When you hear the word yarn, do you automatically think of Red Heart? Sure, 100% acrylic's definitely got its perfect uses, but I think you'll back me up when I say it can be less than a joy to work with.
If you've never used 100% wool (or cotton or other natural fibers), you're totally missing out on yarn that actually feels good in your hands while you work. So whether you knit, crochet, or (gasp!) macrame, join me as I chat with Birmingham, Alabama's own
OC Weekly: Tell me about your background, and how you came to start Kitchen Sink Dyeworks.
Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark: I majored in fibers and textiles, with a focus on dyeing silk fabrics, in art school. Once I graduated, I began to focus on knitting, crochet, and handspinning as a hobby, and began dyeing fibers and teaching workshops in the Birmingham area. I soon came to work in the knitting industry as a retail yarn shop owner and freelance knitwear designer. I dyed yarn and fiber here and there for myself and friends, but the business of running the shop kept me pretty busy. I started wondering, with the advent of all these new indie dyers popping up on the scene, could there be a market for my yarns and fibers, too?
OCW: Did you know when you were majoring in Fiber Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design that this was a direction you wanted to follow?
MTC: Oh, no, I had no idea. I was focused on high-end garments and accessories, lots of silk fabrics, beadwork, and embellishments. I picked up knitting for fun because a studio-mate my senior year was an avid knitter and spinner; I didn't really get very good at the craft until after graduation. When I moved from Savannah to Birmingham, I worked on several hand-dyed silk art quilts for exhibitions, dyed a few yarns and fibers for fun, and it progressed from there.
OCW: What was the transition from running the Knit Nouveau yarn store to starting your own line of yarn?
MTC: I had originally started the Dyeworks as a side project. Soon after starting it, our shopping district started undergoing major renovations, we lost our lease due to upcoming construction plans, and we were faced with the prospect of having to relocate if we wanted to continue with our brick and mortar shop. My business partner and I had just relocated the business to the area only two years earlier, so I really had to think hard about the expense and effort of another move--was it really worth it to me personally and on a business level? In the end, my partner and I phased out the Knit Nouveau shop to focus on Kitchen Sink Dyeworks. It's been a really satisfying decision--the new business allows for more hands-on creative work, opportunities for travel, and a lot more flexibility in a changing economy.
OCW: You started selling your yarn in your shop without telling people it was yours, right? Tell us about why you went this route, and what you discovered during your yarn-making days of espionage.
MTC: When the Dyeworks was in its fledgling stages, I wasn't sure if I would want to continue with the project or if there would be a solid market for the yarns. I chose to just work behind the scenes and present it as a new indie company we were adding to the shop just to see if there was interest. I figured I could get much more honest feedback if it I wasn't publicly attached to the project, and could make changes as needed. Thankfully, the response was overwhelmingly positive! After several months of working on the project my interest in continuing and expanding the line only increased; I felt like I had found a niche.
OCW: Tell us about your process and how you decide what colors to make.
MTC: I start with blank skeins of wool and wool-blend yarn, spinning fibers or sometimes coned yarns that I skein up. After a preliminary soak, the yarns are carefully painted with colorfast dyes for protein based fibers, heat-set, cooled, washed in biodegradable detergent, then rinsed and dried. We re-skein them, which gives knitters and crocheters a better view of how the colors will look together, and they're ready to go to happy new homes! I'm super-fussy about how I lay colors down on the yarn. It really is painting, which results in a very balanced palette of colors in the finished skein, no big blobs of one color taking over the finished product. And true to the name of the business, I really am working out of a kitchen in an outbuilding on my property.
OCW: Do you have your own sheep? If so, can I have one?
MTC: I don't have my own sheep because I'm in the suburbs, but I'd love to have some backyard chickens one day!
OCW: Anything else you'd like to share with us?
MTC: I'll be travelling to Portland, Oregon to be a vendor at Sock Summit, mecca for sock knitters, from August 6th-9th. When I return to the studio after the event, look for lots and lots of new colors and yarns in the etsy shop; I've been hard at work making new semi-solids and tonals in addition to our multi colorways, and I can't wait to show them off!
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Thanks so much to Mercedes for taking the time to share--what do you think of her work? Leave a comment before midnight on Friday, July 17 and you'll be entered to win a free skein of Kitchen Sink Dyeworks yarn!
One entry per person, please, and if you've won in the last 30 days you're totally welcome to tell us what you think of the post, but are ineligible to win so everyone gets a chance.
For more information on Kitchen Sink Dyeworks, visit their website.