Interview with Ann Helen from Garnsurr

Here at Knit With Attitude we are always on the look out for new and exciting companies to work with. Maya was so excited when she met Ann Helen of Garnsurr at the Oslo Knitting Festival in October and heard about their project to help refugee women integrate into Norwegian culture through language courses, gainful employment and social outreach. Garnsurr is the newest yarn in the shop and we are loving all the new fun and exciting colourways.

We were able to ask founder Ann Helen a few questions about why she started the business, and the inspiration and women that keeps it going. You can find the Garnsurr yarns in our webshop.

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Where and how do you source the yarns that you work with?
We buy all our yarn from Chester Wool in the UK and the yarns originate from Peru.

06_nyh_Garnsurr4What does social integration mean, and how have you built your business around it?
Social integration means that we try to help refugees in our area to become a real part of the community. That means in every way – both creative, workwise and social. This also means that we always have to work with the social part of our business, not only the business side. I use quite a lot of my time  helping them handle their personal economy, and other problems they encounter in our society. This comes in addition to the dying job and language training.

How has Garnsurr been received by the wider community in Norway?
We’re quite young in our business life, but have been very well recieved both at Bergen and Oslo Knitting Festivals. The local community is also very supportive,  we get a lot of emails and comments on our project from all over the country. We’re quite overwhelmed by this support.

IMG_20170613_212159_766Can you tell us a about the women that are currently dying with Garnsurr?
We have three women at Garnsurr at the moment working full time. The first one is Akberet, 50 years old from Eritrea. She became a widow earlier this year, and she has five almost grown up children. Three are living in Norway, a daughter in Sweden and a son in Germany. She is the most experienced dyer at Garnsurr at the moment. Second is the single mother Leila, 35 years from Afghanistan. She has four children from 9 to 14 years old. She has a wonderufl devotion for Garnsurr, and her tremendous spirit inspires us all every day. The third lady is called Hawa, 45 years old  from Somalia. She has a real big family, she has given birth to thirteen children, but only eight are alive. She has a special eye for colour, and gives a lot of our colourways a real “african” touch.

Recently we also got another women from Eritrea, who will have language practice with us one or two days a week.

IMG_20170929_105521How do you develop a new colourway with your dyers? Do you start with a specific combination in mind, or is it a happy accident?
The Garn Surr ladies decide most of the colours nowadays. Some days I wish for colours, and they try to make what I dream about. Sometimes we also make “happy accidents” on purpose – just to try out new techniques and ideas that appear in the team. Most of our time goes to turn on the “sold out” signs in our webshop, and make deliveries for our stockists.

2-7What’s currently on your needles?
At the moment, I’m about to finish Cobaltoan hat by Lesley Ann Robinson from Pom Pom magazine 23. The brioche pattern is my first, and I really enjoy it. I’ve sadly made a mistake on one side of the hat, but I close my eyes and forgive myself! I’ve also just finished another hat by Stephen West – Syncopation Adoration which is just waiting for the ends to be woven in. A jacket by Pickles (a very fashionable yarnstore in Oslo which we are collaborating with), “Big Nore” is just waiting for buttons. The very next project on my needles is Comfort fade cardi by Andrea Mowry – I will attend her KAL in December, and all of my earlier projects in November are also parts of our #garnsurrKAL which started the 1st of November and ends on Christmas Eve. As you see – I knit as much as I can!

Welcome to the World of SweetGeorgia

We have yet another new yarn company in the shop! SweetGeorgia is a hand dye studio based in Vancouver, BC. They are known for bright, saturated colours and interesting fibre bases. We were able to catch up with founder Felicia Lo to learn more about the company, colours and inspirations. 

We have started our range of SweetGeorgia with 4 different yarns. Silk Fog and Silk Mist are both luxurious silk/mohair combinations, while BFL Sock and Tough Love Sock are both hardy sock yarns in fantastic colours. We will be back next week to talk more about the yarns themselves. 

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us Felicia. Tell our readers the
story behind SweetGeorgia Yarns. How did you get your start dyeing yarn?

