I grew up getting crocheted projects every Christmas from my late paternal grandmother. If I was into dolls that year, I got doll clothes. If I was not into dolls that year, I got doll clothes. Everybody else got money from Grandma. I got doll clothes. And afghans... lots and lots of afghans in crochet and tunisian crochet. I still have a 100% acrylic yellow masterpiece with Holly Hobby (remember her?) cross stitched across yards of tunisian stitches. I could barely pick up that blanket as a kid (who spent Christmas wondering why Grandma didn't like her enough to give her a 50 dollar bill to match the one she gave my brother).
My mom crocheted a little when I was young and then took it up again when I went to college. She filled her empty nest and mine with afghans and pot holders as she filled the time she had spent having a teenager at home. I was pretty reticent when she decided to teach me to crochet, but as I've posted here before, I give credit to Mom and crochet for saving my life.
After college, I lived in China for a year, and it was hard to find yarn. I lived in a major textile-producing area, but all I could ever find was a hank or two of rough wool that looked like it was dyed with food coloring. And crochet hooks? Please. Every time I pulled one of those balls of wool and my hook out in a public place, I became the center of attention, which was great for the other foreigners in the room, but rather unfun for me. So I gave it up until I got home.
As a young professional with a paycheck of my own, I wanted to invest in my crafting, so I visited any local yarn shop I could find only to be greeted with, "What do you want to knit?", "Why don't you learn to knit?", or "Oh. You're that crocheter." I took up weaving on a triangle loom.
In grad school in Chicago, we were asked to do a first year project about our call to ministry, and I fulfilled it by making hats for friends who had moved there from warmer climates. I bought bunches of bulky wool and made gorgeous hats custom-fitted to their heads in their favorite colors. It was fun, but I ended up getting really tired of creating the same hat in different sizes and decided I wanted to make something stretchy. I took up knitting.
Okay, I tried. It took two years of limited attempts to "take up knitting." With help from a yarn shop owner here in the Springfield area, my first year as a pastor was the first year I could truly call myself a knitter. Once I got down the basics, I moved quickly to any techniques I could find. I knitted socks, scarves, mittens, sweaters. I did brioche, fair isle, and intarsia, cables and lace. My mom started requesting so many garments, I convinced her to learn to knit. And then that same yarn shop owner looked at me and said, "Why do you do this when you can CROCHET? I wish I could crochet!"
It's funny. I learned to knit (in part) because I was tired of LYS snobbery about my craft, especially since as a prolific crocheter, I bought quite a bit of yarn. And then the LYS owner who taught me to knit wished to crochet. Mind-blowing. Now, I don't care what anyone says, good or bad... I'm bi-stitchual and proud of it.
Out of sheer appreciation for her appreciation of my old craft, I crocheted a few sample pieces for her shop, taught a few classes, and caught the bug once again. Now, it's got me by the balls of yarn. Every time Alex wants a sample, I say, "Can I crochet it?" There are hooks all over our house and little swatches everywhere. All of my design ideas are crochet now, and new, hip patterns from other designers are coming out like mad. I love it. Mom keeps finding patterns she likes and then being told they are crochet. "Oh, man!" she says, having changed her craft of choice to knitting and knowing that I won't crochet something for her that she is perfectly capable of making herself.
People sometimes roll their eyes when I tell them I crochet, and I just keep on hooking. "What are you, an old lady?" I will be one someday, and when I am, I will make too many doll clothes and afghans for the kids I love. It took me becoming a proud, adult crocheter to realize that my Grandma spent all year crocheting for me because... she loved me. She loved having a little girl in the family for whom she could spend all year crocheting and cross stitching beautiful things. On hard days, days that I need connection and warmth and love, I find myself lugging that heavy, yellow, acrylic Holly Hobby afghan out of the closet and hugging it to myself, remembering that I had a grandma who loved me enough to crochet me more afghans and doll clothes than I could ever use.
-Kim, Creative Director
I never dreamed of revitalizing a worn out villa in Tuscany or skiing in the Alps. Rome isn’t my idea of romance. Italy just wasn’t on my bucket list. But do I complain when I’m knitting the Alps during the first snowfall of the season or eating the saltless Tuscan bread in Tuscany? No way. At least... not much.
