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An interview with Kelcey

I am SO PLEASED to introduce Kelcey! The dyer behind Knitting Niqabi and my collaboration partner on Local Meadow, Kelcey is one of the most generous, genuine, and open people I've had the pleasure of meeting on this knitting journey.

Jen: You often release collections based around a theme – like your Labyrinth collection. Can you tell us about the process of deciding on a theme, what those collections mean to you, and how you choose the colors?

Kelcey: When trying to decide on a theme I always tend to pick something I truly enjoy on a deep level. Something I am passionate about that can bring me inspiration.

For instance, Labyrinth was one of my all-time favorite movies as a child so when picking an Advent theme it immediately came to mind. Not actually realizing that many other people within the yarn community also loved the movie on the same deep level as me. So the large amount of orders that came in was very shocking to me, and brought me so much joy. Not because of monetary reasons per se but because I was able to share a common passion with my customers and place extra love into the project because I knew other fans of the movie were going to be opening them.

I have to say Advent was one of the best experiences of my dyeing career so far, because I got to see the excitement each mystery mini brought to my customers. This experience is the reason why I have decided to add more themed mystery yarn clubs into my shop this year. I hope they can bring as much joy as I saw advents bring.

Now for choosing colors I had to be very selective. Natural Dyeing has a smaller margin in color range in comparison to acid dyeing. So what I had to do was already have the knowledge of what is possible with natural dyes (as far as I have worked with them already) in my mind and compare them to scenes or characters in my theme. If anything matched up that would be my inspiration when I went to the dye pots.

Jen: How did you first discover non-superwash yarns and natural dying? What about these yarns speaks to you over time? Natural dying takes so much more time and water than acid dying and I know the margins are much smaller – what keeps you committed to these yarns?

Kelcey: My journey from picking up knitting needles for the first time ever to opening up my Yarn Company was a span of 2 years and 3 months. Within that time I became immersed as much as possible in fiber arts learning everything I could get my hands on.

This led me to learn more about yarn dyeing and to follow many indie dyers within our community. It was my husband who encouraged me to open my own yarn company even though I had zero percent experience with it. It was at this time that I had to make some decisions about what I would want my brand to be.

When I researched dye techniques and came across natural dyeing I instantly knew that was the route I wanted to take. I have always had an affinity for nature. Growing up in Michigan on a 20-acre homestead I spent most of my childhood climbing trees, frolicking in open fields, swimming in ponds, catching frogs, making grass crowns, etc.

I also love the deep history that comes with natural dyeing. Since natural dyes were the first dye techniques used in ancient times, being able to use those same techniques gives me a sense of continuing a tradition of our ancestors and helping an ancient tradition live on as we see many dwindling out of practice.

Since my experience with natural dyeing grows I continually feel a connection to nature and God. I am a very religious person so when I see a plant, root, or bug create such vivid and deep colors that bring beauty into this world, I truly have a spiritual experience that grounds me in my craft and continues to fulfill me on a deep level. This experience is what I believe keeps me committed to natural dyes.

When it came to deciding on yarn choice I decided to go with nonsuperwash for similar reasons. I wanted to keep the wool I work with as close to the natural origins as possible.

Even though I have to admit that when I saw almost all yarn dyers that I was following at the time use Superwash and Nylon bases I did have this belief that it would be harder to make sales due to this choice. I had to struggle with making the choice between sticking to my personal beliefs and inspirations behind my company and trying to develop a successful business.

I am very happy with the decision I have made, and feel truly blessed that I have been able to expand and grow my business while maintaining my original vision for it. Since making this choice I have come to appreciate wool on a very different level. Which has in turn made me excited to try new breeds and new blends to see what these amazing animals have to offer us. Each sheep breed gives something different and unique and I hope to increase my knowledge in this area to try to bring bases to my shop that call to me and my overall vision.

