As I revealed earlier, the dyer of the yarn for my adored Olive scarf is Tanis Fiber Arts. And as I'm currently in loooove with Tanis' Purple Label cashmere blend yarn, I wanted to learn more about what goes on at her studio and share what I've learned with you. It's been such a busy year that I can't even remember the last time I posted an interview here. I'll try to find the time to interview more dyers, like I did a few years ago- maybe that should be one of my resolutions? So read on, and find out what makes Tanis and her yarn all that it is.
Allison: Thanks for taking the time to do this Tanis- I know it's a busy time for both of us, especially since you're busy dyeing up all the skeins for SSYC's upcoming Valentine's Day sock kit (shown above- kit for sale mid-Jan). What chain of events brought you to the fiber industry so we can selfishly indulge in your craft?
Tanis: I studied Fine Arts at University, and always dreamed of doing something creative as a career. I also knit fanatically! It was always just a hobby, but a hobby that I loved more than anything else. After university, I just started playing around with yarns and dyes, one thing led to another and I decided to try selling my own yarns. Originally I figured that it would be something that I just did on the side, that I would find another job to pay the bills and would dye yarn on the side as a way of keeping my creative side satisfied. But luckily for me, I now do it full time!
Allison: It was the same for me too. Six years ago, I thought that a store selling sock yarn might be just a part-time job. Boy, did I under estimate sock knitters. When you started dyeing yarn, did you dye sock yarn immediately? Or did you add it in time?
Tanis: When I first started, I dyed exclusively my Blue Label Fingering Weight sock yarn base. It was the most fun and affordable way to start experimenting. I was able to play around with one or two skeins at a time since there is so much you can do with one single skein of sock yarn. I would venture to say that it is still my most popular yarn base. It's that perfect combination of sturdy yet soft, decadent yet practical. My Purple Label Cashmere Sock yarn is also doing very well, but it's a bit more of a splurge for special knits. (Shown below in Deep Sea with the free Haruni pattern)
Allison: I know many a dyer who started out with sock yarn and then branched out. What do you think stands out with your sock yarn and has made your business turn from part time to thriving full time work for you?
Tanis: I have been doing this full time for about a year and a half, my husband joined me last year and we just celebrated the one year anniversary of he and I both working full time at TFA! It's a total dream come true. I think that what makes my sock yarn stand apart from the rest are the colours. The bases themselves are wonderful, but when I came on the scene it was hard to find interesting, dynamic yet subtle tonal's in hand dyed yarns. They are suitable for any range of projects from the super intricate, since the tonal colourways don't take away from the pattern, to the super simple since they are interesting enough to shine on their own.
Allison: I agree with you about the tonal colors. I consider green to be my favorite color, and when you sent a sample skein you call Olive, I fell in love because it’s not just one green- there seems to be many greens, a bit of slate, some dark gray/blue… I can’t even describe how dynamic it is for a skein simply named "Olive". What's your method for creating such a fluid color?
Tanis: My dyeing method is a combination of hand painting and immersion dyeing. It took much experimenting in the early days to develop a method that achieved the results I was looking for, which is overall cohesion, but with lots of subtle tonal variation.
Allison: Why did you choose the name Olive for the skein, since to me no one color name can describe this color?
Tanis: Naming the colours is pretty simple. When I'm developing a colourway a word always pops into my head, and by the time I'm done and have to come up with a name for it I usually can't think of it as anything other than it's "working name" so I just stick with it. That's what happened with Olive. In the development stage, when I'd be talking about the colourway with my husband Chris, bouncing ideas off one another we'ed have to call it something, we can't just call it "sample #26" so whatever name it happens upon while it's a WIP is usually what it's officially named.
Allison: I work with several successful wife-husband dyeing teams, for instance Buffy and Don of Shelridge Farms and Robin and Chuck at Pagewood Farm. How do you and Chris divide the work fairly?
Tanis: Chris and my work roles have shifted over time. When Chris first joined TFA full time I was already used to doing everything myself and it took me some time to let go of some of the tasks that I was used to. At this point we've got things divided pretty evenly. I deal with all the the customer relations, pour over e-mails, write the blog, organize orders (both coming in and going out) do the book keeping and have the creative responsibilities for new colours, patterns, ideas. Over the past year Chris has been learning to dye our colourways (like Prism with the free Leyburn sock pattern, shown below), he started slowly but has now become a real perfectionist. I think that it's his background in cooking that makes him so good at measuring out dyes and following dye recipes. These days he does a lot of the dyeing. Chris also does all of the website work, and all of the heavy lifting, yarn arrives at our home in 100lb boxes, it's Chris' job to deal with them! Together we brain storm new colourways and experiment, re-skein the yarn and package it into kits. I print and sign labels, Chris often cuts and tapes them (my mom often helps with the labeling and kitting too when we're really swamped!) Chris and I have just gotten to the point where we are both capable of doing everything that is involved in running the business. I was out of town for a week in November and Chris handled all the day to day work on his own without a hiccup. That was pretty exciting! Though he did confess that he was very grateful when I got home. He doesn't like being fully responsible and I just love it, we complement each other very well in that respect.
Allison: It's nice to have the help of someone quite strong to do some heavy lifting. I remember a particular order from Lorna's Laces that came in a box nearly the size of a refrigerator, and while I'm no weakling, I was pregnant at the time. Joe is also help with the small lifting... Last week, when my he was helping me ready your yarn for photos, I raved about the dyeing and asked him, "Can you believe that the person who dyed these was previously a cook?" And Joe, who is an artist and a professor, says "Yes. I would think that dyeing and cooking employ a lot of the same talents." He's so right, when you think about adding the perfect ingredients to a pot to get a particular result. Adding heat. Stirring. Allowing the mixture to heat and sit for the proper amount of time. I'm being simplistic, of course, but my point is that you and Chris seem to have the ideal combination of talents to make your business successful. Do you plan to visit tradeshows with your wares? Or simply sell to choice yarn stores?
Tanis: We do attend two Canadian trade shows a year, the Toronto DKC Knitter's Frolic in the Spring and the K-W Knitter's Fair in the Fall. I would love to be able to do more and to travel to the US for shows, and hopefully in the next couple of years we will be able to make that a reality. Getting to meet knitters in person at the shows is one of my favorite things. This shot of Chris and I high five-ing was taken right before we left to one of the knitting shows we did last year. We piled so much yarn into the car it was shocking how much we were able to fit!
Allison: When you aren't dyeing yarn and traveling to shows, what do you two like to do?
Tanis: We are almost always surrounded by fiber! But on the rare occasion that we are not we love to go for walks in the woods with our dog Stella. Since we don't have any children she really is our baby. Chris also loves to cook. He worked as a professional cook for aver a decade before he joined me at TFA, so if we've got a Saturday free with nothing planned we'll sometimes treat ourselves to a morning at the market and an afternoon of cooking a real feast! And lately, since we're new homeowners, we've been spending lots of our free time doing DIY projects around the house. Refinishing furniture, painting rooms, sewing curtains and pillows, shopping at thrift stores... it's so much fun to spend our time making our house a home!
Allison: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I look forward to bringing your colors to many a sock knitter.
For those knitters who want to try Tanis' yarn, I have the Blue Label (merino/nylon) and Purple Label (merino/cashmere/nylon) in the store. And if you see a color sell out, just sign up for the newsletter to learn when more arrives.