The next spinning day at C&W is 1st October and unfortunately this will be the last spinning day with Alex from Under Dutch Skies – she is returning to America!
We have enjoyed working with Alex so much and she has made spinning and fibre a permanent fixture at C&W! We will miss her, but thanks to social media she will never be far away!
We thought it would be nice to do an interview with Alex so that we could all learn more about her.
” I’ve been making things with fiber for as long as I can remember. I sewed my first dress at age 8 and wore it to my first day of school that year. Of course my mom helped me a lot with that dress. I still have it, and photos of me wearing it.
I made Barbie clothes and pin cushions, felted troll doll outfits and Christmas stockings. Then there was needlepoint and embroidery which I learned from my grandmother, who always had needlework in her hands.
I started crocheting and knitting in high school and put up with horrible acrylic yarns because that’s all there was in the early ’70’s. When I went away to college I discovered real wool yarn at a local yarn shop in Arcata, California, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. There’s just something about the feel of good quality wool in your hands that can’t be beat, or explained to non-fiber enthusiasts. I guess you can compare the quality of fiber to the quality of food ingredients to someone who loves to cook. Quality materials make all the difference no matter what you are passionate about.
For the past 20 years I’ve been exploring everything I could about working with yarns, mainly through knitting (both machine and hand knitting) and then dyeing. The first yarn I ever dyed was a sock blank dyed with Kool-Aid with my friends Andy and Ginni, even before Ginni started DIY Textile Shool in Amsterdam. I still have that skein of raspberry scented yarn. Being fanatical about materials and tools, however, I immediately wanted to try dyeing with acid dyes and also so-called natural dyes. The techniques and chemicals are very different with acid vs natural dyes, but for me they have the same qualities of combining chemistry and art. THIS is what makes dyeing so magical for me. I can combine my nerdy science loving self with my artistic and crafts loving self. Bright colors and pH meters together? I’m totally in!
I’ve been experimenting with lots of dyeing techniques for the past 8 years. I am confident enough in my dyeing that I could dye up just about anything you want to see, from self striping, to gradients, speckles to semi-solids and blends of colors to suit. Most of the dyes I use for my web shop fiber have been blended by hand, with spreadsheets of percentage calculations to ensure I can repeat a color. I also use some purchased specific colors that I blend with other primaries.
I came to spinning and dyeing fiber rather late in my woolly adventures. I’ve only been spinning seriously for a little more than two years. I say “seriously” because prior to that I tried to spin without success. I tried to love it and just didn’t. I took a spindle spinning class and I was all thumbs. I just couldn’t get it. But here again the nerdy part of me was fascinated with spinning wheels and ratios and grist and plies. A friend loaned me her spinning wheel, I took a wheel spinning full day class, and from there I was hooked. And I was somehow very good at spinning on a wheel while terrible with a spindle.
I’ve come to love spinning as much as I love knitting (shhh don’t tell my knitting friends). When I started spinning I told other spinners that I certainly had no time or interest in going even farther back up the food chain to fiber prep and fleece cleaning. And now I own 5 raw fleeces and all the tools I need to prepare them for spinning. It’s a very slippery slope.
I guess my whole life up to now has been preparation for dyeing fiber for spinning into beautiful yarns for knitting. I want to master and own the process. I want to be the master craftsperson who can take the materials of nature and make something unique and functional and beautiful. I would do this whether or not I had a shop to sell my fibers. In fact, one reason I started the shop was because I was having so much fun dyeing fiber that I had to do something with it. There was no way I could spin it all in my lifetime.
The colors I dye are colors I love. Deep saturated colors make my heart beat faster. Bright highlighter colors make me laugh out loud. Pastels I dye because they will compliment the bold ones. I usually forget about the pastels and have to remind myself (or other people remind me) that they make the picture complete. This past 18 months was the first time I worked very hard (as well as working a 32 hour per week desk job) to create a collection of colors and fibers, in enough quantity to fill a retail space (at Cross & Woods) and a web shop. For this beginning I chose colors that are for the most part pretty traditional, plus some fluorescent colors for fun. This palette was a good starting point and from here I want to become more experimental both in colors and techniques. Next year I will continue with the deep jewel tones but will also create some more subtle hues and more natural colors that you would find in meadow flowers or sandstone hills. I want to make colors that reflect the natural world, especially the boldness and audacity of nature.
I am still really happy with my fiber blends and sheep breeds I’m using. Blend A and Blend S are blends I came up with myself and I have made up for me. The Super Fine Shetland comes directly from Jamieson and Smith in Shetland and I want to do more dyeing of that fiber base beyond the Shetland Packs I have been making up. Spinning Shetland wool has become one of my most satisfying spinning projects – it spins like butter and even the most novice spinner can make something wonderful with it.
It’s amazing to me how different dyeing fiber is compared to dyeing yarn. It’s much more difficult to dye fiber, not only because it will felt easier, but just handling it is so much trickier. You can lift a skein of yarn out of a pot of hot water, but you can’t do that with fiber or it would break apart or leave you with a mangled mess that you might as well make into a felt bag. I had to learn a whole new set of techniques to efficiently dye 3-4 kilos of fiber in a day, on a very small scale.
I’m taking a little break from dyeing because of this upcoming move from the Netherlands to California. I’m so sad to leave my Dutch friends and family, and equally excited to start anew in SoCal and be closer to my family here. I’m also very excited to jump into the fiber world in the U.S. The market for my fiber will be so different! The market in the U.S. is huge compared to the Netherlands, or even Europe, but at the same time there are a lot more dyers making beautiful yarns and fibers to compete with.
It’s hard to break into the Dutch market when your native language is not Dutch, and I also think that the Dutch market for quality yarns and fiber is not as open as the U.S. market. Most knitters or spinners in Holland will choose the mass market commercial materials rather than the higher priced hand made materials. This is changing as more and more people experience quality materials in their hands – and then they are hooked too. I think that in the U.S. there are just so many more people who are already looking for their next hand dyed “fix”, and the word is spreading so quickly via Ravelry and FaceBook and just the general surge in the “make it yourself” movement taking place now. And the U.S. is in general more of a “DIY” or “Makers” kind of society than the Netherlands. We like to bake our own cakes instead of going to the bakery for instance. When I first moved to the Netherlands I was so surprised to find out that lots of people didn’t even have an oven in their home!
So, yes, a lot will be different after we move to California. One of the best things – being able to dye wool outside pretty much year round!
The web shop will be open again in January 2017 with small updates for the first half of 2017. A new collection of colors and fibers will be coming out in September 2017. After more than 40 years playing with fiber, I’ve only just begun!”
We wish Alex the best of luck with all her future plans and the American fibre market won’t know what has hit them when UDS is relauched!