Jen: For someone working with NSW or naturally dyed yarns for the first time, or deciding whether or not to give these fibers a try – what’s one thing you would want to tell them?

Jenni wears a size G handknit cabled sweater. The cables are in two columns in the front, and a grid stitch pattern covers the top of the yoke.
Jenni's Local Meadow, in colorway Pink Ladies.

Kelcey: The first thing that came to mind when I read this question was to answer by saying “Just Do it!! You won't regret it!!” If you know me personally you will know that I am a huge advocate in trying to get people who are interested in Natural Dyeing or NSW that motivation and encouragement to just do it! And for anyone who might be reading this interview I want to say that my DM’s and Emails are ALWAYS OPEN for anyone who has questions or needs advice on how to get started.

Side note, from Jen: She means it, y'all - if you've got an itch and want to chat, message her!!

When it comes to NSW I feel like the number one concern people have is either about felting or color saturation.

Wool is a very tough material and even though felting is more likely to occur with NSW it does not mean the dye process has to be extremely gentle and extremely cautious. I thought this was the case when I first started dyeing, where I was so afraid to even move the yarn in the water. Now I have come to understand that NSW can handle the process just fine.

When it comes to color saturation I will admit that when comparing NSW with Superwash if dyed using the same process the NSW will be less saturated. However, that does not mean you cannot get bright, vibrant, and amazing colors on NSW. There are so many amazing dyers out there who have achieved amazing colors on NSW.

Now if someone is not a dyer and is curious about using NSW in their fiber craft I again would highly recommend it. NSW has better durability, lasts longer, and pills less. They also are much warmer since they help retain heat better. It is true they are less convenient since they cannot be machine washed without felting. But having a garment you placed so much time and effort into last longer is truly worth the handwash (in my humble opinion). So I would say give it a go.

For naturally dyed yarns I feel like the number one concern is about colorfastness. Natural dyes exist on a spectrum and each dye material is so unique when it comes to its properties in color retention. It is true that some natural dyes are not colorfast. They can fade if exposed to direct sunlight over long periods of time or if they are washed often over long periods of time.

I see this as part of the evolution of an heirloom quality product that is ultimately biodegradable. However, there are a plethora of natural dyes that are colorfast and do retain their color very well. Most natural dyers tend to try to use these dye materials when making their colorways (or mix dye materials to increase colorfastness) because they understand that customers prefer color retention.

However, I would also like to say that even dye materials that are not colorfast, for instance, items like Black Beans and Avocado, retain their color for quite a while. If anyone is thinking about trying naturally dyed yarns I would highly suggest for them to contact the dyer and ask them about the color fastness of the dyes they use. This should bring comfort in knowing you are buying a product that you can enjoy for a long time to come.

Jen: Your yarn company is named “Knitting Niqabi” and you often share educational content about your identity as a Muslim. Can you tell me a little bit about how your cultural values show up in your yarn, your identity as a maker, and your business practices?

Kelcey: For anyone who might not know this already the word “Niqab” refers to the face veil that some Muslim women chose to wear, so Niqabi is like a nickname for someone who wears it (similar to Hijab and Hijabi). When deciding to name my business Knitting Niqabi it came from a place of wanting to be known as a Muslim Maker who takes pride in her faith.

I was not born Muslim, I converted to the religion back in University and ever since I did, my life has changed exponentially (in the best way possible). My Religious Identity literally shapes the way I do everything in my life which would include how I run my business. Since there exist so many misconceptions about my faith and perhaps I am the only Muslim a person knows or interacts with I take my representation of my faith seriously on all my platforms be it personal or professional.

