It’s no secret that I’ve got a bit of a crush on Circus Tonic Handmade‘s yarns. They are simply gorgeous and if I had my greedy little way, I’d own much more of this beautiful yarn, in particular Revelry Sock.
Why do I like it? It is soft. Super soft. And it doesn’t split on the needles. Despite its softness, it is hard wearing. And let’s not forget the talent of the hard working dyer who makes the prettiest colourways. But equally importantly, it’s the finished result that really gets me – I just love the way this yarn turns into amazing looking garments that look and feel stunning! I like it so much that I can’t seem to keep the yarn in my stash as it keeps getting used for projects! This is an interesting development for this compulsive yarn
I thought it would be nice to know more about Hannah Ginn, mother-of-three, wife, scientist and creative energy behind Circus Tonic Handmade, and she kindly agreed to an interview!
Here is our conversation:
I understand that until recently, you worked as a Molecular Geneticist. Dyeing yarn is a bit of a change! Why did you choose to become an indie dyer?
You will surprised to know that I have met quite a few ex-scientist yarn dyers. Maybe it’s something to do with not being afraid of “lab work” or confidence with working with exact amounts of chemicals and liquids. The actual chemical reactions taking place are interesting….how you can alter them with acidity levels or the actual fibre used. We are very process driven people, so the prep, dyeing and then producing a saleable skein takes many many steps. Once you factor in weather, the attention to detail needed for planning stock updates might just be our forte!
Once I found luxury hand dyed yarns…and even before….I found the yarn selection brought me so much joy during a knitting project. I was completely in love. Once I stopped working to take care of our three young kids, I desperately wanted to have a business ticking over that involved my love of yarn and something I could devote energy to. I read books, watched as much You-tube content as I could, reached out to dyers and experimented for months on 20g mini skein samples I made. I was always on Etsy buying yarn anyway….and started to really pay attention to why certain products jumped out at me. Sometimes I didn’t hesitate to buy, and I tried to figure out why.
Why the name Circus Tonic Handmade?
Our house is a madhouse, like a circus. Our surname is Ginn where you pronounce the G as in gate. Many people say Gin as in the drink. So that’s one reason for the Tonic. The other meaning of tonic is that craft, knitting and making by hand is a remedy or salve for the crazy busy life many of us lead. Circus Tonic Handmade.
What did you look for when you selected the bases for your range?
The yarn sourcing is the hardest bit by far. As I knit a lot of kid knits, I was looking for soft to the skin, superwash but tougher yarns. I was looking to source yarn as locally as possible that I could sell for affordable prices. I started with only a few bases. As my business has grown and favourite friends and customers have let me know their hearts’ desires, I am about to expand with a super luxe silk, cashmere and merino blend, a merino bamboo blend and a sparkle sock base. I am also about to bring out a 10 ply heavy worsted weight 100% merino that I am in love with and need to knit hats out of immediately!
I love that you used bird colours as the inspiration for your first collection. I’ve personally always thought that nature gives the best inspiration! What inspired you to choose birds? What’s next?
To be honest, I was nervous about colour theory. I wanted to offer muted, tonal shades that were sophisticated and in the league of some of my favourite dyers. I knew what I liked but had no idea where to start. I have always collected antique books on natural history subjects, and I live on the coast of Australia, so with the combination of the scenery on the doorstep and the beautiful illustrations in my books, I felt ready to tackle colours for yarns that I could not find in the marketplace.
My next collection has finally settled on The Antipodean Garden. Native flora and fauna of our Pacific region…including the introduced favourites we all grow or would love to grow if we had a garden. I will try to capture the gardens of our childhoods….or present…or future. Our grandmothers’ gardens…or the little strip of planting in the town centre near the bus stop. There are an incredible range of stunningly beautiful, wearable colours to choose from and I am really looking forward to attempting this!!
How long have you been knitting for? How did you learn? Has your knitting influenced your choice of dyeing style?
