Welcome to Fiber Conversations, a series of interviews with creative fiber folks. Today's conversation is with Brenda Pirie. Brenda is a longtime knitter from Annapolis, Maryland, and an active member of the Ravelry Blue Peninsula group. She recently opened an Etsy shop, End of the Row Yarns.
Bonnie: Hi, Brenda! Thanks for taking the time to chat about your new Etsy shop, End of the Row Yarns. Could you talk a little about how you began dyeing yarn and what lead you to open a shop?
Brenda: Hey Bonnie! Great to be chatting with you. The first time I dyed yarn was some 10 years ago. After a trip to my grocery store, armed with Kool-Aid, I dyed a couple skeins of self-striping sock yarn. I enjoyed the process but the colors weren't too exciting. So I ordered some acid dyes and tried it again ... better color intensity but not quite what I wanted. I didn't do more than a skein or two of solid colors ... not sure why, probably that thing called "life" got in the way.
Fast forward to a few months ago. I really wanted to try dyeing yarn to get that nice tonal color we all know and love. I always wondered, how do they do that?! So I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, got some bare yarn donations from friends, together with a skein or two of bare yarn from my stash, and started dyeing! I really just jumped in ... and found that I really had a knack for making pretty yarn. I figured out that whole tonal yarn thing, too!
My friends in my knit group have been so supportive. Their encouragement and excitement over my yarn made me think I could actually open a shop and sell my yarn. On a personal note, I'm at a point in my life where the nest is close to being empty. I've been a stay-at-home mom for 21 years and my youngest is only a couple years away from graduating from high school. I really wanted to do something for me, something I love to do and of course, something knitting related!
Bonnie: You offer fingering weight (sock) yarns in both variegated and tonal colorways. Tell me a little about the differences between the two. What kinds of projects do you think they are best suited for?
Brenda: Tonal yarns are basically one color but the tones of the color vary from light to dark. I think tonal yarns work well with most patterns and will show stitch patterns quite well. Variegated yarns have more than one color. Some can be more subdued and others quite wild! The more colors, the more your stitches will be hidden, meaning when your project is finished the design of the stitches will be hard to see. Most knitters have discovered this issue and search for patterns that are designed to work with those wonderful handpainted/variegated yarns. Sometimes I do that, and sometimes I knit whatever I want with the yarn I love, regardless.
I dye my variegated yarns in a random way that creates little to no pooling. Pooling is when colors clump together and knit up into pools or splotches of color. I'm discovering that some of the dyes actually separate (break) colors in the dyeing process and create a skein with more than one color. Being somewhat new to this world of yarn dyeing, I find that so cool! Usually when I get a new dye color, I'll dye a "tonal" skein, just to see what the dye will do. Dyeing is such an adventure!
Bonnie: In your Ravelry profile, you say you started knitting in your 20s when you saw your mom teaching herself how to knit. Did she teach you, or did you decide to teach yourself, just as she did? Have you knit ever since then? Did the two of you ever knit the same patterns?
Brenda: Little did I know how much saying, "I want to do that!" would change my life! My mom showed me how to knit that day. We both made slippers with scratchy acrylic yarn, complete with pompoms! We were so proud of those silly slippers. We found a knitting "workshop" class through our local adult education community. We took that class over and over for years! This was in the 80s, when knitting was just starting to come back into popularity, so I guess you can say that class was my first knit group. We knit the "class project" together sometimes and also did our own thing. You could come to class and just knit your own project—that was perfectly OK. From there, we each took a different path with our knitting. She excelled in making her own patterns for sweaters. We learned Elizabeth Zimmerman's Percentage System in class and mom just took the ball (of yarn!) and ran with it! I used to call her the Bionic Knitter. Me, on the other hand, I like to follow a pattern. I'll make modifications, but creating my own pattern from scratch isn't my thing. And when I learned to Continental knit, my knitting speed took off like a rocket!
I remember a few years after learning to knit, Mom came to class with a skein of sock yarn and these impossibly tiny needles, ready to embark on knitting her first socks. I said, "What are you nuts?! That yarn is so skinny and those needles?! It'll take forever!" I then uttered four words that to this day, I can't believe I ever said, "I'm never knitting socks!" But of course, I did. I didn't start making socks till the 90s and now in some circles I'm considered the Sock Queen. Ha-ha! I usually have at least two or three pair on the needles at any given time. I did take some time off from knitting to have babies but returned as soon as possible. My mom still knits quite a bit, but she says that I'm the Bionic Knitter now. Mom and I are on opposite coasts, so I miss hanging out and knitting with her.
Bonnie: What are your favorite kinds of knitting projects?
Brenda: I really love to knit all kinds of projects. I like to have multiple projects going so I can switch projects when I feel like it. I’m somewhat impulsive when it comes to starting new projects. As long as I have needles available, I’ll cast on. Then sometimes I feel overwhelmed with WIPs and start a finishing spree. I’m equally excited when starting a project as I am when finishing. I love to make shawls and socks most of all. Hats are another favorite, especially worsted weight with cables. I made toys for the first time last year, and I plan to make more now that there are a couple babies due this fall in my extended family. I also love to knit the same pattern over and over again. I like the familiarity, like reading a book I loved over again or listening to a favorite song. I think I’ve knit [Cookie A’s] Monkey Socks 10 times.
Bonnie: Do you have any favorite fibers or weights that you find yourself going back to again and again as a knitter?
Brenda: If you were to analyze my stash, you'd probably find mostly sock yarn and worsted weight yarn. I really love fingering weight yarn! You can make anything with it ... socks, shawls, cowls, sweaters, mitts, gloves, hats or scarves! (Did I miss anything?!) And I think I've knit just about all of them, too. Worsted weight is another favorite. I love making hats, cowls, and mitts with worsted yarn. They go so quick! I know that when I walk into a yarn shop I can find one skein of fingering or one skein of worsted and I know I’ll find a pattern that will use just one skein. Also, I usually don’t have a very big yarn budget. Being a one-income family, spending a ton of money on yarn just isn’t possible. So instead of getting 8 skeins for a sweater, I can get one skein and be perfectly happy, dreaming about what wonderful things I can knit!
Bonnie: I know you’ve only just opened your Etsy shop, so maybe this is premature … but I’ll ask anyway! What’s on the horizon at End of the Row Yarns? Can you share any plans for future new colorways or yarn bases?
Brenda: Yes, I did just get started but of course, I’m thinking ahead … dreaming of all the possibilities! I’ve been ordering different bases in single skeins and sort of test dyeing them, just to see what they will do. I would love to add an 80/10/10 (superwash merino/silk/nylon) base and a 50/50 merino and silk base, both in fingering weights. I have dyed both in current colorways and love the look. I’m hoping to add them in the not too distant future. The biggest challenge for me is repeating the same colorway. I’m working on ways to keep track of my process so this will get easier. I dye one skein at a time and I am always adding new colorways. My daughter, Justine, helps with me come up with colorways and names. I dyed one last light that is variegated with earthy browns and greens; I named it Mother Earth. I would also love to create a yarn club or partner with a designer on a pattern someday. Right now I’m still working on getting the word out about my shop.
Bonnie: It’s been great learning about your knitting and dyeing adventures, Brenda. I wish you all the best on your new shop. Thanks for chatting!
Brenda: Bonnie, thank you for including me in your series. I had fun answering your questions and doing my first interview!