Since then I've also been on a little private knitters' retreat here in Australia with Briony at Tarndie - a weekend of laughter and good friends. What I admire about Briony is her excitement for what she does, she is driven by colour and she is a generous and gentle soul - she is always seeking to further her knowledge about the dyeing process and completely willing to share her knowledge. She embodies that nurturing community aspect of crafters that I just love.
I asked Briony to share a bit about herself so you too can get to know her. Here's what she had to say.
In your journey as a craft practitioner, what led you down the path of hand-dyeing yarns?
It all began, what seems like many moons ago when I was testing a pattern. The final product was going to be gifted to my nephew as part of his birth gift. I approached my friend Jo from Meraki Studios to help me create some yarn. Jo was magnificent! She helped me choose colours and a process to dye the yarn.
I was hooked! I knew then that I wanted to dye, but I also knew that I didn’t want to do it in a way that was already readily available. I chose gradients as at the time there didn’t seem to be any dyer within New Zealand that was offering this style of dyed yarn.
What is your favourite yarn base to work with? What guides you when choosing yarn bases for Gradient?
My personal favourite base to dye with is White Gum Wool. That the yarn is ethically grown in Tasmania and then processed in New Zealand really resonates with me.
I have tried to establish a large selection of yarns to offer the crafter a personalised choice with a wider variety of options. Some people prefer superwash, some like cashmere or perhaps silk. Each yarn is suitable for different projects. I also like to stock a range of yarns to suit a range of price points, which is very important to me.
You’ve been experimenting with natural dyes for the past year or so. Can you tell us a little about this journey. What piqued your interest with regards to natural dyeing? What are some of the challenges, pitfalls, surprises and joys of natural dyeing for you?
My journey on natural dyeing has been relatively short but a slow, relaxed one so far. I first started with Indigo, then moved on to other natural dyes. I often lament that we don’t have a big enough yard to plant specific Eucalyptus trees! Maybe one day…
Each time I naturally dye I can never really be sure what I will produce. There are so many factors that come into play, each presenting their own challenge. Each batch is its own unique and individual chemistry, reproducing a colour exactly again and again is something that I have not managed to succeed in.
My gradient brain had always been ticking over with the question: Can I produce a gradient that has been naturally dyed? Yes, it can be achieved! It does however take more thought and patience, but I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I do succeed. Not all attempts are successful though! Behind every dyer there will always be a few failed attempts at something, but I see this as part of the craft. Without failures there will be no learning and special one off projects.
Can you share with us a little bit about your dyeing space and how you approach dyeing as a business. Do you have set hours you work?
My hours of work are currently dictated by when my children are at school. Of course I need to be flexible around these times too. Sometimes when I have a large workload I will work into the evening, or on a weekend. This is still a rare occurrence as I try to keep family time as family time.
When my husband and I built our current house, I was very fortunate that I was able to extend the garage out to the side to accommodate a dyeing space. My regret is I wish I made it larger! As I do most dye processing during the day, I get to benefit from the energy that is created by the solar panels that we have on our roof, making the most of the beautiful Australian sun!
Obviously your brand is synonymous with gradient yarns. This looks like a very time-consuming process. How long does it take you to dye a skein of gradient yarn? Has the time frame shortened with more experience or with more skeins in the pot?
Gradient styled yarns do take a lot of time to create. My dyeing style has completely changed from when I started. Back then I used to handpaint each knitted blank, but I have found using a pot enables the colours to blend and flow over each other, creating the smooth, gradual blends that I favour.
Before I can dye a skein I have some prep work to do. Each skein is knit into a blank. I don’t handknit these! That would be a monster of a job! I use a knitting machine to help me. The reason that I create knitted blanks is so I can control meters and meters of yarn, the last thing I want is a big tangle. Over time I have become very familiar and proficient with my knitting machine and tangles are a thing of the past.
The timeframe has shortened with a greater focus around each step to ensure I maximize my creative energy. Dyeing in colour batches is the best way, and with this process I can dye two Gradients at once. I also need to keep track of different yarn bases as I dye, pegs and old business cards with labels on the back that I have laminated to help with this.
