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Featured Artist: Jackie Graf of Dyemama Woolworks + Giveaway + Giveaway Winners!

by EBlack on February 9, 2014

JG-Dw Jackie WheelPublisher’s Note: As it comes to working with wool, I’ve tried my hand at many things including natural dyeing.  Natural dyeing is true alchemy and those who unlock its treasure trove of secrets get my full respect.  Therefore, I’m in awe of this week’s Featured Artist, Jackie Graf from Dyemama Woolworks.  I’ve been a long time admirer of Jackie’s work, so it’s pretty thrilling to be publishing her profile at last!  

Spin Artiste (SA): Hello there, Jackie! Tell us how you got hooked by fiber…

Jackie Graf (JG): Hi! I’m so honored to be interviewed here. I learned how to knit as part of a high school sewing class. I was immediately obsessed and practiced at home with pencils until I could get some knitting needles. When I moved to Maine in the mid nineties for college, I sought out a spinning teacher who gave me a lesson, shortly after I bought a spinning wheel and started buying fleece. That said, I made ok yarn for lots of years in the background of my life until I began working for a yarn company, and began working professionally with natural dyes. I took my wheel back out and started playing with techniques, went to a camp Pluckyfluff, and kind of evolved as a spinner and dyer.

JG-DW Orange YernSA: It is amazing how one opportunity in your life sparked such a profound artistic directional change. You once quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, saying “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” How has this quote inspired your work?

JG: I love Emerson…I feel that working with dye plants, and other dye sources is such a beautiful alchemy. Like you would never suspect that the roots of a bush would yield a red that was prized for ages, or that a pot of weeds will give you a brilliant yellow. I love the challenge of unlocking the color potential of a dye. I think that nature is the perfect palette, throwing burnt orange next to bright green, or grey next to turquoise. It always works.

JG-DW Dying JarsSA: Speaking of dyeing, your business name is “Dyemama Woolworks”. What got you into dyeing and what about it keeps you coming back for more?

JG: Haha. That silly name is a classic case of a ravelry name, turned etsy buyer, turned etsy seller, and before I had a chance to change it it stuck. I got into dyeing when I was hired to dye yarn for a small yarn and weaving operation, and had to learn pretty fast. We operate the only commercial natural dyehouse in the country (that we know of) and needless to say, dye a lot of yarn. My favorite dye to use is indigo, it’s pure chemical magic that will only work if conditions are exact. A couple years ago I started teaching natural dye workshops, which are such a great opportunity to share what I know and to work with people that are also passionate about fiber and color.

JG- DW Dyeing PotSA: Sounds like a fabulous class. I’m hoping to convince you to teach at my studio in the future…I already have a secret waiting list of people who want to attend!  You clearly see yourself as a natural dyer. What is it about natural dyeing that you prefer, and what are your favorite natural dyeing methods?

JG: The challenge of natural dyes is very alluring, and if you get it right, the rewards are immense. I just love coaxing color out of humble plants, insects and minerals. I’ve been playing over the last year with different mordants and modifiers using a single dye, to create a large range of shades. I taught a workshop this fall where we got 20 shades from a single madder root dyepot! I’m terribly fascinated by the chemistry of natural dyes. I can look at a vat of indigo and know what it needs to be perfect for dipping, I can look at an orange yarn that should be red and know which way to tweak the pH to get it the right color. At work we vat dye in the skein, but at home I prefer to dye fleece, and do my color blending on the carder. I’m generally a pretty industrious and precise dyer, I weigh and measure and can replicate my work.

JG-DW Outdoor Dying 2I’ve been inspired by the work of India Flint.   She does eco-printing on fabric which is something I’m itching to try. I’ve also been thinking a lot about dyeing fabrics for quilting and other sewing projects.

SA: Your beautiful yarns show that you have a clear passion for dyeing. In all your years of dyeing, what was your worst dyeing disaster?

JG: Hmmmm, I have been recently working with another commercial dyehouse in my state, and their head dyer of 40 years told me, “Anyone can dye yarn. JG-DW Yellow Fiber HanningA good dyer can fix the colors that don’t come out right.” I can usually make it right. Ok, but there was this one time I was trying to get an olive green on some raw wool using iron, and I used too much and ended up with a brillo pad mess. Had to compost that.

SA: Oh… what a mess. I’m sure a lot of folks reading this, including myself, have been there.   Ok, now lets talk spinning yarns; how would you describe your yarns?

JG-DW Yarn FenceJG: Yay! I absolutely love spinning. I love to make textured corespun yarns from batts, but I also love to make humble 2 plies from perfect undyed fleeces I’ve snatched out of fleece tents. I love the instant satisfaction of bulky textured yarns, and I also love the patient long haul of spinning a bunch of sport weight singles. Some fibers you just don’t want to end!

SA: When spinning, do you sit down at the wheel with a plan in mind, or do you let your fibers lead the way?