Most people might not know this but Islam talks extensively about business and truly shapes what Business Ethics should look like for Muslims. It is a part of our faith to follow these ethics when conducting our own business. I will give two examples:

  • "The seller and the buyer have the right to keep or return goods as long as they have not parted or till they part; and if both the parties spoke the truth and described the defects and qualities (of the goods), then they would be blessed in their transaction, and if they told lies or hid something, then the blessings of their transaction would be lost."-Hadith

“Do not be envious of one another; do not artificially raise prices against one another; do not hate one another; do not turn one’s back on each other, and do not undercut one another in business transactions.”-Hadith

Just from these two hadith, you can see how important it is to be fair and kind not only with customers but with other business owners, even competitors. When you live with the understanding that God exists and is always watching, you live your life consciously and make decisions that you know please Him, and is better for yourself and the community as a whole even if it goes against common business practice, societal norms, or selfish wants and desires.

My strong belief in God and the realization that everything I do can turn into a form of worship if I purify my intentions brings a spiritual experience to my craft. Natural dyeing (as I stated before) is a spiritual experience for me that allows me to reflect on the beauty of God's creation and the wonderful hidden gems He gave us. My day-to-day interactions with customers and other business owners gives me the opportunity to practice Islamic Business Ethics with the sole intention to follow what God expects of me.

Fun Fact: Every Prophet of God was at some point a Shepherd. This was a preparation from God to teach them how to care for a flock and a time to reflect in the presence of Nature.

Another Fun Fact: There is a verse in the Quran about Spinning Wool. “And be not like her who unravels her yarn, disintegrating it into pieces after she has spun it strongly.” It was used as a metaphor for people who make contracts/promises and then go against them.

Jen: So, dyers often have a good sense of the pulse of coming fashions! Can you give us your color insight? What colors are you excited about for the coming spring and summer? What are you excited to knit?

Kelcey: I might be a little more of an unconventional dyer when it comes to this. I do not follow fashion trends or keep up to date with color palettes when it comes to seasonal changes.

When I go to my dye pots I look for inspiration from the dye material I have currently in stock and allow them to speak to me and drive what colors I stock in my shop. Other than my staple colorways that I often stock, when I am releasing a new colorway I go to my dye pots without much expectation but more in a mindset of experimentation. This gives my dye process a sense of mystery that allows me to be surprised when I see the colors they yield.

Lili faces away from the camera, her handknit sweater has cables and texture detail, and is a soft silvery sage color.
Lili's Local Meadow, in Mirkwood, is dyed with Pomegrate.

I am very much a neutral to Earth toned girl when it comes to my personal preference of color choice on my personal knits. Greys, deep browns, burgundies, greens, and burnt oranges are my jam, not to mention the plethora of black that I always tend to use as well. Even though these are considered fall tones I buy them all year round and use them in almost all of my knits.

When it comes to projects I am super duper excited to cast on, I have a list (probably like most knitters). My next few cast on projects I have in mind are the Alaska Sweater by Camille Descoteaux, The Elfmail Sweater by Dani Miga, and the True Colors Shawl by Melanie Berg.

Jen: Okay – can you tell us three things we wouldn’t know about you from your Instagram?

Kelcey: This is a hard one simply because I am very transparent on my IG account and share a lot. If you follow my stories you probably already know that I am a huge geek (self-proclaimed and proud). I love video games, Dungeons and Dragons, Anime, Cosplay, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and go to my annual Renaissance Festival every year.

Maybe a few things that might not be as well known would be the fact that I have a degree in Psychology and currently work full-time as an Office Manager at my local mosque here in California, and run a support group for other women who converted to Islam.

Go Further

If you'd like to **preorder** yarn for a Local Meadow sweater, Kelcey is accepting pre-orders from February 11th through the end of the month; pre-orders will ship End of March.

To see her colors in person, you can check out her trunk show at Gather DTLA during the LA yarn crawl, March 24 - 27.

To learn more about Local Meadow, read tester thoughts and see more photos, visit the pattern page, here.

If you're new to working with nonsuperwash yarns, you can watch the replay of Choosing, Knitting and Wearing Nonsuperwash Yarns. I learned so much about fiber over the course of this discussion with Emily and Annalise, and I know you will too. The replay is free.

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