I am very excited about today’s interview with Jennifer Beamer of Expertly Dyed! Why? Well, Jennifer was one of the first spinner-instructors I found online when I bought my drop spindle. Her YouTube videos guided me through my initial attempts at making yarn; and then, whenever I moved on to the next stage, sure enough, she had a video ready to answer my questions. It was like she could read my spinning mind! I found myself sharing her videos with other new spinners and even reporting back to her with proud pictures of my first yarn . . .
Come to find out, Jen is a former, fellow C-U spinner who knew many of my guild-mates. And, she learned to spin and dye from Beth–my fleece-trade buddy. Small world, indeed! For these and many more reasons, I am very happy to have Jennifer’s words of wisdom featured here.
Jennifer sent along some fun and inspiring photos as well and I thought I would kick off this post with those images [all courtesy of Jennifer Beamer].
How did you catch the spinning bug?
I got into spinning in an unconventional way. My main goal with my Museum Studies dissertation was to do something of a scientific nature because I was working towards a master’s of science degree, at the University of Leicester. At the time, I was a volunteer at the local art museum in Champaign, IL, Krannert Art Museum, and worked primarily in their Pre-Columbian gallery. I enjoyed looking at their textile collection–I was just branching out into knitting with natural fibers and gained a deeper appreciation for their textiles, but I also had an incredible amount of respect for the conservators who kept it safe. I hadn’t been able to do much knitting because of a large school/work load, so I made the leap from hobby to scientific study; by focusing my research on lighting techniques for textiles, I would allow my growing fascination for spinning, dyeing, and weaving to burgeon. If you have seen a textile on display, more than likely you noticed that it was dark and difficult to see. Museums in the States have a general standard of 50 lux exposure, but the goal of my dissertation was to see how light interacts with dye and fibers, and use that information to either suggest other lighting techniques (to make displayed textiles easier to see) or at least devise a way to monitor light damage so museum professionals can make risk assessments for textiles in various states of decay. I was operating my experiments without a budget, and I didn’t have time to write up a grant proposal, so I was forced to figure out a way to get a hold of archaeological samples so I could destroy them with light. I couldn’t campaign to museums for archaeological samples, so under my time crunch, I decided that I would make the samples. I learned how to spin during the last weekend in January 2010, and had exactly two days to be proficient enough with spinning alpaca so I could weave and dye the samples which would soon be shot at with high powered lasers (a courtesy made by the fantastic researchers in the Physics department at UIUC) to facilitate a rapid aging process. Through the stress of experiments, analyzing results, and writing my dissertation, my fingers kept itching to spin more alpaca. When my stress level reached a critical node, because I was writing, working, and teaching martial arts, I broke down and picked up my $5 spindle and spun the rest of my alpaca. I had found nirvana.
Who are or were your favorite teachers along the way (online or otherwise)?
The CU Spinners and Weavers Guild were primarily my teachers. They taught me so much, and did so willingly. Aside from them, most of my learning about color came from Jenny Dean and Deb Menz. In my early months of spinning, I mostly just relied on my personal experiences and what they could teach me. Even today, I comb over my own work and make mental notes for the future so I can be in a constant state of improving my handspun. I do like reading articles from Spin-Off and PLY magazine, and I have a great respect for them as teachers too. And I couldn’t possibly forget about all of the fans and friends of Expertly Dyed–not only do they keep me on my toes with the plethora of questions I get asked each day, they keep me pushing boundaries and exploring other facets of fiber arts so we can share and grow together.
What’s your best piece of advice for new spinners?
The rules to make handspun are: Take fiber, add twist, make yarn. Aside from that, the rest are mostly just guidelines, put so aptly by a rather famous pirate. Do you want to start off spinning angora? Great! But I’ll recommend coming to this spinning adventure with an open mind, lots of patience, and some backup fiber–spinning angora isn’t easy at first, but completely doable by a beginner. Find some way to be happy with every bit of yarn you made, even if it’s otherwise a complete failure; you can learn a great deal from these mistakes, and given wool’s propensity to morph across mediums, it can’t really be ruined.
Do you process your own fleeces? If so, any tips or tricks to share?
