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!