As you know, I’ve self-declared 2017 the Year of the Indie Dyer and made a commitment to support and partner with the talented fiber artists I have met through this space. Allison Barnes hales from a land far from me, yet somehow magically connected through international shipping: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Allison and I are currently collaborating on a project. She supplied the yarn (100% merino wool worsted in Alpine Pansy). I am working on a bright and cheery cowl design to be released this spring.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Allison Barnes today, in her own words.
I never intended to become an artist. In fact I was most interested in Math and Science growing up. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and a Diploma in Hydrogeology/Environmental Science. I worked for a Consulting firm as an Environmental Scientist for five years before having my son. But the path to where I am now makes sense as I look back…
I’ve always been interested in creative pursuits. I used to do large scale paintings of cute woodland animals on the exterior walls of the buildings on my parent’s lake property. My mom taught me how to crochet afghans when I was in University and I think all of my friends received a blanket for their birthday. Later on I became interested in decorating wood pieces with glass mosaic tiles and gifted many mosaic mirrors to my favourite people. I opened up my Etsy shop and sold a few mosaic pieces there before moving on to new things. I dabbled in photography.
When my son was born, we used cloth diapers. I became interested in using wool as a natural, breathable diaper cover. I purchased a few hand knit and recycled wool diaper covers and loved them so much I decided to bring out the sewing machine I was gifted as a wedding shower gift but had never touched. I re-learned how to sew (not having sewn since my Home Economics class in Grade 7) and started making diaper covers for my son. I decided to try listing some for sale in my Etsy shop and on my Facebook page and I did really well! That ship sailed as I became interested in sewing new things. I made necktie clutches, sun hats, children’s shorts and skirts. You name it; I tried it!
Along with my sewing I re-taught myself to crochet. I wanted my son to have all the cute hats that I kept seeing on social media. I made one and posted a photo and started getting orders from friends and family. I was busy. Really busy. Crochet was and still is my go-to for relaxation and a creative outlet. One day I came across a friend who was looking to de-stash some handspun yarn. I was curious. To sweeten the deal, my friend offered to provide a crochet pattern for free to use with the handpsun yarn.
This was my first taste of handspun thick and thin yarn. It was confusing at first. I couldn’t see where the “V” at the top of the stitch was because of the variation in thickness of the yarn. Eventually it became intuitive and I loved feeling that gorgeous merino yarn in my hands. I wanted more. I wanted to learn to spin my own yarn.
One day I took the plunge and ordered a drop spindle and some roving online. I didn’t start right away – I had to work up to convince myself to start.
It was daunting.
I watched video after video then finally tried spinning. They say to practice for 10 minutes every day – it sure helped. I was terrible at first. Eventually I got better and was able to produce usable yarn. I was spinning thick and thin yarn on a drop spindle but was annoyed that I could not produce enough in one go. I looked for spinning wheel classes and was so excited when I found one at my local Weavers Guild. By this point spinning came naturally since I had been using a drop spindle for about 6 months. After the class was complete I met a lady at the guild who sold me one of her spinning wheels. I couldn’t believe my luck!
I had been collecting indie-dyed roving (it was my favourite) and spun it all. It was getting expensive for me to keep this up. A dear friend of mine said “Hey, why not dye your own roving?” She pointed me in the direction of some YouTube videos and I researched for weeks before ordering roving and dyes and finally tried dyeing in a crockpot and IT WORKED! I dyed all the roving. I began selling my roving and handspun yarn more and more, and selling my crocheted and knit items less and less. One day I ran out of roving. I really had the urge to dye something while I was waiting for more roving to arrive and that same dear friend said “have you thought of dyeing yarn?” I had not! I went to my local craft store in search of some undyed 100% wool yarn, skeined it, and hand-painted it. IT WAS AMAZING! I bought more and dyed more. I was taking orders for hand-dyed yarn! I searched out places to buy bare yarn wholesale and found a Canadian mill, which is where I’ve been sourcing my undyed yarn and roving from since 2015.My techniques have evolved, my skill has blossomed, and I’m just the happiest girl in the world dyeing yarn and roving in my little dungeon of a dye room in the basement of my home. I am now a full-time dyer and occasionally get time to spin yarn for my Etsy shop. I sell at markets throughout the year and have my yarn in a small yarn shop called Alberta Yarn Project. I still sew from time to time, making knitting bags to keep your projects in, and sewing for my family. I’m still trying to figure out a good balance between work, home, and family – but who isn’t?
Where to find Allison: