Interview with Linda Lencovic of the Kettle Yarn Co.

15 May 2014

Here's a spot of the Kettle Yarn Co.'s Islington fingering - a divine silk and Blue Faced Leicester combo - knitted into the Stones and Stripes shawl designed by Nancy Bush.
Remember the excitement when the spring issue of Pom Pom Quarterly arrived? Remember the thrill of all that Islington fingering from the Kettle Yarn Co. landing in Australia in anticipation of my goodself whipping up the Waterlily pattern on the cover of the aforesaid Pom Pom?

Weeellll, what with other writing ventures, knitting projects, progeny and a tentative yet suprisingly time-consuming dabble as an editor of corporate training manuals (YAAAWWWWNNNNN)...

Waterlily has not quite materialised.

So instead of a blogpost concerning a Waterlily wot I have made (which I am yet to), I present something infinitely more interesting:

An interview with Linda Lencovic, indie yarn dyer, owner of the Kettle Yarn Co. and colourist behind the nuanced hues of the Islington fingering et al. Bless her, bravely answering all my nosy questions about yarn-dyeing.

Linda Lencovic in her own Waterlily (by gum, that lady knits quickly).
Hailing from the wilds of British Columbia in Canada, Linda moved to London in 2006 for an MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art. Apparently the contemporary art scene in Canada was a bit too video-ey and installation-ey.

Not ideal if one wants to paint.

Which Linda did. So she came to London town and enjoyed a successful career as a painter until she shifted her creative focus and established the Kettle Yarn Co. Starting off on Etsy Linda's delicate spectrum of fingering, sport and aran weights has garnered much notice and well deserved comment in the world beyond the intermeweb.  Linda is now popping up at textiley events like Wonderwool and her ridiculously soft skeins are stocked by the reputable likes of Loop and Wild and Woolly.

The Pom Pom effect has probably had something to do with this and judging by the contents of the Summer issue, will continue to do so: Linda's Wimbledon Sport - it comes from super happy merinos - is the yarn for Sarah Hurwitz's tres charmant Creamsicle.

Sarah Hurwitz's Creamsicle in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 9, a bobbly delight of a cardigan.  Image © Juju Vail and Pom Pom Quarterly

But enough of the preamble. It's probably about time for that interview. So here it is.

I know that you’ve a background in Fine Arts but what enticed you over to textiles, particularly woolly knittery? 

I have always been interested in textiles and my mother taught me from an early age various ‘craft’ skills such as knitting and sewing. Like most teens I was fascinated with fashion, designing and making garments (very badly) for years. I was always modifying something to make it unique.

At the tender age of nine, I made my first scarf and then stopped knitting. I just didn’t have the patience at that age, but a few years ago I began again after a period of illness a few years ago. I was spending a lot of time in doctor’s waiting rooms and didn’t have the energy to paint  - all the preparation before actually painting is rather labour intensive - so started knitting again to keep creating and making things.

Once I’d picked up the needles, I couldn’t stop! Money was tight so I decided to try my hand at dyeing my own yarn. As an artist I also had the colour theory skills necessary to create the hues I wanted. The step to dyeing for others was an easy one and I discovered that painting yarn was as satisfying – if not more - than painting canvases! There is something hugely rewarding about creating a product that is not only beautiful but hugely useful!

Also creating a garment in the colour I want at the time I want is bliss. I wish I’d rediscovered knitting sooner.

Do you have any family members who have a connection with textiley or woolly pursuits?

Both of my parents are very creative. My mother was born into a large family in the French colony of Reunion. All the children grew up making their own clothes whilst the sisters could also either knit, crochet or make lace. Meanwhile, my father is a classically trained woodworker and I’ve learned many of my artistic skills from both of them.

How did you learn about dyeing yarns?

Mostly trial and error, though I did as much research as possible to avoid recreating the wheel! I just love to play with mixing colours and seeing what happens when I apply them to different bases. There simply is no substitute for hands-on experimentation!

What is kettle dyeing?

The part of the process in which dye is set on the yarn through heating – usually in large pots or kettles – is what is known as kettle dyeing.

Do you use chemical or natural dyes?

I am using acid dye as I still work in my home kitchen. Interestingly, this process is much less toxic than dyeing with natural dyes as the so-called ‘acid’ is just household vinegar. Most people don’t know this - I was fascinated to learn it myself – but the chemicals used to set and create the colours in natural dyeing can be quite toxic and require proper ventilation and a separate working area. It’s not as gentle as people assume when they hear the word ‘natural’!

Skeins. Skeins. Skeins. Luscious skeins of Wimbledon sport.
And just to clarify, you’re dyeing the skeins of yarns rather than the roving?

Yes, I am currently only dyeing yarn as I haven’t tried spinning. I also do not yet know how the colours would spin from the dyed roving. One day I would love to try.

Is sourcing British Wool an important part of your business ethos?

I have carefully sourced British yarns as the environmental impact of my business is a huge concern. I want all of my bases to ensure animal welfare and the lowest carbon footprint possible for the best possible quality of yarn .

Do you choose the yarns’ fibre composition or play with what is available?

It is vital to me that my blends are not only extremely hard wearing and low pilling, but also butter soft on the skin. It’s not an easy task!

This is one reason I am focusing on a lot of British Bluefaced Leicester blends. The long staple fibers making it robust while it’s ‘Superfine’  micron count for the softest fibres – comparable to the softeness of Merino – is perfect for the most sensitive skins.

Do different breeds of sheep have an impact on the dyeing process? 

Absolutely. Even the same breed of wool but from different flocks reacts differently to dye. This is one of the things that makes hand dyeing so unique and every batch slightly different.

A version of the Waterlily in a delicate, sky blue Islington.

You seem to have a really distinctive vocabulary of colour. At first glance the palette seems very subtle and almost demure, but when you look closer there is an incredible depth of tone. What inspires your colour choices?

I have always been very sensitive to colour. I remember at the age of twelve having to find just the exact hue of peach paint for my room. My poor parents learned early on that I had a very distinct sense of style and colour.

I grew up surrounded by the stunning Canadian Boreal forest and am particularly mindful of the natural world. I spend a lot of my time in London’s concrete jungle dreaming of the sea and expanses of green! These hues tend to naturally creep into my colour choices. 

People have been dyeing wool for millennia. How much space is there for innovation?

I think there will always be something new to discover. I am also a firm believer that ‘new’ isn’t always better, and what I hope to focus on is building on the rich history of textile’s past. There is no point in recreating the wheel…but how do you do it your way. As an artist that is a more interesting area of exploration for me.

Any plans for the future?

World domination. 

Many, many thanks to Linda for her time and generosity with this piece. If you want to see what else she is up to then you'd probably best start following her blogging adventures over on From the Purl Side.

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