I’m very excited to share the third episode of the Woolful podcast. Today we get to meet two incredibly talented women, both diverse and coincidently Austrailian, Jacqui Fink of Little Dandelion and Julia Billings of Woollenflower.
Sponsor: This week’s episode is sponsored by StashBot. Buy yarn smarter with Hannah Fettig’s new iOS app StashBot. If you find a yarn you can’t live without, StashBot will help you determine how much you should buy. It will pay for itself again and again as it saves you from purchasing more skeins of yarn than you need. Just as importantly it will keep your stash useful as you will be sure to have enough yarn to knit the projects you would like. StashBot will soon be available for Android and is also available in print. For more information head to www.knitbot.com/stashbot.
Fiber folk 1: Julia is a horticulturalist, experimenter and explorer of natural dyes, and purveyor of all things wool. Her knowledge of plants and natural dyeing was inspiring not only to continue natural dyeing, but around the foraging and identification of plants. You can find her at woollenflower.com and on Instagram @woollenflower.
Man on the street: For this week’s “Man on the Street” I asked a couple of fiber enthusiasts to answer the following question, “What is one way knitting or another fiber art has changed your life?” We had some amazing replies from Tiffany (@knittingfarmer) and Sam (@samanthamaylamb)
Fiber folk 2: Over the past few months I’ve heard some amazing stories, but none quite as moving as our next guest Jacqui Fink’s story. A few years ago, Jacqui had a transformational experience that opened doors to her future she never even imagined possible, and all leading to this spectacular thing called unspun wool. You can find her at littledandelion.com where she just launched her online shop full of extreme knitting yarn and needles and on Instagram @jacquifink
Giveaway: The winner of last week’s giveaway, sponsored by Monarch Knitting is Allison from Fieldwonderful.blogspot.com. You’ve won two skeins of Woolfolk’s Far yarn and the Knop hat pattern! Congratulations!
Our giveaway this week is a little different, but just as special. I spent last week in Idaho at our ranch where we converted an old milking parlor into a dye studio. It was our first time using the studio, and it was a surreal experience to dye with black walnut from our property and watch the beautiful caramel color emerge. Sooooo, this week we’re giving away those 3 skeins of naturally dyed Snoqualmie Valley Yarn created by Tolt Yarn and Wool, and naturally dyed by myself. To enter this giveaway, visit the giveaway post on Instagram @woolful and tag a friend in the comments. You can also enter by leaving a comment on this blog post.
Music by Jónsi.
Transcription of episode:
Ashley: Welcome to Woolful, a podcast for fiber folk. I’m excited to share with you some incredible people I’ve had the opportunity to talk to in this community we love so much. From shearers and shepherds to knitters and shop owners, here’s where you get to listen to a little part of their fiber journey.
This week’s episode is sponsored by StashBot. Buy yarn smarter with Hannah Fettig’s new iOS app StashBot. If you find a yarn you can’t live without, StashBot will help you determine how much you should buy. It will pay for itself again and again as it saves you from purchasing more skeins of yarn than you need. Just as importantly it will keep your stash useful as you will be sure to have enough yarn to knit the projects you would like. StashBot will soon be available for Android and is also available in print. For more information head to www.knitbot.com/stashbot.
Today we get to meet two incredibly talented women, both diverse and coincidently Australian, Jacqui Fink of Little Dandelion and Julia Billings of Woollenflower.
Julia is a horticulturalist, experimenter and explorer of natural dyes, and purveyor of all things wool. You can find her at woollenflower.com and on Instagram @woollenflower. And with that, here’s Julia.
Ashley: I’d love it if you just start from the beginning and how you came into knitting and kind of where it’s taken you.
Jules: I actually started to spin before I started knitting a very close dear friend of mine had signed up at my local spinners’ guild to do a spinning course and she was a little nervous because she’s you know that she might be quite a lot younger than a lot of the other women who are at the course so she asked me if I’d go along with her. And so I did. Look I played around a lot with fabric as a teenage and early 20s I’d sewn and things. I done a little bits and pieces of craft but never really committed anything that kind of that much time that you need I think to really dedicated to learn properly. So I went along and I was really just supporting her in what she wanted to do and soon as I took that fiber in my hand and started spinning it t through the wheel. I feel like I’ve done it before. I just felt so at home with the fiber and it just went so smoothly. And I knew like I’m a right-hander and I actually started spinning with my left hand leading which is really unusual apparently and so the teacher was like have you done it before and I said no but I felt like I done it before somehow. It was just completely intrinsic for me. So she never really grasp it and she kind of moved on to something else but for me it started something really beautiful. I didn’t start spinning properly you know with any kind of—I didn’t spend much time doing it for another year or two but my husband bought me a spinning wheel for my birthday when we first got together and so I enrolled to do a spinning course and it was quite an intensive course. It was over two years. I only ended up doing the first year because I was studying horticulture at the time and I just didn’t have time. It was very grueling. We actually had to spend a lot of time preparing fiber and the spinning was really like the last 10%. The first 90% of what we had to do was washing the fiber and scouring to get all the grease out and teasing out all the fibers and through that process, I learned so much about fiber. It was kind of really a beautiful way to start knitting actually with that fiber background because I supposed when you’re exposed to natural fiber in its purest state you want to do as little to it as possible. And you know to really respect the fiber for itself rather than just wanting to go out and buy yarn and knit with it. I started knitting as art of that course just in order to knit up the samples that we had to do for our folios so I literally learned to knit as I went just to do those little squares. And so I realized how beautiful it was to knit with something that I made, with something yarn that I spun and to knit with fiber that I could trace back to a particular animal or a particular farm or whatever. So I came to knitting with a real joy and love for kind of the purity of kind of really unadulterated wool, if you know what I mean. So I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to spin and knit as much as I wanted to you know. I think it takes a lot of time to really spin enough to make a jumper or you know as much as I wanted to knit and so I very quickly realized that what I actually wanted to do was knit. Not so much to spin because I want to make something. I wanted to have a product at the end that I could wear and that I could share with other people and things. So I put down the wheel and I move more towards knitting but I guess maintained the connection with the spinning guild. I still buy yarn there. You know they sell scanes of their own yarn and I buy that so you know so that I don’t have to spend my time spinning even though I love it. I feel like I want to commit more to knitting. It also means that somebody else gets a little money for spinning, what they like to work with and so it’s a nice kind of relationship there I guess. So it was the very beginnings of knitting for me. And I’ve moved on from kind of knitting little sample squares for my spinning folio. Mostly, at that time I was studying horticulture. I was also working out there in hort and so I was out in the elements a lot so I wanted to knit a scarf for myself just to keep myself warm. But I also really you know when you’re working in an outdoor I think the same if you work with animals or whatever, having really dirty hands all day and working outside in kid of tough environment in a way. I really enjoyed the tactile nature of knitting as well. When often I bought myself some noro yarn, some noro kochoran yarn—change colors does all the kind of work for you and I went away and I knitted just a godistic scarf and completely fallen in love with just a process of knitting for itself and making something that I could then wear to work and so yeah that was the very beginning. So it was kind of fiber origins but also a practical thing for me as well. I really wanted to be able to keep warm outside. Where did I go from there? I guess like all the people—that was only about 12 years ago so like most of us newer knitters well I don’t know about you but I know a lot of people I know kind of my age or you know in a similar age range we kind of grow up on Ravelry, really. I had a few years where Ravelry wasn’t around you know where I would sort people’s blogs and try to find patterns for myself. Mostly it’s been pretty online oriented and Ravelry oriented in terms of building a community and finding resources. So I was always pretty adventurous in terms in what I wanted to make and I think that’s something that I notice working in yarn shops. A lot of the older customers who come in, they are really adventurous they want to knit different things but they don’t necessarily go out and find patterns that teach you different techniques and you know where you really challenge yourself all the time. And I think for those of us who did grow up with online patterns and people self-publishing and things like that I think straight away I was into doing different things and using traditional techniques but like in really different ways. I think it meant like so many of us I just was making really different kinds of things and learning a lot of new techniques and straight off from ash you know. I think that it’s a real difference that I see between the younger generation and older generations, just having access to so many different resources online.