I was taught as a child, and then took up the needles with a vengeance while I was expecting my third baby due in our winter. I had wanted to learn for several years and in all those evenings not drinking wine focusing that pregnancy nesting tunnel vision, I knit about 30 baby cardigans, found Ravelry, found Etsy and never looked back!!! I watched video tutorials, bought a whole lot of books and again, experimented!
I have tried a lot of different styles of hand dyed yarns. I love speckled yarn for striped shawls, tonal semi solids for baby knits, one colour shawls and hats. I love saturated yarns for lace and minimally dyed yarns for hats with cables. There is such a thing as that magic moment when you absolutely chose the right yarn for a pattern. I suppose I’m conscious to offer all those possibilities to my customers. I also dye the same colourways slightly differently to suit each base…as a nylon sock yarn will take dye very differently to a relaxed ply DK wooly yarn. I try to be sympathetic to each base to let it sing “pick me!!” I like adding splashes of surprises so that there is interest held throughout the knit.
I’m really impressed at how quickly your yarn has become so popular. I’m not surprised though! Quite a few designers have also already produced work in your yarn. Do you have a favourite design so far?
Thank you! There’s that tunnel vision coming into good use again! I won’t lie, I’ve worked very, very hard on this business. I have worked seven days a week since well before I launched the shop. However, it doesn’t feel like work. I can still look after my children and produce semi decent meals. I don’t iron or mop….but to be honest, I never really did. I love interacting with everyone, and meeting so many brilliant, supportive creative people. That has been the best surprise!! This new community has encouraged and supported me and I will be forever grateful.
I don’t have a favourite design so far. I am floored with amazement seeing every single one of them. I get all fainty…I just can’t believe it. There are some seriously talented people out there and I am beyond thrilled that people have been picking up the yarn and loving it as much as I do. It makes me very proud. Can you say that about yourself?! I just did!
Favourite moment as an indie dyer to date?
Working for many years behind the scenes in labs within a large research organisation you are pretty much nameless. It’s exciting work and there are great people but of course personality is just something that gets in the way, rather than something to be celebrated. Everyone enjoys seeing their name out there and so to be totally honest, seeing my yarn reviewed and talked about on blogs that I have read religiously for many years……well there’s that faint feeling again, it’s so awesome!!!
In real life, favourite moments have happened standing over the dye pots and seeing the dye settle in the way I was hoping for. It is fascinating and really fun. One of my favourite parts of the long process from cone to postage, is skeining the yarn up into hanks once it has dried. That is the moment when you see what the customer will see…and the form of the yarn that as a buyer for many years I would base my decision process on. I love seeing a skein of my own yarn….it’s very addictive and I will hopefully be doing a great deal more of it in the coming years!
Thank you Hannah, for sharing a bit about yourself and your dyeing with us.
As part of this interview, Hannah very generously offered to donate a skein of a custom colourway to readers. We agreed on a little bird that we share in Australia and New Zealand – the Silvereye.
To enter the draw to win this skein, I’m going to take a leaf out of My Sister’s Knitter’s blog (if you haven’t already, have a look at Andi’s post about Circus Tonic Handmade – she has a giveaway happening there too!) Visit Circus Tonic Handmade’s etsy store, and comment here about which colourway you like the best. Or tell me which flower from your garden you would like turned into a yarn colourway! Don’t forget to include your email in the appropriate place in the comment form or note your Rav ID in the comment so I can contact you if you win. Entries close on Tuesday, 22 March 2016.
Lastly, for New Zealand readers, Circus Tonic Handmade will be on the indie shelf at Holland Road Yarn Company in April!! Here’s a sneaky peek from Hannah’s Instagram feed (@circustonichandmade) of what you will see next month (notice there are a few skeins of Silvereye especially made for this shelf…)
Personally, I’m hyperventilating at the thought of all those beautiful yarns headed our way! Hopefully I will get a chance to visit the store!!