As many of you have already noticed, SSYC has received our latest batch of yarn from Three Irish Girls in Adorn Sock and Glenhaven Cashmerino. The inspiring colors that Sharon and her crew create in her Duluth studio are eyecatching and unique. And the color names are unlike any other yarn line. Comtemplating all the lovely colors we received left me with lots of questions about Sharon and her company and I figured that if I wanted to know more, then you likely did too! Here are a few questions I had for Sharon, and you can read a bit more about me on her blog today- we did a bit of an interview exchange!
Allison: I've carried your yarn in the store for a few years now, but how long have your actually been dyeing yarn?
Sharon: I started this business eight years ago in a pot on my kitchen stove, and it slowly grew from there. I was always limited by my own time- I was a high school teacher and my family expanded from one to three children during the early years. In January of 2010, I made the transition to being a full time Yarnista. We moved my studio from Washington, DC to my hometown of Duluth, MN, and I haven't looked back.
Allison: Your experience mirrors my own! I started the online store on our home property, and I too limit my work hours based on the needs of my family, which includes a four year old (and one on the way). I've found that hiring a few, dedicated employees has helped tremendously. How did you find your crew? It's a specific skill set, that's for sure.
Sharon: I have ten empoloyees. Everything we do is done by hand. The only machines we use are skein winders, and those still have to be set up and turned on by hand and stopped at the appropriate time.
I assume that employees will have little of the needed skills when I hire them, so I choose people based on their work ethic, prior work history, and how I feel they'll work with the rest of the existing group. We have almost no turnover, because I work to make sure that the person is a good match of this kind of a working environment before I bring them on board.
We've all experienced times when a boring task was easily completed because we were in the company of good friends, and times when each second on the clock ticked by at a snail's pace because we were so bored. My goal is to hire people that like to work hard as a team and enjoy being with each other. I have to teach them most of the rest.
Allison: I'd love to hear about your studio space. It must be larger than most small dyeing companies' spaces to fit 10 workers at a time.
Sharon: My studio is in a 100 year old building in a historic downtown area. It was in very rough shape when we moved in – the floors were unwalkable, and it took a couple of months to get all the remodeling, electrical, and plumbing work done. (There are no abandoned yarn studios to move into, so we had to start from scratch.)
At the turn of the century, my studio space was actually two retail stores. We occupy both of them, and adjoined them inside with French doors. One side of the studio is where we do all the dyeing, rinsing, packing, and shipping. And the other side is for drying, yarn winding, a break area, and my office.
It’s a quirky space near Lake Superior with unusual neighbors, decrepit tunnels in the basement that connect us to other buildings in the historic area, and skywalks that let us move around downtown without having to brave the weather. Walking to Starbucks indoors when it’s cold outside is lovely. I love this space, even though the radiator makes too much noise, there’s no air conditioning, and parking can be a hassle. I just signed a lease extension, so we’re here to stay.
Allison: I can tell from your studio space that you embrace vibrant color. One of the things I find to be so recognizable about your colors are actually their names. When a customer asks for Riordan or Ainsley, I know immediately it's from your line. What makes you associate a particular name with a color?
Sharon: That is a hard question! Colorway naming is largely intuitive, and based on the feeling a colorway creates for me, rather than a literal interpretation of what it looks like. Rarely do I name a colorway "Teal Green #7".
Allison: Tell me about naming Roisin (at right), Teirney and Skipjack (below)- they are definitely not names I've seen in any other yarn line.
Sharon: Roisin (rah-SHEEN) means rose in Gaelic, and when I create this colorway, it just seemed like a rich, amazing rose color. Often, Gaelic names are hard to work with, because they are difficult to spell and pronounce in English – people often think Roisin is the word raisin, or is pronounced roy-sin. (The suffix “sin” is almost always pronounced “sheen” in Gaelic. Not that I am a fluent speaker of Gaelic, but I do love etymology and the history of language.)
Tierney came to me because it’s easy to spell and say, and it also has a bit of a unisex feel – it’s a name that is used for both girls and boys, in the US, at least. Tierney is one of our oldest colorways, and I know that when people order it, they are either one of two things: a lover of orange or yellow, or knitting something for a baby whose gender is unknown. The colors are soft enough to be used on a little one, and when I peruse the finished projects on Ravelry using this colorway, the vast majority of them are for babies.
When I created Skipjack and the coordinating colors that went along with it (Salt Spray, Driftwood, and Bayside), they reminded me of a coastal beach town, so I started searching for names that were related thematically and that evoked that feeling. I like it when colorways that are made to coordinate have names that are at least tangentially related to each other, and this one seemed like a fishing vessel on the shore of a sandy beach. Plus, Skipjack is fun to say.
It often takes me a very long time to come up with names that feel and sound right. I have been known to delay the release of something for a day or two until I can come up with the perfect name. I often spend time googling, reading dictionaries, and looking up compilations of things to find the perfect name. In addition to the name’s meaning, it has to sound pleasant to the ear.
Allison: I know, like me, your day is filled to the brim and I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions and share photos of your awesome studio! Thanks so much for sharing your time today and your love of color everyday.