Ashley: It’s true. I think not only just for knitting but other things it’s really lowered the barrier to entry where maybe people in the past were really exposed through like a family member or a close friend. Nowadays, all you really have to do is just make the decision and go on YouTube or something. So going back to something that you said earlier when you’re talking about spinning, I can related to the sentiment of what time you do have wanting to spend it on knitting rather than spinning. I took a spinning class earlier this year and I was so excited about it. I was really going oh I’m going to spin my own yarn and yatta, yatta, yatta. And then I took it and it was enchanting, it was sweet but it was like I don’t really want to spend the very, very limited time that I do have doing because I will never knit. I kind of made the conscious decision until someday when I’m retired age and my kids are out of the house then maybe I’ll pick up spinning. Gosh even at the Wool Symposium today, there were scouts who brought their full spinning wheels to sit in there listening to the whole thing, spinning the whole time. It was really cool.
Jules: Yeah, I guess you know for me I found it really beautiful and meditative. The actual physicality of it was really much more calming in some ways that knitting is. Like I can still sit and knit and be thinking whereas with spinning it’s very meditative but yeah I just and so I really value that but I’m greedy. I want to knit you know. I want to knit more stuff.
Ashley: I know. Sometimes I think to myself, okay so if you add up how long this project or that project takes you know, I divide my lifetime by that many how many projects in a lifetime could I actually knit. It’s not that many.
Jules: No, I’m like oh my gosh.
Ashley: But I want to knit everything.
Jules: I have enough anxiety about lie anyway but thinking how many more projects I have got in me. It’s like terrifying.
Ashley: I know. I don’t know why I think that but I totally do. You mentioned that you work on a yarn shop now or you did?
Jules: Yeah I started working at yarn shops about six years ago and met a couple of very dear friends there and one of them actually was fantastic enough to buy it an existing yarn shop that’s been established in Melbourne for about 35 years. It’s one of the oldest ones we have here. She bought it about a year and a half ago and she gave me a job there. So the three of us are back working there together and it’s very beautiful. It’s a really beautiful shop.
Ashley: What’s the name of it?
Jules: It’s called Sun Spun. Yeah it’s Canterbury in Melbourne. It’s really green leafy suburb on the other side of town from where I live but it’s been there a long time and it’s always been known for its color. So it’s known for having really beautiful quality. Kind of European yarns, you know back when Roan and other English and European yarns weren’t really kind of available very much they have them and Kaye Facet would come out every now and then do classes in Australia and he come there to do them. So it’s got a real name for color and for kind of beautiful, warm textures and things. So yeah she’s really carrying on that legacy. She’s kinds of streamlined a little bit and given it a really beautiful fadeout but we still have the most beautiful yarns that we can find around. You know, we have some naturally dyed yarns from Scotland which we are really proud of and beautiful kind of Isiga yarn from Denmark which is really kind of very minimal processing and people are really responding to having access to really lovely things around the world.
Ashley: That’s so great. I just got one of Helga’s book. This is another one of my crazy antiquing. It was only in Danish and so I basically started translating one of the patterns, just Google translate. It’s actually not that hard.
Ashley: If you think about the numbers and the terms are repeated so I’m kind of excited. I’m going to start knitting one of the patterns and there’s a shop near here that sells her yarn so I’m going to go check that out too.
Jules: I can’t wait to hear about the actual translation because yeah I think often it’s like often with Japanese sewing and little bit Japanese knitting books and you know once you know the technical terms, it’s not so difficult but yeah Danish is a whole other really different language, it’s beautiful.
Ashley: I don’t know. I think Japanese will be much harder because of the characters. I have absolutely no idea how to read that but that’s great.
Jules: My husband speaks Japanese so I’m really lucky with that.
Ashley: Oh I see.
Jules: Yeah you got to get yourself some—get the right friends that’s like that.
Ashley: One gal when I posted, I made a little video the book because it was just so beautiful all the photos inside and one gal on Instagram replied and she had mentioned that she had knit a lot of the pattern in the book and I was like well maybe I will have to hit you up for some translation.
Ashley: I actually want to hear a little bit about your history in horticulture and herbal medicine just because you know even though that doesn’t have to do directly with knitting I think there’s a common thread through at least some motivation behind using natural fibers and herbal medicine and stuff like that.
Jules: Yeah. Well, I started studying herbal medicine in Melbourne in my early to mid 20s, like I was about 24, 25 and I’ve been working in an acupuncture clinic for a while, you know in admin and reception and things and I was just really motivated to learn more about health and kind of natural way of living. You know not just medicine but just how to keep yourself healthy. I really just feel so in love with it. There’s such a tradition, you know both in the west and also in the east and you really feel like you’re part of that tradition. It’s not only about the medicines but it’s also kind of all different kinds of things. Just being all connected with the earth really and more connected with what’s going on with under our feet and the air around us. Yeah it was just a time where I really started to just see how important that was. I started to going out push camping a lot. I mean plants are just have always been a fascination but it was just an opportunity really to become incredibly connected to plants in a particular way. We were lucky. We would make our own medicine through the college as well so we learn all about you know how to make herbal tinters and obviously teas and things but also how to make ointments and you know all kinds of different topical medicines and things. So I was most interested in making medicines and things like that rather than having to buy in bottles of you know tinters or capsules from somewhere else and someone else. I really felt that there was power in working with plants yourself. You know even if you had a smaller group of plants that you might have access to that somehow working with them would make you—you would be more connected with many different things that each plant can do rather than looking at one plant saying that’s the plant for this or that’s the plant for that. You know you start to become much more economical with working with plants, when you only have those ones but because you’ve grown them where you prepare them yourself; there’s a connection. You know what I mean?
Jules: So I was really interested in that. But I guess I did go on and start a practice with my husband. He’s an acupuncturist and so we opened a clinic together and we work there for quite a while and he carried it on but all throughout the course that I did and through my practice I was most interested in the plants rather than people. I mean I love people and I’ve always worked with people in service industries and things but it was really the plants that kind of fascinated me. And you know being a health practitioner is bug responsibility. It’s a big job you know and I think perhaps I wasn’t mature enough or old enough you know at 26 to feel like I had the tools you know to really be that solid for someone and to really be their primary practitioner. The subject I love most was herbal medicine but also botany. So I ended up going back to uni and just wanted to focus on the plants themselves. So that was big commitment to going back to uni in like early 30s, having been out working and everything but I really felt, I would better in working entirely with the plants. So I’m back to study horticulture in Melbourne uni at a college that has been around for a long time, Burnley horticulture college. It’s got a really strong tradition of hort around the world and it was really beautiful to be able to go and learn different things about some of the similar plants that I’ve been using. Some of our ornamental plants, also botanicals that we use in herbal medicine and vice versa so I got to meet the same plants but in a different setting to learn more about how to care for them and what plats really need on a basic level as well as kind of looking more ecology or those kind of things, sustainability and everything. But yeah really it was very hands on and very grass roots and practical.
