Portland is home to many talented makers, and here at Knit Purl, we like to take advantage of the fact that we belong to such a creative community. We constantly seek out new and interesting artisans, our latest being Gina Zahn, the owner of Brave Little Thread.
We are pleased to carry her Lighthouse DK yarn, a soft single-ply blend of alpaca, merino, and silk. Curious to know more about her fiber journey, I asked Gina to share her story and inspirations with us.
How did you get started dying yarn?
The origins of my dye work date back to when I was caring for my German Angora rabbit. My wooly bunny was producing bountiful mounds of milky fiber every shearing and I had stacks of his raw fleece perfectly aligned in translucent bins on my work shelf. It’s neutral tone was akin to unbleached linen, and as months passed I could almost hear the growing wall of canvas-colored bins shouting directly at the artist in me. “Paint me!”
My process began with much research coupled with a very ungoverned practice of experimentation. For example, I knew I ought to wear rubber gloves while dyeing, but whenever a surge of inspiration came to me, there was no time for gloves. As soon as the angora hit my hands, it was as if the fleece were melting like butter between my fingers and before I knew it, I’d be elbows deep in the dye bath.
My hands were an awkward sight for weeks. Even still, the plunge of the fiber into the dye bath is probably the most stimulating part of the dye process for me. There is just something incredibly satisfying to me about the transformation happening between my bare hands—the fiber swelling with watery pigment and mini bubbles of air tickling up my arms.
I have always been a surveyor of color, and although the minimalist in me is incessantly knitting with neutral palettes, the artist in me is relentlessly stockpiling mental notes of the various palettes that color my world here in Portland, and my hands are plucking and picking from our lush vegetation with the hopes that its essence might be colorfully translated to the blank canvas of my raw fiber.
What’s a typical day in the studio like for you?
The process begins with counting my dye lots and tying up my skeins. If I am dying with acid dyes, the palette is usually conceived on a whim. But if I am working with natural dyes, the palette would have been formulated while collecting materials. I spend my morning tending to multiple oversized pots on my stove. A delicate dance of watching, stirring, waiting—all the while, my baby boy is strapped to my back, cooing in my ear like my little cheerleader in the grandstands celebrating with me as I draw a few gorgeous strands from the surface of each pot.
When the pots are cooled, the rinsing begins. Then I make countless trips outside to hang dry my work. My husband built me a portable rod system that allows me to relocate several dye lots worth of yarn indoors if the weather is not ideal for drying. But I must say, it is quite satisfying to see the endless heavy strands slowly regain that plumpy squeezable appeal that is irresistible to the touch. And the spectrum of color draped from one end of the dowel to the other.
Once the yarn is completely dry and the kids are in bed, I spend my night winding and tagging the skeins. The go immediately into categorized boxes until they are shipped or delivered.
What inspires your work?
It all depends on the day. Sometimes it is just a squeeze of a new blend of fiber, and other times it’s a random leaf my son brings me from the yard. I wish I could put my finger on exactly how I am moved to create. I honestly just feel like I am a sponge that is perpetually soaking in the sights and textures of the good things God has given me. If only I had enough time to squeeze out all the goodness I absorb in a day.
Tell us about the name Brave Little Thread.
I wanted to capture within my name, the very paradox of the humble thread. While it is to its core incredibly simple, when given the right circumstances it can be manipulated to become something spectacular. Everyone’s fiber journey, whether it be weaving, crocheting or knitting, always involves a little (or let’s be honest…a lot) of bravery. There are always those patterns or techniques that we shy away from due to insecurities in our abilities, or fear of failure. But sometimes all it takes is a squeeze of some irresistible hank of stunning yarn to erase all doubt and infuse us with the inspiration to do whatever it takes to create. I hope to infuse every ounce of my fiber with this very palpable sense of empowerment for those seeking to create.
How did you chose your color palette and the yarns you work with?
Choosing my yarn is easy. I ask myself “Would I crave to knit on that?” Palette choosing is an entirely different beast for me. It is one thing to see the purple leaves on the tree outside my window, and an entirely other thing to try and translate that exact color to my yarn. There are so many variables. So far, all the colorways I have created have been limited edition due to this color translation challenge. I am definitely still in the process of discovering my color palette.
Any plans on the horizon you’d be willing to share with us?
I am in the designing process of planting a garden for natural dyes. I hope to experiment more with these natural color palettes that seem to thrill me these days. In the mean time, I will continue to share my fiber journey on Instagram along with all the inspiring fiber folk on that platform.