I love that you’ve chosen to share your gradient dyeing technique in classes and in an ebook you sell. Why is the sharing of knowledge like this important to you and your business?
Through a lot of trial, frustration, error and joy, I found a technique that works to consistently create gradients in an easy, no fuss way. I’d first prefer to share the opportunity for others to enjoy what has been a rewarding learning experience process for me. Handing it on to others has always been important to me. I also enjoy seeing other dyers run with the idea and make it their own! Dyeing is such a fascinating craft. Everyone has their own way of dyeing yarn. I am constantly surprised and amazed at the talent that is out there.
As well as dyeing, you’ve also released a number of knitting patterns. How did you find this process? Will we see some more patterns from you in the future?
I never in a million years thought that I would add Knitwear Designer to my belt! I took a design course with Kelly Brooker of Pekapeka. We all designed beanies during the course. There certainly was a flood of beanies that year! It was fantastic to see each designer creating their piece, and hearing the backstory behind each one.
I’ve since gone on to design a few shawls, and I was privileged to be approached by Rebecca from Augustbird to create a pattern for a club she ran.
I have many pattern ideas running around in my brain, it’s just a challenge to get them all out and onto paper! I’m definitely not the only one in that boat!
Are you a process or project/product knitter? Or a bit of both? Explain.
Both! It really depends on my mood. Sometimes I like the mental challenge of learning a new technique or stitch pattern. It’s like solving a puzzle as I go along, frustrating as heck at the start! I might be reading a pattern by a designer I haven’t knit from before, or maybe the stitch pattern is completely new, or the construction! So many variables, but that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction you have when your item is completed and you have conquered the new stuff! Joy!
I also enjoy knitting for the product. A beanie, gloves, socks and shawls are usually my go to items. These are fun to create, usually fast, and I can make them as simple or as elaborate as I like.
What are your favourite colours to dye? Are these colours the same as the ones you prefer to knit with and/or wear? Why is this do you think?
My everyday wardrobe is full of muted colours, so I try to dye outside of this zone. Fashion magazines definitely come in handy and also seeing what the trends are with knitwear designers. #specklesaresohotrightnow is one that I’m sure we have all heard of!
I don’t have any particular favourite colour to dye, although creating the rainbow gradients are always fun!
What are you currently knitting?
I just completed my Summer Festival Cardigan and I would like to knit another.
On my needles right now is a pattern in development, and “Gypsy Drop” by Pekapeka which I am knitting in 4ply. I don’t have many WIPs (Works In Progress) as my brain can't cope with lots of unfinished items taunting me.
What five words would you use to describe yourself. Can you tell our readers a little bit about Briony beyond the persona of a dyer?
Quirky, Introverted, Abstract, Courageous, Expressive
What can we expect to see from Gradient in the next six to twelve months? What have you got in the pipeline?
There are a few long term projects on the go at the moment! Gradient will be at the Bendigo Wool and Sheep Show this year. Originally I wasn’t going to go as a stallholder, but an opportunity became available and I faced the fear and grabbed it!
There will also be a Yarn Club available later in the year, a first for me! The yarn is picked, I’ve dyed the prototype and the pattern design is happening! I am aiming for sign ups to be around August.
You can find Briony and Gradient in the following places. Make sure you pop over and say hi!
Briony has generously donated two prize packs for Milo May. If you haven't started knitting a milo yet these are sure to be an incentive.
KAL Prize 1: Yarn - Main Street DK "Glow" colourway. 100% Australian Wool, 200grams/400m approx. 10 Meow Stitchmarkers (Gold Tone). 1 hand block printed Project Bag
KAL Prize 2: Yarn - White Gum Wool DK "Spring Rainbow" colourway. 100% Tasmanian Merino, 100grams/236m approx. 10 Meow Stitchmarkers (Gold Tone). 1 hand block printed Project Bag
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Who am I?
Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
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