A Yarn Company Asks: What’s your Dream Color? We’ll make it!

That’s what happened to me last year! And it was a fun challenge to have thrown at me, you can imagine.

But let’s start at the beginning.

In Manchester, New Hampshire, at Interweave’s Knitting Lab event in the spring of 2014, I first met Laura and Sven Risom of North Light Fibers. North Light Fibers is a “mini-mill” on Block Island, Rhode Island, that produces yarns from alpaca, yak, bamboo, camel, and other fibers. North Light’s fibers are processed and spun on site, giving the small company complete control over the process, the color, and the final product.

While chatting with Sven in his market booth at the show, he revealed to me some exciting news: they had recently acquired a bale of cashmere from Scotland. He was in the very early stages of planning a new yarn with it, and casually started picking my brain: what did I think the market needed? What weight would a cashmere blend be best in? What kind of palette should a high-end cashmere come in? Moving around the booth, touching the lovely yarns on offer, surveying the company’s existing palette of subtle earthy and jewel tones, many with a soft heathery affect thanks to their carding techniques at the mill, I thought hard on Sven’s questions. I looked up at him and said, “I think we should keep talking about this!” With the passing of business cards and promises to stay in touch, we parted ways—me back to North Carolina, Sven and Laura back to the gorgeous island off the New England coast.

We did keep talking, and they pitched me an idea: would I like to work with them on developing a color for the new yarn? I loved the idea! I imagined a color that appealed to me personally and that also represented the earthy, classic aesthetic of Interweave Knits, and that would work for a spring collection—so I could commission a project in it for this issue. We decided to enlist the help of top knitwear designer Norah Gaughan, who would design the project for the magazine—the shawl that evolved, see below.

The North Light team had decided a sportweight blended with merino would make the best yarn for their line, but from there they were very open to ideas. Norah and I discussed color trends, forecasts, and our own personal preferences—and all signs pointed to ochre. And not just ochre, but ochre heathered with other colors. We sent attachments back and forth through email—clips of gold juxtaposed with bright orange, melon with hot pink, neon yellow with muddy ochre.

And then the folks at North Light started to try out these wild color ideas. All North Light Fibers yarns are processed onsite—after tumbling, the fibers are washed, de-haired, and dyed, then carded, spun, plied, and finished. By carding different colored fibers together before spinning a yarn, they achieve gorgeous heathery colors. This is how they experimented with the cashmere colorways. Once they had a solid ochre, they tried carding in different contrast colors.

After more shipping, ball-winding, swatching, and talking, they ended up with a color (and a yarn!) that we all loved. The final yarn is called Water Street and it’s a 40% cashmere, 60% superfine merino, plied sportweight. It has a delicious bloom and a slightly rustic elegance—a wonderful sense of “animal fiber”—in the knitted fabric. It’s drapey, soft, and there are subtle slubs of color throughout the plies.

Our color is called Spring Meadow and it features 6 different colors blended into the one–including a soft pink that really appeals against the bold gold. Sven says it “captures the colors of the Block Island meadows in the spring. 45% of Block Island is protected from development and the fields, meadows and trails are beautiful and come alive in the spring.”

I love this color. Norah did, too, and she quickly worked up the Five Points Shawl for our spring issue in it. She says, “The yarn is such a pleasure to work with. It has the stability of a wool yarn with a warm halo and softness from the cashmere. We used a larger needle for the shawl, so it worked up very quickly. I like the way the piece looked straight off the needles, but after a little steaming (or a quick rinse) the yarn blooms and the result is wonderful.”

It is difficult to capture on camera the subtle color variation in this yarn, but in real life it glows and has a wonderful depth that just feels cozy. Rich with hue. You have to see this yarn in person.

I hope you enjoy this new yarn, our beloved Spring Meadow color (perfect for that season just around the corner), the shawl, and the whole Spring issue of Interweave Knits. You can view all the designs in the issue here.


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