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Featured Artist: Sayra Adams of Atomic Blue

by The SpinArtiste on March 22, 2012

Publisher’s Notes:  I keep a wish list of folks that I’d love to have on the site and slowly, I’m working my way through.  After what seems like far too long to wait, tonight we have the vibrant and hard-working Sayra Adams of Atomic Blue and Hat Diva.  Happy to share what I learned from Sayra with you!

Spin Artiste (SA):  Welcome, Sayra!  To get things started, tell us about your journey to become a fiber artist and specifically, how did you come to dyeing and spinning yarn?
Sayra Adams (Sayra):  I was born an artist! I grew up going to craft shows. My mom is a well-known potter. From craft shows to nights at the San Francisco Museum of Art, it’s pretty much what it was about. When kids were off playing sports, I knew who Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe were. I grew up without a TV, and went to an alternative grade school, and eventually alternative high school. It’s taken a long time to be comfortable in my own skin!
The journey began early on, no TV, so lots of time to do other stuff. (I won’t lie I snuck in some time watching the Monkee’s, and Brady Bunch at the neighbors) That aside, it left a lot of time for drawing, piecing things together.  As a kid I was obsessed with the big “make and do it” rainy day books. Sitting down, and making stuff really puts me in a happy place. I started making hats in 1991, selling them at craft shows. They evolved, grew and before you knew it, I was selling in boutiques in NYC, Boston, DC and LA.  Around that time was when I started felting wool, about 7 years ago.  At that time I was beginning to burn out from making hats.  Towards the end of the hat making, I was crocheting cute cloche style hats. They were fun! I would add a felt brim to them, they were popular. I discovered handspun art yarns on Etsy. I was using more and more handspun. I wanted my own colors, and other things, so I bought a wheel. It was a bit of a surprise.  I didn’t see that coming!
I had a baby and I slowed down. Then, the economy changed. I found Etsy, and quit doing craft shows. The wool just took over. I was obsessed by texture, and crimp! Dyeing was easy, since I had spent all those years dyeing straw fibers and silk for the hats.  Looking back, it seems like a natural progression.
SA:  I read that you studied Fashion History at the Fashion Institute of Design.  What was your original intention in pursuing that degree?  How does your education influence your work as a fiber artist?
Sayra:  I was about 19 and still living at home. There was real pressure, to go and make something of myself.  Tom, our UPS driver’s wife, was the dean at the San Francisco’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM).  I always loved clothes, dressed creatively and had big aspirations to make things. I lasted a year at FIDM, then dropped out. It was crazy-fast paced with insane amounts of homework. It’s not that I wasn’t up for it.   But, I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a fashion designer. I was more into the crafty side of things. Towards the end of that year, I spent more and more time in their library. It was all fashion, with huge books….and some small ones. I read the famous milliner, Lilly Dache’s autobiography “Talking Through My Hats”. It was amazing! She really was ahead of her time, and left a lasting impression on me.  While in school, I had made a few hats, while. I learned from sewing current sewing patterns.   One was a huge over – sized top hat collage. I wore it for a school related party. It won an award, which was thrilling!
My rosy shades were off:  I had just quit school. I was working at New York Fabrics in Corte Madera, Ca. stitching hats and other small accessories at night. One weekend, I did a small local craft show. I placed third in show, and made more than a month’s paycheck!  I quit my job, and didn’t look back. Craft shows really worked for me.  I was, and still am a free spirit.
The year’s education at FIDM taught me to make storyboards. I learned to present a collection, with a theme. It taught me to organize, think thorough ideas. I also learned pattern drafting, earned an A in color theory, and I excelled in garment construction. I failed at fashion sketching! The fashion library was amazing; it really started a design dream, which became reality.
SA:  Tell us about your equipment.  What do you have and why?  What are you saving for?
Sayra:  I bought a carder before a wheel. It was a Strauch motorized doublewide, with 128 tpi cloth. Fantasic machine! After 6 months, I realized I was beginning to trash it. It ripped up my artsy locks, and hated mulberry silks. It wasn’t the right carder for me…I was bummed since I thought I had done my homework before buying! So I sold it for a bit of cash and a few super nice fleeces. I then bought a relic carder on Ebay! The TPI is literally 21, the needles are heavy duty prongs. It’s belt driven, the belt is leather which gives you an idea of the age. It can card chunky, or smooth. For smooth, I pass the fibers through 2-3 times. It’s a genius piece of equipment.
I also have a Fricke carder, metal frame I bought on Ebay for $180. My husband redid the entire carder! We added 72 TPI, it’s my go to for finer batts. Real easy to operate since it’s chain driven.

