Friday, February 3, 2012

Dyer Moments: Melissa Ricks

When I design knit patterns, my inspiration usually begins with a color.  I like to design textures and patterns that represent, in some way, the color I’m working with.  If a particular dye lot reminds me of fire, or a stormy sea, or a leafy vine, I’ll try to reflect that in the stitch pattern or overall shape.  But where do those beautifully colored yarns originate?  I'm particularly fond of the work of indie-dyers, and so I've created this interview process - Dyer Moments - to expose the people that make the colorways that inspire new design.  

Join me today in getting to know Melissa Ricks!

Describe the first time you dyed.

~Aside from childhood attempts to crush berries and color doll clothes, my first dyeing experience was in high school.   I had just knitted my first sweater - a vivid hot pink  wool raglan pullover.  When I realized that the color wasn't the best for me, I fearlessly decided to dye it.  I used gold dye from the supermarket and my hot pink sweater became a lovely warm brick red - perfect! I guess I just have always looked at things with an eye to what they could become, not just what they are, so it seemed the natural thing to do.

How did you begin your business?
~The dream of having a fiber and yarn business of some type began in childhood, but it wasn't until 2008 that I got up the courage to pursue the dream.  I  started by selling handspun yarn on as a sideline to support my knitting and spinning   Other spinners admired the fibers I dyed for my own handspun, so I began to also sell hand dyed fibers.  Then, once I began selling at fiber festivals, knitters who didn't spin saw my colors and asked for hand dyed yarn. Within a year and a half, my 'sideline' business became my full time occupation.  The name, 'Wild Hare Fiber Studio' came about when I was gathering my courage to start a fiber business, and comes from an old southern saying: if someone does something unexpected and daring, people say they 'go off on a wild hare.'  I was working as a Realtor, dreaming of yarn and spinning wheels and one day decided to 'go off on a wild hare' and pursue my dream.  

What inspires your colorways and how do you name them?
~Generally, my colors are inspired by the beauty of the natural world, but I love to play with how colors interact with one another, so some of my colorways are spontaneous and some are based on color theory.  I have some colorways that I repeat and keep in stock, but each season I do a batch of new ones -- a few may be added to the repeatables, but many of them are just for a season. While I don't copy from it, I do keep an eye on the Pantone 'color forecast' to make sure I have some of the colors that will be appearing in ready-to-wear that season so that my yarns will work with other garments.   Most of the time, the colorway tells me what to name it.

Do you also knit? Crochet?
~Oh yes.  My great-grandmother taught me to crochet when I was a preschooler, I taught myself to knit from a book in junior high.  I added spinning in 1990, and recently discovered that sock yarns work really well on a rigid heddle loom!  There's always something new to learn or try in fiber arts!

What is your favorite color?
~Colors are like children -- no fair playing favorites!  Different colors play different roles, and sometimes an 'ugly' color is just what is needed to make another color really shine.  When dyeing my yarns and fibers, I intentionally create a range of colors in each yarn or fiber to appeal to a variety of people.  Sometimes a color that I would never choose for myself can become a best seller!  In my own knitting bag, you're most likely to find teals and greens, purple, coppery browns and neutrals.

What is your favorite fiber/yarn to dye?
~Probably superwash merino wool, because it dyes so vividly and well.

Describe your background / education. Does it have any influence on your company?
~After a childhood spent drawing, painting, sewing and doing anything creative I could find to do, I attended Duke University and double-majored in Political Science and Fine Art/Design.  After graduation I worked for the university in marketing and communications.  When I married and began having children, I became a homeschooling mother who did a variety of other things on the side, such a creating t-shirts featuring my artwork, selling clothing for nursing mothers on ebay, and 'flipping' houses.  When my marriage ended, I became a Realtor, something I chose both because I really enjoyed helping buyers and sellers through the process of finding or selling a house, and because it offered the flexibility I needed as a single mom with small children.  Having a fiber business draws upon the sense of color and design that I developed in college as well as skills in marketing and sales that came through my work experience -- and I can design my own schedule so that my families needs still take priority.  In order to keep the house focused on family and have enough space to meet the demands of my business, I now rent a studio so that I have a dedicated dye kitchen, carding station, and a room where I can package and display my products and hold classes.  It's next door to the elementary school that my children attend and within walking distance of home -- perfect for my current family and business needs.

Tell us about your biggest dye “fail”.
~Hmmm.... I once tried to do natural dyeing with pokeberries and forgot to add the mordant.  In the dyepot the yarn was this most amazing shade of magenta... but all that lovely rich color washed out and I was left with straw-colored yarn.  It was a pretty shade so I used it anyway (the thing I made won 'Best of Show' at a fiber festival, so maybe this is a bad example of a fail.)

Most importantly, what’s the best way to purchase your yarns? Are you in retail stores or do you have a shop online? Do you offer a yarn club?
~You will find me online at either or, and at many shows and festivals on the east coast.  There are several yarn shops that also carry my fibers and yarns as I'm gradually adding wholesale accounts.  I don't have my own club, but I've dyed yarn for several clubs that feature different dyers each month (I'm doing yarn in March for Pulling at Strings yarn club, for example)

Melissa Ricks - Wild Hare Fiber
To get a better idea of the people behind the product…I ask our dying interviewees these insightful questions developed by Bernard Pivot.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
~the beauty of creation - the ocean, a sunset, the beauty of flower, babies soft fuzzy little noggins, soft white wool

What turns you off?
~strong smells, loud noises, bossy controlling people, cheap plastic yarn

What sound or noise do you love?
~string music, distant trains, rain on my metal roof

What sound or noise do you hate?
~squeeling tires, revving engines, yelling

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
~I really just want to play with yarn and fiber, which I'm already doing, but if I could combine this with working in another country as a missionary or Peace Corps volunteer, that would be cool.

What profession would you not like to do?
~I wouldn't want to be a professional wrestler, circus clown, or The President of the United States.  My head is sufficiently in the clouds so that I would probably make a pretty bad waitress too.

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