Publisher’s Notes: At long last it is time for the interview with the lovely Kathryn Benavides whom I first met back in January at Vogue Knitting Live — we ended up being roommates and for a few days I started and ended my day with views of Kathryn’s beautiful fibers, yarns and knitting. I wish you could see Kathryn’s work in person to truly appreciate the technical mastery of her spinning — hopefully the photos included alongside with her words will give you a sense for Kathryn’s talents. Please check out her Etsy shop to see more of Kathryn’s wonderful work!
Spin Artiste (SA): Hello Kathryn and welcome! Your work is beautiful and you are a very skilled artist. How did you get into fiber art?
Kathryn Benavides (KB): I learned to knit when I was a young child (5th grade to be precise), but didn’t really pick it up as a big-time hobby until I went away to college 6 years ago. I needed to pick one of my millions of crafty hobbies to take with me to college and knitting seemed the best option because I really enjoyed it and it wouldn’t take up too much space in my dorm room that I shared with 3 other girls. It wasn’t until over 2 and a half years later when I was looking to augment my stash that I stumbled across Etsy and all sorts of spinning fibers. I knew I had to learn to spin! I tried a drop spindle, but immediately found that wasn’t for me, so I took a leap of faith and purchased a spinning wheel without ever having seen one in person, let alone spun on one. Since then it’s been an ever growing and developing love and obsession with all things FIBER – spinning, dyeing, carding, knitting. I love it all!
SA: One of the recurring themes in these interviews concerns the question of balancing life with fiber arts. As a grad student in vetinary medicine, what has your experience been like balancing fiber art and your college/grad school studies?
KB: When I started vet school two years ago at Michigan State, I was scared I would lose all of my crafting time to studying. When I figured out that I could study for exams and retain a lot of information by watching all of my lectures again (they are all recorded on a program and we have access online), I found my spinning time! I have 1-2 exams a week and each one covers 12-20 lectures of material, so I spin A LOT OF YARN. Knitting time is a little harder to find, but as long as the pattern isn’t too challenging, I will actually knit in class. I’ve found it keeps my hands busy so I’m not surfing the web, and I am more engaged in the lecture material. Win-win!
SA: School has changed! I would have loved to be able to knit in class...Each year you have tackled some pretty remarkable fiber goals such as spinning a particular quantity of yarn every week. Can you tell us what motivates you to set such goals; and how is your 2012 goal going so far?
KB: I think my biggest motivation is my ever-growing fiber stash! I really can’t justify it no matter how much I spin, but if I spin 150 yarns in a year, it makes me feel better about the remaining 150 braids hanging out in my fiber/craft room.
For this year, I joined the group 12 in 2012 on Ravelry where the goal is to spin 12 pounds of fiber this year. However, considering I spun an estimated 42 pounds lasts year and 38 the year before, I wanted to really challenge myself so I set a goal of 48 pounds. As of the end of July I was at 30 pounds, so I am on target!
SA: Oh, my gosh! Hats off to you for getting through so much fiber. Speaking of ambitious fiber goals, can you tell us about your Tour de Fleece 2011 project?
KB: Tour de Fleece is so awesome! It really gets tons of spinners motivated to create beautiful yarns and challenge themselves with ambitions goals, new techniques, new fibers, etc. I absolutely love when July rolls around on the calendar. Last summer (2011) and this past summer were my last two official summer breaks from classes, so I set ridiculous goals for myself because I knew it would be my last chance to really push myself before I start into clinical rotations in school. I am so excited about how much I managed to get done. It also provides me with the motivation to actually photograph and post pictures of my yarns on Ravelry. I spend all my time spinning and studying, but I don’t often have time to photograph and catalog my yarns.
SA: I loved your idea for a knitted Bike Lock Cozy, iPod cases, and your spectacular yarn wreath. What inspires you to come up with such fresh and inventive ideas?
KB: If there’s a need for something, I try to fill it! A short story about the bike lock cozy – my bike lock originally had a protective plastic case that got broken off. I took it to the bike shop to see if they could fix it, and they recommended I just wrap it in bubble wrap. So where did my mind go? Knitted bike lock cozy! I grabbed some stash yarn and tried to work out a pattern that would fit my lock. In no way do I consider myself a designer of any sort. Knitting is a way for me to relax, and I’d rather use one of the thousands of patterns out there for my yarns than struggle through coming up with my own. It doesn’t come naturally to me, so I definitely appreciate the work that goes into creating a pattern!
The yarn wreath was inspired by others I’d seen made by Esther Rogers (JazzTurtle Creations) and Jenna Scott (UniquelyYoursDesign). I am always looking for other ways to use handspun, especially the non-traditional art yarns. While I love knitting cowls, I don’t think I could possibly use 100 of them, even if I do live in the Midwest! I appreciate those skeins as works of art, and I want to show them off!
SA: You make such beautiful and delicate lightweight yarns. What moves you to spin such light yarns; and can you share with us any of your techniques?
KB: I love handspun socks! I didn’t spin all that skinny for the first 2 years, but then I got a custom order for 3-ply sock yarn in the 350-400 yard range. Man, was I freaking out! I was so worried about meeting her expectations that I accidentally spun up nearly 600 yards of a heavy laceweight. Whoops! Since then, I’ve been practicing a lot to get to where I can more easily get the desired weight. I am an equal opportunity fiber artist – I love combed top, batts, smooth, chunky, locks, add-ins. All of it!
But for a while now I’ve been spinning a lot of skinny yarns from combed top because in my current knitting phase, those are the kinds of yarns with which I like to work.
Tips for spinning a skinny yarn: Place your wheel on the highest ratio! Even with my wheel set like this, I treadle like the wind because I tend to draft really fast. I also find I get more yardage with silk blends and the finer wools like merino, rambouillet, and targhee.