I've spent most of my career taking very short, very nearby vacations, so it was quite difficult for Alex to convince me to come to Italy. I'm not afraid of flying, and I've even lived abroad before. I just didn't think I could spend time so far away from my congregation. Alex, as usual, was able to change my mind with offers to walk through yarn warehouses and factories.
I don't get a lot of time to sightsee when we're in Italy together. So even though I spent four weeks in Italy over the course of 2011 and saw several cities, I haven't yet been in an Italian museum.
Instead, I've spent many evenings with Santo and Paola, Alex's parents. I've met his friends, attended a truffle festival (not the highlight of my life), and eaten Italy's version of Indian food. I've met interesting people, seen lots of churches, and even spent time in an Italian emergency room (also not the highlight of my life).
Although I've spent most evenings in Italy curled up on the couch next to Alex's mom, I've spent most of my days in the Italian yarn industry. Alex quickly learned of what my mom has always called my "shut down mode" when too many producers in too few days led to an inability to process any more information. There's also an issue with sense of touch. On the first trip, my hands became a little sensitized from touching so many yarns, and it became difficult to know if things really were soft anymore. It makes my hands hurt to think about it. On our second buying trip, Alex limited the number of visits and spread them out over a number of days, and we fared a lot better. He also told one of our producers to not even show me any mohair because there was no way I'd touch it. If you wondered why we don't carry mohair, that's one of the reasons. We stick to baby Alpaca for our fuzzy yarns.
I spend little time knitting or crocheting when I'm in Italy. I knit or crochet on our long car rides to out-of-the-way producers, and I knit sometimes on the couch with Paola. She took the needles from me one evening, moved the yarn into her right hand, knit a few stitches, shrugged, and handed it back to me. Although there are great knitted accessories and clothes on the streets of Italy, handknitting is not fashionable. It's weird, because there are lots of knitting publications, but I've only seen one other person knitting in Italy... and I was in a yarn shop. It was a real, honest-to-God yarn shop instead of a merceria that carried yarn. I bought souvenir yarn while Alex and his friends rolled their eyes. There were already boxes of yarn piling up in the hallway of the flat, and I was buying yarn?
It was in a couple of knit shops and markets that we were able to find some of our favorite yarns. The knit shops we saw, though, are not at all like knit shops in the US. There weren't a lot of options and there wasn't a lot of help. One shop even had signs prohibiting touching the yarns. Seriously. I secretly dream (I guess not so secretly now) of opening a flagship Yarns of Italy store in Torino and making knitting fashionable again.
I almost always have a ball of yarn and needles or hook on me. You never know when you're going to be bored, and I like to have something to do. People chuckle in the US when I follow Alex around Lowe's crocheting with a ball of yarn in my pocket, but people openly stare when I knit in public in Italy. In the middle of a rather tense first meeting with a producer we were considering, I pulled out my knitting. Alex gave me a look, but if you can't knit at a yarn production facility, where can you knit? The producer watched me like a hawk and gradually relaxed. You could see his shoulders drop and his breathing slow down. He told Alex, "She knits like my wife."
The producers love to hear about American yarn shops, and they are amazed at what American knitters know. We taught a producer about the "burn test" to see if something was what it claimed to be and ended up on Ravelry, letting them see finished projects made from one of their yarns distributed throughout Europe. They're so happy to have found this market and people who really love their yarns.
Much to the dismay of Alex’s mom, I haven’t seen the Tower of Pisa, the artwork of Florence, or Mount Aetna of Sicily. She laments, “You’ve seen Italian yarn, but you haven’t seen ITALY.” Lucky for me, I’ll get to go to Italy again, and I am marrying a man who brings Italy into my every day. I’m learning to talk with my hands, how to argue, and how to take life a little more slowly.
I never dreamed of going to Italy, but I love every trip and every day with my Italian. Oh yeah, and the yarn. Love the yarn. - Kim
When I was a 19 year old college student, my parents came to visit me because they were concerned that I just hadn't felt well in weeks. I was weak, shaky, and lethargic (very out of character for bombastic me). My dad brought with him some horror movie that my mother and I couldn't stomach, so we went in the bedroom of my little college apartment, and she taught me to crochet a washcloth and a potholder. It was awkward, and I was not at all enthused. I carried on because I love my mom and loved spending time with her, even if it had to involve yarn.
