Last week I posted that I'll be doing a Q&A post answering some questions you have about me and yarny things I do for a living. This is something totally new that I thought would be a bit of fun and give you guys a bit more details about my craft and the person behind the screen, since I do get random questions sometimes especially on Instagram but there's only so much I can write in an Instagram comment.
First of all, I'd like to personally thank those who submitted questions: Amelia, Carmyn, Kate, Samantha
Q & A:
What made you start doing the yarn business? Do you enjoy it?
Well, without going into a super long ramble about my history with yarn (I already did a fairly detailed blog post about My Journey Into the World of Spinning) - Basically, I first learned to crochet when I was a child. My grandma Bonnie is a lifelong crocheter, she taught me when I was 8. I crocheted off and on for a couple of years, and completely stopped working with yarn for several years. I picked it back up shortly after graduating college in 2013 (along with knitting, and weaving later on after my shop started). But I didn't stop there. This time I wanted to learn how to make my own yarn, so that got me into spinning (first on a spindle, when I realized the addiction was real I splurged and got a wheel), and then dyeing my own fibers.
What made me realize I wanted to share my yarn with the world by selling it to other fiber artists...first, I was creating more yarn than I could ever possibly use and had to destash some of it. But more importantly than that, this yarn just did something for me... I still don't know exactly how to explain it, but something about working with a handmade yarn (hand-dyed, but especially handspun) just makes me feel so serene (hence "Serene Fiber Arts" - har, har) and content to just live in the moment. The color, the texture...it's similar to what the smell and feel of books does for me. Even though I could probably never actually use all of the yarn I make, similar to being in a bookstore/library and knowing you could never actually read all the books there, but enjoying the thought of it anyway. I just love to be surrounded with pretty wooly fibers, and since I can't possibly use all the yarn and don't want to suffocate in my yarn hoard, I choose to send it out into the world for others to enjoy as well so they can feel serene and take a moment to stop and enjoy the texture and color they are creating with.
As for the second question, I think that one is pretty obvious. I absolutely love what I do. Even if I was totally rich and didn't need money to pay my bills, I would still be doing this. I feel incomplete when I'm not making things.
How do you dye your yarns [and fibers]?
This is one of those questions I get asked a lot that I feel like words just aren't enough for. This is something intricate that is explained more by showing than by describing. But since I'm not doing video tutorials or teaching classes for this, I'll more just describe the materials I use for dyeing.
First of all, I mostly use acid dyes for dyeing (and occasionally natural dye when I have the materials) - Acid dyes require heat and an acid to adhere the color to the fiber, and are for protein/animal fibers, not cellulose fibers like cotton, etc. I use citric acid or vinegar as the acid with my dyes. Dyes I use are common brands like Jaquard, Dharma, Greener Shades, Country Classics. I mix dyes for my own custom colors. I dye in a kettle for semi-solids, and for speckly/variegated yarn or batches of wool locks I like to dye in the oven in a roasting pan. I started out dyeing commercially spun yarn from large wholesalers, but this isn't my main focus anymore. I still keep some commercially spun yarns in stock to dye, for when I feel like playing with some color quickly without having to do all the planning that goes into handspinning. But for the most part, I specialize in handspun so the dyeing techniques are much more varied.
Lately I've been so fascinated with neutral colors that I haven't even been bothering with dyeing as much, and keeping the fibers in their beautiful natural state. I also like to blend my dyed/undyed fibers with other recycled fibers like reclaimed sari silk, and blingy fibers like firestar and angelina for some pretty sparkle. Everything just depends skein to skein, I don't have any one way of doing anything as I get bored easily doing the same thing over and over again and constantly like to push my own boundaries.
What colors inspire you most?
Oh man, I'm so all over the place with color. I think it all depends on my mood for the day. Sometimes I like bright and cheery, other times I like dark and contemplative. Neutral colors will always be my favorite since they are so calm, rustic, and always look good. I also love pastels, though I look dreadful when I wear pastel colors so I use these colors more for weaving. For something I will be wearing I like to work with jewel-toned purples, greens, reds, and especially blue. I also love Autumny warm colors like goldenrod, burnt orange and rust.
How is your personal yarn stash?
