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Next in my hand-dyer interview series: discover Monica, the dyer behind Round Mountain Fibers & why this yarn is so special =)
Note: This interview was stuck in my ‘drafts folder’ for a stupid amount of time. I was sure it had been posted long ago!
Q: So Monica, what led you to turn your relationship to yarn into a business?
A: Honestly, it never crossed my mind to pursue a career in the fiber arts. When I was in college I toyed with the idea of studying fashion design, but I didn’t really know how to go about doing that at my small liberal arts college where the majority of students seemed to be absorbed in the more hard-core intellectual disciplines like Philosophy, Literature or Comparative Religions. I graduated with a BA in the Visual Arts with a concentration in Architecture and Woodworking. I have enjoyed a varied career, dabbling in a variety of rather obscure art forms including Scientific Glassblowing.
I stumbled upon the fiber arts when I took a part time job at Frabjous Fibers, a fiber arts studio here in Brattleboro, VT. The work came naturally to me, and I became hooked on color. Every morning I’d pull into the parking lot and step out of my truck and I’d pause to just take it all in. At the edge of the parking lot was an old abandoned railroad siding, and it was always teeming with birds. At lunch I’d sit outside and watch the hawks fly over, and the occasional eagle flying up the connecticut river. That’s when I decided I needed to dye colorways inspired by the birds I love so much.
Q: What was your relationship to yarn before this?
A: My mother is from Colombia, and I grew up in Latin America. My mother sewed all my clothes, and she knit and crocheted all my socks and even my undergarments. She was always bent over a project: Sewing tiny little stitches, and knitting and crocheting in fine white cotton thread. My grandmother was a seamstress and fashion designer. Though she lived in a small village and didn’t speak French, she followed the fashions coming out of Paris (Coco Chanel was her favorite) and was constantly pushing the envelope when it came to women’s attire. I suppose I took all of this for granted, as one does as a child.
I became interested in knitting again when I moved to Vermont to go to college. The cold winters pair beautifully with wool and the fiber arts. Although my taste in colors is probably influenced by the lush tropical forests and farmland of my childhood, I find birds in winter to be particularly inspiring: A splash of color in an otherwise monochromatic world.
Q: Is Round Mountain Fibers your full time job?
A: In December of 2014 I left Frabjous Fibers to head out on my own. I loved my work so much, but I felt the constraint of working for someone else and I longed to stretch my wings. I work out of a little studio we built out of our old one-car garage. It’s a tight space: 16’ by 22’, but I love it. It has a little soapstone stove and a bright turquoise floor. My dye table looks out over my back yard at the bird feeders and the woods. I work full time, and my 13-year-old son helps me after school and in the summers. He’s a fantastic little apprentice, but I think he has loftier plans than working for his mom!
Up until very recently, I worked alone. I am a bit of a hermit, and enjoy the quiet of my studio. At the same time, I crave human interaction, so until recently I depended on my Facebook page for the intellectual and creative give-and-take that ultimately sustains me in my work. I am very fortunate to have found a great friend and co-worker in Francesca Bourgault, who is my new right-hand woman. She is taking on all the things I hate to do (billing, fighting with my website, etc.) and helping me get organized. We’re also developing patterns together, and that’s super exciting!
Q: What is your yarn dyeing process?
A: I dye in small batches (4 to 6 skeins at a time). It’s a very labor intensive approach, but it’s meaningful. I have a relationship to every skein, and every time it is a different experience. There are so many variables that affect the dyeing process on a given day (everything from the quality of the light coming in the windows to how long a batch of dye has been sitting to the temperature of the water). I also dye fiber, and switching from yarn to fiber is always a trip. It’s a totally different experience. Same approach, different animal.
Q: How did you learn?
A: I learned everything I know from Stephanie Shiman at Frabjous Fibers & Wonderland Yarns. I owe her a debt of gratitude for introducing me to the world of dyeing fiber and yarn. I will always be grateful to her for sharing her medium with me, and teaching me, quite literally, everything I know about yarn and fiber.
Q: What inspires your colourways?
A: My colorways are inspired by bird plumage: Primarily that of North American birds. I love the play of color on feathers: The subtle gradient, punctuated by bands of contrasting color. All of my semisolids are based on my colorways, so they mix and match well and complement one-another.
Q: Do you crochet, knit, or do anything else yarn-related? If so, what; how did you learn; what do you love about it; etc.
A: I absolutely love spinning. I really enjoy how physical and intuitive and meditative it is. Knitting is more of an intellectual process for me. While I really enjoy knitting, in the right setting spinning can be truly blissful.
Q: Any other hobbies outside of the yarn world?
A: I am a gardener. I love perennial gardening and propagating plants. I’m learning to vegetable garden but I’m not always on top of the weeds. I really hate thinning sprouts too, so my harvests aren’t what they could be. I raise chickens and sell eggs. My partner and I are renovating a little 1950s cape that we’re slowly turning into a Arts-and-Crafts style bungalow. My favorite hobby is napping, preferably in the sunshine.
Q: Tell us about your family, your pets, where you’re located, and where you’re from.
A: My partner and I live in Brattleboro, VT with my beautiful thirteen-year-old son Gavin, and our decrepit little dog “Little One.” I have a way of finding ancient dogs in need of care. This is my third geriatric dog. I promised my son the next one will be under the age of 12! We have chickens and a garden, and we love exploring the woods and rivers and streams here in the beautiful Connecticut River valley.
Q: Explain the values behind your brand and behind the person you strive to be.
A: I’ve always wanted to make the world a better place and I’ve often felt guilty for pursuing art forms rather than actively trying to change the world. So I try to do what I can with my brand to bring attention to the importance of respect for other human beings and for the natural world. I am a staunch Feminist (proud of it) and ally to Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and other Queer folk. I am working with several designers, and it is very important to me that our garments be gender neutral. I want beautiful colors for beautiful people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
Q: What are your favorite yarns (colours, fibers), and how do your favorites compare to your bestsellers?
A: Thank goodness most of my favorites are also bestsellers. I am trying to get over my aversion to yellow. It is a pain in the ass to dye (the tiniest speck of powdered dye will find its way onto a yellow skein. This is especially true in a tiny studio). My favorite colorways are those that combine bright colors with subtler more muddied colors. I also really like mixing cool colors with warm colors.
Q: Where do you hope your company goes next?
A: I have given this a lot of thought. Self-employment is rough. I’ve worked for so many talented small business owners who were overrun with paperwork and accounting and things of that nature that kept them from doing what they loved. So I thought long and hard about how to ensure that my business would support me in the kind of lifestyle I wanted. The conclusion I reached is that I needed to cap growth and keep my business small. Anyone who’s written a business plan will tell you that projections are bullshit. But they help you map out possible outcomes, and I crunched the numbers and decided that I would cap my business at 50 LYSs (Local Yarn Shops). So I am working hard to distribute my stores across the country. It’s tough because I’m accepting stores on a first come first serve basis which means some of my stores may be quite small.
I trust that my brand will speak for itself, and that with the help of the internet, my LYSs will be able to offer my products to everyone who wants them. In a nutshell, I’d rather sell more yarn to fewer stores, and be able to focus on what I love, which is designing colorways and experimenting with new ways of applying color to fiber. My business is less than a year old (I launched the product officially at the Summer 2015 TNNA show in Columbus Ohio). We just added a Yarn Club (a subscription service for my LYSs with exclusive colorways and semisolids) so that I can continue to explore new colors without growing my business in size.
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