Interview: Lynette Connors of Willamette Valley Wool Company
How/why did you choose the name "Willamette Valley Wool Company?”
I wanted a name that reflected this area I work and live in. Something that gave a sense of place and community. I love the Willamette Valley here in Oregon. It's so beautiful, and the people and culture here are amazing. There's a large fiber arts presence here with a passion for the fiber arts that I don't see in other areas of the U.S.
What inspires your beautiful colorways?
Inspiration is everywhere! I especially love to be out in nature and find a lot of inspiration there. But I can also get inspiration from art, music, poetry, movies, books, characters, or even places and buildings. And if I'm really in a rut, there is color inspiration to be had all around us in advertising and branding.
How do you select the names for your colorways?
I usually spend a ton of time on colorway names. They can come from whatever inspired the color, but I also spend time exploring the color on Pinterest, use tools like dictionary.com and thesaurus.com, and sometimes look for quotes or passages from a book or movie, old sayings, riddles, and jokes. For example, I have a chartreuse color that reminds me of some lichens. I call that color "A Good Day". It comes from a line in one of Henry David Thoreau's journals: "There is a low mist in the woods - It is a good day to study lichens."
In learning how to dye yarn - what did you find the most interesting? Any surprises?
How colors can blend, or not, and how some of them break. It's endlessly fascinating. I always had the most basic color theory, but I don't have an art degree. So while I know that mixing primary colors gets you secondary colors and a little bit more, there was a LOT about pigment colors I did not know or understand. I still don't have an art degree, but I have learned a ton over the course of five or six years - like the amazing things that can happen when you add black to yellow, as one example. And then there's also the method in which you apply them. I can use the same three colors in several different dye methods and get completely different results on each one.
How do you select the fiber bases you dye?
For yarn, I make sure I have the basics everyone expects, plus something luxury, and usually something different than they'll find with my regional competitors. For spinning fiber, I try to have a selection of breed specific fibers with a variety of characteristics: some soft, some coarser, some shorter staple, some mid length, and some longer, etc. I really want to promote learning about the fiber arts, so I wanted to offer a variety of wools so people can study them and choose the best wool for their project. I carry 16 different breeds.
Are you a knitter, crocheter, or bistitchual? What do you most enjoy about stitching?
I am bistitchual, and I also spin and weave. Spinning is my first favorite thing to do because I can design the exact yarn I want for any knitting, crochet, or weaving project. But I love knitting too, especially as a dyer, because I love to see how my colors come to life with different stitch patterns and textures. My favorite projects are ones where "the yarn does all the work" - meaning they're fairly quick to stitch and don’t have too much patterning with the stitches. A simple pattern shows off hand dyed yarn so nicely.
If you were to suggest a yarn base for a beginning stitcher who has fallen in love with your yarn like we have, which base would you recommend? Why?
I believe that when people are just starting, they really should have a quality yarn and quality tools. Cheap yarns and tools make for a cheap experience, so it’s less likely that a beginner is going to find it enjoyable. That being said, I certainly understand the need not to invest in the highest end tools and yarn for a hobby that hasn't been thoroughly explored. I have a new base coming out this summer called "Luckiamute" that is a DK weight superwash merino yarn. I think the midweight yarn and something that is washable, but still very nice quality, is a nice happy medium for a beginner. Luckiamute will be debuting at Black Sheep Gathering on July 5, 6, 7 in Albany, OR at the Linn County Event Center.
Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to create your own yarn and fiber business?
I decided to start dyeing yarn and fiber when I couldn't find the colors I wanted to work with in the shops. Most companies followed the Pantone colors for the seasons, even some indie dyers, and I just didn't want to use the same colors as dozens of other people making the same knitting pattern. I wanted something unique and a little more "risky". Once I started dyeing, people kept asking me if I had any more that I would sell to them. So I saved up for my first wholesale order, put all my ducks in a row, and started a business.
When you partner with a yarn shop to do a trunk show, what qualities do you look for?
I look for a shop that is already selling a carefully curated collection of indie dyed yarns at comparable, modern pricing. I want to know that the shop owner and customers know what to expect from an indie dyed yarn, how to properly handle them for the best results, and have an appreciation of what goes into making a luxury, hand dyed yarn. I also want to work with shops that are stable, thriving, and have a vibrant stitcher community of regular customers with open knit nights, regular classes, KAL and CAL.
What advice would you give to others wanting to follow their creative dreams?
Just start. Don't wait. Don't wait for more time, better finances, more space, or to be less busy, less stressed, etc. Creative people NEED to create to function well in the world. So just start somewhere. Scale it down a bit to fit your constraints and expand your constraints as much as you can. Make it a priority for your own mental health. The old adage "Well begun is half done," is absolutely true. Start somewhere and it will grow from there. You'll be learning, gaining experience, meeting like minded people, honing your craft, and it grows.
The first time I sold yarn, a shop was kind enough to offer me a few pegs on her wall during a yarn crawl. I only had 17 skeins of yarn to take, and I was dyeing in a spaghetti pot on my stove. Now I use professional equipment in a dedicated dye studio. I do some shows that I need to dye 1,000 skeins or more for, and I need a trailer to take my whole set up.
Do you ever experience creative blocks? If yes, how do you overcome this?
Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I just have to take a break for a bit, do something completely different and not think about it for awhile. Do something else that I really, really enjoy. I tend to get inspired when I'm having fun in other areas of my life. Sometimes I just need to take a trip to the coast and walk the beach or take a hike in the woods. For me, the ocean is the best cure for all ills. If I can't get away, then I might spin for a while, take a long bath or shower, or do something that's creative in a different way, like cook or bake something, or maybe write or journal. There are times I am blocked for a long time, but it always comes back. Creative people will always return to creating, sometimes they just need to recharge their batteries.
How does dyeing add happiness to your daily life?
It is immensely satisfying, and exciting, when the image you had in your head comes out of your dyepot. Sometimes it’s even better than you imagined it would be. To have an idea in your head and take a leap using your skills and experiences, make some calculated guesses, do a bunch of math, and then hold your breath and apply it all. After the last step, you pull the yarn out and it’s gorgeous. And it starts to inspire you all over again. Now you have really pretty yarn, and when you see what it looks like you get all kinds of ideas for the best patterns to use it in - or to design a new pattern. There are occasional flops, of course, but they become more and more rare with the years of experience you have under your belt.
You recently started a vlog; what do you chat about and share through your vlog?
My vlog on YouTube is mostly about our journey to turn our new property into a functioning homestead, or farm. The property overall has been neglected for three to five years. It needs a lot of work to make repairs on existing infrastructure, and replace or make new infrastructure, as well as to manage vegetation on this five acre, mostly wooded lot. We have a barn with a pasture, a greenhouse, and another large outbuilding, but none of them can be used the way they are intended until they're fixed and cleaned. We are also breaking new ground entirely to put in gardens and a small orchard. Eventually I would like to have some livestock, likely including fiber animals. I do share a little bit about my dyeing and fiber arts on the channel too. It’s a new channel, and I'm very new to filming and all the software required to publish videos online, so it’s hardly cinematic - but I'm learning more and slowly getting better at it all. I hope when some of our house projects are done that I will be able to share even more on the YouTube platform.
What events can we see you at in 2019?
I will be at Black Sheep Gathering in Albany, OR in July, at Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival in Canby, OR in late September, and Mid Summer Spin In in Wren, OR (date to be determined, probably August). I will also have a trunk show at Cozy yarn shop in Eugene, OR in early September. I don't currently have an online shop, but if someone knows what they want I can take orders through email and invoice online.