Ashley: That’s great. So you have this thread to your life that introduce you to herbal medicine and then horticulture and where are you at now with all that?
Jules: So I stop working directly in horticulture a couple of years ago. My sister was quite unwell and I just had to choose between a couple of different jobs that I had going on at the time. Horticulture was quite demanding, physically and I was really keen and I think also at that time I needed the nurturing, kind of the softness of the wool as well. You know I think at the time I was you know it’s pretty tough going emotionally with the family and I think that softness with working with wool was important for me. At the time and so I ended veering more into wool textiles. At the same time I have developed a real love for stranded color work as part of what I like to knit and it can be hard to find the colors that you need and that you like to use in a multi-color project and I started going to the natural dyes group at the local spinning guild and I got completely hooked on natural dying. It seemed like a beautiful way of still being connected with plants and still being able to use that knowledge but also learn more about them you know. But also integrate that with textiles and to be able to use that in a really practical way and so at the last couple of years I have been focusing quite a bit on natural dying and I think that’s my main interface with plants at the moment. And I do it mostly just for myself. I’m still in a real kind of plant nerd phase of my dying where I really want to just try all the plants you know. So rather than focusing on one plant and dying a whole lot of yarn and making things with it and selling the yarn and everything, I’m still kind of like making up little 50 grams scanes, or 20 gram scanes and wanting to try all the different things and playing around with different ways of modifying color and things. So I have a huge big box of many, many different colors and yeah I feel like I’m just starting to not even got a handle on it, it’s such a big field like anything. But there are so much to learn. I’m really into it and I really love it.
Ashley: It’s so exciting. I just started getting into natural dying and I think seeing people that are just experimenting and they are not going necessarily for one specific things. Oh I must have this color or you know and they are just kind of experimenting with what’s around them and what comes from these different plants and different mordents and all that. What kind of plants have you gravitated more towards or are there any of that really surprised you that color that came from them? Are there any that you really gravitate towards?
Jules: Inherently I’m kind of most interested in local plants. Mostly because even those I really love exotic dyes and I love the tradition of them and I love the colors you know and there are so much known about the colors for example that you can get from madder or from indigo or fustic or you know these really traditional dyes. I’m most interested in things that I can collect myself. I think that’s partly because I don’t want to have to buy powders in from overseas. I don’t really. For me that doesn’t feel like something I want to do. I don’t want to have to—you know there’s a lot of energy that goes into making powders and sending them across part of the world so I’m kind of you know wanting to do it local. But for me it’s also being able to go out and getting connect with the plants. You know there are a lot of plants that I don’t know. There are also quite a few that I do so if I go out and see a plant that I recognize and I know it’s may be got some color potential that’s a really exciting thing for me to be out and just go out and collect that plant and bring that home and work with it. But I also love the randomness of being able to go out and try a plant having read nowhere about it, being a dying plant that it suddenly find that it actually find that it does yield color is a really beautiful—it’s such an exciting thing you know. So I’m really interested in being able to go out and collect myself. Partly that’s also about being how to use weedy species. So I like the idea of being able to use something that we don’t want and being able to get something out of it has always been part of my tradition of working with plants. So it’s like for example, I Australia a lot of medicinal plants from around the world are actually weedy so you can actually collect them here and make medicine and it’s completely free. And dying is the same kind of thing. So not only do you get something for free but you also potentially, if you could do it on a big enough scale you could help to eradicate the problem of having particular weeds in you know in our areas where we’re pretty fragile kind of environment here so it would be great to be able to use something at a large enough scale that you could have an impact on its weediness. So that really that’s mostly what I’m interested in. It’s lovely for me to see of being able to go out to the garden or go out down the local park or whatever and just collect you know windfall tree, bark or whatever and being out and just cook it up and let’s see what happens.
Ashley: When I first started dying with my friend Annie and she’s experienced and she lives in a farm and she’s all very familiar with different plants around her property and whatnot and kind of dye color they expected to make. Do you feel like just because of your background you kind of have this natural sense for I don’t know preliminary education around which plants would work or which wouldn’t? Or is that something you read in books or do you just try things sometimes randomly?
Jules: I think I’m a little bit all three. Like I do feel, I guess having a bit of an understanding of the biochemistry of plants, which a lot of it forgotten. You know when you study herbal medicine you really have to understand all that stuff because you have to know what it is that principles on the plant that will work. There are certain principles or chemicals compounds that give particular dye colors and so having an understanding of whether or not a plant has that particularly compound it means it’s like a marker to say that that plant might give you a dye. So I’ve been lucky enough to have a little bit of that knowledge. I also bought a really amazing book by a woman called Dominique Cardon, C-A-R-D-O-N. She’s a French dyer and she wrote an incredible book about plant dyes and it goes through the dyes based on their compounds within them. So I’ve done a little bit of reading of how you can actually, well basically building my chemistry knowledge. But I also kind of go intuitively as well and I don’t want to kind of overthink things too much so I’m really happy to just go out and play with things. I don’t really want to try dyes that are in the books because it’s amazing to fid unexpected color and I don’t want it to be too intellectual process because I think it kind of takes the joy away a bit from me. So I think it’s a bit all three really. I do teach natural dying a bit and one of the things that I do talk to my students about is the fact that the more you know about a family of plants, like a group of plants, the more you might be able to tell what other plants in that family might do. So if you that a family, like for example the rubiaceae family that has coffee in it, there’s a lot of dye plants in that family. So if you that another species that you’re going to get access to belongs to that family then it tells you that maybe it’s a plant that’s worth trying for dying. Kind of the broader your knowledge about plants, I think the more information you have.
Ashley: what about plant identification? When you go find the plant, do you know what family it’s a part of? Or do you think someone that’s kind of new to it, what’s kind of the learning curve there? What would you recommend how someone were to identify?
Jules: I think it’s cumulative knowledge. I think that that’s come with time but like you said with your friend Annie, I think the best thing to do is go out with somebody and go walking and looking at things. Somebody like to guide you through that process, I think you need something like that to start with if you can. But I think there are some amazing books out like for example, I really love the book Wild Color by Jenny Dean. She’s a British dyer and she has a really great book, the Wild Color which just gives you the fundamentals of dying in a really solid kind of way. And she has some pretty good photos in there so I think she uses a lot of really commonly available kind of ornamental plants, things that you find in a garden, in kind of a local park and stuff in the UK and I think in the States as well. And so I think she gives you a basic recognizing kind of skill and then once you know like you say for example in that book, okay so apples and pears and cherries and all these other plants that belong to the same family they all have kind of a similar so your eye I think you start to train your eye to see what a plant looks like that belongs to that family. And as a general rule we kind of classify or group our plants according to those kind of visible structures, you know like leaf shape and flower type and types of fruit and things. So I think the more you work with plants the more you start to see those common characteristics and you start to go I think that might belong to the rose family or I think that might belong to a group of conifers or whatever. I think a guide like a visual guide, like a dye book that has really good photos in it is really useful and then just time, spending time with buddies who know a bit more than you do.