SA: Great tips! So, what your set-up? Tell us about your studio.
KB: My studio is my second floor 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment. I wash fleece and dry finished yarns in one bathroom, and I dry locks and combed top in the other bathroom or in the “fiber room”. I have a small counter top in my kitchen above my washer and dryer where I do all of my dyeing , but because all of my dyeing happens in my kitchen, I have to be very careful about cleaning up. The master bedroom used to be my bedroom. Then my fiber (and to be fair, other crafts as well) outgrew its space in the spare bedroom, so we did a switcheroo with the two. I have all of my fibers in that room and that is where I do my carding and my spinning if I am watching lectures. I dream of one day having a full studio where I can keep my dyeing area set up all the time!
SA: Can you share a little about your equipment?
KB: I started out spinning on an Ashford Traditional because it looked like what I thought of when I imagined a spinning wheel. For my college graduation, I was gifted an Ashford Joy travel wheel which is what I do almost all of my spinning on now. It is so versatile, and I love how easy it is to pack it up and take it with me wherever I go – even on an airplane!
Soon after I bought a used Ashford Country Spinner because I wanted to be able to spinner bigger art yarns than the Joy would accommodate. I love it for corespinning, supercoils, anything big and chunky! I also have a Hansen mini-spinner and just recently acquired a Schacht Cherry Matchless almost two weeks ago. I still consider the Joy my primary wheel, but I couldn’t pass up the beauty of the cherry wood on the Matchless. It’s a piece of equipment I bought because it is stunning and gorgeous and a work of art in itself. Long story short – I guess I’ve become a wheel collector!
My carder is a Fancy Kitty Kitten with the fine tooth cloth (90/120). I love the smooth batts that I can create on it, but now that I’ve gotten into washing fleeces and making chunky batts with awesome textures, I am looking into buying a Louet Classic drum carder as my next piece of equipment to make it easier to maintain lock structure and textures.
SA: In just a few years you have really connected with the fiber art community. How would you describe your relationship with other members of the fiber art world?
KB: I am so lucky to have become friends with so many people in the fiber world. At first they were just sellers I bought fiber from or people whose work I admired from afar, but now that I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to travel to many fiber festivals and meet these people in person, those who I once only saw as fiber celebrities are now my good friends. I have made some awesome friends that I’ve even traveled with on trips that had absolutely nothing to do with fiber! I truly love the friends I’ve made through Ravelry, and I just feel so blessed to be part of this amazing fiber arts community!
SA: Many people seem to rave about your color work. Tell us about your dyeing process.
KB: I LOVE BRIGHT COLORS. My friend Carrie Ouradnik (craftypuppylover) has said that my favorite color is “rainbow.” That being said, since becoming a spinner and being introduced to so many awesome indie dyers, my color preferences have really expanded. Once while having a discussion with another friend and telling her that she needed to try something outside her color box like I did, she proceeded to tell me that I, in fact, was not restricted by a box at all. I am always learning and trying out new dyeing techniques to find what works for me to get the results I like in the space I have.
I do a lot of hand-painting of combed top, but am still working on perfecting my process. I have recently fallen in love with the results of solar dyeing locks/fleece. I only wish there were more hours in the day so I could experiment more!
SA: Ah, yes, so little time, so much to try! With batting, dyeing, spinning, and knitting being such an ancient practice how do you make it your own while still maintaining its early purity?
KB: Oh man, this is a tough one! I guess in spinning, I try to keep a balance between the traditional yarns of the past, while constantly trying to learn new techniques and methods for making yarns – both traditional and artsy. My goals as a spinner are to try everything at least once and to try to become proficient as spinning yarns across the entire spectrum. In school, we were encouraged to become well-rounded by studying many different subjects and not just focusing all of our learning on one subject, and I like to bring that philosophy to my spinning and dyeing. I also really appreciate the beauty of undyed fibers and the process of taking something from raw fleece to finished object!
SA: You have an extremely positive Etsy customer base. What is your philosophy behind the business end of your trade?
KB: I am so grateful for my customers!! It makes me feel so good when I log into Etsy and read that someone really likes the yarn or fiber they have received or that they have commented positively on some aspect of my business. My shop started out as another little hobby – crafting things for other spinners and knitters to use. When I first opened it, I was still at a period in my spinning where I either didn’t want to part with my handspun, or didn’t think it was good enough to sell to someone else so I focused more on fiber. Well, over 400 yarns later and I’m running out of places to put it all! I still think of it as a hobby business, but I would love to expand it someday – hopefully when I’m out of school. For now, I have fun spinning yarns and dyeing/carding fiber, and when it sells, I’m thrilled. I love custom orders, too, so I can create special items with my customers in mind!
SA: If you could live during any time period when would it be and why?
KB: Here and now. I’ve often thought about how cool it would be to live in Europe during the Renaissance when there was so much learning and creating going on, but I am really in love with my life right now. I love the opportunities the internet (Ravelry, Etsy, etc.) has created for fiber artists and all the amazing connections and friendships it has brought me. Sometimes I worry technology is getting a little out of control, but without it, I would not know so many wonderful people all over the world, and I probably wouldn’t even be writing this.
SA: Thanks so much Kathryn! You’ve brightened my day with your upbeat outlook and beautiful fibers and yarns…and readers, a lucky someone is going to win a wonderful set of batts made by Kathryn. To enter, please leave a comment below before Sunday, 9/16, 5 PM (EST) and let us know what you would do with these scrumptious beauties! Additional entries for sharing on FB, tweeting, etc. Just leave an additional comment letting us know that you did. Best of luck to all!
P.S. I have a few more of Kathryn’s pics to share that I didn’t squish into the interview — enjoy!