This week, I am super happy to feature another indie dyer whose work I LOVE: Suzanne Burkett of Groovy Hues Fibers! Suzanne is full of life and color . . . and wonderful stories, of course! She was on an academic track to be a primatologist (and even spent a lot of tiem in the rain forests(!!) of Costa Rica and Nicaragua before realizing her true passion was in the dye pot. Now, she lives in Long Island with a super-supportive fellow, named Thaddeus, and a couple of cute kitties. Suzanne shared some excellent photos of her work (which I post here with her permission). Read more about Suzanne–including some excellent advice for new dyers–below! And then head over to her Etsy shop and drool!
1) How did you get into dyeing?
I taught myself to knit when I was in my early 20s, bored, and living in southwest Florida, of all places! I am forever childish, and have always loved to color. I hated most of the yarn color combinations in the big-box stores, and if I did like the color combinations, I found the feel of the fibers to be abhorrent. I was vaguely aware that yarn dyeing was “a thing,” but I had no idea to what extent it was “a thing.” I bought some KoolAid and some entry-level bare yarn, and fell down the rabbit hole! I think a lot of pepole probably come into dyeing much the same way, so perhaps I am a cliche. I’m okay with that!
I moved back to New York a couple of years later, and between working and then going back to school, I was too busy to knit, let alone dye anything. In 2012, I found myself graduated but unemployed, and bored to tears. I picked up my knitting, and again got stuck in a color rut. I researched the whole dyeing thing a bit more, and purchased some very nice yarn and “real” dyes. I couldn’t stop! I destroyed our kitchen, but it’s a good thing the boyfriend is a textiles archaeologist, and he loves yarn as much as I do.
2) What is your favorite fiber to dye?
Interesting question! I suppose it depends on rhe day. I most often dye merino, and it’s nice, and preferred by most folks. But for myself, depending on the project, I prefer things like mulberry silk and baby alpaca. Soft, shiny things make me happy!
3) Any advice for new dyers?
I actually do have some! And it’s a hodgepodge set of ideas and sentiments that I wish had been shared with me when I was new. Let your voice come to you naturally. Dye what YOU like, and not what you think everyone else wants. Otherwise, it will seem very forced, and art doesn’t work that way. If you’re busy making what you think everyone else wants, you won’t be very happy. Then, it’s like just another office job, and those of us who have chosen dyeing have chosen it mostly because we can’t function in an office like the “normal” folks out there.
And here’s another thing. There’s a learning curve. You will make mistakes. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever set a skein of yarn on fire once – but all it takes is just once to know you don’t want to do something like that again! When you’re very new, it’s better to keep all of that yarn for yourself until you develop your own habits and style, and make sure you’re putting out a quality product without mimicking the products of others. I have seen new dyers make the mistake of selling too quickly before they’ve found their voice, and before they’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. This isn’t necessarily catastrophic, but it can break your business if you send out just one wonky skein. The internet is harsh, my friends!
Don’t make the mistake of trying to put 400 different types of things in your shop at once. Pick one thing, get good at it, and sell it. There’s always time to expand your horizons and add different things to your repertoire. But trying to do it all at once – dyeing, sewing, carving – you end up becoming a jack of all trades and a master at none. No one artisan can make and sell all of the things that a fiber artist consumer will ever need. This isn’t a “get rich quick” type of profession. In fact, it’s really not a get rich EVER type of profession! The pennies to be had are far and few between. The dyers who stick around are the ones who truly love it, and have accepted that we won’t be owning mansions and yachts anytime soon (or ever!). Can you make a decent living? Sure. But the caveat is this – you will have the most success if the only person you’re aiming to please is yourself. Trying to follow every new dyeing fad makes it appear as if your shop is all over the place. Can you put a few “oddball” skeins in there once in awhile? Sure. But build your tried-and-true customer base for your own style first. Then feel free to play around!
4) Where can folks find your shop online?
My shop itself can be found at www.groovyhues.etsy.com – I have toyed with the idea of moving off of Etsy, but for now, I am pretty comfortable there. I like not having to manage every little thing, because at the moment, I don’t have the time to do that! Other places I can be found:
5) What’s NEW on the horizon for your shop?
I have a few spring fiber fairs coming up! On April 16/17, I’ll be at the Steel City Fiber Festival at the Merchant Square Mall in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It’s a brand new fiber festival, and it’s located on a huge, beautiful property. I have over twenty feet of vendor space, so I plan on filling it with a massive amount of stuff! On May 14/15, I will be at the Long Island Fleece and Fiber Festival at the Hallockville Museum Farm in Riverhead, New York. It’s really a wonderful event, and I had SO much fun there last year. I’ll also be vending at the Spring Farm Festival at the Smithtown Historical Society (Smithtown, NY) on May 22. This is a nice, small-ish fair where sheep will be shorn the old-fashioned way, and lots of demonstrations can be found among the crafts and food!
Dyeing for these festivals is keeping me super busy, so that’s why most of the things you see in my shop right now are made-to-order. I am having to hoard most of the dry inventory for these shows. I’m dyeing up customer orders fairly quickly despite that, however, so your wait shouldn’t be too long if you see something you like!
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Thanks so much Suzanne!
I love meeting new people (and sheep!): if you are an indy dyer, 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)