Ashley: As you’re talking I’m recalling my years in biology and the different classes we were taking about plants and stuff. Not everyone has the advantage of having someone close to them you know that could teach the but I think that there is so many books or even some Instagram like posting a photo, what is this plant or something you will get a lot of feedback maybe not a whole lot accurate but I really want to identify plants in Idaho. I haven’t got to spend a lot of time kind of come and seen the land yet but my goal when we’re up there in a week is to really walk around and start getting to know the area, the wildlife that’s there because it’s very, very different than California. I’ve done some preliminary research but to my understanding because of the different climate and the different terrain and even just around property, it’s going to be very different.
Jules: Yeah you get really different results probably you know using the same plant to grow in California to grow in Idaho you know.
Ashley: It could be.
Jules: That would be really exciting.
Ashley: Mix it in.
Jules: I just going to say there are really great local field guides that anybody who’s kind of interested in natural dyes. Like they are not necessarily specific about natural dyes but you know most areas will have a field guide to local flora. Even if it’s just through your local council. I think contacting local bodies like that or even like land care groups, they’d be able to tell the type of indigenous plants that you have where you live and I think that can be really great. They usually have like if not a photo then at least get a diagram or you know fairly detailed botanical drawing can be useful.
Ashley: I found some old archives online to different I don’t know even what they were created, maybe like certain surveys that they did and sometimes just a hardcore Google search will help you find some kind of old document that maybe was archived for a particular region or whatnot. I think about these plants that maybe I don’t know what they are, what they are used for, you know what properties they have. Is there any that you know that are harmful at different temperatures to touch or breathe?
Jules: I haven’t heard about at so much in terms of different temperature but as I said it’s still per new geek for me. There’s heaps that I’m really came to learn about and I don’t know. Definitely there are plants that you have to be really careful dying with that you just better not to dye with at all. And I think there are probably different ones in North America. I’m not sure if I will give you a complete list. You know the things that are more relevant in your part of the world but certainly things like you know for example like rhubarb leaves that can be used as a mordant instead of using alum. So they contain oxalic acid in them which is a naturally occurring compound that can be really toxic when you breathe it in. to use also in like stripping floors and things like that. So not like from rhubarb leaf but like an extract of pure form of oxalic acid and that one will definitely you don’t want to be boiling that up inside because even though there might be minute content in the air if you’re in a really unventilated area you know you can definitely breathe in some pretty high levels and I think it’s always better to dye in a really well-ventilated area. You want to have kind of two points of air, one coming in and one coming out. And ideally like on a back patio or your porch or something because that way you just don’t have any build up of steam or anything like that. So I always try and do it on a day where I know I can open the house out. So rhubarb leaves for sure you got to be careful. Oleander actually belongs to the coffee family which is one of the group that I mentioned before which have a lot of dry parts in it but oleander is really toxic so I have never used that even though you know my mom has it growing and I kind of like to try it but I think you definitely want to exercise a lot of caution. Books will normally tell you. Well, they only tell you if they list it I guess in there, weren’t they?
Ashley: I think it’s a good word of caution and one of the reasons I asked you is because both your knowledge but also just to reinforce that even though it’s natural and it’s a plant you know you’re messing with turning some of these properties of these plants into a vapor or breathable steam and you run the risk of even if you’re not touching it with your bare hands, inhaling it.
Jules: It’s still a point of contact for sure. I think it’s like herbal medicine or any other kind of thing where were working with plants just because a plant like you say. Just because it’s natural it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy or you know it could be graded a certain dose and if you have too much it can toxic so I think of course it’s always really important to be careful. But I think the ventilation thing is a pretty good way to kind of make sure you’re careful. You think love is definitely a great way. I try to not to kind of use anything too concentrated. Like my dye bath I usually, I never dyed at the point where I form anything really caustic or anything because of the super high concentration of dye bath or anything but you always got to use caution, don’t you?
Ashley: What are some of the fiber bases that you really like to work with when you naturally dye?
Jules: I have a local wools that I really like to use, like a wool yarn. It’s grown by a local Victorian wool producer. It’s actually it’s cool it’s a polwarth sheep. I’m not sure if you guys would have heard of it. Have you heard of it? Okay. So it’s actually, I buy it from. She’s called Detwendy Dennis and her family, actually her husband’s family developed the Polwarth sheep in the 1880s. Like it was on that same property and it’s still produced now by the same family which is really beautiful. Her sons actually has taken over the reigns now so you know it’s great to support them but the product itself is very naturally kind of handled. It’s produced over in New Zealand the actual yarn but with very minimal processing. Then she does a little bit of dying herself but she basically just produces three kind of combinations of naturally colored fibers. So it’s a really beautiful product. I just use her natural wash and it’s a really unusual yarn in the sense that—well the fiber is unusual in the sense that it’s very soft but it also dyes really beautifully and I find often the softer fibers like merino and things don’t always pick up as much color. Like they are not that lustrous kind of shiny type of fiber that picks up a whole lot of color and reflects it back at you. So the Polwarth is unusual because it does have the softness but it also has a real shine to it. So I really love dying. It’s nice to find something that shows it off in a really beautiful way.
Ashley: I read some article, I think it was in the recent Sheep Magazine. There’s a guy raising polwarth. Maybe I’ll have to get some and try it out.
Jules: Yeah you totally. I can send some to you. I love to do that for you.
Ashley: That’d be great.
Jules: I also—if I find some really beautifully like a naturally white jumper at the shop or whatever, I tend to undo jumpers and use them for dying because it’s a free source of fiber and you know that we can get to play around with different fiber combination. Because I find often yarn that’s used for industry like commercial knit wear they often have really funky combinations of fibers. Things like linen and wool together or I’ve got a blend at the moment, it’s just woolen angora but you know normally I wouldn’t buy angora. Firstly because it’s expensive and secondly it shows around kind of humane treatment and stuff but it gives me access to something that has already been made. It’s secondhand and I can play around with it and dye without worrying too much that I’m wasting something that’s really precious. If it doesn’t work or if it failed so whatever. I do like to do that as well just as kind of other source of fiber.
Ashley: That’s cool. Recently I have been talking to Jerome Sevilla, he’s handles good junkie and that’s what he does. He doesn’t use any new yarn. He completely recycles 100% of any fiber that he uses and he designs the most amazing garments, some of the most amazing I ever seen.
Ashley: And he has a whole process. He just actually did a photo essay around his recycling process. He’s great. I really like talking to him.
Jules: He really understood.
Ashley: The whole recycling really fascinates me and I think again it’s one of those time things. I’ve toyed with it myself and then I’m like okay when I have a little bit more time then I’ll do it.
Jules: Totally yeah.
Ashley: So what are some of the projects that you’re working on right now?
Jules: Because trying all the colors with all the yarns I finally got enough of the stash that I’m actually making a big naturally dyed blanket. So I have dyed up a whole lot of sheetland, like full blast sheetland from a recycled jumper and I don’t know I probably got about 25 different shades colors. Just quite soft colors and I’m using them in combination with like a naturally colored fiber yarns so some grays and silvers and things. I worked a bit on a vintage knitting machine just because I can’t knit everything I want by hand and so I’m just making up some panels and I’m just doing some really kind of fine stripes in all the different colors. I’m hoping it will be as beautiful in reality as it is in my head but it will be really lovely to start to use all of those colors together. I think some of the beautiful things about natural dyed yarns is that they all just work really well together. You don’t really have anything that clashes in a way that you do with commercially dyed yarn. So that’s a really beautiful project that I’m working on and the other thing I’m hand knitting at the moment is one of the new Brooklyn Tweed patterns docklight jumper.
Ashley: Oh I am too.
Jules: I love it. It’s such a beautiful design.
