This week, I’m bringing you the very first interview in a new series called Maker Spotlight! Each month, I’ll be featuring a new maker in the fiber industry. For this first post, I bring you Armenuhi (Am for short), of Oysters and Purls. Am only just recently started her blog, but its already filled with beautiful photography and insightful articles, on everything from her recent trip to the Vogue Knitting Live event to her reasons for using only natural products to dye her wool.
After learning about Am’s recently opened naturally hand dyed yarn online shop, my interest was piqued. Natural dyeing is on my bucket list for 2017 of things to learn, and I couldn’t wait to hear more about it! Am has also agreed to offer a 10% discount on her beautiful yarns! You can find the code at the end of this interview.
I’ll let Am take it from here. 🙂
1. When did you first learn to knit?
My mother taught me the basics of knitting when I was little. I picked it up here and there growing up but never really for very long. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I really got addicted to knitting. I was home with her, and I thought knitting would be a great creative outlet for me. This was just over a year ago, and I never would’ve thought it would lead me here today!
2. How did you first get involved with natural dyeing?
It wasn’t too long ago that I first started playing with natural dyes. My first experiments were with some cotton fabric and turmeric that I had at home.
Motherhood changed my worldview, in almost every way possible. One of the things I started asking myself repeatedly was where and how our food was grown. I wanted to feed my daughter the best and healthiest food, I wanted to know that it was ethically grown and produced, and I wanted to reduce the waste I was creating. So, I started buying produce at farmers’ markets and composting whenever possible.
The second thing that happened around the same time was that I found out about the slow fashion movement. Somehow, I knew so much about the slow food movement, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that we could apply the same thought process and approach to other aspects of our lives. I was participating in the #fringeandfriendskal last September, and found out through the amazing Karen Templer, who also runs @slowfashionoctober on Instagram. I think this is exactly what I was looking for, and it was such perfect timing. I dove head first into the month of conversation and dialogue that followed amongst talented makers from all over the world. It completely changed my life, and the type of consumer I am.
I had been eyeing The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar ever since it came out, but I had no excuse to own it, so I just put it in my wishlist instead. And then one day I decided I deserved to treat myself and just bought it for myself! This book is hands down one of the most stunning books I have ever seen.
Right about this time, the universe presented me with yet another game changing revelation. I was listening to the episode of Woolful where Ashley is speaking with Tanis of Tanis Fiber Arts. In it they discuss the superwash process and its impact on the environment. This was such an eye opener for me. Right afterwards, I read Ashley’s blog post on this topic, and made a decision right there and then to not purchase another skein of superwash yarn again.
All of these pieces of the puzzle came together really beautifully for me at the right time in my life. I had already been doing a lot of soul searching and racking my brain for the answer to what I wanted to do with my life. I knew it had to be knitting related because I absolutely loved it. I spent every minute I could knitting away on something, and all my days were consumed by thoughts of future projects. And I wanted to knit with sustainable, natural yarn. Simple. I wanted to know that the animals my yarn came from were treated well, and I wanted to know that my act of knitting was not adding to the ever increasing environmental footprint. And this is how it all started!
3. What made you decide to start your own business?
I quit my day job almost 4 years ago now, because I hated it. I had a well respected, very well paying job, great benefits and lots of vacation days, but I was miserable every single day. Eventually, I got so sick of complaining and commiserating with my peers, and I realized that if I didn’t get up and quit, I would be there in my forties, still miserable, still hating it, and hating myself as well. And I quit.
It took me a long time to figure out what it was that I wanted to do with my life and that I felt really passionate about doing. And with being a stay-at-home mom, starting my own business and working at my own pace seemed like the right choice for me and my family.
4. Tell us more about how your Armenian heritage has influenced your business so far.
So, this is interesting. It never even occurred to me that my Armenian heritage had any influence on my creativity and/or business. I always thought that all of the influence came from my mother. She is an extremely talented woman and maker. She can sew, knit, embroider, make mosaics, jewelry, and the list goes on. So I grew up with that influence, but the thing is my parents pushed me towards maths and sciences. I was never really encouraged to make, and because I was always an A student and absolutely loved math and physics in school, I always thought that I just wasn’t creative or talented. My sister was always the artist in the family.
So, when I started knitting and designing, I knew my mom and sister’s influence was there. Then when I actually decided I wanted to botanically hand dye yarn, all of a sudden I found out that my great grandmother and her mother used to spin and botanically hand dye yarn in Armenia, way back when. And my mom learnt all of her crafting skills from her own grandmother. So, I guess there was always an influence from my Armenian heritage, I just didn’t know about it. And it feels so much more special to me right now, to know that all my great grandmothers were makers, and to have that connection with my past and my roots.. I feel like 5 generations have now come full circle, and there’s just something so meaningful about what I am doing right now.
5. Have you had any ‘oh-no’ moments with your natural dyeing projects so far?
Hahaha, of course! At this stage of my natural dyeing “career” there’s probably been more of those moments than not. Those usually turn into the prettiest colorways! That’s the beauty of this process!
Real ‘oh-no’ moments are those where I put yarn in a pot and forgot about it until I hear the water boiling. Never a good idea to dye with a baby around, lol.