Dyeing fibre and yarn was something I started experimenting with very shortly after
I started learning to spin yarn. I had been knitting since I was in elementary school,
but the spinning bug hit me much later when I was in my mid-twenties. Locally, the
only spinning fibre that was available to me was all plain white, undyed, and I felt
the irresistible itch to spin with colour. So I started with Kool-Aid and some
Corriedale wool, as one does, and was immediately smitten with dyeing. The near
instant gratification and the joy that playing with colour brought kept me coming
back to it, week after week, and as I blogged about it, people started to get interested in what I was doing. It was my blog readers that gave me the encouragement to start a little Etsy shop in 2005 and that’s how it all began.

Very quickly after I started the Etsy shop, I was approached about doing wholesale
orders and after about a year of doing that alongside a full-time graphic design
business I was already running and getting completely exhausted and burnt out, I
had to pull back and re-group. I took about an 18-month hiatus from working so that
I could travel to London (three times), get inspired again, and decide whether or not
I would even continue SweetGeorgia.

During that time, I did a lot of natural dyeing with silk in the temporary space where
I was living. One morning, I looked over at a skein of silk yarn that I had dyed in
natural dyes and it was so beautiful… glowing in the morning sun, gleaming. It was
something so simple but breathtaking. It was like the universe opened and revealed
the depth of beauty to me that I had never experienced or taken the time to notice
before. It was in that moment that I was convinced to leave my career in graphic
design to pursue SweetGeorgia.

After that, I rebuilt the business from scratch, intentionally and deliberately
choosing our yarns, starting over and creating an entirely new colour palette, and
choosing to grow the business slowly and steadily.

It’s been 10 years since I first started that Etsy shop but about 7 years since I re-started the business, and it still feels like I am barely scratching the surface of what is possible with colour, craft, yarn, and fibre.

Ultimately, I feel compelled to do more than just create and run this business. I feel like my calling is to show people that same, almost supernatural, experience I had around seeing how beautiful, uplifting, and life-changing colour can be.

SweetGeorgia headquarters in Vancouver, BC.

SweetGeorgia headquarters in Vancouver, BC.

SweetGeorgia Yarns are known for their bold, vibrant palette. Can you speak to the process behind how you get those gorgeous tonal semi-solids?

We have a few different processes for creating and dyeing our semi-solid yarns —
some methods which make for more rich, layered tones where an underlying colour
will peek through to the top, and other methods that will produce more “solid” semi-
solid yarns. Our methods range from dyeing in pots on stovetops to hand-applying
the colour directly to skeins. Sometimes we might end up layering up to 5 or 6
different dye colours to achieve the exact hue that we’re looking for. And there are
differences in when we introduce heat and fixative, because all those variables affect
the final look and feel of the colourway.

How do you decide which yarns to dye on or which bases to introduce or discontinue?

We work with mills to develop the kinds of base yarns we love to knit with and use.
We typically get small lots of samples spun for us and then I’ll knit them up to see
how they look and feel. There’s a lot of lovely yarn that we get to play with, but I try
to choose the ones that make my pulse quicken a bit. Those are the yarns that I get
excited about. And how dye presents on the yarn makes a huge difference to me too.
Some blends just take colour in a more muted way that doesn’t necessarily resonate
with what people want from us. In terms of discontinuing, we try to “retire” yarns and colour ways very rarely if possible, unless we are forced to because of mill issues or dye issues.

It must be really exciting to come up with all of those brilliant colours. What is
your inspiration? How do you put together the colour story when launching
new colours?

We live in Vancouver on the stunning west coast of Canada and are surrounded by
mountains, ocean, and temperate rainforest. The landscape itself is textured and
inspiring on its own, but we also get a lot of rainfall. There are often months and
months of grey weather and rain which has always driven me to produce colours
that are vibrant and uplifting.

SGY yarn close up

SweetGeorgia Yarns also have fantastic pattern support. How is the creative
process different when working with designers, or creating pattern designs yourself?

Thanks so much for that! We have been working on building up our pattern support
for years now and it’s quite an undertaking! We send out a call for submissions
every so often (we have one out now for Fall/Winter 2015) and collaborate with
designers in that way, looking to see if their sketches and proposals will fit in with
what we’re looking for. We also collaborated directly with a local Vancouver designer, Holli Yeoh, on a collection of 11 designs last Fall, called Tempest.

