• The process calls for dying from scratch, shaping skeins for even color distribution
By Naomi Klouda
If it’s possible to make yarn pop in the pinks of fireweed flowers or shine like the northern lights, a pair of Homer fiber artists have got it down.
Yarn dyed in an old fashioned process mimics the lavender of lupines, an Arctic autumn and the not-easy-to-catch blues of Kachemak Bay. Jules Joy and Sarah Browngoetz, owners of the Knitty Stash, hung in there with a business idea and it is starting to pay off. The special line of yarn, called the Alaskan Yarn Co., will soon be sold in shops in Anchorage and Fairbanks, with inquiries from around the state. They offer a variety of other yarns, including musk ox qiviut.
It took about nine months to a year to get the colors right in their speciality line, Joy said. They use commercial dyes and mingle the palette.
“I took a picture of fireweed and mixed colors until I felt I had the right mixture.” The yarn is dyed in their gallery shop, located on Main Street. They formerly operated at the Yurt Village, but grew large enough to move.
This kind of fiber art, “painting” yarn, isn’t popularly known. Joy experimented on each one of the colors, taking hints from online research and video instruction on hand-painting yarn. The yarn is hung to dry then twisted into consistent skeins for even color distribution when it’s used to knit a product.
Since Homer doesn’t have a large market for the specialty yarns, Joy and Browngoetz brainstormed ways to offer their products statewide. They give knitting classes, diversify into several revenue streams and went to Saturday markets.
The shop owners met about five years ago when they worked in medical administration, managing a medical office in Homer. Browngoetz was having difficulty knitting or finishing up about seven projects, and Joy stepped in to show her how.
“Then she showed me how to knit a pair of socks, and I said, you’re a great teacher – you should give classes,” Browngoetz recalled. Joy confessed to wanting to open a knitting shop. “I said, well, let’s do it then.”
Walking away from full time, benefitted positions wasn’t easy in a small town whose economy rides the tides of tourism and little else for shop keepers. But the joy of striking out and the quality of the work they could produce lends an artist’s pride in each day.
“We’re the only one offering this any where and soon we’ll be using Alaska fleece, so it will be 100 percent an Alaska-made product,” Browngoetz said. “It was inspired when we were in the Yurt Village and visitors from out of state wanted fiber art from Alaska.”
The shop is teaming up with Lancashire Farms of Soldotna to purchase the fleece. Jane Conway and Amy Seitz work a 25-head sheep farm on Amy’s grandparents’ original homestead. Lancashire Farm operators met Joy at a University of Alaska fiber-growers conference and discovered their partnership can strengthen this niche as well – farming by offering another revenue stream.
Knitting popularity isn’t a dying art so much as a cyclic one, Browngoetz said.
“The cycle on knitting’s popularity runs in seven year cycles and I think we’re on the downside now. But it goes back up,” she added. “Sometimes it will go back up because a celebrity starts knitting or there’s a movement in popular culture. There’s a core population of knitters who are committed.”
The truly old fashioned or ancient art of dying yarn would involve natural dyes, like beets for red and purples, fruits and roots, a practice that hasn’t been used for 100 years or so. That’s on the agenda in the near future as well at the Knitty Stash.
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