It's a mess, honestly. A beautiful, cuddly mess. I'm a Virgo, so stereotypically I should be organized and neat. But in all honesty (maybe it's the Leo side) I tend to throw all of my own stash into boxes and drawers and require a lot of digging and searching if I ever want to find anything. My yarn shop inventory is much more organized. I tend to only be messy when it comes to my own things, haha.
What would you recommend to someone wanting to try spinning without investing a lot of money?
Definitely start with a drop spindle. For basic beginner spindles, you can start with either a top or bottom whorl spindle. Look for one with a hook as this is easier to start with. I began with a top whorl spindle from MaineWoodsYarn and after I learned on that, I decided to try out a bottom whorl spindle. I personally prefer bottom whorl over top whorl spindles but everyone is different so I say start with one type and go from there. Most spindle kits will come with some wool fiber to start out with. You can spin from batts, rolags, combed top. If you'd like to buy fiber to spin with, there are lots of talented indie dyers out there (check out FiberShare's How + Where to Buy Wool for Spinners), or for undyed fiber I like to get mine from ParadiseFibers. Some great fibers to start with are Falkland, BFL, Shetland or wools with a longer staple length (staple length is essentially the length of the individual locks of wool/fiber). Shorter staple fibers like Merino, Cotton and Alpaca are more difficult to spin when you're first learning. But really, spin what appeals to you. I learned with Merino (a short staple fiber) and I was just fine. My favorites to spin are BFL and Targhee combed top ("roving"), or blended fiber batts. Rolags are really fun to spin on a spindle since they are smaller to handle and draft very easily. As for tutorials for spinning, I found ExpertlyDyed on Youtube to be very helpful for learning all the basics for spinning with a drop spindle.
About my weaving process: Do you feel you have a particular style? How long did that take to develop? Do you draw your designs or weave on the fly?
I'm not sure, I believe my style is still under development. Or maybe I already have a style and just don't realize it yet. I'm constantly trying out different textures and color palettes, seeking what comes most naturally to me. For the moment, I seem to feel most comfortable using neutral palettes with pops of color, big yarn and a simple fringe if any.
Before beginning a project, I plan out the yarns I'm going to use for the piece placing them together to see how they work together as a palette and switching them out until a combination just feels right. I do draw designs when inspiration hits and I'm not at the loom. I keep a little journal (gifted to me for my birthday by my lovely fibre friend Kate from TheWeavingLoom) to jot down ideas and sketch out designs. My design sketches are more for inspiration to myself, because once I get to weaving I usually move far from the plan and just let the yarn tell me how it should be placed as I go.
My main philosophy with weaving wall hangings is TEXTURE. I love choosing textured yarns, especially handspun, and play with lots of different yarn weights in the same piece. I used wool roving or my super chunky handspun for the big fluffy bits. Fingering and sport weight yarns usually go into the fringe to add more visual interest and complexity. For plain weave I love Worsted to Bulky weight yarns.
I'd love to eventually get into tapestry weaving, which requires quite a bit more planning and patience, but I'd love to create images in my weaving. Like a yarn painting. I'm inspired by Rebecca Mezoff's work and would love to take one of her classes one of these days. I also find Navajo tapestry and rugs to be very inspiring. I'm always inspired by everything Tolkien...fantasy, elves, adventure, history, myth, beautiful landscapes. If I were to begin tapestry weaving, I think my style would have a nature theme. Oceans, woodlands, mountains, sky. I think my texture philosophy will still apply even with the smooth surface of tapestry weaving, more of an implied texture with detailed colorwork and shading. The feel of wool/alpaca/mohair is a texture all its own. Even if it isn't loud and in your face, the subtleties can spur just as much emotion and be just as interesting to hold in your hands.
I hope you guys enjoyed this Q&A! I love answering your questions, it makes me really have to think about my process and why I do it. Feel free to submit questions if there's more things your like to learn about myself or my process, and if I get enough questions I'll do another post like this in the future.
Thanks again for taking the time to read about this. I hope I can inspire you in some way in your yarn journey.
Amanda J. French
Fiber artist from Louisville, KY. Professionally, I spend my days spinning one of a kind yarns from wool and recycled fibers, and weaving with them. Other hobbies include; yoga, fitness, painting, studying languages, reading, and knitting.