I have grown exponentially as a designer and professional because of people I have met in not-real life. These online fiber friendships may be based in a virtual world, but the wisdom, creativity, mutual appreciation, and support they provide are as real as it gets.
I recently made a connection with Am of Oysters and Purls. Am is a fiber and lifestyle blogger, knitwear designer, and hand dyes her own natural fiber yarns using botanical dye materials. My design inspirations often begin with a hank or skein of yarn-the unworked colors and textures turn into a garment or accessory in my mind’s eye, and then it must happen. This was my experience when I saw her hand dyed worsted yarn in the limited Olive colorway.
I was motivated enough to contact Am to see if she’d be interested in collaborating. Sometimes, this is how perfect fiber friendships are born. She and I share a passion for keeping things as natural as possible, the irresistible colors to be found in botanical dyes, and unique designs with classic appeal. Did we just become best friends ;)?
I was thrilled to get to know Am a bit better, and am just as excited to share this special maker and her story with you!
1) How did you get your start in dyeing yarn?
My first ever dyeing experiment was sometime last September. I used vinegar as a mordant and dyed some cotton fabric with turmeric, and my home smelled like vinegar for at least a week. I have learned a lot since that day.
The decision to start dyeing yarn was made a month or so later, prompted by a few events that happened roughly at the same time. Motherhood. The Modern Natural Dyer. Slow fashion October. The Woolful Podcast.
- Motherhood, as I’m sure you know, changes your worldview in almost every way imaginable. When my daughter started eating solid foods (about a year ago now), it dawned on me that I knew nothing about the food I was feeding her. Where did it come from? How was it grown? Who grew it? Similarly, just recycling did not feel enough anymore. I wanted to do more. Instead of recycling maybe contribute less to the consumption of plastic? And how about composting? I wanted to make the best choices for myself, my family, and the world, one little decision at a time!
- Right about this time was when I first heard about the slow fashion movement. Somehow, you hear so much about slow food these days, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that we could apply the same thought process and approach to other aspects of our lives. I was participating in the #fringeandfriendskal last September, and Karen Templer mentioned @slowfashionoctober, which she runs on Instagram every year. This was exactly what I was looking for, even if I had no idea I was looking for it. It was such perfect timing. I dove head first into the month of conversation and dialogue that followed amongst talented makers from all over the world. Needless to say, it changed my life, and it totally changed the type of consumer that I am today.
- Another event (or item) that played a part in my yarn dyeing was my purchase of The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar. I had been eyeing this book ever since it came out, but because I had no good reason for owning it, I had just put it in my wishlist. And then one day I decided I deserved to treat myself to a pretty book and just bought it on Amazon. This book is hands down one of the most stunning books I have ever seen or owned! Even for a non natural dyer or a non-crafter, it is a book to flip through and be inspired by.
- Then, of course, the universe presented me with the final piece of the puzzle. I was listening to the episode of the Woolful podcast, the one where Ashley is speaking with Tanis of Tanis Fiber Arts. In it they discuss the superwash process and its impact on the environment. Right afterwards, I read Ashley’s blog post. This was such an eye opener for me, and I encourage everyone to read this article (http://woolful.com/fiber-
conscious-superwash-wool/). I have since made a decision to not purchase another skein of superwash yarn.
All of these came together really beautifully and at the right time for me. I had been a stay at home mom for a few months, and knitting had become a huge part of my life. I spent every spare minute I had knitting away on something, and I wanted to knit with good old natural yarn. Simple. I wanted to know that the animals my yarn came from were treated well, and I wanted to know that my act of knitting was not adding to the ever increasing environmental footprint. And this is how it all started!
2) How did you decide on your shop name? Does it tell a story, or is it just for fun?
The idea for Oysters and Purls was conceived in the summer of 2015, a long time before my little yarn dyeing business was born. At the time I was constantly flooding my social media with photos of mouth watering food and exotic travels, and everyone was encouraging me to start a blog. Throughout the months that followed, I became a mother, an experience that changed my life completely! Before I knew it, pictures of food and travel had been replaced with baby and lots and lots of knitting.
After months of brainstorming and thinking of the perfect name to capture the essence of my brand, I finally had that lightbulb moment. And Oysters and Purls was born!
Why Oysters and Purls?
• Oysters: food and deliciousness
• Pearls grow in oysters: motherhood
• To purl is the “opposite” of to knit: therefore, pearls get substituted with purls!
• “The world is your oyster”: home and travel
Our logo was subsequently designed by my talented sister. I love our logo, and I think it is so on point, and it captures the essence of the brand so perfectly!
