Meet Sally. Talented knitter, stitcher, embroiderer, maker. Hand-dyer of lovely yarn who lives on a lifestyle block in rural Wairarapa with hubby Grant and daughter Kate, two naughty dogs, a handful of sheep and some lovely chickens.
In 2011 her lifelong obsession with all things creative (she’s been knitting since she was four) led her to begin dyeing her own range of yarn, under the name of Verandah Yarns. Despite the relatively short time she has been on the yarnie landscape, she’s managed to create a big impact on the knitting scene with a successful etsy presence, healthy sales at craft events and knitting retreats, and a soon-to-be retail presence at Cruella’s in Nelson in addition to the currently small amount of yarn in Craft Country in Featherston. One only needs to look at the colourways she creates to see why:
Sally dyes predominantly in the finer yarn weights, specialising in quality bases like merino/silk, alpaca/merino blend, and 100% merino, fibres that she personally enjoys using and wants to share the experience of knitting with others. “I sort of fell into dyeing yarn. Having watched with fascination the likes of Morag (Vintage Purls) and my friend James (Joy of Yarn) produce such lovely yarn, I was keen to have a play myself. I also wanted to knit garments with beautifully coloured, semi-solid, hand-dyed yarn and everybody seemed to be producing mostly variegated yarns. I now mostly produce semi-solid colours. Sometimes I’ll hand paint some variegated skeins but my preference definitely lies with semi-solids.”
It’s a smart choice – semi-solid yarns are like hen’s teeth in New Zealand.
She continues “I’m a passionate sock knitter and really love knitting with finer yarns so I guess it was a natural progression wanting to use finer yarns to dye with. I also really love ‘luxury’ yarns such as silk, alpaca and cashmere. I’m currently trying out a beautiful merino/cashmere/nylon sock weight yarn that I think I will add to the range – it’s outrageously soft and beautiful to work with.”
Born and brought up in Wellington, Sally moved to Christchurch for her nursing training and lived there for ten years. She’s still a nurse today. She met Grant during ten years living and working in the Middle East and South East Asia.
“I’ve worked as a nurse for 35 years (gosh that makes me sound so old!!) and I’ve worked as an Emergency nurse for the last 22 years. I’d never do anything else. I love the unpredictable nature of the job and the need to think on your feet plus it’s a great feeling to have an injured or very sick person and help them feel better or stop hurting. Instant (almost) gratification! Emergency nurses are a very special breed of people – we put up with an awful lot on the job and it can be incredibly stressful much of the time but we still seem to manage to laugh a lot. I like that.”
When they returned to New Zealand, Sally and Grant initially settled in Wellington, but two years ago, found their dream home and moved to their lifestyle block in the Wairarapa.
In fact, the business is named after her verandah, which looks out onto part of the garden and a line of seventy year old elm trees that edge the river. “It’s my most favourite spot in the whole world to sit and knit or ponder and it’s the perfect place to watch the seasons come and go!!” she enthuses.
The lifestyle block is proving to be a great source of inspiration for colours. “I love lots of colours but mostly strong, intense, jewel-like colours. Reds and purples are particular favourites. I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings. We live in a rural setting with a large old garden next to a river so to me that is a very inspiring place to hang out. I keep a visual diary that has all sorts of paper, cloth, vegetation, feathers, bits of shell, twigs – in fact any manner of things glued into it that really inspire me. I also draw (not very well), paint and write in it when ideas pop into my head so I can refer back if I am having trouble deciding what colours to dye. Mostly though, I go on a whim and dye whatever I fancy. Initially it was a very haphazard and quite random process but now I am more organised and have developed recipes for repeatable colours or for colours that have ‘worked’. The great thing about dyeing is that you can always over dye if the colour is not right, so it can always be fixed!”
The 100% merino base is produced in NZ and so is the alpaca/merino mix but the others come from overseas. Most producers of yarn in New Zealand either don’t have what she is looking for or require purchases of large amounts, something that is not possible given the small nature of her business. “I would dearly love to use only NZ base yarns but at this stage of the business that seems unlikely because of the limited availability to small scale dyers such as myself.” It looks like there is plenty of potential for a smart New Zealand yarn manufacturer looking to grow its business offering…
Sally’s favourite yarn is the merino/silk 4ply because “it is so lovely to knit with and takes the dye beautifully and the baby alpaca/mulberry silk laceweight because it is just so soft and squishy!! Having said that – the merino/cashmere mix is fast becoming a firm favourite….”
Living where she is, Sally has a heightened regard for the need to consider the environment. “I am very aware of environmental issues and try to follow environmentally safe practises. Living rurally with things such as septic tanks and bore water has made me even more conscious of the importance of this. I am a passionate advocate of the living simply philosophy and try to tread a little lighter on this earth. I re-use the dye bath water as often as is practicable and when it’s finished with, it goes on the garden and not down the drain! I use acid dyes because of their availability, cost and they require only vinegar as a setting agent and I make my own laundry detergent and wool wash using only natural ingredients. I’m keen to have a play with making my own natural dyes but have some concerns regarding their colour fastness and the mordants needed to set the dye.”
What’s in the future for Sally? “It’s all about having some fun. I love the creative process involved in dyeing the yarn and I love meeting people at fairs/retreats who are as passionate about knitting as I am but I have an extremely busy life which is about to become even busier as next year I will be a full-time student (sustainable agriculture) who still has to work for a living AND manage a lifestyle block along with everything else. I’m very comfortable with things as they are in terms of the business.
I’m happy with where I’m at now although I’d like to have a shorter Ravelry queue and a much emptier basket of WIP’s!! I have a lovely life – there’s nothing I’d want to change. I’d like the business to grow but I don’t want to become solely a yarn-dyer. There are too many strings to my bow and too much stuff out there to do. I dream of us becoming self-sufficient, I’m desperate to learn how to shear our sheep, I’d love some alpacas and some pigs and I’d love to learn to spin, just for starters…
I hope I am a good ambassador of NZ yarns even though only two of the bases are NZ made and I certainly try to be very supportive of other NZ yarn producers. I think NZ crafters can be justifiably proud of the amazing talent and creativity this country produces.”
It’s truly inspiring to meet people like Sally – who have the guts to ‘give it a go’ despite being a busy working mum, lifestyle blocker and soon-to-be student! Her success is richly deserved, and I look forward to seeing her business continue to develop and grow!
To follow Sally’s adventures and see more of her wonderful environment and knitting adventures, visit her blog here.