Ashley: Julie is amazing.
Jules: Isn’t she? Really beautiful details. For that one I’m using some naturally dyed yarn, actually commercial yarn by from a company called Sheila’s Dear and they are on the west coast of Scotland on the Isle of Skye. And I’ve visited there a few years ago and I’m really hoping that one day I’ll be able to get back and do a little bit of work with them. Just learning from Eva. She’s the most amazing natural dyer. They’ve been out there for about 40 years. She should be dying out there originally for her tapestry weaving but now she dyes commercially. Yeah you see the yarn in some of the little high end knitting shops around the world, it’s really beautiful to find a company that who makes kind of commercial quantities of jumper quantities of naturally dyed yarns. You don’t often find a yarn that you can just you know I don’t have to alternate my scanes or anything. Like I am just able to knit it and that’s all kind of it works really beautifully as a jumper, no stripping or pulling or anything so that’s a really exciting project for me.
Ashley: It’s a great pattern. I talked to Julie recently and she’s amazing. Just all of her patterns I just gravitate towards. She’s just an individual too. She’s really inspiring.
Jules: Yeah she has real beautiful detail. I think there’s a really beautiful simplicity about her work but here’s always a real finesse as well.
Ashley: You’re just mentioning Scotland and it reminded me that you had said that you guys are moving to Scotland.
Jules: Yeah my husband and I are moving in a few months’ time actually. It’s a really exciting move. I’m a little daunted at the moment. We’re really excited. We found ourselves with our children which is kind of unexpected and it’s been a little hard to adjust to but there are so many things that life offers and I think perhaps you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do or we wouldn’t if we had children and so moving overseas and just trying some new things and having some time for ourselves in that way I think is something that we have been talking about for quite a while and so we figured let’s just do it. And Scotland is somewhere that’s been close to my heart for a long time. My dad’s mom’s family are from there and always dreamt about going there. We went together about six years ago, Scotland and Ireland and as soon as I landed I just, you know when sometimes when you anticipate something and then you finally get that and it’s maybe not what you though this was just like, it was just as I imagined and I felt such as connection to the place. You know I think probably a lot of people maybe from America and from Australia feel that about places like Scotland and Ireland because a lot of our heritage comes from there. Well, part of it anyway and I definitely feel that but I think as a knitter as well and as a plant person there is just so much richness there; so much tradition.
Ashley: I’m so excited to see where that takes you. When I read that I was like I think I might have to come visit her at some point.
Jules: Anytime Ashley. It’s an interesting time to go. You know in some ways at Glasgow it just had the commonwealth games and things but you know in some ways I think it’s having a tough time in the UK moment so we don’t know what opportunities we’ll have but we just make as many as we can and meet as many people as we can and just–
Ashley: It’s always good to get a little out of your comfort zone, adventure no matter where you at in your life is. It’s something that’s always worth doing and so I think that that’s great and I’m really, really excited for you guys.
Jules: Thank you so much.
Ashley: I want to hear a little bit more about this online shop though. You had mentioned to me that you are on the verge of opening a shop.
Jules: Just a very little one. And I’ve been on the verge of doing—well not on the verge, I’ve been kind of bearing for it for a while. Things have been a little busy in my family in the last few years and I think I haven’t had as much time as I would like to kind of put into it so I think part of our source of going overseas is maybe just finding a little more space for us to do those kinds of projects. I’ve been working as I said with a vintage knitting machine for a few years and I love to make a lot of different things on it but I specially love using it for color work because you can really play around with things and swatch in a way that you can’t, well I mean you can by hand but it just take so long by hand and I think when you work on the machine yeah it’s just so quick and you can play with ideas in a way that I find more difficult to find time for by hand. And so have as little range of things I make I have been making on the machine. Just like color work cals and little fingerless mits and things like that and also some non-color work cals to working up a bit of a stash of them at the moment. Yeah and hopefully I’ll be launching early next year. I have given myself a little bit of a timeline too because I’ve been accepted to do the Invora Yarn Festival in mid-March which is like a big yarn festival with a whole lot of teachers, amazing European and I think some of the American teachers are going over. Yeah it’s a big festival happening in Invora so I’ve got to have a stand there. So yes it’s good to have I think sometimes a timeframe you know. Something that’s external.
Ashley: That’s great.
Jules: So hopefully it will go very well and look it’s just a way of exploring different things really. I think like most creative people it’s just having different outlets for different things. You know.
Ashley: Yeah it’s always good to try different little things whether they stick or not. Some sort of creative expression and you hope that they’ll become something but at least you’re progressing. That’s what I always say better than not doing anything.
Jules: Yeah definitely. I know. I mean I suffer which I think a lot of people do suffer with the thing of having too many interests and so I feel like none of them really get like 100% focused but you know you try a bunch of different things and I think sometimes things are out of your hands too whatever. Other people are like is kind of sometimes what ends up becoming what you focused on. You know people are interested in at then you spend more time in that. I’m happy to see where that leads me.
Ashley: Yeah I think it would be great, have a lot of things that are going on right now but I can just imagine that you know 2015 is going to be a really big year for you with the move and with the launch of your new shop. I’m really excited to just keep following your journey and see where it takes you and then maybe someday we can meet up in person and naturally dye together.
Jules: That would be wonderful and I just wish you so much joy and happiness.
Ashley: For this week’s “Man on the Street” I asked a couple of fiber enthusiasts to answer the following question, “What is one way knitting or another fiber art has changed your life?” Here’s what they had to say…
Tiffany: My name is Tiffany and I’m from Long Beach and I’m on Instagram as @KnittingFarmer. Knitting has changed my life by being the one constant stress reliever. I started knitting in graduate school and it was a welcome break from the reading of journal articles and from tests and biostatistics and then I kept knitting when my children were young and now that they’re a little bit older and I went through some other major life changes such as a divorce, I felt like knitting was a really constant soothing activity that I could always pick up and I always looked forward to going down to the local yarn store and meeting with my friends down there and talking about our projects and showing them off. So I feel like knitting is a constant stress reliever and friend.
Sam: Hi this is Sam Lamb from Toronto. You can find me on Instagram as @SamanthaMayLamb. How has knitting or another fiber art changed my life? Well, that’s a big question. I’ve been sewing and crafting for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t actually knit until my mid twenties or rather learn in a way that stuck. In high school a friend’s mother tried to teach me but it just didn’t make sense and years later I spotted a tiny sweater in a yarn shop window. My art practice at the time involved creating small clothing so I signed up for a class, only hoping I could learn just enough to make a miniature sweater or two. What I didn’t see coming was that knitting all the sudden made all kinds of sense to me. From the reliability of counting stitches to the tactile beauty of wooden needles and merino wool. I got it, and it really got me, but by far knitting’s greatest impact has been this…every year since that first lesson, I’ve become more and more patient. With life, with my children, with difficult patterns that take three tries before they’re mistake free. I’m strangely content to unravel projects that aren’t working, regardless of how many hours of knitting that represents. Knitting has taught me that time doesn’t have to add up in a linear way and that slowing down and cultivating patience makes the journey that much more rich. No one item is too precious as it can always be unraveled and transformed into something new. And hey, my last name is Lamb, clearly I was meant to be a knitter.