I also have a Lendrum, double treadle. I initially chose a Louet S10 double treadle, they were back ordered! Funny, how that happened. I was so set on Louet! It’s been a great wheel. I recently bought a Spinolution Mach II with the ridonkulously huge art yarn bobbin. It’s meant to hold 32 ounces (2 pounds!) of yarn.

I haven’t spun two pounds of yarn yet…I have spun a skein that was a pound! I never have to worry about overfilling the bobbin. That had been an issue in the past!
I recently bought another coarse carder, a chain driven Fricke! I hope to get a swing picker someday.
 SA:  Tell us about your work space/studio.
Sayra:  My studio aka “clubhouse” is an amazing fun place to be. It’s chock full of fabrics, sewing machines, crafty bits and of course, my wool! It’s really a Shangri-la of awesome. Once you enter through the dark purple Victorian door, you are surrounded by crafty fun.

The story of the studio: I moved about 4 years ago. Before, I had this crazy big 900 square foot place. I never used all of it, which was a bit of a waste. I went without a studio for about 4 months after the move. It was kind of hard.  There was this sad broke down shed in the yard. It was listing to one side, and was full of junk. I had the hair brained idea it would work as a studio. So in the middle of January- yeah , January –  when it was 20 degrees out, we fixed it up! It’s amazing, a really cute little space with lots of charm. It’s right off my little kitchen garden, which is a fun place to be. The original size was 200 square feet, which I grew out of fast.
It had a little carport which  we ended up closing in about three years ago. Now the space is even more awesome, since it has a sink! The studio is broken up into little work stations.

My sewing area is in the sunniest part overlooking my garden.



I have an old oak teacher’s desk, which I sit at to hand sew or block an occasional hat. It’s a really big desk, a great catch-all for works in progress. I have pegboard in my sewing alcove, and behind the desk. It’s fabulous stuff for staying organized.


My carder station is in the main room, towards the back. I have shelves filled with boxes of fiber, which is fun to look at.

There’s also nice big cozy chair, for my daughter to drawn and read from. The addition holds all my undyed wool fleeces. I use pop-up hampers to store everything.





There’s a microwave for dyeing my wool, and that amazing sink! I plan on getting the water heater hooked up, and a proper propane cooktop soon.
Nothing heats up a dye pot faster than propane!

SA:  I’m so envious of your studio area — especially because of the natural lighting.  Let’s get into a potential area of controversy:  What are your views on the art versus function discussions regarding hand spun yarns?
Sayra:  I try to make my yarns useful, and functional. Looking back, there is only one yarn with whimsical mini beer can charms included that would need special care when cleaning.  Sometimes impossible things are spun into yarns. They look fantastic, yet are probably not entirely practical. I tend to like practical, yet super interesting yarns. I stay within that realm, yet I really should move beyond it.  My default spinning mode is to ply.
So essentially, in my eyes as it can be crazy as long as it’s washable.  I’m a little dubious about using paper in yarns. You never know —  whenever I’m not into something it usually becomes my next big thing!
SA:  Washability is a good distinction!  You do spin some fairly textured yarns — what is your response to people who ask what can be done with them?
Sayra:  People used to ask now and then, when I did craft shows. I had the usual spiel: use them for trims, a focal point, something special. Listen to what they want you do with them. I really believe that eventually yarn tells you what it wants to be used for!

SA:   Let’s talk about one of your big loves — dyeing fiber!  Which products and methods do you like to use?  What is it about dyeing fiber that captivates you?
Sayra:  I love the alchemy —  the unknown keeps me enchanted. Although, I try for predictable results it’s the “off” batches that are fun discoveries at times. A few days ago, who knew combining Jacquard’s Hot Fuchsia with a touch of Crimson would make for crazy cerise-carmine? 
I usually dye in huge batches, big pots of fiber. This is a major production! I have big drying racks everything goes to dry on. Since moving my dye process from my house to my studio, I’m missing my big industrial gas range! I am currently using a turkey cooker, for big batches. I have turned to my microwave for smaller batches. It’s a real champ when it comes to dyeing! I have it down, from squirting on the dyes to hitting the start button, I get results in 10 minutes. Microwave dyeing is genius, I really like it. I also squirt dyes onto fiber, that’s laid out on saran wrap. I then bundle it up, and suspend it on a canning rack in a canning pot to steam set it. It works when I’m production dyeing roving. I’m in love with Jacquard Products acid dyes, they really are great. They are concentrated, and provide consistent, predictable results. Their chartreuse is the holy grail of greens!

I also use Dharma’s acid dyes, Prochemical One Shot, and Wilton Food grade dye. Sometimes I mix up a few of the dyes together for fun results!
 SA:  Thos are great tips — I especially like the idea of using the turkey cooker…mmmm…You describe yourself as being “obsessed with wool”.  How bad is it?  Does your family ever cry “uncle!!!”?

