I was done shopping—done, not allowed to buy any more yarn, DONE I TELL YOU—at Rhinebeck when I stumbled across the Primrose Yarn Booth.
I bought four more skeins. Sigh.
But see, that’s what an incredible new dye artist does to you…or at least, Kelsey Stephens was new to me. Primrose Yarn Company has only been around for two years, but it’s fast gaining the recognition it deserves.
I mean, seriously. Look at this.
To satisfy my own curiosity, and because it’s always fun to tell people about something you’re excited about, I called Kelsey and she was nice enough to take a few minutes away from her young daughter to chat with me. Here you are!
Where do you get your base yarns? How do you choose them?
It’s hard! Trying to get the wholesale pricing plus the quality I want can be tricky—because I need to keep my prices at a certain point in order to be competitive. , needs the price point to be competitive. Most base suppliers that produce quality yarn are in Ireland or Scotland—it’s sheep country! America’s trying, but we’re not really there yet with wool, most of the time.
I do want to get into non-superwash yarn, and I’m looking for mills in US—there are some good ones in Colorado. But in order to launch a new base, you have to have enough capital to pick up a massive amount of that yarn and keep up with the inventory. So…I’m working on it!
My customers buy my silk and cashmere blends for special occasions, but my superseller is superwash, for convenience. (Confession—I bought superwash).
Which of your yarns do you love working with the most?
I really like the Jasper DK. It’s a high-twist superwash. It holds its body so well—I’m a sweater knitter, and I love cables, and it’s great for that. There’s minimal pilling. And DK is such a flexible weight—you can knit anything.
I’m drawn to darker tones for what I wear personally—I am sometimes a little overwhelmed by Stephen West’s color choices (Note: Word.)—but I have lots of fun using color in my dyeing.
Girl, your colors. You’ve got this speckled thing going on, which I love. Any dyeing habits you care to share?
OK so the splatter-speckle is when I take semi-dry powder and literally fleck it.
Then there’s low-immersion dyeing—when I’ve got very little water in the dye pot. I usually use this when I’m overdyeing onto a base.
Semi-full is when you start with a solid color, let it saturate, don’t empty out any water, and then sprinkle the dye on top of the water and let it disperse as it will. It has to go through the water and gives it more of a painterly look.
Full immersion of course is when yarn completely covered by water. I usually do that to start and then overdye.
What’s on your needles now?
I hope to finish up my Calligraphy Cardigan by Hannah Fettig. Stephen West’s Penguino has been sitting for a while. Maxfield Cardigan in Madelinetosh DK, Coziest Memories blanket by Wray, Boardwalk Shawl in a bunch of my yarn. I just don’t get tired of knitting sweaters!
How’d you get into this, as a business? Many of us have tried dyeing, for fun (Confession: I…am not good at it).
Well, 2016 was our second year vending at Rhinebeck, but Rhinebeck is really what started it. My mother-in-law dragged me there in 2014—I wasn’t even a knitter then. I was overwhelmed! It’s fiber mecca! I had dyed yarns in the past, for weaving and hand embroidery, but I was just floored by what I saw there. And I realized this is exactly what I want to do. I had the background to do it, it was inspiring and exciting—I could just do it! I ordered yarn from knitpicks, got some acid dyes I’d used in college, and started with 10 skeins and an etsy shop. It took off from there.
Ok, so the naming thing. That seems incredibly hard to me, and the thing is, I’m a sucker for a great name. If the name references a book or a show I like, I feel almost compelled to buy it in order to pay the proper respect to that show or book (which is totally dumb, I know). Is that a stressful part of the job for you, or is it fun?
Sometimes I have a colorway name in mind, and make the yarn to match—so it’s not that hard. I use pop culture references more than anything—recognizable phrases, etc. If I’m excited about Cheap Thrills by Sia, that then I would make a colorway for that. There was really only one time when I couldn’t come up with a name. I made my husband come up with it for me.
What did you do before this?
I was a waitress—I have 2 fine arts degrees, one in printmaking and one in fibers and materials studies. But I didn’t know what I would do with either. Originally I thought I would go into printmaking, but it’s really hard—everything is done by computer now, so it was hard to use my skills. I actually loved waitressing, and it’s a lot like when I vend at shows, chat—it’s a social job. I don’t want to sit behind a desk. I like the hands-on aspects and face-to-face aspects of my job.
Isn’t working from home great?
Ugh, I feel so bad plugging my kid in front of the tv sometimes! (Note: Kelsey and I were chatting while her three-year-old daughter played in the background.) But that was why I had to get into this business—my husband and I were living together when we found out we were pregnant. I thought, oh crap, I can’t waitress forever, what can I do from home? She was born and I stopped working—and that’s when I went to Rhinebeck with my mother-in-law, when she was 16 months old. It’s been great to be able to work and be with her, but there’s a lot of work that goes into having a business—you just never stop working. Maybe someday I’ll be able to hire an employee and have an offsite location! A retail space!
On your website you say you’re inspired by “urban street art, rustic goth fashion/architecture and painting…Finding beauty in the mundane is where my inspiration is found.” Can you talk about that a bit more?
When I was growing up, I was the artsy kid—I got along with everybody, but I did go to art school and got the “most artistic award” at art school. So I was, you know, arty. I went looking for my personal identity—not what I do, but what my style was. I leaned toward the goth (I still wear lots of black), I love gothic architecture, I love finding new things in old things—things that people would pass by and not look at twice. There are couple of really old houses in Philly that I find inspiring…I went to a lot of catholic churches and finding color combinations, and taking photos. I try to look at something and see past what it actually is, so that I can create something new that was inspired by it. How can I translate what I’m seeing into my dyeing?
Your shop is online, and your yarns are found at these places:
-Black Mountain Yarn Shop: Black Mountain, NC
-Do Ewe Knit: Westfield, NJ
-Stevenbe: Minneapolis, MN
-Mia Bella: Highland Park, IL
-Forever Yarn: Doylelstown, PA
-The Knot House: Frederick, MD
-Wool Workshop: Roanoke, VA
-Yarn Culture: Fairport, NY
-Hooked Fine Yarn Boutique: Haddonfield, NJ
Are there any upcoming events we should know about?
Joji Locatelli is soon releasing a sweater pattern in our Regar (worsted) base. It’s in the process of being test knit, but I can’t wait to see it!
On November 26, we’ll be doing a trunk show at Do Ewe Knit in Westfield, NJ.
On December 10th, we’ll be doing a trunk show at The Knot House in Frederick, MD.
And from February 23-26, we’ll be at Stitches West.