Ashley: Over the past few months I’ve heard some amazing stories, but none quite as moving as our next guest Jacqui Fink’s story. A few years ago, Jacqui had a transformational experience that opened doors to her future she never even imagined possible, and all leading to this spectacular thing called unspun wool. You can find her at littledandelion.com where she just launched her online shop full of extreme knitting yarn and needles and on Instagram @jacquifink. And with that, here’s Jacqui…
Ashley: You mentioned to me at one time that you don’t really consider yourself a knitter but regardless of that you are involved in fiber and I’d love to hear a little bit about your fiber journey and kind of how it started and where it’s taking you and what’s influenced you?
Jacqui: Sure. Well, it actually came to be out of very traumatic circumstances. I do not call myself a proper knitter because I never, I learned to knit as a child. My mom taught me but I never committed to the language of knitting so I just did very basic things with my mom and was always drawn to the activity because it was so calming and I loved the rhythm and I also loved those sort of menial aspects to it but it was never anything more than that for me. Loved wool, always loved sheep. So I was drawn to that aspect of the craft as well but how Little Dandelion came to be is a sloppy bunkers story I think and the more a bridged version of it is I did, I studied law. I practiced for a few years. I was extremely unhappy. In that profession, I was a fish out of water completely I never really understood why I never considered myself a very creative person at all even though when I looked back on my childhood I was always engaged in creative pursuits. It just was never given a name, it was just something that I did. I then left the law to join my husband’s high end fashion retail business and I worked in retail for quite a few years before our first child came along. We lived in Sidney still and we really parented in isolation. There was not a lot of support around us. My parents live on the Gold Coast. So I made the decision to stay at home and to be the mom and I still consider that to be my main job actually. Not that it’s a job but that’s my first priority. As each two more children came along in very quick succession and it was a very intense journey for me, motherhood. It was a transition I found extremely hard to make. I gave everything to motherhood as mom’s do but it wasn’t with that, it’s impact on me as well and I found myself by 2006 sort of being quite a hole. I was suffering from postnatal depression. I became highly anxious. My mom was also diagnosed with terminal lung disease in that same year. So it was a big year that year. It was a road down slide but I started to sort of have discussion with the universe to work out how I could get myself out of this hole. I knew it was all down to me and no one else. I couldn’t wait around for anyone else to sort of make it all better for me. It was down to me and so for some reason I had this instinct that whatever it was that I found for myself it needed to be creative and it needed to involve the use of my hands because that was something I loved to do as a child and I needed desperately to reconnect with that. So in the three years that followed my mom’s diagnosis, we had some really big conversations. One of them was my mom saying to me that her biggest regret was that she felt like she never fulfilled her potential and that was a real call to action for me. So I started to earnest my search for something for myself. I came up with all sorts of cheeky, ridiculous ideas and I share them with my friends and family and I wasn’t really fazed at their reaction to my cookie ideas because I was so determined to find my way. I started getting help for my depression and taking better control of my health. So slowly I started lifting myself out of my hole but on Halloween actually in 2009 my mom’s decline had become imminent, very, very rapid. I could hear it over the phone her struggles for breath. That was a Friday, by at the Sunday I actually was flying out to say goodbye to her with my youngest child and miraculously in early hours of Sunday evening into Monday morning she received double lung transplant. So she lives and she is amazing and we got a second chance of life really and it was a transformative experience, over highly traumatic and then the weeks that followed it was a very surreal time in our life generally but I definitely was occupying a different space altogether and it was in that time that I had, I call it a dream but I actually think it was a vision. I was asleep at that time but there was no imagery. It was all black and it was just this big loud booming voice which said to me, you have to knit and it needs to be big. It was terrifying. It was so profound. It was so terrifying. I woke up from my sleep completely shaken up but I thought right, I’ve been asking for that answer for so long now. There is no way I’m not going to listen to that. I took it very literally and the very next day, I set about the journey of finding what it meant to knit big. You know I really was operating in a vacuum because I sort of immerse myself in motherhood so deeply. No I didn’t lifestyle magazines. I never had time to go in the internet. I didn’t come from arty technical background whatsoever so I had no concept of what was happening in that broader world in that space. But I started sorting different materials, and it took me a long time but eventually this beautiful farming family down in South Australia that I found set me my first bump of roving and it was an instant love affair. I just wanted to eat it. I kept– I just wanted to wrap myself up in it for me it was just like being bowl of fairy floss and I’ve been totally devoted to roving or talk around unspun wool ever since and it took me a long time to work out my process and I made a ton of mistakes along the way, some were absolutely hilarious but I was just so determined to make it work. And I think that the fact that I didn’t have technical background really helped because I didn’t know what I couldn’t do I just worked myself, worked ways around the problem until I found a way to make it work. That’s kind of how it all came to be.
Ashley: It’s amazing. During this time of reflection in the beginning and trying to figure out what it was that you’re going to do to the time that you realized that this is what you’re supposed to be doing. Since then, has there been times were you doubted or has it just been the same where you just know that this is the course that you’re supposed to stay on and you just make progress as you go along?
Jacqui: I think, I feel like a good of late bloomer. It took me so long to get onto this path. You know, I became so disconnected to my creative self and as a result have become desperately unhappy and I finally made that connection that to be happy, I needed to be creative. So to find that again, there is no way I’m going off the path. No way. You know, I’m 42 in December and this is it for me. I’m so determined to be able to get to the end of my life and say I gave that everything I’ve got and to be able to say to my children, you know, high five for me. I gave it everything I had whether it’s a success by external measures or not, it’s not really a concern. It more proving to myself and demonstrating really positive example to my children that if you want something badly enough you can make it happen. With very little at your disposal, really and so my journey is not being without innate struggles and struggle is a part of everyday and for me it’s more of this physical exhaustion that comes with the work rather than on mental exhaustion and certainly the work-life balance is none existent. For me it’s a seven-day a week proposition and we just set muddle our way through that but there are times when I’m just being physically floored and thinking, what am I doing to myself? And I certainly have had a chiropractor say to me that I am physically wearing my body out. So I’m now making, taking steps within my business to try and share that load a little to ease the burden.
Ashley: What is your mom think of all of this?
Jacqui: Oh she’s incredibly proud. She’s incredible proud. She can’t quite–you know, mom has always been a very encouraging, wonderful, positive, affirming mom but she even sits back and will say to me, I can’t believe what you’ve achieved in such a short space of time and she’s totally embraced the world of Instagram now. So my page is full of lovely comments from my mom.
Ashley: That’s so cute.
Jacqui: You know, cheering from the sidelines. She’s adorable but you know she’s just great. And she helps me when she can sometimes. When she comes to visit, she’ll have a little knit. She loves it. She thinks it’s completely bunkers.
Ashley: I’m sure she loves the fact the she gets to witness it all.
Jacqui: Yeah. The gratitude. It’s no mistake that what I do now is linked to knitting. As I said, my mom knitted, taught me to knitted as a child but I never bother to learn the process of casting on and off because I always have my mom to do that for me. I was actually quite lazy about that. So, once I had that vision and she’s still alive to be able to teach me how to cast on and off, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I just, I’ve never, it tease us both up. I really had just taken it for granted but I’ve always have my mom and so it was the weeks that followed. The transplant rheology when mom was still recovering. I was back in Sidney but I would be on the phone to her and she taught me that process of casting on and off over the phone and that’s why I tell people I’m not a proper knitter. You know, I do what I do. I perfected—well, I don’t want the word perfection but I do what I do very well. I am extremely particular with my knitting and my stiches but I could not knit you up a baby booty or a chuck pot. It’s just not my bag. I really like. I’m not prescriptive. I don’t like. I don’t like rules Ashley. I think that’s what it comes down to. I don’t, I’ve been told what to do. I’m very externally compliant to my mom. I’m a very law abiding citizen. I haven’t even tried a cigarette but when it comes to those creative things just leave me alone and let me break it out myself.
