Lola Johnson is thoroughly lovely – so lovely that people begged me to stock her yarns having met her at a festival (I’m not sure if they even saw her yarn!). Hers are the capable hands which dye the glorious colourways that make up Third Vault Yarns. She kindly agreed to be interviewed here.
How do you come to be hand-dying yarns for sale?
I’ve been knitting in earnest since 2012, before then it was mostly just on the odd occasion. When I went back to University after my placement year, I joined the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch society which helped me get back into knitting in a big way. The next year, having decided to give back, I became a committee member. Which is incidentally when I also started teaching, knitting and crafting skills. Myself and the other committee members were looking to plan a range of workshops and dyeing yarn got the best response when broached. I mean what fibre artist isn’t slightly fascinated with the idea of dyeing their own yarn!? In any case having had no experience at this point, it was up to me to figure out how! So I watched YouTube videos, read books and played around with yarn and food colouring, achieving passable results. Having a decent idea of the process, I then taught a fellow committee member and we went on to teach a class of eight others. It was a great afternoon accented by cups of tea, biscuits and lots of colour! This was the start of an addiction to playing with colour and dyeing my own yarn. I even taught my partner how. I ended up dyeing yarn for myself and others on commission, so towards the end of my Masters degree, it just felt like it made sense to me. To do something I loved and to take that leap into sharing my passion for beautiful yarn with others.
Many of your yarns are variegated in different ways, what sort of techniques do you use to get the different effects?
No trade secrets here! I like to use lots of different techniques to achieve my different colourways, largely the techniques I use will be influenced by the inspiration behind the colourway I am creating. For example I talk a bit more about how I come up with colourways on my blog, specifically Saphira, for which I use a combination of immersion dyeing and resist techniques. Other methods I use are dip dyeing, hand painting and lately I’ve been playing with kettle dyeing. I like to experiment with lots of techniques to help create my vision for each colourway.
Matching variegated yarns with patterns which suit them isn’t always easy. Have you got any tips?
Generally. That’s something I find hard too, but often when I’m dyeing I have a feel for how a colourway might knit up which is part of the effect I’m going for. When you don’t have that though, I would go with what Bronagh Miskelly mentioned for Tesseract: “Wind before you decide”. This can give you an idea of how the colours might play out in fabric when knit or crocheted as it shows you the length of the colour repeats. When looking at patterns, look at projects that have already been made [Ravelry helps for this]. How does the texture or some of the features of the pattern play out with other people’s yarn choices (this helps more if you play closer attention to projects that use yarn with the same sort of colour distribution as yours. If there aren’t any other projects with variegated yarn, look more closely at the features and techniques used in the pattern, is it a repeating pattern? Is it heavily textured? If it’s cables are the cables simple and chunky or thin and intricate? What kind of stitch does it use? You are more likely to lose the yarn and pattern in heavily textured patterns, thin intricate cables are not as likely to show up whilst simple thin or thick ones won’t be affected as much. Ultimately it depends on the item you are making, sometimes heavy texture can help to tone down a very variegated yarn, which can make a very pretty hat or accessory, even garment. Sometimes you may want to pair the variegated yarn with another simpler colourway to create a different look.
All of your yarns have a fantasy or sci-fi theme, what gave you that idea?
Well I’m a computer scientist by degree and generally a sci-fi and fantasy fan since my early youth. I think everyone needs a little fantasy in their lives. Theming my yarns
that way is my way of staying unapologetically geeky, also my little nod to the other geeky fibre artists out there that feel one of my colourways resonates with their favourite fandom. In any case despite my theme choices, colour and combinations are accessible to all and regardless of whether someone identifies with the fandom, I love to share my passion for colour with everyone.
Can you now watch sci-fi without ogling characters for colours?
Of course not! Why waste the inspiration! In all honesty I see colours everywhere, which I love. Even when I’m reading, if there is a particularly evocative passage I sometimes think of how fabulous a yarn it would make and I envision colour and layout.