We’re excited to introduce a new hand dyer to fibre space! Today we welcome two of her yarns to our inventory – Splendor and Hudson. Splendor is a fingering weight Merino, Cashmere and Nylon blend in a hefty 435 yard skein. Hudson is a 100% American superwash Merino in a 245 yard skein that I can’t wait to dig into for baby sweaters!
About Jill Draper
Designer and hand dyer Jill Draper left the big city for the green hills of the Hudson Valley to become a full time fibre artist producing her own locally sourced yarn – we managed to catch her on the way to a sheep farm to ask her a little bit about what she does.
How do you describe what you do?
That’s a big question! I run a hand dyed yarn company is how I describe it to strangers at dinner parties but really, it ends up being a little bit of a lot of things. I design hand knitting patterns, hand dye and develop yarns. I buy wool from farmers and work with mills on the twist, ply and put ups on the yarns I make. My favorite part of my job is the actual dyeing, hand painting multicolors and kettle dyeing the semisolids. I mix all my dyes from primary colors so it is a little bit of art with a dose of science.
Is it different from what you thought you would be when you grew up?
Yes and no. I started making clothes when I was a teenager and have been knitting almost my whole life. When I was growing up though, I don’t think being an “indie dyer” was even an option. There were a few companies making hand dyed yarn but not nearly as many as there are now. I went to Pratt Institute and studied Fashion Design. At that point, I saw myself designing clothes for Vivienne Westwood and then hopefully for myself. Making clothes & handknitting transitioned sort of naturally into designing knitting patterns and faced with color choices I wasn’t thrilled with at the yarn shops I started dyeing & hand spinning yarn to use for my own projects.
How did you find yourself going from the streets of NYC to the Hudson Valley? Were you prepared for the change or did you have to do a lot of learning on the fly?
I grew up in the Northern Hudson Valley so it was a bit like coming home. I loved NYC and spent 12 years there but when I was ready to make this business more full time I needed the less expensive for more square footage space the Hudson Valley could offer as well as the peace of mind. I could transition from working a full time job to part time, to seasonally and now and for the last few years only running my own business, which is the equivalent of a couple full time jobs as anyone who is self employed knows!
The part of the Hudson Valley I live in isn’t so terribly different than NYC, there are a lot of “ex-pats” from New York, artists, musicians and restauranteurs who all came here for a lot of the same reasons, more space and the ability to have a backyard garden. I do miss the plethora of food options, the museums & the diversity of New York City, luckily I’m a short commuter train ride away when I need my fill of any of those.
What challenges do you face as an independent designer and fiber artist? What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do?
There are challenges. There are struggles with mills delivering what we’ve agreed on in the time frame. There are long waits from when I buy raw wool from farms to when it becomes yarn and I can dye and recoup some of that. It is scary when all the checks you write are from your own bank account without investors and knowing every decision you make will affect your business going forward, although that is also the best part. I love being able to make all the choices for better or worse without having to consult someone. It can be lonely, I work most days at home on my own. I worry that people won’t love the yarns as much as I do.
To someone else who wanted to start their own business, whether it be hand dyeing yarn or something else I’d say make sure you love and believe in what you’re doing. It can be so hard emotionally & financially if you aren’t committed to it 120% it would be easy to give up when things aren’t going exactly as you hope. It is a ton of work, work weeks last way longer than 40 hours and at a certain point the only thing that keeps you going is your total love for the work. When someone tells me something they’ve made is their favorite shawl, sweater or pair of socks it makes the struggle worth it. I love that what I make is just a raw material for other people to put their own creativity into and make something completely unique, that feels really amazing.
We’re excited that your yarn is going to be all US-sourced and spun! How is creating and consuming locally important to you?
I think supporting businesses in the US making things with care & consideration is so important to the economy as a whole. The first time I went to a mill and got to touch & sniff bags & bags of raw fleece and realized it wasn’t all either “wool” or “Merino” it was eye opening! The variety of fiber was staggering and I love knowing some of the people who raise the sheep that produce the wool I use.
Knitters & crocheters put so much love into the things they make, I try to take that thoughtfulness one step further back in the process. I want to know that the money I spend as an individual or a business goes towards supporting people doing it “right”. I feel really good about supporting companies & farms that care about the health of their workers, animals and treat the world with an ethical approach instead of just trying to squeeze as many dollars as they can from it without regard for the long term consequences.
What album covers can we see your work on?
I did all the artwork for Richard Buckner’s Meadow, the layout & design for his releases Our Blood & Willow 7” and actually today is the release date for SURROUNDED, Richard’s new record and maybe because it is the newest the one I’m most proud of. The work for this one was quite labor intensive, hundreds of pins and yards of cotton string later, seeing it on a LP was thrilling! You can hear the record streaming from the New York Times site, if you’re interested.