Ashley: I like your explorative personality. You know, knitting is one of those things that all different of personality types are attracted to it.
Ashley: I love seeing your expression of it.
Jacqui: Thank you.
Ashley: So, you had this dream, knit and it must be big. What did that it mean to you? Like how did you begin experimenting and how did you end up doing what you are doing?
Jacqui: Well, instinctively, I guess I’ve always love sensory feedback Ashley. I’m the person in the museum that is desperate to touch the paint on the painting. Desperate. I love texture. I just, I love play dough. I love baking. Anything, I can get my hands into just rings bells for me. So instinctively I knew no more yarn wouldn’t cut it. At some point once I have had up post that dream I did get into the internet and I started you know I needed–I realized not only do I need to find a suitable material but I need to find suitable tools to make that happen. I did lot of searching on eBay. Not a lot to farmers are actually online here in Australia yet so it was really hard to find a top of the roving but it came quite late in my journey I must say. But I did find this incredible knitter, proper knitter from UK called Rachel Jones and she’s the original, extreme knitter in my view and she, but she knits with like tree stumps and she does lots of museum instillation and performance that really, she’ll knit with this beautiful tree stumps and she’ll knit with a thousand strands of yarn at that time and they all get curled up with this balcony system. It’s all complex and beautiful and clever. The resulting pieces are not big in terms of their measurements. They are incredibly date though they are large but they, you know, you can sit on them. They become these really structural pieces and she makes all measure of things but actually, that’s where I bought my first set of needles and nothing what I like now use which are much smaller in scale but certainly that would bigger than what you could normally buy in a wool shop. That was my first exposure to the concept of extreme knitting I guess and I found she’s got some great videos on YouTube you can watch. She’s very inspiring but the whole concept of a thousand strand is not obviously where I’m at. That’s not what appealed to me. It was just her imagination which I loved and the sheer physical effort of her work you have to admire. So, I received her tools. I started to continue my search for a really thick yarn but just couldn’t find it. I spoke spinners, could you spin something for me with a really large scale? And they only got me so far. I found a beautiful spinner in Tasmania though who could spin some hand spun chunky wool but not anything like what I needed it to be. And so some months down the track I finally received that first bag of roving and that was an instant connection and then it had to work out a of the way to make that work because as a functional textile based. I knew I wanted to make blankets and throws initially. Even though I always have plans to take my business in a more creative art instillation type direction which I’m now venturing into and that’s essentially how that all happened.
Ashley: People that are probably most familiar with your journey through extreme knitting are familiar with your throws and your blankets and just the different materials that you’ve experimented working with over the last couple of years but what are some of the new exciting things that you’re doing, you know, the instillations? I know you did the dress and some lamp.
Jacqui: Yeah. That was fun. I’ve really love scale Ashley. I love challenging myself physically and I just love working on a really, really large scale. It’s just where I want to be. So, I like to sort of test myself as to what is possible. So, I’ve held an exhibition last year with a beautiful friend of mine called Lara Hutton. She was one of our leading stylists here in Australia so we put a scane together See Art and it was a series of still life interior instillations. And for that body of work I created super huge wall hanging which is about three and a half by six meters, all made from beautiful felton batts which I cut into hand-cut felton and then hand stitched it together. It was an enormous effort. It took me about four months to actually make and it was very physically grueling but that opened a lot of doors for me and I’m hoping that maybe exhibited in Paris come January at Maison Blanche. I’m also doing really large scale–they’re also wall hangings but of a completely different nature so they consist of a series of all in unspun wool which I felt or I use felting batts as well in that work and I also incorporate normal knitting yarn but all natural. I don’t use any sort of synthetic or acrylic yarns or fibers in my work. They are a series of different knits and different knots that I all assemble together and they hang it in various links. They are quite rustic, quite irregular and very textural. So I’ve been doing some private commissions on that veil and I’m currently in the process of scoping a really large case for a hotel here in Sydney so that’s all exciting.
Ashley: Yeah. I’ve seen your pictures in Instagram. It’s been really fun to follow along.
Jacqui: Thank you.
Ashley: As you’ve progressed through these extreme knitting, I know that you talked up a lot about finding about the right fiber and that what’s taken you but I know that you have been experimenting with the different needles and obviously there were no needles to the scale that you needed.
Jacqui: Essentially, I kept asking people around me a lot of questions because I just didn’t know enough and so I would ask anyone who would listen to me. I have a beautiful neighbor here who’s very technically equipped, shall I say lucky, just understands design and he has great understanding of wood and materials so he helped me a lot with my whole processes. My dad is former panel beater and spray painter and very handy. He has some engineering friends and so, I just asked all of these beautiful men in my life a whole series of lots of questions and told them what it is I need. And so together we came up with the needle that suited my purposes which is actually piece of PVC, plumber’s pipe which is 15 millimeters in diameter and my dad had his neighbor who is a maintenance engineer actually tends some nylon tips and ends for me for that set. I still just have one set. They’re my main stay, I just adore them but I have just started. Well, I’ve actually finished made a whole heap of new ones with beautiful hand turn wooded tips though. So I can start selling them so other people can use it. If working with a 15 millimeter needle is not easy it does require a really large grip and initially it’s really tiring on your hands not without its discomfort but your muscles adapt and you get used to it and the weight bearing is actually great form of exercise, really. And they’re about a meter long each so it’s a pretty big platform to work on.
Ashley: Yeah. I remember you telling me that it was quite the work out.
Jacqui: It’s a very big work out because roving once it’s a mess most of that throws end up around five kilo mark and so as the piece progresses and it comes quite long you have to stand up and turn the work after every row and so it can be incredibly grueling and you add the weight. Each needle is about 400 grams and so that’s another almost a kilo on top of the weight of the wool that you are dealing with and then you know I’ve knitted such huge pieces over some blankets have been over 10 kilos and so it’s that’s exhausting.
Ashley: What are some of the exciting things that you have coming up? I know you talked about this instillation in Paris but and your store launch, you’re going to start selling some of your yarn and needles in the shop, right?
Jacqui: I am and that’s getting close. Every day I am actually hoping to make that go live either at the end of this week or maybe next week. While my great love is the unspun wool and I will continue to devote myself to the practice of that craft. The reality of only focusing on that is may physically exhausting myself. So I looked back through my emails actually the other day. In February 2013, I sent my first email off to a main to say, I really want to create my own largest scale yarn, will you do this with me? And I got a yes but that was back in February 2013 so it’s taken me all these time to actually bring me this particular yarn to market. It’s been made my specification and it really gets around everything that is challenging about working in unspun wool. This is just something you can eat straight off that you don’t require any other process to be applied to the yarn. It’s fully felted. It’s high grade. It’s beautiful super soft merino wool from New Zealand so it’s the good stuff here. It has a low pealing quotient and it’s easy care. So for me it’s my dream yarn. It has a more regular look to it though. It’s not as rustic as the result I can achieve with the unspun wool but the scale is delicious and it really creates a beautifully textured sculptural throws, almost. So what I’m about to release to the world is bumps of this yarn. I’ll be selling the bumps in sorts of five kilos lots so you can knit the whole throw from beginning to end without any joins because that’s how I work with my unspun wool. These joins really irritate me. Ashley I just don’t have the patience for a join. It drives me nuts and I sell–the people to buy needle stick, the accompanying 50 millimeter needles so they can make their own extreme knitting; do it yourself extreme knitting. So that’s exciting for me. I’m really excited. It’s still high end Ashley because I only like to work with the good stuff so this is not a Spotlight buy. We have a yarn store called Spotlight. It’s a big craft store actually but it’s a lot of acrylic yarns that you can buy for two bucks. This is still going to be an expensive purchase for people but in the end they get an incredibly beautiful throw that they have the pleasure knitting themselves.