3) How do you choose your dyestuffs? Are you an experimenter, or do you rely on tried and true methods and sources?
I am probably a little bit of both. If it’s a dye stuff or dyeing method that is new to me (such as indigo dyeing, for example), I rely heavily on specific sources and tried recipes. Once I familiarize myself with the process, though, and I understand the essence of it, I switch to being 100% an experimenter.
I am the type of person who doesn’t like doing the same thing twice. I don’t like knitting the same pattern for the second time or running the same route over and over again. Life is too short, and I’m too curious, so I always want to explore and learn and see something new! This applies to yarn dyeing as well, and this is probably why I have so many non-repeatable colorways. Because what’s the fun in following the same steps and getting results you expect, when you can create new different colorways? So, yes, I love experimenting!
The way I choose dye stuffs depends a lot on what I have, what colors I’m drawn to, and what is inspiring me at the time of dyeing. Sometimes it’s avocado pits and other times it’s that logwood extract sitting in a jar somewhere.
4) What inspires your color ways?
This may be obvious (and boring), but nature is a constant source of inspiration for me. This can be flowers and landscapes and the birds chirping on a cool spring morning.
I am also often inspired by emotions and memories; things that are not tangible, but they are so vivid in your mind that if you had to, you could associate a color with them. I think a lot of that came through in my Cyprus Collection, where the colors were clearly associated with nature and places, but there was also a lot of warmth from my memories of growing up there as an adolescent.
But really, everything inspires my color ways; from books to paintings, and even chores (aka the Spring Cleaning collection).
5) Are there any dyeing methods or materials you haven’t tried yet that you’d love to get your hands on?
I just experimented with speckling last weekend, and I think I may have gotten the hang of it! One thing I haven’t tried, but I really really want to, is dyeing with Cochineal.
6) What is your personal favorite finished object, using your hand dyed yarn or otherwise?
I think my all time favorite finished object is the Hirombe hat by Brooklyn Tweed, knit out of Arbor! It was a pleasure to make, and it’s a stunning pattern, and the yarn is a dream to work with!
7) Tell me a little more about the Olive colorway. What are the dye sources?
The Olive colorway is possibly my favorite of all the Cyprus Collection colorways; mainly because of all the love and memories I have associated with it!
I was visiting my family in Cyprus earlier this year, where I dyed the Cyprus Collection. My sister was instrumental in the dyeing process, in particular with Olive! We went foraging in a nearby park one day, where we gathered a huge bag full of fallen eucalyptus branches and tree bark. I grew up about a mile away from this park, and I had never even been there prior to this visit. It’s like a miniature forest right on the beach full of eucalyptus trees. So many eucalyptus trees! After we had made the separate dye baths, we decided to add a tiny bit of iron powder to shift the colors from warm yellows to grays and greens. I think we were both amazed and extremely happy with the results!
So this colorway will forever hold my memories from that day and the time we spent just walking around a park and collecting these treasures from nature!
8) Knit or crochet 😉 ?
Knit! I crochet as well, but knitting definitely has my heart!
I feel truly privileged to have “met” this lovely, creative soul AND to have worked with her hand dyed yarn to create a new design. I was also pretty amazed at how my original design concept dovetailed so effortlessly with the colorway’s story. It just feels meant to be!
I designed The Forager Cloche around Oysters and Purls aran weight merino (non-superwash!) in the Olive colorway. Am works “primarily with a base that is 100% sustainable new merino. The farms involved in producing this exquisite yarn take particular care to ensure that the animals are well kept, that the grading is of the highest standard and that the land is sustained in an environmental way.” In hand, the yarn is supple and elastic, with a rustically soft and wooly texture. I LOVE this yarn. Am has been working hard to create a BRAND NEW hand dyed collection, whose colors were in turn inspired by The Forager Cloche design. This is literally a creative dream come true for me!
The Forager Cloche features an intricate pattern of cabeled leaves along one side, complimented by a textural stitch wrapping the body of the hat. It is a sophisticated design, offering challenging cables, and the result is worth the effort! The finished hat is something to be proud of!
Oysters and Purls and I, along with a special contribution from Curious and Coe, will be hosting a giveaway Saturday, May 13 and Sunday, May 14 via Instagram. Head over to enter to win The Forager Cloche crochet pattern, a hank of Oysters and Purls aran merino in a stunning new colorway, and a Curious and Coe “Sacred Heart” wip bag. Special thanks to Am and Tif (of Curious and Coe) for contributing to this covetable prize!