On our first joint yarn buying trip to Italy, we came across a producer who had gorgeous base yarn at a fantastic price. But we weren't in the business of selling undyed yarn bases, and we didn't dye yarn. We did, however, know someone with time on her hands and a unique skillset with plants and fiber: my mom.
My mom, Wendi Polchow, had recently retired to a lake from landscape design (with a focus on native and hardy Missouri plants) and was bored after years of being both a professional and hobby seamstress. She knew fabric, she knew plants, she lives in a wilderness, and she needed a new hobby. After all, she had completed turning the rocky yard of their new home into a terraced, landscaped garden. So we called her from Italy and proposed that new hobby: hand dyeing yarn. "But I don't knit!" was her reply. Oh, how things have changed in the last 18 months.
Mom has become an avid (rabid) knitter, and is quickly building a closet full of gorgeous sweaters. Her seamstress skill of finishing coupled with her knowledge of garment construction and fabric mean that each sweater fits her like a dream. She loves knitting, but, even more than that, she now shares my love of yarn.
After months of research on her iPhone, collecting potential dyestuff, and a few trial batches, we not only had to bring her more base yarns but we had to convince her to get an iPad. She took over half of Dad's large workshop, installed an outdoor sink, and started attracting attention in her community with her frequent trips out to collect wild dyestuff. Now she has open invitations to neighbor's properties and the resident firewood guy drops off unique finds whenever he's in the neighborhood. In every part of her dyeing process, she is mindful of her environment. She's careful to collect enough to dye with but leave enough for the plants to thrive for future years, and she's discussed her process with a MO Natural Resources employee to make sure it causes no harm to her land or to the lake. Salt and harmful chemicals... don't even bring them up because she doesn't use them.
Her careful practices mean that there aren't a lot of batches of each of her colors, but the colors she gets from her process go together just as beautifully as the original dyestuff appear together in their environment. The pale purple of the lichens she collects from discarded wood looks beautiful with the pale green she gets from spent dianthus blossoms and the rich brown produced by the nuts that fall on her driveway.
We used her results on cotton to choose colors for our commercially-dyed yarn Lunare. The result is a gorgeous, sophisticated pastel color palette that work together naturally. I will never forget standing at a trade show and watching a yarn color expert just stare at a display of Lunare. "Are you sure this was made in Italy?" she asked, and then wanted to know how we had come to find an Italian producer that would create such beautiful pastels. I introduced her to my mom. Even the Italian producer of the yarn came to admit that their yarn had never looked so good as in Mom's colors. Every time we go to Italy, he wants to see Mom's sample book, which she carefully maintains with snips of each base, each result, and notes on when and where the dyestuff was collected.
I have never met anyone who enjoys their labor of love quite as much as my mom. Each skein is a potential work of art, and she treats it as such. Lots of her work is experimental, but when she creates something fabulous and repeatable, she dyes a few skeins to match for sale. I've spent hours on the phone with her, hearing about this plant or that flower that she found and how she coaxed color out of it. I'm very, very happy that we finally get to share her labor of love with our fantastic customers.