When we work with other designers, we put together mood boards which express
the kind of aesthetic that we are looking to create. We suggest colours and yarns,
then when we get the proposals, we look at everything together to see how we can
assemble a cohesive story. From there, selected designs go into pattern writing, tech
editing, test knitting, sample knitting, photography, and graphic design. The whole
process has a lot of moving parts, often coordinating dozens of knitters and their
feedback. To lead this entire process, we have recently asked knitwear designer,
Tabetha Hedrick, to join our SweetGeorgia team to make the process more smooth
for all the designers and knitters involved. As for designing patterns myself, I’m not nearly as efficient as a lot of other designers out there! I’m terrible at making notes as I go, so the whole pattern writing process gets sort of fuzzy for me. If I could get into the habit of making better notes, I might actually be able to launch more designs!

Knit With Attitude customers are environmentally and socially conscious consumers. How does SweetGeorgia share their values?

Absolutely. For production reasons (to avoid issues around shipping or delivery
delays) we source our yarns and fibres from spinning mills all over the world and
always take animal cruelty and environmental concerns into consideration when we
choose our base yarns.

Regarding dyeing, the type of dyes we use are low-impact acid dyes which are fully
bonded to the fibre once the dye process is complete. That means that there is no
more dye or colour in the dye bath and that we are pouring out clear water when
we’re finished. We aim to dye in efficient dye lots of at least 4 or 8 skeins, so that we
are minimizing our water and energy usage. And very often, we will re-use dye
baths so that we can conserve water where we can. And finally, all our yarns are hand-dyed in Vancouver by crafters and artisans who
love colour or yarn.

Silk SweetGeorgia yarns drying after getting their colours.

Silk SweetGeorgia yarns drying after getting their colours.

What do you enjoy most about running SweetGeorgia Yarns?

At the most basic, basic level, my passion is about creating something from nothing.
It has always boiled down to that. Whether it’s making something from sticks and
string, or building a website from nothing but pixels, or creating a business and
community of like-minded craft enthusiasts, that is where I get my enjoyment. The
thinking, planning, designing, executing… everything about this business, I love
doing it all. But the thing I love most is when customers share their stories and
experiences with me. Just a short email here or there saying how pleased they were
with the yarn or the finished project can absolutely make my day. It’s the reason
why we do what we do… to make people happy.

If you weren’t dyeing yarn and fibre, what would you be doing?

Before I started SweetGeorgia, I was a graphic designer and web developer with my
own business, so I had my hands fully immersed in design, tech and entrepreneurship, and I really loved it. If I wasn’t doing this around yarn and fibre, I imagine I’d still be working with my hands, working in a visual medium, and with
some kind of technology. It’s the mix of things that I love.

What’s next for SweetGeorgia Yarns? Any exciting news you’d like to share?

We are heading into our 10th year in September 2015, so there’s lots of exciting
things planned around that. I can’t mention much yet, but I hope you’ll keep your
eyes and ears (!) out for us in the next couple months!

Welcome to the world of
Kettle Yarn Co

There is always a lot of excitement in introducing a new brand to Knit with attitude, a lot of effort and care go into choosing what I believe would be the ‘perfect addition’ to our selection. So that I get to see and touch ‘a lot’ of beautiful and lush fibers is really an understatement, I am spoilt in that sense, and maybe, just maybe, it might have made me a little bit hard to impress.

However, I am absolutely stunned by the brilliance, the quality and lush textures of the Kettle Yarn Co. yarns. This is a brand that has been on my ‘wish list’ for a long time, and my amazement with their yarns has not faded at all while waiting for the right moment to introduce the range to the shop. Finally we do have Beyul and Islington DK in stock, with more to come.

What is just as stunning as the yarns themselves is the craftsmanship, skill and mindfulness that goes into the creation of the Kettle Yarn yarns. I sat down with the mastermind behind it all, Linda Lencovic, and asked her to tell us all about it. Please enjoy!

Kettle Yarn Co. Beyul - Baby Yak, Silk and ethically farmed merino wool.

Kettle Yarn Co. Beyul – Baby Yak, Silk and ethically farmed merino wool.

How do you think that Kettle Yarn Co. fits in with the KWA ethos? 
My blends are carefully sourced from ethical mills to ensure animal welfare and only fibres with the lowest carbon footprints are used to reduce negative impacts on the environment.