The next week, I was rushed to the doctor after becoming quite faint, and we discovered that I had a raging case of mononucleosis that had gone unchecked long enough that my health was in danger. The doctor had me pull out of my classes and put me on bed rest. I sat in bed with a ball of cotton yarn and a crochet hook for several months. The mono passed, but the accompanying depression was horrible. It took a long time for us to figure out why mono seemed to have changed my personality. I watched old movies, completed my classes independently, cried a lot, and kept on crocheting. I don't remember a lot of those dark times, but I do remember that when I finally got treatment for the depression and began to come back to life as I had known it, I discovered that I had crocheted a five foot pile of cotton dishcloths. (I donated them to a women's prison when I couldn't get my mom to take anymore.)
Depression is a terrible, debilitating mental illness. Lots of people struggle with it. Lots of college students struggle with it. Part of my depression was not wanting anyone to know I was depressed, and I only told my mom when it was almost too late for me to survive it. Now, I talk about my struggle with depression openly, and I credit my mom and yarn for saving my life. I truly believe that the lift of the instant gratification of completing a small crochet project was as close to joy as I felt in that entire year of darkness. Those little moments of accomplishment probably helped save my life.
Now, I crochet and knit for the pure pleasure and creative expression of it, but I am extremely grateful for yarn and a hook (and a very wise mother) that kept me going when I didn't want to go anymore. And when (as a pastor and friend), I encounter people who seem depressed, I am almost always invite them to my church's knitting group after encouraging them to seek professional help. I invite them for the company, but also because I think it might help them find joy and a sense of accomplishment as they struggle through the dark night of the soul.
Yarn can give us joy when there is nothing but turmoil around us. May all your stitches be happy stitches.
Kim, Creative Director
After years of walking into yarn shops and hearing "You should learn to knit" from yarn shop owners when I told them that I was a crocheter, I was hesitant to try again in a new town. I walked into a yarn shop in Springfield, Missouri with a lot of trepidation and said to the owner, Carol, "Okay. Sell me the stuff to knit a hat and teach me to make it." I knew how to cast on, how to knit, how to purl, but that was it. The owner sold me a pattern, some Cascade 220 Quattro, and 16" circulars, and then she asked me to sit so she could watch me. "You knit funny," she said, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.
I moved on to DPNs, socks, and cables. Then it was fair isle, intarsia, and modifying patterns. When I started designing patterns, Carol threw up her hands. Instead of asking questions when I was at the knit shop, I was answering questions. I devoured any reading material I could find about yarn, and it was Carol that said, "You love yarn, not knitting it." It was Carol that inspired me to find a place in the yarn industry, and it was Carol that helped us start Yarns of Italy. It was Carol that I called when we made our first big sale to a store, and it was Carol that held me back when I wanted to beat my head against the wall in moments of frustration.
Carol's shop became my home away from home. When I was in Springfield visiting people in the hospital and I needed a breather, off I went to Carol's shop where I would find a respite from providing respite. And when Carol decided to close her shop and start a new chapter of her life, it was me that broke down and sobbed at the checkout desk in front of a pile of heavily discounted yarn, starting the chain reaction among her some of her most loyal customers.
There was no joy in watching her close her store. Sure, we got a great deal on shelving for the warehouse and I inherited her collection of knitting books (she's taking a hiatus), but we still have the relationship we forged over a set of circulars and some wool.
Even though Carol is not running a yarn shop, she still knows the answers to questions from a yarn shop owner's perspective, and we still happily disagree on the answers to knitting questions. So we decided to let our customers join in that fun by offering our help in answering your knitting and crocheting questions. Simply email us your question, and we will answer it with a post on this website or a youtube video. Between us, we can answer quite a few questions or direct you to answers, and the differences in our answers may be amusing. Preparing the answers gives us an excuse to hang out together, so asking us questions really does us a favor. We'll build a little knowledge database on the website so that future visitors can see the answers to popular questions.
Have a question? Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll notify you when your question's answer is published.
Kim, Creative Director
Italy is known in the yarn industry for having awesome merino. At TNNA trade shows, people approach us just to ask to see our merinos. They see the Italian flag, they think merino. We found a good baby weight merino, but we didn't like that producer's heavier weight merino (or their prices). We asked other producers for merino, and we kept seeing the same stuff over and over again. It was just like what yarn shops and knitters in the US already had. I was bored with what we saw and had almost given up hope of finding a special, undiscovered merino.
