Designer Q&A: Caroline Sommerfeld, Part II

When Caroline Sommerfeld founded Ancient Arts Fibre Crafts , she began rocking the yarn world with beautiful hand-dyed fiber and yarns, and she hasn’t stopped yet! That’s why we asked her to design a custom Interweave colorway and an exclusive color-pooling cowl, which you can only get in the Lovecats Cowl Kit . Here, Caroline discusses her career path and her design process.

Read more about her company’s commitment to animal charities in Part I of this Q&A .

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Caroline’s Lovecats Cowl, in colorway Silver Tabby Ursula.

Q: You came to yarn and knitting design on a roundabout path. What did you do before founding Ancient Arts Fibre Crafts (AAFC)?

A: This one is a bit hard to answer as I really don’t see myself as coming to yarn and knitting design on a roundabout path. To me, AAFC was in a lot of ways inevitable, because knitting and colour has always been an integral part of my life. I’ve been a knitter for about 48 years now, a painter for 46 years, designing for myself for 35+ years, and self-publishing designs since 2011. Yarn has always been part of my life in one form or the other, and I had always had a goal of having a fibre career of some sort. In fact I have an archaeology degree for that very reason—I was fascinated by people and wanted to work with textiles. I started the company as a practical way to deal with the need for good materials for the classes I taught, but I moved into yarn once it was feasible to do so. So here goes with an answer for the above as best I can.

Yarn and the fibre arts have always been at the core of my life! I got started knitting at the age of 4, when I bullied my poor mother into teaching me to knit. I think she thought I would give it up, but much to her surprise, by the end of the first day I had knit my first scarf. Anything to do with textiles interested me from an early age, so I learned to embroider at the age of 5, and to sew, and to dye fabrics and Easter eggs (Pysanky style) by the age of 8, to crochet at 10, and have remained fascinated with it ever since. As an adult I’ve learned to spin, weave, and rug hook—anything to do with yarn, and I want to know about it. Knitting is of course my first love, and so is the yarn that I knit. That led me to spinning about 20 years ago, which taught me a lot about the characteristics of yarn. I’ve been designing for myself for more than 35 years and finally started self-publishing patterns as yarn support for my yarn company.

Professionally, prior to AAFC I was an accountant and worked as a corporate controller for many years, and then made a career change to sociology and ended up as a quantitative researcher (aka statistician) for a couple of years. The business background, while very fulfilling, was not what I truly wanted to do, as my passion lies with art and fibre! So how did I get here? Well, at the same time I pursued the business career, I taught craft-related classes. About 15 years ago, I started teaching spinning classes, and that put me on the path to the business I have now. AAFC began through providing top-quality spinning supplies and spindles, but it grew, thanks to yarn and colour being at the center of my heart. In 2011, the business transitioned into yarn dyeing and has never looked back.

Q: What was your biggest challenge in starting AAFC?

A: Looking back, the biggest challenge I faced was all about courage. I wanted desperately to have a career that would let me express my artistic side as well as my analytical side, but that means giving up a secure means of income, while at the same time putting yourself out there in a way that is not something you do as a standard business person. The best art to me is when the artist is saying something about what has meaning to them, about life, about values—and to show that to others takes courage! One might not think yarn would qualify, but each and every colourway and skein I dye is a creation that comes from what is important and meaningful to me. One might think finding the funding for a business was the biggest challenge, but with my business background that wasn’t the case for me—instead it was putting myself out there.

Q: What’s your biggest source of inspiration for colorways (besides dogs and cats!)?

A: My colourway inspirations all come from my love of nature and art, and from my life stories—really each and every colour is a story! I make sure our colour offerings are current with styles and trends, including the Pantone colour forecasts, but they all have to have a rhyme or reason behind them. They have (and are) a story. It might be a favorite place in the world (many of my colours are inspired by the West Coast such as Where the Coho Go or Under the Sea), or a memory of my childhood (Kitsch or Three Valley Gap), but they all have to have an over-arching narrative of some sort. They all tie into nature in some way and that means that the colours themselves must be reflective of natural colours. I do many bright colours, but I don’t usually dye colours that you wouldn’t find if you look outside. For me, nature is inspiration and that translates to my colour palette.

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Caroline in her yard, soaking in nature’s colors to translate them into yarn (or hair).

Q: How do you choose your cat and dog colors?

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Caroline worked from a photograph of Ursula to create Silver Tabby Ursula yarn. Here Ursula poses with the finished product.

It’s a lot of fun to choose and develop colours for the Meow and Woof lines. People tend to choose yarn from these collections that looks like the pets they have known and loved, so the Meow line is very much based around the coat colours we find in cats. It is less based around breeds (unless there is a specific coat pattern most associated with a breed like a Siamese or a Russian Blue) because there are a lot of natural coat colours and patterns in cats. It’s fun to mix it up too, in an effort to represent the variation we find in cats and to be creative, so for example we have a colourway, Lilac Point Siamese, with both coat colour and eye colour!

Each colour in the Meow collection is designed to knit or crochet in a particular way that best captures the feel of the original model. Sometimes there may be more than one colourway for a specific colour of cat (e.g., Orange Tabby and Orange Tiger Tabby) so that we can better represent the variation in that coat colour. I like to run contests to get customer input on these, and they have resulted in some great ideas and some great names, like Tickle My Tummy or Silver Tabby Ursula!

The Woof collection is a little different. There are many cat colours that people identify with (e.g. orange tabby, calico, tuxedo), but dogs are more commonly identified by breed than by colour. Since there are hundreds of breeds of dogs, it is very hard for us to represent them all, so we’ve chosen the breeds in the collection by popularity or by special characteristics (for instance, Saint Bernards who are associated with rescue work). This does get challenging because many dog breeds are actually the same colour, but we will happily put alternate names on the yarn of course.

Spreading the Love for Lovecats Cowl!