It is vital to me that Kettle Yarn Co. support animal welfare and the environment through informed choices. For example, in my twenties I had a huge obsession with Cashmere, so when I started dyeing I was naturally drawn to it. However, the more I learned about Cashmere production in Asia, the less I was able to justify its use. After some research I learned that the luxury-driven obsession with the fibre is stripping bare the natural vegetation in the areas where cashmere goats are reared, causing huge sandstorms, the massive effects of which are even felt on the other side of the globe. Horribly, even the animals are suffering from our desire for the fibre – left with nothing to eat, the goats starve for our infatuation with luxury.

This is not something that I can support, so I looked for other scrumptious fibres that would still be amazing against the skin but where the animals were treated with love! Both Camels and Yaks are farmed in much more environmentally conscious ways which do not harm the animals or deplete resources and I’ve chosen to stick to these luxury fibres in my Beyul and Westminster blends instead of using Cashmere.

What is the most important thing to you when you are choosing a new yarn/fibre to dye with? What sort of process do you go through?
As mentioned above I try to make ethical choices in the yarn’s production and all blends are extensively wear tested and I’ve selected only the most scrumptiously soft, but ruggedly tough low-pilling and long-wearing blends – soft enough for the most sensitive skins.
You can see the results of my tests on my Wear Chart to help you plan your projects. Only yarns that pass exacting standards for optimum softness, wear-ability, durability and ethics are chosen to be lovingly hand dyed in small batches, creating exceptional yarns and projects that stand the test of time.
Renée Callahan’s Naloa in BEYUL – colours ‘Turquoise Tarn’ and ‘Yurt’. The Naloa pattern is available on Ravelry and in store.

Renée Callahan’s Naloa in BEYUL – colours ‘Turquoise Tarn’ and ‘Yurt’. The Naloa pattern is available on Ravelry and in store.

On your site you rate each Kettle Yarn Co. base according to its ‘number of shaves’. What does this mean, and what sort of testing do you do on each yarn?
Softness is a highly prized quality in yarn, giving the user a pleasure in working with it and and ease of wear. However, the cost of using a soft yarn is often pilling or damage to fibres as those short, tender fibres that give us gentle garments are also naturally prone to abrasion.

I extensively wear test all my blends before adding them to the shop and look for the most luxurious AND hardwearing blends for Kettle Yarn Co.Though some of my yarns may pill a little bit, they will shave clean with no damage to the fibres – guaranteeing that your garments remain look their best! The wear chart shows the blends I carry and gives an indication of how many shaves it will take before light pilling stops completely. This way you can plan your projects according to how much wear they will be getting.

For example,  socks take quite a lot of wear whereas shawls can be much more delicate and don’t need to be as tough, therefore I’d pick a hearty one-shave yarn for socks and any of the others would work brilliantly for shawls.

I heard that you were a painter before you became a yarn dyer. Can you tell us a little more about how your artistic background influences your business and colour ways?
Yes, I have a Masters in fine art and painted in both acrylic and oils before starting my yarn dyeing journey. I find that my fine art/graphic design background means that colour comes easily to me and I can spend time focussing on subtlety of colour and sophisticated combinations. Oddly enough this is the only career I’ve had that allows me to combine so many of my strengths and experiences at work!

Tambourine by Julia Farwell-Clay in ISLINGTON DK – British Bluefaced Leicester and Silk – colour ‘Neckinger’. The Tambourine pattern can be found in Pom Pom Quarterly Issue 12.

Tambourine by Julia Farwell-Clay in ISLINGTON DK – British Bluefaced Leicester and Silk – colour ‘Neckinger’. The Tambourine pattern can be found in Pom Pom Quarterly Issue 12.

Are you a process or a product knitter?
Both. I really enjoy the product but will frog back an entire jumper to fix something that doesn’t feel quite right! It is important to me that I take the time to make things RIGHT and really, really well to truly enjoy the finished product. This is something that has taken me years to learn, but am so glad I have.

What’s your current knitting project?
I am currently working on a nice thick shawl design in my new Islington DK weight, which you are now carrying in shop! I have a stunning collection of patterns planned with some amazing designers in this gorgeous 100% British Bluefaced Leicester/ Silk blend which should come out in July, so keep an eye out for the announcement then.