So when we found a new yarn in an open market that made me jump up and down and squeal, we tracked down the producer, made an appointment, and made a deal. This was the yarn we had been searching for over the course of the year, and it was better than we had expected. The name came easy: Innamorata, the loved woman. This is a truly Italian idea and it was the name of a boat my father once owned. It was a 1969 Chris Craft, made the same year my parents were married, and they bought it around their 25th anniversary. My dad named it in honor of my mom, but this was the boat everyone in the family loved, as we remind him at least once a year.
Instead of naming the colors with the regular color names, we've decided to add an extra level of love to this yarn by naming them after the innamoratas of Yarns of Itay. Here is the list of some of the women we love who inspired each color's name:
Lois Swinson Barrett (200 Navy Blue) was the very first designer who worked with us to create a pattern. She's working on another pattern for us now.
Carol (530 Chocolate Brown) was the yarn shop owner whose comment helped start Yarns of Italy. She taught me to knit, and she's been a constant source of advice both to me and to YOI.
Paola (118 Red) is Alex's mom, and red is her color.
Wendi (16 Maroon) is my mom and our experimental dyer, and Maroon is her favorite color. I have to convince her to knit other colors sometimes.
Christine (344 Fuchsia) works with us almost every day, and a good fuchsia makes her happy.
Dana (33 Eggplant) is a friend of ours and the marketing guru that kept us thinking outside the box.
Ruth (24 Pale Pink) was my paternal grandmother. She always looked great in pink.
Emily (242 Milk Chocolate) is the Yarns of Italy Boxer dog. If Alex was allowed to name colors, he would have named it Potato, because that's what he calls her.
Patricia (15 Beige) has been a long-term customer. We've never met her but feel like we know her.
Sara (36 Hot Pink) was our first assistant. She has a love of bright colors.
Beverly (155 Lilac) is one of our test knitters and friends. She joined us for our first TNNA show and is a very special friend.
Wilma (41 Intense Pink) also joined us at our first TNNA show. She's part of our knitting group, and she is the most prolific knitter we know.
Elena (119 Cayenne Red) is a customer we met on Etsy who has become one of Kim's very favorite people to chat with over email. Elena hand-dyed some yarn a shade of peppery red, so we knew this had to be her color.
Chiara (93 Charcoal Gray) is the youngest executive of a very old yarn producing family whose yarns we aspire to carry when we are big enough to distribute them. We always enjoy working with her.
Elizabeth Green Musselman (90 Light Gray) is a designer we found during our runway challenge. Elizabeth is just awesome to work with, and the light gray sweater she designed with our yarn made that colorway our most popular.
Robin (130 Grassy Green) and Brigitte (333) are yarn shop owners who took a chance on us.
Anastasia Popova (19 Vibrant Turquoise) is a crochet designer who won our runway challenge. Her gorgeous turquoise garment was a hit on the runway.
Meghan Jones (31 Teal) is a knitwear designer in the Pacific Northwest. She is such a pleasure to work with, and she has great humor and energy.
Cindy (401 Rust Orange) is a yarn shop manager who placed our first big order and made us feel like we were going to do okay.
Barbara (162 Cadet Blue) is my maternal grandmother, and I'm her only grandchild with her haircolor. Grandma shakes her head at our knitting and yarn conversations and says it's all gotten too complicated for her to take it up again. Come on, Grandma, you can do it!
Lindsey (247 Medium Blue) is a designer and tech editor we met at our first TNNA. She won our Designer Challenge at the Spring 2012 TNNA show and is currently tech editing a pattern for me. We love Lindsey!
Georgia (1 White) is a valued repeat customer from Etsy. Even though we don't get to see people "come into" our shop, it doesn't mean we don't smile when we see the same names pop up on orders.
Misty (12 Cream) is my best friend and Alex's best ally. Every time I knit something for Misty, I also reach for cream yarn.
Andrean (6 Deep Olive) is my sister-in-law of many, many years and Alex's soon-to-be-sister-in-law. She and my brother are foresters by training, so this seemed to be the right color for her.
Elisa (470 Deep Blue) is a dear friend to both of us. She's also Alex's landlord and my parishioner. It's a small world after all.
