If you adore thoughtful, unapologetic color, it's a safe bet that you have some SweetGeorgia in your stash. Felicia's eye for color is a trademark of her line, bringing unpredictable combinations to her skeins and a splash of life to our needles. She recently took time in her oh-so-busy schedule to dye up batches of her popular Tough Love and new CashLuxe Fine yarns, and I asked her for an interview. I love being able to know more about a dyer and her work; it helps me appreciate each skein even more. After all, the special thing about hand dyed yarn is that each unique skein is designed and touched by an artists hands. Here's what Felicia had to say about her life in fiber.
Allison: Felicia, I hear last year was a busy one for you. Tell me a bit about the unique projects you worked on.
Felicia: Indeed! Over the past year I've been quite busy working with new yarn shops all over the map as well as designing new colorways. Outside of my "regular" creative work, I also had the great opportunity to participate in some dyeing and knitting projects during the design development process of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. And later in 2010, I did some dyeing for the costume department for the movie "Red Riding Hood." They requested ikat-style dyeing on some slubby singles yarn that ended up being handwoven (by another local weaver) into a shawl for the movie.
Allison: Wow, that's impressive. Such a great example for students who want to make a living in art- there are just so many opportunities in the creative fields. What made you choose a livelihood in art and fiber?
Felicia: It's been a long and convoluted path to get to where I am now. I've been knitting since I was a kid and always wanted to work in fashion design, but a Chinese fortune teller dissuaded my family and I from that path. Instead, I entered into Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia as a way to "do the proper thing" but found that the sterile working environment was exactly the opposite of what I needed. From pretty much Day 2 of Pharmacy School, I decided to return to what was creative and I started a design firm while still at University, following that up with a couple years at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Finally about six or seven years ago, I discovered hand-dyeing fibre and yarn and found the immediate, tangible creative process was exactly what I had been craving all this time. I gave up on client design work and instead focused on designing for ourselves, SweetGeorgia, and have been in love with it ever since.
Allison: It's nice to know that the skeins we love to knit were also created in love. I've carried your line for a few years now, but before that you took a sabbatical from dyeing. What brought this break from fiber and how did it affect your craft?
Felicia: Yes, a few years ago I found myself at a crossroads and was juggling a number of decisions related to work, family and life in general. At that time, I was still running my design firm from Monday to Friday and then spent all of Saturday and Sunday dyeing nearly a hundred pounds of yarn for stores. I was completely exhausted and needed to figure out how I got stuck in this situation and how I was going to resolve it. Just recently I've heard to referred to as "Saturns Return" or the quarter-life crisis.
Inspired by designer Stefan Sagmeister and the widely publicized "year without clients" sabbatical, I also took a year off from client design work and dye work to get perspective on what I was doing and where I was headed. I traveled to London several times to get a better understanding of the handcraft and "maker" culture there. In London, I was gifted a Lomo LC-A and a Diana camera and spent a lot of my year taking strange photos as well as designing handwoven projects and focusing on natural dyeing and silk, pushing myself to be creative without the judgement of clients or the pressure of financial gain. I felt like I actually got to spend the time seeing things in a deeper, more sensitive way... like appreciating all the shades and colours in a mountainside covered in snow.
My "year without clients" made me a better craftsperson. I think that taking a year to explore and discover, push and create helped to replace my past insecurities with a more fearless sense of creativity. It also gave me time to improve my own dye skills and strength (dye work is HEAVY lifting) and streamline my dye process. Sometimes we all need that recovery period to rest and then spring back with renewed energy and inspiration.
Allison: Once you returned from the "year without clients" how did you expand to manage your growth and popularity?
Felicia: Around 2008, I moved my production to a studio space in Vancouver with full, double-height, floor to ceiling windows and concrete floors. It's a live/work space, so the building is fulled with other creative types including musicians, designers, photographers, filmmakers and even a talent agency. Even with the added space, I still feel like we're constantly bursting at the seams. About a year ago, I had to stop teaching weaving and spinning in the studio because we just didn't have enough space for both the yarn and the students.
Last year, I did take on new employees as well to help with the volume. Carina was previously a weaving student at our studio and she's been helping out since she quit her career as a lawyer. My mother is also at the studio almost every day helping out with packaging and shipping. I wouldn't be able to do all the we currently do without their help.
Felicia: Ah, the best part of my job is the creative side of things; designing new colourways, creating the advertising and building the website... but the downside is having to do the administration work, inputting things in said website, doing the bookkeeping and the like. Since I'd had my design firm for over a decade, I can do all that admin and bookkeeping work, but I can't say that I enjoy it all.
Allison: You're echoing my experience in owning a small business. I adore the creative- buying and working with yarn, but that's only 10% of the job. The other 90% is comprised of administrative work. Is this something you wish you were cautioned about before starting a business?
Felicia: I've been starting businesses since I was 16, so I didn't hear many cautionary tales.... but if I would caution others, I'd say that while starting your own business gives you ultimate freedom in how you spend your time and energy, you still need to be wise and choose the "right" things to do to make your business a success. Also, it's a lot more work than you think it will be. I get to choose my hours, but my hours are more like 10 to 12 and sometimes 14 hours in a day. My greatest challenge is trying to find the balance between work and life... and if anyone has the answer to that, I'm eager to listen!
Allison: Let's talk a bit about color. You describe your line as bringing knitters "passionate, relentless, unapologetic colour." What inspires your color selection?
Felicia:While many of my colorways are created from seasonal inspiration, I'm driven to create colourways that allow me to share things that I love and want others to experience. I'm constantly pushing to create new colourways and the clubs have been instrumental in the process. I've created colourways like Winter Spice, Woodland Berries, Hummingbirds, and Forbidden Flame. In winter months, I think of ice and snow and mountains, obviously, but also about fireside chats and chai tea lattes. And in the spring and summer it's more about freshness, renewal and cleaning house.
A great inspiration for me is music and colourways that I've done before like Sunsets and Car Crashes (The Spill Canvas), Summer Skin (Death Cab for Cutie), Violet Hill (Coldplay) and Summer Dusk (it's a little turn on Dashboard Confessional's Dusk & Summer) reflect that for me. Stillwater is the name of the band from the movie Almost Famous and Darkshore is a spot in the World of Warcraft that I've spent far too much time in. Cypress is my favorite local mountain where we've spent many a day snowboarding, and Tourmaline is named after the Tourmaline surf spot in La Jolla, San Diego which I loved. And of course, there are a few colourways inspired by Joss Whedon's work including Firefly, Saffron, and older colourways Willow and Slayer.
Allison: Finally, the industry has seen an increase in the price of merino, silk and cashmere over the past year. Most of this hasn't yet been passed along to the knitter yet, but instead is being absorbed by yarn companies/dyers/stores. How has this affected your business and extended to the knitters who adore your yarn?
Felicia: Indeed, there's been an increase in my base material prices. But luckily for the knitters, I haven't increased our prices at all. I feel like there is so much that is fickle and flighty in this hand-dyed industry sometimes, and over the years I've been moving toward establishing consistency in everything that we do. Consistent products and colourways, consistent quality, and consistent pricing. I know hand-dyed yarns and fibers can be expensive and we don't want to compete on price. We want to stick in knitters' minds with the quality of our yarn and dye process, our customer service, and our uniquely SweetGeorgia colourways.
Allison: You certainly do, Felicia. The saturation of your original colorways, and the way you conduct yourself and your studio really speaks for itself. I'm glad to support your operation and artistry. Thank you for taking time today to share with SSYC knitters!