Ashley: That’s great.
Ashley: I’m excited to see that come up. This is the project that still sits actually in my parent’s garage. I went and bought all these cotton piping. It was at least an inch in diameter and I got some huge needles and I got about a foot into this nine foot long rug or nine foot wide rug and I had this idea that I was going to knit this huge rug and it was so hard and I didn’t have adequate needles. It was a big circular needle and it was just massive but I remember giving up after that and still sits there.
Jacqui: Oh no!
Ashley: I say to myself, I’m going to do it but the cotton is so hard to work with and there tough line everywhere and, anyways, so I’m excited to check up your shop when you launch.
Jacqui: Thank you. I do work with some cotton ropes at times actually Ashley. And I can relate to that. It’s awful on the hands and you ruin your finger nails and the weight is extraordinary.
Ashley: Yeah, it is. That was the thing I noticed most. You have a book coming out right?
Jacqui: I do. That’s to be published in 2016. It seems like a long way off but actually my manuscript needs to be handed in August next year so this is coming in. It’s your winter, I know, but it’s our summer once January hits. You know, my business wraps up and so I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed about; oh my gosh, how am I going to get this book done by August? On top of three children and my business you know but it will happen. I’ll find way but I’m super excited. I’m actually not able to give a lot of details about it unfortunately at this stage but it will be very sort of inclusive collaborative book. It is essentially a book about my journey to living this hand made life and it also will contain the voices of other makers that I greatly admire from around the world and I have the good fortune in September to travel to meet some of these people who I only really discovered through Instagram.
Ashley: That’s amazing
Jacqui: Which is so exciting.
Ashley: Is it Instagram so incredible?
Jacqui: It’s fantastic. It’s our tribe. It allows you to connect with people who are kindred spirits. You know exactly where you at. The communication is immediate. It’s 99.9% supportive, encouraging and just inspirational. It’s been a revelation for lots of us I think.
Ashley: How did you come up with the name Little Dandelion?
Jacqui: That’s also fairly connected to my mom’s story. As I was flying out to say goodbye to my mom, my husband was walking our middle child through, it’s called Sculptures by the Sea and it happens every October or September here in Sidney. It’s a beautiful public art exhibition which is plotted along this beautiful coastal walk between Bondi beach in Dugi and it’s just out of this world, beautiful neat art instillation are fantastic. It’s world-class and so he was doing that run with my middle child and part of this walk takes you through this beautiful old cemetery in eastern suburbs which is called Waverley Cemetery and my little son picked up a dandelion and we’ve always wished on a dandelion in our family. It’s just what we do and he picked up the dandelion and he made a wish and he said to Eric, “Dad if I tell you what I’ve wish for, will it come true?” and Eric said, “Only if you really, really mean it and if it’s very heart felt and genuine, will it come true”. He said, “That’s fantastic dad because it’s so heartfelt. I wish for Nan to get a new lungs”. So my husband’s heart just sank because you know, what are the odds of getting a double lung transplant on your deathbed? That point in mom’s decline, we had no concept, we had no idea that she was going to get a transplant but it happened only hours later. So once we heard that story that Rem had wish on the dandelion and the wish had absolutely come true within the matters of hours, dandelions took on an incredible significance in our family beyond what they already had. So I knew I wanted a name connected with dandelion, the ‘Little’ came some months just prior to my launching actually when I was struggling to find a name. I mean I have this beautiful girl friend who is a very devote Catholic and she were very much relies on that support structure to plot her course through life and she asked and she receives and I was on the phone to her one day and she said, Jac, just put it out to the world; Ask God. Ask the universe. Ask whoever it is you look to for your name and I promise you it will come back to you and so I did. I had dropped my daughter off to an art class one afternoon and I came across a little dandelion. I picked it up. I made the wish. I said, can you please give me my business name? It’s now or never and I promise you my ears are open and I’m going to listen to whatever you send back. So I blew on the dandelion and I looked back at the little dandelion stalk and it was just one tiny little tendril left on the stalk. I said that okay, that’s it; Little Dandelion. Again, I just took it really literally and I just stuck. A lot of people didn’t like the name but again, I just didn’t care. I just thought no that speaks to me, I’m running with it. I’m not listening to the neigh sayers for once in my life I’m just going to trust my instincts and go.
Ashley: I love it. It’s so genuine. Everything you say is so inspiring and I know that just from our previous conversation and part of the reason I wanted to talk to you again so badly because you just can tell that what you are doing comes from a good place and it’s, you’re following your dreams and essence.
Jacqui: I am. I think what it is, it took a lot of adversity I should say to get me to that point Ashley. You know, there was a lot of growing up to do but I think prior to that I was just going through the motions of life and just will think to myself, oh I’ll get there eventually. Things will work out eventually and I really just got to a point of desperation where I thought, hang on a minute, no one owes me a payoff. No one is going to just bring this to me. If I want something in my life I have to do something differently and so that’s we all have that power. It really just comes down to what we want from our life. We’re all born with whatever it takes to get us to wherever we want to go but you have to do the hard work.
Ashley: It’s true. I 100% agree with you.
Jacqui: You’re living it yourself Ashley. Your own dream is immense and divine and incredibly inspiring and I think you have to bite off more than you can chew because I really think bravery is rewarded. I think at some level you look after when you take that big leap of faith and give it everything you’ve got. I think Ashley if there has to be passion for what we do, it can’t just be means to an end because I think the work is too hard and too complex and too time consuming in the absence of passion.
Ashley: The winner of last week’s giveaway, sponsored by Monarch Knitting is Allison from fieldwonderful.blogspot.com. You’ve won two skeins of Woolfolk’s Far yarn and the Knop hat pattern! Congratulations!
Ashley: Our giveaway this week is a little different, but just as special. I spent last week in Idaho at our ranch where we converted an old milking parlor into a dye studio. It was our first time using the studio, and it was a surreal experience to dye with black walnut from our property and watch the beautiful caramel color emerge. Sooooo, this week we’re giving away those 3 skeins of naturally dyed Snoqualmie Valley Yarn created by Tolt Yarn and Wool, and naturally dyed by myself. To enter this giveaway, visit the giveaway post on Instagram @woolful and tag a friend in the comments. You can also enter by leaving a comment on today’s episode’s blog post at woolful.com
Ashley: I wanted to make sure and thank today’s sponsor again, Stashbot. I just recently started using this amazing app to help make my stash more efficient and although you can never really have too much yarn, I imagine the money I’ll save on those extra skeins from one project will go towards yarn for another project. haha Make sure to visit www.knitbot.com/stashbot.
Ashley: The biggest of thanks to everyone involved in this weeks episode, Hannah, Julia, Tiffany, and Jacqui. I hope you’ll join me each week as we talk and learn from more fascinating fiber folk. For podcast notes and transcription, visit woolful.com. If you’re interested in being a part of this podcast, shoot me an email at email@example.com Have a wonderful week 🙂