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Q&A with Dye Ninja

Fiona Brennan

When deciding on the yarn for our December box, Dye Ninja was really a no-brainer with the already existing strong relationship between Sheila, who is Dye Ninja and Karie Westermann, who designed the Byatt shawl. If you are ever interested in how much our collaborators have an input, this month Sheila gave wonderful direction and advice for the yarn our club boxes contained.

It was pure serendipity that for our Literature box we ended up with a Terry Pratchett yarn because I failed to inform Sheila of our theme (a common thing that I forget people cannot read my mind), but it was the happy accident that finalised the decision.

Sheila kindly agreed to let us look into the world of Dye Ninja and we are very grateful for this.

When did you start dying yarn and what led you to this? 

It all started about five years ago when my husband gave me a dyeing workshop with (fabulous) Lilith at Old Maiden Aunt as a Christmas present.  I started dyeing a project’s worth of yarn just to get the deep and vibrant colours I love on yarn bases I wanted to knit with.  Then in 2014 I got made redundant, swore I was "not going back to IT come hell or high water", we moved back to Scotland, and I started dyeing in earnest.  

My first yarn fest was Edinburgh Yarn Fest in 2015.  I had about 300 skeins of yarn and sold three-quarters of everything I had.  It took off from there.

When did you start knitting and who, if anyone, taught you? 

Actually, I crocheted first.  I was taught by Great Aunt Lena (I think she must have known Terry Pratchett!  She was Granny Weatherwax) when I was very small and I don’t remember a time before I could crochet.  I certainly crocheted before I could read.  I used to make matinee sets for babies and the local wool shop sold them for me.  It was good additional pocket money.

 My mother’s aunt Mary taught me the basics of knitting, and Mrs Duggan persevered with me at school.  It needed perseverance and Mrs Duggan deserved a medal.  I was never as good at knitting though - I’m still not great.  My fair isle work is definitely flaky but I do a lot more knitting than crochet now, so hopefully that will improve.

You have a real style to your colours, what inspires your dying choices? 

 Gosh, thank you. I’ve always loved stained glass.  I wanted colours that had that look about them, as if they were lit from within.  I still try to get a bit of life into every colour I dye - even dark grey.

You have a Discworld theme of yarn, has the work of Terry Pratchett been influential on your creativity?

Terry Pratchett has been hugely influential in my life.  His compassion, clever humour, silly humour, sharp-eyed people-watching and delight in words all resonate with me.  He’s helped me out of a couple of dark places (as has knitting) and he definitely influenced my choice of husband (a story for another day).  I just love Sir Terry and the world is a thinner and less interesting place without him.

Fav. characters - Nanny Ogg, Sam Vimes, Detritus and the Librarian.

David Bowie was another huge influence, I think some of my love of colour comes from teenage years of painting gold circles and brightly coloured lightning on my face!  And dyeing my hair - I had a big swirl of orange that ran around my head when I was about 19 (and working as a civil servant…) And being ok with being noticed.  And loving difference -even when it’s spiky.  

The Weatherwax colour [for December] is a bit like that.  It’s so vibrant that if you leave it in a dull corner it’ll light it up, but it’s not for everyone and a little goes a long way.  It has a bit of Granny Weatherwax sharpness.

You've decided to donate £2 of each sale of Discworld yarn to Alzheimers Research. Is this solely because Pratchett suffered from the disease or is there more personal reasons? 

Both of my in-laws suffered from the disease too.  I feel that just as we’re getting on top of cancer and AIDS this is the new scourge of the Western world.  And Sir Terry got it talked about.

But also, I think it’s all well and good to take inspiration from someone else’s work, but - I have to make it my own; I have to acknowledge the borrowing; and I have to give something back.  It’s my way of doing that.

Our pattern this month is by Karie Westermann. You've worked closely with her before. How important is it for you to develop relationships with designers and become involved in collaborations? 

Karie is just lovely. And relationship and collaboration is very, very important to me.  

Great Aunt Lena believed that babies and little ones needed to be knitted/crocheted for. That it tied them into the world (how witchy is that?).  I think that’s true of adults too, and the craft-y community is very good at integrity, caring, laughing, being authentic, loving - and passing it around.  I need and want that sense of connectedness with people and spirit that comes from working with others on joint projects, or just solving problems or making new things happen.  

Kindness makes the world go around and connectedness holds it all together - who wouldn’t want to participate in that?  And it comes out in your crafting. 

Missed our December box? We have a few available here.



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