If ever there was a business that was truly the personality of its owner then this would be Fyberspates. Jeni is the mastermind behind Fyberspates and everything that it has become, this Godmother of all hand-dyed yarn with its intrinsically bold colours, beautiful yarn and underlying sense of community is all Jeni.
Over ten years in the hand-dyed business has placed Fyberspates at the forefront of hand-dyed yarn. That experience twinned with the simultaneous growth of the Chester Wool Company makes Jeni and her partner Andy the people to go to for cottage industry wool. We spoke to Jeni about how Fyberspates began, how she became involved in Chester Wool Company (where you can source wool for hand-dying), and what advice she has for anyone thinking about giving hand-dying a go.
Sonic Knits: So, how did Fyberspates begin?
Jeni: I was studying for a post doc in Psychology at the time but wasn't particularly enjoying it so I'd spend my time browsing the internet. I found a knitting blog by a woman in New York and I'd never read anything like it, it blew my mind. It got me hooked on looking for other knitting stuff. I went on a couple of weaving courses and saw someone dying wool so I decided to give that a go from home.
I felt like the post-doc was the wrong thing for me so I started to look for something in textiles that I could do for a job and at the time there really wasn't anyone else doing the posh yarn. Or at least no one hand-dying on any sort of scale so I thought I'd better make the most of it.
At that time there was no where to buy undyed yarn from which was quite tricky but that was also part of the enjoyment. I'd spend hours and hours googling stuff and creating something that wasn't really there.
SK: In the early days, where did you get your undyed yarn from?
Jeni: My first hand-dyes were using Sygnet yarn. They sold this really gorgeous sock yarn in 50g balls, it was nylon merino. I used to wind the balls into hanks and then dye the hanks. After winding countless balls I realised that I couldn't keep doing it that way. It was at this point I found Andy, my now partner, on eBay. He was selling cones of aran and chunky yarn which I started buying. But I also wanted different stuff so I asked if he could make some tweaks to what he was selling. He thought the ideas were brilliant so we started working together and that's how Chester Wool Company began. Andy is Chester Wool Company and I am Fyberspates but also a director of Chester Wool.
Both Andy and I had been working on our own things for about a year before we became the same company but I helped him develop yarns and he helped me with Fyberspates. It was very much a collaboration where we used each other strengths to develop where the other person wasn't as strong.
SK: A lot of your business involves collaborations, how important is that to you?
Jeni: I'm a massive believer in collaborations. Two people together are much stronger than one person on their own. You can balance each other out and gain a different perspective. Plus it gives you access to each other's customers.
I like to be able to give people the opportunity to do something they might not have otherwise been able to afford to do. If you work together you can make things happen. I love collaborations and am a firm believer in them.
SK: How did you end up working on Coop Knits?
Jeni: We worked together on the Scrumptious Collection vol. 3 and shared a photographer. We spent the day together and got on like a house on fire. She is very relaxed and doesn't stress about anything, which is great as we are very similar. If something goes wrong we don't tend to worry about it and just move on. It is nice to have someone who is like that because we work together really well. I'm a great believer in just winging it.
SK: Is this how you ended up flying to South America without knowing any Spanish?
Jeni: This is funny as I never really think about things too much. The whole trip was that I was going to come up with lots of colours but being me I'd not planned any recipes and had no plan about what I was going to do when I got there. We arrived and got in this rickety old car which took us through the mountains where I was thinking 'I am going to fall off this mountain in a minute, this is a nightmare'. But we got there and it was this really big, fantastic studio. Only the guys didn't speak English, I don't speak Spanish and the guy looking after us was 'so I'll see you tonight'.
Although it didn't really matter. They recorded all my recipes as I made them up on the spot. None of the dyes worked remotely as I was expecting them to which was not great but then I thought 'I'll just make it up' and did.
SK: Do your dyes come from South America?
Jeni: Yes. I used to hand dye everything myself in the studio but doing this wholesale was not an option for me. I used to employ people to do it but it wasn't the same as when I did it. I couldn't afford to produce it for the price the shops needed it and in the quantities so we made the decision to have it hand dyed in South America by people that we work really closely with.
They've spent years developing their processes. I first saw it in 2008 when it was in a little house kettle dying and spreading the dye on with spoons. Over the years we reached the point where they could match my colours perfectly and they are unbelievable in what they do.
SK: Do you think we are starting to reach peak hand-dye now?
Jeni: I think there's more people buying it but also that there is more potential here. I think it might seem saturated because we have a lot more shows in the UK so it is more in our faces. Through Chester Wool Company I see companies that I've not heard of doing really good quantities of yarn. I think people are switching over to hand-dyed and as a smaller business you are more connected to your customer and able to give them really good customer service. I feel quite excited to be part of that really.
I buy hand dyed for myself, it is so pretty and I love it. I never get bored of it.SK: What advice would you give to something thinking of starting a hand-dyed business?
Jeni: Be willing to be business minded. Sometimes when you are being creative that can come second but the ones who are doing extremely well are the ones who are focused on everything. They present well, their message is clear and while they don't have to be doing something particularly different style-wise, they are consistent. Some hand dyers are quite erratic and it is difficult for customers to engage in something that isn't consistent and clear. Personally, that is what I have learned as I am quite an erratic person and do not necessarily do things in a logical way but I've had to work with people who have helped me create that consistency.
We were talking about collaborations earlier, collaboratins have a massive impact on your customer base.
SK: Collaborations help elevate everyone's business
Jeni: Absolutely, it has a massive impact. I remember the first time I noticed it for Fyberpates. I did a club with Amanda from Natural Dye Studio called the Unicorn Club. We'd leave clues all related to myths and legends. We merged our customer base and it had a huge impact. I've done them ever since.You can find out more about Fyberspates here and we'll be seeing you in the Fyberspates Ravelry group.