6. Do you have any favorite plants or colours that you enjoy dyeing with the most?
You can probably tell from my collection that I am currently really drawn to neutral, earthy tones (although my next collection looks to be more vibrant).
I dye with extracts (which are concentrated powder forms of the plants they were derived from) or dye stuff, i.e. actual plants. It’s easier to gauge and expect a certain color with extracts. Using whole dye stuff is a different story altogether. You know the general color you can expect to achieve, but it really varies. Anything from the season to the variety to ripeness, etc can have an effect on color. Plus, sometimes it looks one color in the dye pot, and is totally a different color when you pull out the yarn. I probably prefer this, because of the unpredictability and the curiosity it allows me.
7. How do you find the culture of knitting in Armenia? Is it common to see people knitting on the street? Are there special Armenian knitting techniques you know of?
It’s mostly older people who knit in Armenia, although there’s definitely a rising interest amongst the youth as well nowadays. It is not really common to see people knitting on the streets though.
I was surprised to find out that there is, in fact, an Armenian color work technique. I personally don’t know how to do it, but I should probably learn now that I have discovered it!
8. Congratulations on your newly launched yarn store! I’m sure that starting up a new business can feel overwhelming. How are you finding it so far, and where do you see Oysters and Purls heading in the near future?
Launching the store was definitely one of the most exhausting, stressful, and gratifying things I’ve ever done. I didn’t even realize how much coordination goes into launching an online store and starting up a business until I had to do it myself.
I was really thrilled to have sales within the first few minutes of opening the shop. I didn’t sell out or anything, but it’s been so amazing receiving orders from people all over. I also received really great feedback from customers, both regarding navigating the site and also the actual look and feel of the yarn once they received theirs. I’m really happy with the way everything was received!
I really enjoyed working on a collection. It’s important to me that I tell a story, and the way this collection tied a piece of my own story with the place I grew up and the place the yarn was dyed and the inspirations that the colorways were drawn from did exactly that. I would like to continue telling stories through my future collections as well. We’ll see if that’s sustainable.
Apart from that, I also really want to embark on the next step of this adventure, which for me and Oysters and Purls is sourcing yarn locally. The yarn I use now is Australian new merino. And while it is natural and sustainable and really luxurious, it does not fully fit in with my dream of truly knowing the yarn from start to finish. I would really like to find a few local farms, and see if I can work with them. I am really craving that connection, I would like to get in the car and drive to the farm and chat to the farmers and have a hearty meal with them and watch the sheep run around… So, this is hopefully the next step for Oysters and Purls, fingers crossed!
9. What is your favorite fiber to work with and why?
Wool, hands down! And actually the more I work with wool the more I find myself drawn to woolier, rougher fibers. The reason I love working with wool is that it is this magical fiber that is at the same time soft and sturdy, rigid and bouncy, warm and airy, and so malleable….I don’t know, I just love it, haha!
10. With your newly started business, how easy are you finding it to develop a reasonable work/life balance? Do you have any tips for other budding business owners in the fiber industry?
I am pretty terrible when it comes to balance. I am a perfectionist by nature, which means I do things 100%, or I don’t do them. As a stay-at-home mom and a new business owner, it’s especially difficult to find that balance, because there’s really no way to separate them from each other. I end up feeling guilty one way or another, because I’m either working and therefore not giving my full undivided attention to my toddler, or vice versa.
The only way I get anything accomplished is by sacrificing many hours of sleep. I often stay up until way past midnight, because that’s when everyone’s asleep, and I can focus on what I’m doing with no background noise. I also use the weekends to do a lot of the big jobs, while my husband takes care of Anya.
One thing I find helpful is making a list and prioritizing. I know this sounds simple, but it’s also the most ignored step of getting things done. I can’t focus on the task(s) at hand if I don’t make a list, because my mind is all over the place, knowing that I have a billion things I have to finish. But the truth is once you write it out, you can see that some of those are clearly more important than other, and some of them you can just ignore.
One more thing I’d say is no more mindless, pointless scrolling through social media. If I’m gonna scroll through Instagram, I am going to be more proactive now. It could also just be that I have more to be proactive about these days, like interacting with friends I’ve made or replying to comments on my posts, but I make sure I am using my time wisely!
My ultimate tip for anyone who is considering starting their own business or pursuing an idea or a dream is to just do it. I spent too long thinking and overthinking and waiting for it to be perfect and waiting to perfect my skill, when really there’s no such thing. You will never look at your work and think “oh, now this is perfect”. There’s always going to be “this is amazing and I’m impressed with myself, but I can do so much better than this!”. Or, otherwise, we won’t grow. So, yea, just sit down and do it.
11. Do you have any upcoming collaborations planned with knitwear designers to feature your hand dyed yarns that you’d like us to know about?
Yes! Nothing coming up in the immediate future, but there are a couple of things in the works already. I will be collaborating with the super talented Verena of @thewoolclub on a design featuring my yarn, and there may also be a collaboration trio with the other two ladies who were granted the Creative Boss scholarship by Hanna Lisa Haferkamp! I am super excited to work with all of these amazing women!
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for the interview Am, and for sharing a behind-the-scenes look into your business! If you want to find out more about Am and her dyeing experiences at Oysters and Purls, make sure to sign up for her newsletter here and follow along on her Instagram account here.