I love bringing yarn from thousands of miles away- from artists in countries that I have yet to, or may never, visit. From landscapes that inspire the colors splashed across the fiber. I love that we get to knit these special pieces in our own homes, in our own spaces that are completely different from those they were created in. That we get to dream up what we want each skein to be, after the dyer in a far off place dreams up the skein's color and texture. We get to marry our own craft with theirs and turn it into a wearable piece that not only looks special, but gives comfort.
What I'm showing today is no exception, brand new colors of sock and dk weight. The work of Beata Jezek and her team at Hedghog Fibres of Ireland is an ever-changing landscape inspired by a place I hope to one day see, but til then I get to experience it with each tiny stitch I knit. Beata took a moment from her busy schedule to share her life and inspiration with us. Do read on to learn more about her and what she makes.
Allison @ SSYC: Welcome, Beata! So glad we could chat for a bit. Let's start at the beginning. Your company name. Do you like hedgehogs or is there more to the story?
Beata: My last name, Jezek, means hedgehog. I'm Beata Hedgehog :) That's where the name came from. Sometimes people ask if the yarn is made from hedgehogs. I don't think you can shear a hedgehog.
Allison: But the idea of trying does paint a funny picture. Tell me about how long you've been dyeing and what made you make the leap into a full-time production studio?
Beata: The company was founded in 2008. Ever since I started Hedgehog Fibres, it was a full time gig. I had actually just been 'downsized', so I decided to just go for it. I had dyed stuff for myself that people seemed to like, so it seemed like a good idea. At first it was just me, and then Máire joined shortly afterwards. We used to sell on Etsy during the early days and the yarn was an instant hit. We moved into our first studio in 2010. We moved again recently to a bigger space and now have 6 employees.
Allison: Oooh, a new studio? I loved restoring our new space. Do tell!
Beata: When we rented our old studio it felt like a huge leap of faith. There were three of us at the time and we did everything from building Ikea furniture to painting the walls and floor ourselves. By the time we left, myself and Jess (our other dyer) were falling over each other and yarn! Setting up the new studio was a pleasure by comparison! We knew we had a viable business, and we were in a position to draw the plans, hand them to the builders and not get overly involved! The new studio is light, airy and spacious. The biggest difference is that we have a drying room now, where we can keep the humidity about 40%. Previously, in the winter, I would have to take all the yarn home to dry in my house and as the volume was getting bigger it wasn't really practical!
Allison: Having the right staff is so important when running a successful small business. Tell me about the team that makes Hedgehog Fibres what it is.
Beata: Jess is our second dyer. She has a background in fashion design which gives her a great eye for colour and texture. She's a really great asset and I definitely rely on her though she's only been with us since September.
Rose is learning to dye. She also does skeining, labelling and customer service. She does a bit of everything! She's always so cheerful and happy to oblige!
Máire has been with me since the beginning. She is a lecturer in marketing at the local university, so she handles a lot of the business side of things! She handles HR, shipping, customer service and admin.
Niamh mostly does skeining and labelling. She is a skeining machine! She skeins at about twice the speed of anyone else!
Emily does a couple of days a week, she also lectures at the university in ecology. (We are a very educated bunch!) She does shipping, skeining and labelling.
We also have Carol, who is on maternity leave since December. We miss her and we hope baby Brian will let her come back soon!
Allison: Sounds like everyone has their niche. Obviously one of yours is creating colors. Where do you find inspiration for your colorwork? Do you have a planned desitination or are your colors happy accidents?
Beata: The colours come as an extension of my personal style, and what I'm really into at the moment. Sometimes we come up with a great name and then create a colourway to match (like Teacup), sometimes I realise there's something missing in the line and then get completely obsessed with a colour (I had to have lilac, so we have 'Birthday Cake'). At the moment I'm into bright pastels and sprinkle effect yarns. We often work with designers and shops to create exclusive colourways (like your upcoming Better Than Tin, which turned out just stunning. I snagged one skein for myself!)
Some colours are definitely happy accidents! Pistachio was made as a potluck colour, but we loved it, so we added it to the colour palette.
Allison: I love Better than Tin, the color you created (above) for our upcoming 10th anniversary kit! I'm so glad to hear you felt the need to grab one for yourself!
I love passing along an idea and seeing it come for fruition. But I also find it to be the more frustrating part of my job when I have an idea and it takes SO MUCH longer to happen than what I'd like. What are some hurdles or frustrations that you have encountered along the way that you didn't even consider? For many dyers, I know it's managing growth so you're around for the long haul instead of just a quick burst of popularity. For my shop, I know it's not taking on too many things and staying focused on my mission of a huge selection of sock yarn and great customer service.
Beata: I agree. Hedgehog Fibres is growing very quickly and training new dyers is challenging, as the dye process is quite complex. Luckily we have a great team here at the HF HQ. I really enjoy coming to work everyday and I hope/think all my employees feel the same! We work hard but have a great time and all of the staff really go above and beyond because of that. Customer Service as you said is crucial. We feel very fortunate to have some wonderful customers who have been extremely loyal over the years, but old or new we want everyone to be happy with their yarn. It's a special treat and a luxury for most people, and you have to treat every purchase accordingly.
Otherwise, it's just been a steep learning curve in terms of things like negotiating contracts, but no one is born knowing stuff like that!
Allison: I'll admit that one of the joys of growing my business has been meeting and hiring some amazing people. And while we do dye some yarn in our own Poste Yarn line, I'm thankful that I'm not the one who does that or has to train anyone. I have a dye team that handles it in house. Such a learning curve with so many techniques used to achieve just the right look. I notice several different techniques used on your skeins for different colorways. What is something that you think is unique to Hedgehog Fibres?
Beata: Our yarns tend to pool less, as the repeat is very short, often just one stitch per colour. The colours are rich, complex and lively. Even our semi-solids consist of layers and layers of dye. We are also very picky about our bases; we want the most buttery soft sock yarn, the sheeniest silk blends, the squooshiest singles! As a knitter, I will only sell something I am happy to use.
Allison: I'm betting you create things that make you want to stop working and cast on immediately! Is this what you like most about your job? What do you like the least?
Beata: I'm first and foremost a knitter. I love to knit, it's my favourite past time. If I'm sitting, I'm knitting. I knit lot! My yarns are bright, cheerful and vibrant and the best part is that I get to make colours that I love. The worst part is admin work. I much prefer to work in the dye room. I'm still the head dyer and I hope I'll always be, that's the part that I really like.
Allison: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the fiber industry? If you had a mentor, what do you wish she would have shared with you?
Beata: There will always be somebody who doesn't like their club yarn colourway. It's not the end of the world!
Allison: To true! We all have different tastes. When you aren't working with yarn, how do you spend your time?
Beata: I have a little vegetable garden and I grow very small amounts of very delicious vegetables. I love my dog babies and I work with our local dog shelter as a foster home. Me and my boyfriend have fostered over 15 dogs in the last couple of years, all of which have found wonderful permanent homes. We have a tiny 9 week terrier puppy called Ruby at the moment, I've shared photos of her and my other foster doggies on my Instagram.
Allison: I've enjoyed learning more about your studio and your process. Thank you for taking time to be with us! And to those of us who love your work, we'll see a whole new slew of colors in both Sock and Merino DK at SSYC now. Plus the special edition Better than Tin colorway coming up in our 10th anniversary kit in a couple weeks.