Way back in August I posted about how I taught myself how to crochet. I showed how I used a store-bought yarn to make a hat and felt it, which was really fun. That hat didn't turn out too well, but it did teach me a lot. Shortly thereafter I found another hat pattern that I wanted to try, and I also wanted to try out some different yarn. I looked for and researched yarns, and fell in love with the handspun yarns I saw on Etsy.com. They're so much more unique and interesting than almost anything you can get from your local craft store. After going through and oohing and aahing over each Etsy offering, I finally came to the decision to buy yarn from 222 Handspun. I contacted Elysa, the owner of the business, to inquire about a custom order. She enthusiastically took on the project of making a beautiful earth-tone skein for me, based on some inspiration pictures I sent her.
I'm going to review the yarn itself and show you the hat I crocheted with it in a post next week, but I do have a treat to share with you right now! Elysa was kind enough to grant me an e-interview, which I present below. It was so interesting to me to learn about the processes at work behind a handspun yarn - and about the background and creative process of a fiber artist. I hope you enjoy her responses as much as I do!
Zach (That's me!): Tell me a little about yourself (where you grew up, where you live, what other hobbies/interests you have, etc.).
Elysa: I'm originally from Barrington, Rhode Island, but I've lived in Northern Virginia for about 16 years. I'm from a pretty artsy family - my Dad is a photographer and my mother is very crafty, so naturally I take after them. I studied photography and do that when I have time. I'm pretty much into anything crafty and have tried everything from soap making to quilting to jewelry making. I'm definitely more of an animal person, and I've volunteered in the past with a no-kill animal shelter and help support spay/neuter and feral cat TNR programs. My dream would be to have a hobby farm with some sheep, alpacas, bunnies, and a white pony (or unicorn if I can get one). I'd also grow flowers and vegetables. In fact, I just recently got in trouble with my Home Owner's Association for growing pumpkins in my front yard. I'm kind of an outlaw gardener I guess.
Zach: How/when were you introduced to fiber arts?
Elysa: When I was a kid, maybe about 8 years old, I attended a summer camp run my a friend of my parents. It was just me and two other kids learning how to garden, weave, make a loom, use natural dyes, and other hippie kind of stuff. It was amazing. I still think back on that experience and how much it influenced me and introduced me to making things by hand and working with natural materials. I was always entranced with weaving and textiles for some reason. My mother had unsuccessfully tried to teach me to knit, so weaving, sewing, and macrame were the things I could do. My mother and the women in her family were good seamstresses and she taught me how to sew. She made lots of clothes for me as a kid and taught me how to sew clothes for my barbie. I wish I still had the poncho and some of the great 70's stuff she crocheted for me. I'm blanket obsessed and one of my biggest fiber-related regrets was giving away a mohair blanket I got at the Blarney Woolen Mills in Ireland to an ex boyfriend.
Zach: Do you knit or crochet?
Elysa: Ha - see answer above! I'm totally dyslexic and have difficulty coordinating left/hand right hand movements and counting or remembering sequentially, so knitting is a huge struggle. I admire people who can do that! But I really don't have time with all my spinning so I'm OK with letting someone else do it. I just wish I could have someone make the designs I have in my head though.
Zach: Describe the process of yarn making (where you get the material, what type of dye you use, how long the process takes, etc.).
Elysa: I buy a lot of wool from local farms in Loudoun County, Virginia or when I go to fiber festivals like Maryland Sheep and Wool. I'm very lucky to have tons of sheep and alpaca farms close by to where I live. Lately I've been lazy and buy a lot of already washed fleece, but when I see a good raw (unwashed greasy fleece) I will take the time to scour it and skirt it which means picking out all the yucky stuff like bugs and dung. I don't think people realize when they buy handspun how much work can go into processing the fiber even before it's spun into yarn. It takes days to wash and dry a fleece which on average is about 5 pounds of fiber. I dye the fiber in a large roaster pan using acid dyes (which is less scary then it sounds). Acid dye is powdered dye that reacts to an acid like vinegar or citric acid and binds to the protein in the fiber. Once the fiber is dyed and rinsed, I set it out to dry. You have to be very careful or wool will felt when agitated or exposed to extreme temperature changes when wet. When everything is dry, I either spin it on my wheel directly from the loose fiber, or I create a batt on my drum carder. Running it through the carding machine into a batt aligns all the fiber in the same direction so it is easier to spin. I spin the fiber on a wheel much in the traditional way spinners have done for centuries. The whole process of creating yarn can take weeks to complete.
Zach: Do you have a studio? What is your work space like?
Elysa: I have a spare room which serves as my studio and packing and shipping central. I've completely outgrown my space though. Most of my fiber is organized by color and type into large stackable bins. I just recently sold my first spinning wheel and drum carder to make room for my second generation of equipment.
Zach: Do you have a "day job"?
Elysa: I'm a User Experience Designer for an online education company during the day. It's like a Web Designer - I make sure that the site and applications are intuitive and easy to use. I feel lucky because I'm in a creative field for my day job, but my yarn business allows me to do what I want to do and have complete creative control.
Zach: Where do you find inspiration for the color palettes you spin?
Elysa: I'm really a color addict but I go through phases. Recently I've been using a lot of neon and it sells very well but sometimes I'd like to use subtle or more natural tones. There are only a few colors that I really just don't like and stay away from like bluish greens (unless it's pale aqua which is my favorite color). I tend to go for unusual colors and contrasting palettes like lavender and orange together or acidic tones like mustard and chartreuse. Sometimes I see palettes in a JCrew catalog or on Pinterest and I try to match my dye to it. I doesn't always come out the same, but I find it gives me a boost in new color direction. Mixing dye is so much fun but it can be tricky to reproduce certain colors. I don't take dye recipe notes even though I know I should.
Zach: What is your favorite fiber to work with (spinning or knitting/crocheting)?
Elysa: I love Cormo or any really soft, bouncy wool. I also love mohair for its distinct fuzziness that reminds me of a favorite blanket from childhood. Alpaca is lovely to work with also.
Zach: What is the best and worst part of the process?
Elysa: I think the best part might be when I get to see what people make with my yarn and fiber. I love it when someone makes something really wonderful and interprets it into something that I never could have imagined. Just the fact that someone would buy something I made is the most rewarding and validating thing for a creative person like myself. When someone really appreciates the work that went into making it and is willing to spend a bit more for handmade it's the biggest complement.
Zach: How/when did you get started selling on Etsy?
Elysa: I've been selling on Etsy for a couple years now but I was a customer long before that. I love to buy handmade and always get inspired by what other people make. I've met some of the coolest people on Etsy and in the fiber community and I think it's a testament to the type of people it attracts.
Thank you so much, Elysa, for the great interview! If you have a question for Elysa, I bet I can get her to answer. Just leave the question as a comment below. If Elysa is willing, I may just post the question/answer next week in my yarn review post. Until then....