Agatha (332 Purple) and Maria (104 Light Blue) were Alex's grandmothers.
Silvana (129 Pistachio) has worked for Alex's family for years. She makes my visits to Italy fun and very delicious. We had to name the pistachio color after her.
Kira (3-3 Bright Blue) and Elise (20 Yellow) are my nieces. They are silly and wonderful.
Katrina (23 orange) is another favorite customer. She orders regular shipments to Australia and has been fun to deal with. She likes bright pops of color, so this orange was what we picked for her.
If your name is on this list, thank you for all you've done to make our little company a success.
-Kim, Creative Director
How Experimental Natural Dyeing Creates Gorgeous Coordinating Colors
Step One: Wendi Polchow collects plant trimmings, dying blossoms, and other dyestuff from the plants in her environment. Her neighbors even drop off fallen trees and invite her to trim and pick in their yards. Using her encyclopedic knowledge of Missouri plants, Wendi can find diamonds of dyestuff in any landscape she sees. As a local and a committed long-term dyer, she works to maintain the plants she finds so that she can revisit them in years to come. Pictured here are lichens that were covering a tree in her yard. They became dyestuff.
Step Two: The Piemont Naturals process: cotton is scrubbed twice, the plant matter is turned into a dyebath, and the cleaned cotton yarn base is dyed. For lichens, the dyebath alone takes a minimum of three weeks to yield a substantial dyebath. After the yarn is dyed, it is reskeined and stored for sale or color card development.
Step Three: We pick our favorites of Wendi's results, find the closest Pantone equivalent, and have our dyers in Italy create the colors commercially on the same cotton base yarn. The results are so close that Wendi's planning to dye some variegated yarns naturally to coordinate with the commercially dyed yarns inspired by her amazing creations.
Why Develop Colors This Way?
We had a cotton yarn that we loved, but we were not in love with the colors. They were too bright and far from interesting. The Italian color sense is much different from the American color sense, and it's a struggle to pick colors across an ocean without going through months and months of sending samples back and forth. In the meantime, Wendi and Alex started Piemont Naturals to produce hand-dyed yarns from native plants. Her colors were gorgeous, but there are issues with natural dyeing from plants such as color- and light-fastness and the price of the resulting product (from the massive amount of work involved in producing each skein).
Wendi spends about 8 hours a day gathering dyestuffs and dyeing when the weather is just right. She has taken over half of her husband's workshop to create a dyeing studio. Her fearless approach to dyeing and her patience have led to some gorgeous results. She’ll leave a solution on the shelf for months to get just the right intensity. She occasionally sells some of her naturally-dyed cotton on Etsy, but her main focus has been on creating colors. She's just not interested in dyeing in large enough quantity to stock stores. She says, "It's not fun to do the same color over and over again. I want to try new stuff!"
So instead of focusing on creating yarns to sell, we tasked Wendi with creating new colorways. She didn't have to worry about how long the color would stay... she just needed to create beautiful yarn. The colors she created were not only beautiful, but they coordinated in wonderful ways. We picked our nine favorite shades, and then spent days with the yarn and Pantone colors, trying to find the absolute closest match to her shades. Finally, when our eyes couldn't take any more, we sent the color codes off to our cotton producer who worked with the dyer to recreate her colors with commercial dyeing.
The producer called when the yarn was in their hands and said they were amazed at the palette and how great the results looked, but when the yarn arrived from Italy, we were rather nervous about opening the boxes. Did the dyer understand the subtly of these colors? If the shades were off, they wouldn't coordinate. It was a tense moment waiting to see if the colors the commercial dyer made would match Wendi's colors. Imagine our surprise when she was able to identify each color of yarn by the exact combination of dyestuffs she used for each color without looking at her color cards. "Oh, that's dianthus with copper." They nailed it!
When the cotton producer joined us in Phoneix for the Spring 2012 TNNA show at which we launched Lunare, he stood and looked at the yarn he produced and a blanket we had crocheted with all the colors Wendi had inspired. He told Alex, "I have to admit... your colors are way better than ours." It was a big moment for us.
We are so pleased with Wendi's results and the work of Piemont Naturals, that we sent home boxes of fine merino yarn for her to experiment with this summer. We can't wait to see her results and the lovely colors she will develop for our Innamorata line of merino.