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California Revival Knits: Interview with Jeane de Coster of Elemental Affects

I met Jeane of Elemental Affects at the winter TNNA in Long Beach last year.  I’d seen her yarn before, at Monarch Knitting & Quilts in Pacific Grove, CA, and actually have a couple skeins of the worsted yarn she mentions in the interview in my stash.

She immediately took me under her wing, literally dragging me (in a good way) over to meet various people in the business.  I got to meet up with her at Madrona as well, where she was helping out in the Habu booth.

The Peacock mitts from California Revival Knits feature Jeane’s lovely yarn, in the following colors:

Mioget (main color mitt)
Violet (main color flowers)
Denim (main color peacock body)
Teal (peacock tail ‘eye’ center)
Lichen (peacock tail ‘eye’ outer color)
Aegean (peacock body & wing details)
Pumpkin (peacock legs, beak)
Scarlet (peacock eye)
Periwinkle (edge flowers)
Moorit (tree branch)

The yarn blocks beautifully, as you’d expect, and the colors are just wonderful.

Stephannie:  How did you get started in this business?  How long have you been producing yarn?

Jeane:  I was interested in leaving my career in software design and management and had an opportunity to buy an established yarn dyeing company in the East. Even though that purchase didn’t work out, it made me realize that if I wanted to start a new career, NOW was the time. So, I moved back to So. California (from New York), downsized my lifestyle and invested in starting my own yarn company. I started the company in 2005.

How do you choose your yarn bases?  Are your having any made specifically for you?  What are your favourite fibers to work with?

I actually specialize in designing and having my own yarn bases produced. My focus is to use domestic fiber and produce the yarns in the U.S.

My first few yarns have been from a what I believe to be the largest flock of Shetland sheep in the U.S. I started with a worsted weight yarn that I sold in their natural colors and a few dyed colors. I later dropped that size of yarn and turned completely do producing and dyeing a fingering weight Shetland in 42 dyed colors and 7 – 9 natural colors — depending on what the sheep produce for me each year

I love that you’re working with domestic Shetland sheep.  What inspires your colorways?

Dyeing over naturally colored (instead of white) fiber/yarn. I try to develop a full range of colors. In other words, my goal is to see how far around the color wheel I can get. This can be quite a challenge working with naturally colored yarn.  For example, when I put straight yellow dye onto almost any of the natural bases, I get various colors of green — not yellow.

What festivals or conferences do you go to as a vendor?

When I started out, I was doing retail yarn shows up and down the West Coast. My current focus is primarily wholesale, so I mostly attend just the TNNA shows at the moment.

The general thought amongst internet craft gurus is that potential customers want to know about the dyer as a person through things such as personal blogs, Twitter, etc.  If a potential customer feels they ‘know’ the person dyeing the yarn, it builds trust in the mind of the customer, and they’re more apt to make that first purchase.  What are your thoughts on this?

I’ve always believed that people would rather buy yarn from people they like and they tend to like you more if they have some connection with you. At the moment, I depend mostly on personal contact through classes and trunk shows at my retailer locations. I working with the idea of a blog, but as a sole proprietor of a small business it is difficult to take on too much of the social media activities available.

How do you utilize the internet and social media as an indie dyer?

Mostly just a website but am working on a blog.

What’s a typical day for you?

Aaack! What’s typical. During the course of a week, I’ll dye yarn (including skeining, twisting, labeling), ship orders, teach classes, design new products, knit A LOT, clean the studio, answer emails, work with other designers, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

What’s your favorite thing about dyeing yarn?  Least favorite?  I’m including all things ancillary to actual dyeing as well – so feel free to address marketing, website design, etc, etc.

Favorite thing? Unexpected colors. Least favorite? Unexpected colors. 🙂

Actually, when I dye yarn, I feel like a magician or an alchemist. I always love to see what comes out of the dye pots. I am NOT so fond of winding skeins, twisting and labeling. Sales and marketing are always something that I need to encourage myself to do — whether it is approaching a store cold turkey or working on my website. And, while I cringe when a customer finds an error in a knitting pattern, I always love talking to my customers. It is one of the things I miss the most about doing retail shows.

Any dyeing or yarn plans for the next year you care to discuss?

I have a brand new yarn coming from the mill this week. I have a ready supply of lovely Romney fiber that I used to turn into beautifully colored spinning fiber. I’ve been working for a couple of years to develop the fiber into a yarn that I think would make a pleasing knitting yarn and I’m really excited to see how it looks when it arrives later this week. I developed it by hand spinning samples until I came up with both something I liked and that my favorite mill can spin for me. It is a woolen spun yarn with a lovely sheen and will be about 900 yards per pound. I’m going to offer it in about a dozen colors. It’s base color will be a light, natural grey.

Thank you Jeane!

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