I do process my own fleeces when I am able to do so. I completed a four part series about processing a merino fleece, and there are plenty of tips/tricks to pick up in that phototutorial (part 1: http://expertlydyed.blogspot.kr/2015/02/lets-wash-merino-fleece-step-1-lay-it.html). The best tip I could share is: do it. At least once, and it doesn’t need to be a whole fleece. In fact, processing just 4 ounces is enough to get your feet wet, trying the whole process from raw fleece to finished yarn. You’ll understand more about your medium this way, and that is valuable knowledge when you sit down at your wheel to work with it. There is so much information you can learn about the breed or animal just by investigating the raw fleece–much of what a fleece can tell you is lost after the scouring stage.
What is on your wheel/spindle at the moment?
I’m currently plying up some cormo that I spun on my new supported spindle. I’ve been playing around with twist ever since I read the Twist issue of PLY magazine, so I spun the singles with enough twist to make yarn. However, the real stability of this yarn comes in during the overtwisted plying step, which I’m doing at the behest of Amy King’s urging in her PLY article. I’m curious to see how it’ll turn out. One skein is done already, but I’m wondering how it’ll bloom after I set the yarn. I have no idea what it will be yet. Maybe I’ll dye it.
I also switched over my Babe so I could start spinning up some Orry the Fantastic Merino. I’ll have to switch it back in a few days so I can film more Babe videos using my bulky flyer. I can quick-change my Babe like I’m running a one-woman play.
I’m probably going to get some silk hankies on my drop spindles soon so I can do a promo video for the Silk Spinning Challenge I’m planning to launch in a couple of weeks. It’s funny. You caught me between projects…I’m not spinning much at the moment!
If you knit/crochet/weave, what projects do you have in the works?
Well, I’m in the process of designing a new cropped raglan cardigan pattern which will use handspun yarn and be available for free. I finished the prototype and liked the result, but I have a few learning curves to hurdle over along the way–I’m going to release it with different sizes! That will take up most of my knitting time for the next month or so, but I do have some handspun yarn ear-marked for a second pair of Vedis Cabled Fingerless Mitts. I wear my first pair so much that they don’t get washed very often. That’ll be an easy project to work on when I need a break from designing.
Back in the States, I’m working on turning my leftover acrylic yarn into a blanket. It’s going to be my crocheted granny square masterpiece. I hope to get that one done before I head off to school!
As far as weaving goes, I’m currently UN-weaving a rather huge table runner I made a while back. As I sit here typing, it’s probably 10% unwoven now. That’ll take a while. Aside from that, I’m thinking about weaving a lap blanket with natural colored wool. I warp stuff up on my loom on a whim, which is often an hour before I planned to go to bed, so that project may erupt out of nowhere!
What is your dream yarn? What kinds of yarn / batts / etc. do you sell?
My dream yarn is really anything with lots of colors and textures. It can be made from wacky art rovings or deliciously dyed top. I have made my dream yarn many times, and I have seen dream yarn in the stashes of others.
I tend to sell yarns and batts and dyed top in colors I enjoy looking at. I sometimes have to work hard to produce colors others like, which is why I’m always querying my audience for ideas about favorite color combos, and I look for inspiration in the work others do too. I’ve made primarily smooth yarns for my shop, but occasionally I will make novelty yarns too. I tend to make smooth batts, lightly textured batts, sparkly batts, and shiny batts. I make gradient batts, sandwich batts, blended batts, and stripey batts. I dye as much of my own fiber as I can for my batts, but I also support other small businesses by buying already dyed locks and specialty combed tops.
How can interested buyers get in touch with you?
I try to be everywhere on the Internet I can because I want to raise awareness about fiber arts and it helps me reach those people who believe they live in a fiberless void. The short answer? We’re here, and we want you to come and be with us. You can find me in these places:
Thanks so much, Jennifer!
I love farm visits and meeting new people (and sheep!): if you are a hand spinner, a shepherdess, a small flock owner, a mill operator, or a wool trader, I would love to feature your work on this site. Please get in touch via email or Ravelry by clicking the “About” tab (above)