Friday, July 9, 2010

An Interview with... Kim McBrien

You can find Kim's yarn and fibre here
She is on Ravelry here

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

Where do you find inspiration for your colourways?
Everywhere and anywhere. A photograph or painting. Everyday things. Maybe it's something a friend has said. Sometimes it's a customer asking for something special: "Could you design me a colourway that looks like the Concrete Blonde version of Little Wing?" Sometimes it's the "I wonder what will happen if I layer A and B together". Sometimes it's just playing and improvising to see what happens. I think the key is not being afraid of getting it "wrong."
What is your favourite dyeing technique?
Something that I call "Improv Dyeing". Some of my favourite colourways and effects have come from throwing leftover dyes in the pot, randomly placing them on the yarn or fibre, in no particular order or effect. This has taught me that being less controlling with the yarn and fibre can leave the most beautiful effects.
How do you choose the fibers that you work with?
I choose fibres that I like to work with, for the most part. Or blends that I think will be interesting. Sometimes, when I've discovered a new supplier, I'll poll my customers to see what they'd like to see next. If a yarn sells well, it stays in my lineup. If it doesn't, then it goes. With a few exceptions. I carry a line of certified organic merino which is one of the most wonderful yarns I've ever worked with. When I discover something great, I'm willing to be patient and let it slowly grow on people.
I'd eventually like to use some local fibre in my line-up, and dye the fibre for spinning or find a small mill that's willing to spin it into yarn for me. Find Ontario sheep farmers that I can work with. In fact, this afternoon at my local farmer's market, I discovered a small alpaca farmer who's willing to sell me some fibre. And I hear rumours about a llama farmer down the road...
How did you determine what weights of yarn you stock?
Again, I start with weights that I like to work with. I like to knit a variety of things: sweaters, scarves and shawls, mitts... And I also poll my customers to see what they're most interested in. I also take requests.
How do you come up with names for your yarn?
I have to admit, my partner Ron comes up with most of our names. Left to my own devices, my colour names would probably very insightful, deep and tug at your heartstrings. But as we sat in the living room of our tiny Toronto apartment watching yarn dry after the first dyeing day, Ron said, "so you know what you should call that purple one? Groverkill." And that was it. The "artistic" direction changed. If we say it out loud and it makes one of us smirk or laugh, then we know it's THE name.
There is a list of names waiting for the right colourway to reveal itself. They come from a number of places: suggestions from friends, quotes, obscure pop culture references... We seem to maim a lot of muppets.
Do you look at other dyers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their yarns?
I do look at other dyers' work, but am not afraid that I'll be influenced by their yarns. I've been a fibre artist of some description since I was 4 years old, and using and mixing colour for at least the past 26 years. Sometimes I'll notice that one of my colours is similar to another dyer's, but then I'll look back over past work, way before I started knitting with hand-dyed yarns, and much of my colour sense has remained the same.
I'm a visual person, so by nature I'm influenced by everything that I see. Other hand dyed yarns are part of that, but not the whole picture. I've developed a very strong voice that I believe is unique.
Are you a knitter as well?
Yes, since I was 4 years old.
Did you do a formal business plan?
I have a business plan. It's not all written down yet. That part will come though. As part of my day job, I work with artists and help them develop their businesses, so it's important to practice what I make others do!
I think it's very important to know what you're doing business-wise and why you're doing it. I also think that a business plan should be a living, breathing document...not set in stone. There are too many factors that change in our world, and you should be ready and willing to be flexible to weather those changes.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The Internet is 99% of my business. I primarily sell on the Internet. And even the customers who aren't comfortable buying yarn online (and yes, there are still quite a few of them), often see my yarn online before they buy it in person. I advertise online, I sell online, I blog and I use Twitter and Ravelry extensively to build a community for our yarn.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
At the moment, not very well! *laughing* About a year ago, I lost my job. When I found a new one, it was an exciting one, but only part time, and required a huge move. The yarn dyeing business was supposed to also be part time, to supplement my income. Both jobs have turned out to be full time jobs. And because my partner has been unable to find work in our new town, my two "part time" jobs have become our family's income. So I struggle with the life/work balance on a daily basis.
How do you deal with criticism?
So far, I haven't had to deal with a lot of criticism regarding my yarn and fibre. But in general, I try to take it in and learn from it. Is it constructive? Will it help me be a better dyer? A better artist? If so, I'll use it. If it's destructive and won't help, then I don't use it.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I'm still in my first year of business. I'm fairly close to being able to support myself with just the yarn business, but not there yet. I anticipate it will take at least another year.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dying yarns?
First of all, be safe. Make sure you fully understand dyes and dye safety. Your health comes first. Learn your craft. Understand what makes good hand dyed yarn, and learn how to do it REALLY well. Find your niche. There are so many great dyers out there. What makes you unique? Find it. Embrace it. Be true to yourself.


  1. Kim's yarn is gorgeous. I made a shawl using the purpley yarn in the photograph and everyone falls in love with the it!

  2. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Kim's yarns...they are glorious and her personality is second to none!