old. G. barbadense is a very long staple cotton, and feels more supple and silky than G. hirsutum, which to me feels a bit drier and coarser. They dye very similarly though.
Q2b. Will we see the range of colours on the Pakucho that you offer on your other lines?
I have pakucho cotton in four weights: lace, fingering, sport and worsted. I also have it in sliver format for spinning. I have some other plans that use pakucho cotton in the works but at the moment they’re top secret…
Q3. From our MKAL-ers: Can you tell us about the plants you use for dyeing? Do you grow them or forage for them? In particular do you use indigo for your blues?
I’ve been growing enough marigold for the last three to four years to be able to supply nearly all the marigold I need for natural dyeing, I’ve got a two year old madder patch that will eventually be able to supply my madder needs, and I’ve got some indigo seedlings started this year. I also do the occasional small batch of dyer’s chamomile, but the flowers are quite small, so a season’s harvest only gets about one batch of yarn right now. I forage for black walnut, and have been successful with that for the last three years or so. All the black walnut dyed yarns are from locally foraged walnut husks. The other dyes I use are from Maiwa, a wonderful organization that specializes in ethical dye supply sourcing for fibre artists. All of the blues that I dye are from indigo. I’m going to test my Baptista australis aka wild indigo this year, because it also has indigo pigment, so if you see that in the shop, you’ll know it worked out! Haha!
Q4. What is your favorite plant (or whatever) to dye with? And what is your favorite fiber to dye?
That’s a hard question. Usually my favourite is whatever I’m currently working on. Indigo is always fun because of the magical colour-changing oxidation process (If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for an opportunity). I also really enjoy logwood for the intensity and depth of royal purple I can get with it. I’ve worked with cotton the most, and it’s a very low-maintenance, easy to work with fibre once you get to know it, so I’d say that’s my favourite. I know it fairly well now, so it’s becoming a bit more predictable, although even then it surprises me on occasion!
Q5. A lot is talked about in the dyeing world that temperature and mineral effects the dye significantly. Does fiber also play a role in how you dye? Are different techniques required for say your Libertas Lace than Bellatrix Fingering?
I’d say what can have a significant impact is the construction of the yarn, or how it’s been spun. I’ve noticed that with Libertas, the linen takes a little more slowly, but also partly because of the higher twist, it takes a bit more for water and dye pigment to get down into it.
Bellatrix is a bamboo rayon base, and it behaves so differently altogether. It takes dye incredibly fast compared to cotton and basts (linen, hemp etc) which is still a minimum of 24 hours, so very slow to a wool dyer, but very fast to me, when natural dyeing often takes several days.
Q6. From our MKAL-ers: How does she choose the names of her yarns? Both the different varieties, and the colorways of, say Bellatrix? Do they come from a particular interest?
The yarn base names are star names. I’m a bit of an astronomy buff. Incidentally, that’s also where JK Rowling got a lot of names for her characters from, particularly the Black family.
Many of the colourway names are loosely based off of scenes and colour palettes of anime films. I’m a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki and the work of his team from Studio Ghibli.
Puddles species to species question: what role do Pip, Squeak, and Rocky plan in Vegan Yarn?
Sadly, the most senior of our ratty troupe, Squeak recently passed away of old age, and he was the last of his brothers. They were fantastic little friends, and we were blessed to have had the opportunity to adopt them from our local shelter and have them in our lives for that short time. People say that the only fault in rats is the shortness of their life. I would agree with that. While they were with us, they were wonderful office helpers, enjoying a good rub and a lap snooze while I answered emails in the mornings.
Find Heidi and Vegan Yarn around the web at the following places:
Ravelry Group: https://www.ravelry.com/groups/vegan-yarn-brand-fan-club
Upcoming Events: https://www.ravelry.com/discuss/vegan-yarn-brand-fan-club/2969932