Hopefully you’ve had a chance to meet Lucina and Celeste, our two new fingering weight yarns from Space Cadet Creations. We always love the creativity and talent that goes into making hand-dyed yarns – not to mention the fun surprise that is seeing it all when it arrives! But behind all the yarn, there’s usually a story or two to be told. I wrote to Stephanie Alford, the dyer behind Space Cadet Creations, and she was gracious enough to write me a big long email all about who she is and what she does. [Then I told her that I’d edit it all into a narrative, but I think you’ll like her words much more than mine, so we’re going to do a little Q-and-A instead.]
I’ve lived my life split between Britain and the United States. I was born in Pittsburgh to British parents and, when I was young, I grew up in a big community of British immigrants. But I went to an American school and made American friends, so I also had a very American childhood. I moved back to the UK right after graduating from university, and stayed there until three years ago. I’ve literally lived half my life in each country, and they are both home to me. It’s both a blessing and a curse — when I’m in one country, I miss the other, and when I’m in the other, I miss the first!
I see from your website that you spin, knit, weave and crochet a little, and you have a degree in Textiles and Clothing – and this was all before you started dyeing. What got you hooked?
Looking back, I can see I have always been drawn to the fiber arts, but it’s taken me all my life to realise it. I remember when I was about 11, we went to a pioneer re-enactment day and I was completely fascinated by the woman spinning fleece on a wheel, and begging my mother for lessons. The woman came round to our house to teach me — I loved the spinning but hated the carding and she insisted you had to card lots and lots first… and so I didn’t stick with spinning. I tried it again years later, when the community center near my house in England offered a spinning and weaving class. Most of the women in the class were shepherdesses and I’d buy my fleeces from them fresh off their sheeps’ backs. And I found that I still hated carding, so I started to spin straight from the fleece, uncarded and in the grease. And I discovered that, without having to card, I love spinning!
At university, I flailed around from one major to another until I finally settled on Textiles and Clothing. I had no real talent for fashion or for design, but I love everything I learned about fiber composition, textile chemistry, and clothing history. I distinctly remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning of my sophomore year with an overwhelming desire to learn to knit. I have no idea why – no one I knew knit, hand-knitting wasn’t even mentioned in my classes, I’d never seen a knitting magazine and this was way before the Internet. And, yet, for some reason, I woke up that morning and knew – knew even before I’d sat up in bed! – that I needed to learn how to knit. I taught myself from a copy of Vogue Knitting: the Ultimate Knitting Book and started a cardigan about two weeks later …in cream acrylic yarn! I still have it — the yarn is hideous, but I love every stitch.
That sounds like something lots of us can relate to! So it wasn’t until later that you began dyeing?
I moved back to the US just as Ravelry was starting to take off and then met some of the members of the Pittsburgh indie fiber arts community – incredibly talented women whose work got me feeling turbo-charged! I started to experiment with dyeing and… oh, I loved it! I felt like I’d finally found my fiber-arts calling! After the encouragement of my friends and knitting group, I set up my studio and started SpaceCadet Creations. Would you believe, for the first three months of the business, my studio had no running water?! And I’m married to a plumber! Eventually, I threatened to ring one of the guys my husband works with and pay them to do the plumbing. And guess what? I had running water the very next day!
You say you dye from primaries – what does that actually mean?
When I first started dyeing, I made a list of all the dye colours I wanted to get… and then I added up the cost! So instead, I bought just the primaries plus black, and decided to mix my own colours to begin with. But once I started dyeing from primaries, I realised I really like it — there’s a real art to seeing a colour in your mind and then mixing dyes by hand to hit it exactly. It makes every colourway feel really special to me — I didn’t just dye the yarn, I created the colours from scratch.
Everybody has a favorite color – and colors they don’t like. How does that work as a dyer?
You can easily find yourself just sticking to the colours you love and never dyeing the ones you don’t, which isn’t good! For instance, last year I realised I was really avoiding yellow — it’s just not my colour — and I decided to make myself dye more yellow. It was so hard to do! At first, everything I dyed just felt wrong, none of the shades would work for me — it was really depressing. But then I realised that even if yellow didn’t work for me, both gold and honey did. So I warmed things up a bit and tried again and… fell completely in love with what came out of the pot! Now I add golds into a lot of my colourways and, every time I do, I feel like I’ve created something really special.
Finally, what’s really fulfilling about what you do?
One of the most exciting things for me is knowing that what I create isn’t the finished product, it’s a part of other people’s finished objects. I want to give my customers’ projects wonderful, intense colour — colour that stays in their minds even after they’ve stopped working on their projects.
I want to extend a big thank you again to Stephanie for sharing a bit of her story, her enthusiasm, and her process with us. Of course, because we’re all space cadets too, I think this is a great match-up!