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Why Sheffield Is The Ideal Home For Homespun Wonders

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Homespun Wonders is Katie Collins and her Mum, Heather, who live in Sheffield. We caught up with Katie to talk about the creative hub that is Sheffield, the inspiration for her yarn and her plans for the future.

Katie has been dying Yorkshire Dale Yarns for a year now and was the obvious choice for our February box not least because she creates some wonderful hand-dyed Aran yarn but also because the yarn colours she chooses are inspired by the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District around the City.

Katie moved to Sheffield from Colchester two years ago as her partner had a new job at Sheffield University. Her mum soon followed her from Norfolk and now lives in nearby Chesterfield. Having both been crafters all their lives, it made sense for both of them to work together to create hand dyed yarn.

“My mum and I have been crafters all of our lives,” explains Katie, “my Great-Aunt taught both my mother and I to knit from a very young age. I learned when I was 4 years old and have knitted and crocheted for years.  I ended up with this huge stash of shawls and blankets that in the end, from the suggestions of my partner, I put up on Etsy.

“But I love wool, the feel and the smell of it. I had colours in my head that I couldn’t get out so I thought I would have a go myself. My mum likes the same things as me so we thought we’d give it a go. The results were great.”

The industrial city of Sheffield may not seem like the most obvious of places for a hub of creativity but it is fast marking itself out as one of the North’s most artistic places. As Katie explains having moved up not knowing what to expect from Sheffield:

“Where we used to live in Colchester, Essex, I never met any other knitters. When I came to Sheffield I joined Ravelry to see if there were any knitters so I could make friends and there is so much of a community here. It is such a creative environment, you’ve got a lot of arts workshops happening and an Etsy Sheffield Team here. I meet up with people about once a month and there’s yarn-dyers, spinners, weavers and a lot of other artists. I was really surprised but I find it is definitely the North driving the creative industry.

“It is one of those cities where you have a town centre but then so much greenery around it. There really are several villages connected together and they all have a community spirit. Everyone has been welcoming here.”

It is not just the community in Sheffield which has supported Katie but the online community of hand-dyers who are working together that has bolstered her passion for Homespun Wonders.

“One of the nicest things I’ve found is that hand-dyers all seem to be happy to work together,” says Katie, “there is no ‘I don’t want to help you because you’re in competition with me’ and there is definitely something feminist about it all. You feel like you are part of a community, even with the customers.  I have customers connect with me on social media and contact me all the time to show me what they have made. It makes you feel part of something bigger.”

As we’ve looked at in previous interviews with hand-dyers, time and again it comes up that from a limited number of yarn bases comes an incredibly personal product that is tantamount to buying a piece of the dyer.

“Everyone has their own inspiration,” explains Katie, “Truly Hooked, for example, is very bright and colourful, neon at times. Whereas ours are much more muted colours. Everyone does it slightly differently. Some people boil it in their sinks, others will microwave and some have massive baths. It all comes out slightly different and that is a nice thing as I can use their yarn and not feel like I’ve waster my money. You are buying a bit of that dyer in a sense, which is nice. It is something you cannot get from commercially dyed yarn.”

“If you put out all the different yarns, I could tell which was from Dye Candy or Truly Hooked without labels as their style would come through. You just need to look at social media and see the dyers at the pot with their hair tied back getting covered in colour. You can always tell an indie-dyer from their hands.”

Yet not many indie dyers choose to dye Aran weight yarn. Katie explains her decisions for including this base in her repertoire.

“When I crochet I like to use a heavier weight so that’s really why we’ve included aran. It does soak up a lot more dye and therefore there is an added expense to dying it but it is hard to get hand-dyed aran which for us is a reason to do it. We also have a blue and a pink, Yorkshire Boy and Yorkshire Girl for our baby colourways in aran. Again this is really hard to come by and it is superwash so you could technically put it in the machine. I wouldn’t put it on high as the dye may fade but you can wash it. Our aran is so soft and fluffy though so it’s ideal for baby knits.”

Katie comes across as a very thoughtful and highly organised person and this shows through in the consistency of her products. The self-confessed ‘organisation nerd’ will calendarise dates for wool show applications to be the first to get the form submitted and has a giant book of recipes to ensure that each skein is as close a match to the last dye lot as possible.

“Even if the dye is a one-off we will record every step of the process. When we dyed all the Cowslip for the Sonic Knits box we dyed each individual yarn to the same recipe and then at the end we had a big bag of it and spent ages stroking it. My mum and I are perfectionists so we’ve put aside many yarns that we’ve felt haven’t been good enough before only to be told by our other halves that there was nothing wrong with them.”

Katie’s hopes for the coming year is to build on the successes of her first year of dying and attend a lot more yarn fairs. She will be attending Spring Into Wool in Leeds on 8 April 2017 and will be posted more fairs as they are confirmed.

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