An Open Letter to Those who Don’t Get the Fiber Arts
I am not doing this to recreate the past. I don’t harbour any fantasies of wearing petticoats or a bonnet. And I don’t knit because I want to feel domestic.
I do this to free my soul. I do this to work in colours that make my heart sing. I dye because I see in my mind hues and shades that are bursting to be let out. And so I do let them out, laying them down in dye upon fiber – vibrant shades poured out over wool, over silk, over the ordinary of life.
And when, at last, I cast those colours onto my needles, I feel a calm wash over me as I work them up into a fabric of my own making — the needles clicking softly and the colours gently blending and contrasting.
I know you think this is old-fashioned, but it’s not. It is as modern as imagination, as current as discovery, as now as creativity. Would you ask a painter why he doesn’t just take a photograph?
And it’s ok if you don’t get it. I understand. But I just wanted to say – I just wanted to say out loud – that this is nothing about old fashioned. This is what I do, and I do it now. I am a fiber artist.
When I tell people that I dye yarn, I get a variety of responses — from surprised to confused to intrigued. Occasionally, I find the person I’m talking to is a knitter, and that’s always a nice surprise for both of us. I love it when that happens.
Sometimes the person asks if I can teach them to dye, or if they can come and watch the process. And I always struggle with that, because I’m not sure what I’d show them. The mechanics of dyeing are no secret — they’re well documented in books and websites — and it’s easy to learn how to do it.
But the Process happens in my head — it’s when I think of the colours and the combinations I want to create, and I work backward to figure out how to mix the dyes to get exactly what I’m visualising. The Process is me experimenting with colours, making mistakes, learning from them, saving them at the last minute, and learning some more. And I honestly don’t know how I could show that to anyone without them actually getting inside my head.
But there is something I can show you. It’s the most important part of dyeing.
It took me a while to figure it out, but it’s the one piece of equipment you really cannot be without.
It’s not the wool. It’s not the dyes. It’s not the dyepots, nor a special magical stirrer that makes the colours come out just right…
The most important piece of equipment a dyer possesses is…
…her Sharpie pen, so she can write NO FOOD on every piece of dyeing equipment.
Because poisoning your family by accidentally serving dinner out of the bowl you’ve been dyeing in really takes the shine off of achieving even the perfect colour!
I am a knitter and, to me, knitting is second nature. I knit without looking, I knit whilst reading and, when I’m really tired but I just have to finish one more row, I knit with my eyes closed. And I know that this looks like magic to non-knitters but, to me, knitting is easy.
The real magic is crochet. Crochet is knitting’s mysterious twin… It amazes me, it baffles me! I tried to teach myself to crochet once — I managed a little strip of fabric (that with the addition of some knitted flowers became quite a nice choker), but I quickly realised that it’s crocheters who make the real magic happen. Here are three patterns that really inspire me to pick up a hook and try my hand at crochet again.
Here is a crochet at its most spellbinding. I love the drama of Robyn Chachula‘s unusual cowl, the way the chain-stitched edging forms a striking cobweb that can be worn gathered up around the neck or draped dramatically across the body. I’d love to see this done in SpaceCadet’s Astrid yarn in a rich, deep colourway such as Desert Wine to bring a dash of glamour to a new winter coat.
The magic of Brittany Tyler‘s charming little hat in is the way it gathers up the colours of varigated yarns and distributes them in little pools across the crocheted fabric. Quirky and sweet with a flower detail, it would bring out the striking colours of SpaceCadet’s Astrid yarn in Sleep Deep or look cute as a button in Sailor’s Warning.
After the skeins are dyed, we reskein them into smaller, more manageable skeins to go in the shop. And we do it outside, if it’s a nice day… in the dappled sunlight with a glass of chilled mimosa. This was my Sunday.