It’s time for the next installment of the Indie Dyer Series, and I was lucky enough that the wonderful Simone of Gum Blossom Yarns agreed to be interviewed! (Thank you so much Simone!) Gum Blossom Yarns is an Australian company, specializing in beautiful naturally-dyed yarns. If you’re familiar with Simone’s work you’ll know that she’s a wizard with plants, extracting the most gorgeous colours from unexpected and under-appreciated sources. Think delicate pinks from avocado, soft greens from Black Turtle Beans, and, possibly my favourite, smokey greys from the bark of eucalyptus trees. I was so excited to learn a little more about the creative process behind these gorgeous yarns, so without further ado – take it away Simone! 🙂
The magic of natural dyeing!
Hi, please introduce yourself!
Hi I am Simone from Gum Blossom Yarns. I am a scientist and a science teacher and my hobbies are knitting (and crochet), crafting, bird watching and foraging, walking and cycling.
Can you share a little about what motivated you to start dyeing yarn?
In the medical research laboratory, we were testing thousands of plant extracts for their ability to kill cancer cells or modify an immune response in the test tube, to find a “cure” for cancer. They were collected from all over Australia, and the extract colours were spectacular!
I designed the school practicals for my students to test plants they brought into the lab, and it was so much fun. I learnt that common herbs and spices that we use in cooking have antimicrobial properties, probably that indigenous people (and our grandmothers!) knew all along!
My wonderfully artistic sister encouraged me to go to Camp Creative in Bellingen one year, and I learnt the basics of natural dyeing. One day in that workshop, I threw in a ball of yarn into a eucalypt dyepot – and bingo, I was hooked! Since then I forage and test colours from wherever we walk.
As a mature woman, I found that I didn’t suit strongly speckled, fluorescent colours any more. I wanted more natural colours that suited my changing complexion. Myself and my family are environmentally conscious, our love of nature means that a minimal ecological footprint is our first choice.
It doesn’t count as stash enhancement if it’s good for the planet – right??
What do you enjoy most about the yarn dyeing process?
First its the surprise every day! It’s like a birthday present each time. Second, I like the seasonality of the colours. Thirdly, I like it that I can supply sustainable, chemical-free dyed yarn. Fourthly, I like extracting the various colours in a plant using weak mordants – and discover colours that I didn’t know make up that plant (who knew that avocado seeds give pink!)
I have finally completed one full years cycle of watching what the seasons do to plants and their inherent colours. For example, nasturtiums grow all over our backyard and give a lovely yellow-green colour on wool. I was shocked at the end of winter, when they started flowering I had removed the flowers, but a yellow-orange fluorescence came onto the wool yarn! It ‘dawned’ on me that colour is not just in the flower, but must travel all the way through the plant to GET to the flower. What a concept! And I saw that even in big gum trees.
When you use synthetic dyes, you just exhaust that colour from the pot. But when you naturally dye, you have a vast mix of colour that reaches your eye as a single tone. When you use differently mordanted yarn, you can discover different colours in that mix that you may never have known.
Where does your creative inspiration come from?
Nature – Gaia has it all. The different mordants pull-out different colours that are tonal and just go together beautifully. And of course other natural dyers like Rachael from @droverandclasser, Briony from @gradientaus and Julia Billings from @woollenflower.
The business-of-dyeing inspiration comes from @skeinyarn, @atelier_yarn and @dingodyeworks. Support from @thesweatercollective and @meggadsbey using and promoting my yarns in their designs has been amazing.
I want that one, and that one, and that one…
Do you listen to anything while you’re working?
Classical guitar music with a bit of 70s-80s rock, played by my husband. (I’m a Cat Stevens fan) Its so lovely to have beautiful (guitar) music made at home that moves with you while you work. I like to listen to podcasts about science, the brain, dyeing and knitting!
What are your favourite bases to dye on, and what sorts of bases can we expect to find in the shop?
I try to use all Australian wool fingering-weight yarns. My two bases are Platypus Sock or Fingering, a hand-wound yarn from Victoria, and a new base called Millpost (Saxon) Merino, direct from the farm. The Millpost 4 ply is as soft as a cloud and I love that it comes from a farm with permaculture practices. I hope to extend my non-seasonal colourways to 8 ply yarn and sustainable cotton in 2017.
Millpost Merino base on the left – Platypus Sock base on the right
Is there an important tip you wish you have known early on and would give someone wanting to start their own yarn dyeing or creative business?
Give yourself one year. Be professionally designed online (see Neverland studio for their graphic design packages). Marry someone wonderful who is supportive at home, and have a group of supportive friends who knit /crochet/spin.
Understand that customers are so very willing to promote you and support your efforts, particularly as an Australian natural dyer, if you do the best for them and be honest about it. I have been lucky enough to have three customers buy and take my yarn as presents for top overseas knitting designers: how generous is that?
I can’t even!!!
Are you a process or product maker, and what sorts of things do you most enjoy making?
I think I am a process maker, ‘cause I have knitting ADHD. I just want to cast on the next thing. I am a trouble shooter who likes to work it and understand the how and why. For example, I have a sock pattern that has six different techniques in it !
What’s your favourite non-yarn related thing to do?
Bird-watching by the sea – we love raptors and fairy-wrens alike. Being at a table with my adult children – they are so much fun and love in one bundle. And riding by bicycle with my husband – adventuring together.
Not just yarns – Simone also dyes the most beautiful silk scarves too, all using the dyes of the Australian bush
Pink. I am learning to love greens.
Any new projects coming soon that you’d like to share?
Dyeing cotton, a shawl design that I need to modify called the Gum-leaf shawlette, dyeing with lichens and then starting to write the book about natural dyeing with Australian (not American) plants.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
FB: Gum Blossom Yarns
These may look familiar – they’re our Gambier Shawl Mystery Knitalong colours! 🙂
Thank you so much Simone for sharing a little of your story! And how cool is natural dyeing?? If you love it as much as I do, do make sure you check out the Gum Blossom Yarns website – but be forewarned, you’ll want one of everything! 🙂 Keep your eyes peeled for the final reveal of the Gambier Shawl Mystery Knitalong on Thursday 13th July to see how these beautiful yarns knit up too! (for more info on the MKAL and choosing colours using some Gum Blossom Yarns examples, check out my last post here).