Sayra:  I admit openly to hoarding wool. At any given time, I have 20 washed fleeces available to dye! Then there’s also the giant roving bumps, various nylons, and silk…
 I also jealously guard some of my best wool sources. I was at a big fiber festival in Oregon about three years ago. There was a big amazing fleece sale, I was in heaven! The preview was insane. There were at least a hundred fleeces. I came back when the sale was to start, by then the line was very long. My friend Sara (lushmommy) was up towards the front. The ladies behind her were not too happy, thinking I was cutting in line! So I stood around, and they lowered the rope, and hollered the sale was on. People ran! So, I did too. Sara, shouted at me to “get away” I was confused at first, I realized she didn’t want me to get the wool she wanted! I had my own strategy and ran away from her. I ended up with 15 amazing fleeces:  rambouillet, corriedale, merino, shetland, and some amazing loopy angelic mohair curls. It was a real high! We scored. I went to pay, the women running the sale were incredulous. I was thrilled, and paid $350 with glee for the wool!
Then we had to get the wool to the car. That’s when we realized we went a little nuts!
My husband and little girl are very supportive.  My husband, Dominic has fixed my carders. He’s very supportive, without him I wouldn’t have as much latitude as I have now. He schlepped the wool from the Oregon fiber fest without complaint. The car was stuffed, and a little stinky driving home. What a guy!

What gets me in trouble is spinning while my husband watches a movie, or favorite TV show. The crick-crick sound of the wheel gets to him at times. We have a small house, so you’d hear the wheel no matter what.  I can get chewed out if I stay up to midnight spinning when everyone is in bed.  I try but I’m such a night owl. It’s hard to stop sometimes as I have so many ideas!

SA:   You also have a millinery business, “Hat Diva” — how do you split your creative energy between your businesses?
Sayra:  I don’t anymore.   The two go together, in a way…but at the same time didn’t. It was very hard. After about 3 years, I just couldn’t do it anymore. So a made the call to stop making hats. It was so hard! I worked really hard to make my skills the best I could. After all that hard work, to just quit? I wasn’t making 50 hat collections anymore for shows. Making a hat takes a great deal of time, about 4 hours. In comparison dyeing fibers, and carding a batt only about 15-20 minutes!
I’m looking to sell off my millinery supplies, it’s kind of heartbreaking. My Hatdiva shop online has everything marked at clearance. I won’t make a hat these days, unless someone really wants one.
So now, my blog has the title as Hatdiva, which in a way is kind of fitting since I still wear “many hats”.
SA:  That would be a tough decision to let go of something where you’ve spent so much time honing your abilities.  I give you lots of credit for being able to take that step.   What inspires you?
Sayra:  Color, texture, life ,nature. Sometimes, not necessarily in that exact order. The tactile nature of the fibers, and the colors I dye them are what really motivate me.
SA:  Let’s switch it up — What do you like to do for fun when you are not engaged as a fiber artist?
Sayra:  My husband and I are so busy. I relish anytime we can do things as a family. Even if it’s sitting on the couch together, watching Mythbusters!  I love to dig in the earth, and grow things. Our garden gets bigger every year. I’m also a bit of a crazy plant geek. I refer to many plants by their proper horticulture (latin) names. How could you not love saying fritillaria or tanacetum vulgare?
I’m obsessed with making my house a cozy awesome place. I love to sew curtains, paint a wall now and then. I took up quilting, about a year ago on the side. Not super hard core, more to make a couple of quilts for the family. There’s nothing better than sitting down, and reading a new issue of Better Homes and Gardens cover to cover.  Home-wise, I’m really old fashioned.  I love to make it the best place it can be!
I’m a big believer of trying new things. I recently took up the sport of skeet shooting. I have a antique Winchester pump shotgun and every other weekend I go out and shoot flying clays for an hour or so. It’s a great stress reliever; it’s hard because you really have to focus! It’s a great a new skill. I love being an oddball, not a stereotype, so it really fits in. Plus, this is Idaho I’m living in…it’s a offbeat state in general. People dance to their own drums here. I turned 40 last October so I’ve been making the extra effort to try new things, and just get out there!
SA:  One last question –  What is your favorite food?
Sayra:  Anything chocolate! I’m also a complete foodie. I have fond memories of amazing sushi in Seattle!

SA:  Now that is a great answer!!  Thanks, Sayra — that was so much fun learning more about the woman behind all that color and artistry. 


And, readers, sweet Sayra has a giveaway for one of you…two beautiful batts will be someone’s all for leaving a comment by Sunday, March 25, 5:00 PM letting us know if you are going to any fiber festivals this spring/summer and which ones.  Extra entries for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Just leave a comment letting me know that you did!  That’s all for now — until next time you have my fibery best, Arlene

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