JG-DW SpinningJG: A little of both, I’d say. If I set out with a bunch of luxury fiber, I know I’m going to spin it fine to maximize it. If it’s a textured batt, it’s likely I’ll corespin it and embellish it somehow. Sometimes I start out one way, don’t like it, and change it up mid spin.

SA: Mixing a plan with whimsy is a great combination.  Speaking of spinning, what is your wheel of choice?

JG: I have 2 wheels that I use interchangably, a Lendrum DT, and a Louet S10.

JG-DW SpoolsSA: What can you tell us about your studio?

JG: I have several spaces at my house, a dye space in my garage which consists of a stove, a sink with hot hot water, and a commercial electric salad spinner that I spin fleeces out with. I also have a “wool room”, where I have my carders set up and bins and bins of wool organized by color and type. I usually spin either in my kitchen by the wood stove when it’s cold, or on my front porch when it’s nice. But who am I kidding, there is wool everywhere, in every state.

SA: Your home sounds like a fiber artist’s dream. What do you like about operating your own fiber business and what are your business dreams for the future?

JG-DW Bowl of YarnsJG: I love meeting other fiber people, I love supporting growers and choosing fleeces to buy. Because my 9-5 takes up so much of my time these days, I’m just taking it year by year. I have to be very selective with my engagements.   It’s easy to commit to too many events and become overwhelmed. The beauty of working for a yarn company, or anywhere for that matter, is that not every piece of it is my job. I would dye wool and spin yarn all day, but it’s the photography, selling, marketing, paperwork, shipping that takes up so much time. I have a good balance of a steady paycheck and artistic freedom. I also love what I call the commerce of craft, bartering with other craftspeople for items I wouldn’t otherwise be able to fit into my budget. It’s a beautiful thing.

JG-DW Red FibersSA: Finding that balance can be difficult, but your business is doing so well; I’m sure you’re very proud.  It is great to see how committed you are to connecting with fellow fiber artists by taking fiber classes, attending retreats, and supporting others’ work. How has the fiber community enriched your work and creative process?

JG: I have yet to meet a fiber person that I haven’t loved. I’m always inspired by and amazed by the art that people make from fiber, from spinning, to felting, to knitting. I’m also really passionate about wool in general, sheep breeds, fiber quality, history. I do lots of outreach with kids and fiber at our local schools. I bring in spinning wheels and carders and we make yarn, knit, needle felt. It’s so foreign to most kids, but such a beautiful tactile thing. I feel like it’s my duty to be the local steward of spinning for the next generation.

JG-DW White Art YarnSA: It’s wonderful that you want to carry on that fiber legacy, and even pass it on to the next generation. How would your family and friends describe your relationship with fiber?

JG: So I’ve noticed in talking to other fiber enthusiasts, that they come to it in a solitary fashion. That is to say, generally their best friend of 20 years doesn’t share their passion, or not to the level that some of us do. That’s the case with me, for sure. None of my close friends do what I do, although I have lots of friends I have met through fiber. I think they would describe my relationship with fiber as…strong. I definitely know more about wool than your average person.

JG-DW Yarn of the WheelSA: What was one of your favorite gifts from the last holiday season?

JG: My husband actually opened an etsy account and secretly bought me some perfume from one of my favorite sellers. It was a total surprise.

SA: Yay husband!!!   Sounds like a terrific gift! Back in October, you posted on Facebook that you spun some amazing cashmere and didn’t know what you were going to do with it. So tell us, how did you use your completed cashmere yarn?

JG: Haha, it’s still hanging near my tub where I let it dry after I set it. I fondle it when I walk by. I’ve been thinking I may ask one of my weaver friends at Swans Island to weave it into a wrap for me. Or I’ll knit something lacey. It was such a dream to spin, I can’t wait to get more.

SA:  Readers, don’t you just love Jackie?!?!  It’s probably a good thing I don’t live closer to her…I’d be following her around like a puppy to learn more about natural dyeing…luckily for two of you, Jackie is giving away a two natural dye kits to fortunate readers here at Spin Artiste! dyekit Yes!!  I think it’s the first time in three years I’ve had the pleasure of this type of giveaway.  The kits contain enough material to dye three pounds of fiber.  To enter, leave a comment here letting us know if you’ve ever tried natural dyeing…if you did, how was the experience?  Additional entries for sharing on FB, Twitter, etc…as well as liking Jackie’s FB page (hint, hint).  Just leave a comment here letting us know that you did.  Deadline for entering is next Sunday, February 16th, 5 PM EST.  Best of luck to all!

But, wait, Arlene, what about the Jane Thornley giveaway winners?  I absolutely did not forget you!  Here they come: a hardcopy of Jane’s upcoming book, “Rogue Wave” goes to Tammy; a membership in the Inspired Knitter’s Club 2014 goes to Terry and the $40’s worth of patterns goes to Susan Mitloff!!!  Congratulations to all…I will be in touch via email to coordinate you getting your prizes.  Thanks so much to Jane for her incredible generosity!

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