Friday, July 6, 2018

An Interview with...Andrea Hilton

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.

You can find
Andrea here, her yarn is here, and she's here on Ravelry.

Drainage DK

Where do you find inspiration for your colourways?
Tributary Yarns is rooted in a deep love of the landscape around me in the wilds of northern California. My favorite colorways are inspired by my favorite places, and often my favorite swimming holes. I am fortunate to live so close to Redwood National Park, the Pacific Ocean, and many pristine rivers.

What is your favourite dyeing technique?
I almost always dye in large hotel pans on a stove-top. I like to be able to spread out the yarn and make sure each bit of yarn is receiving the proper color. Sometimes I do speckles. Other times, I stick with tonals. It’s a mix. I don't have any hard and fast rules about my process. I like to experiment and see what works with what. I can’t say I have innate talent based on killer color instincts that I draw from. Sometimes I just dye a painfully ugly skein. It’s all part of creating.

How do you choose the fibers that you work with? 

I started Tributary Yarns to promote domestic, sustainable wools, but the fiber wasn’t back from the mill until recently. I stalled by dying a fairly standard sock base and some silk blends (I love silk blends!). So far, I’ve found my Stream Sock and River Silk/Merino bases to be the most popular and need to work harder to convince my readers that knitting with real, happy wool, such as my Watershed Worsted, grown right here in the USA, is a worthwhile endeavor.

How did you determine what weights of yarn you stock?

I personally love all the weights and knit with almost all of them (although less so with lace and bulky). I have found most of my sales go to fingering weight yarns, which has been the main driver for me. Sadly, it doesn’t do me a lot of good to dye a ton of heavier weight yarn if it’s just going to sit on the shelf.

How do you come up with names for your yarn?
Water-bodies are pretty much my schtick. I have Stream Sock, Freshwater Fingering, River Silk/Merino Fingering, Watershed Worsted, and Drainage DK in my shop. In my other life, I work as a hydrologist, supporting river and fisheries restoration. That’s why I am so passionate about my domestically sourced, sustainable bases. They really are so much better for our little planet.

Could you give us an idea of how long the process is to dye a batch of yarn and prepare it for sale? 

I tend to dye yarn every other Friday and Saturday when my son is with his father. I transform my kitchen into a dye studio and have at it. I often do 20-30 skeins over the course of a day or two, depending on the base I’m working with. Between dying, skeining, labeling, and un-dying my kitchen, I’m pretty busy on those weekends. I suspect my endeavor is fairly small-scale compared to other, more established indie dyers. For me, it’s still an economy of scale.

Do you look at other dyers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their yarns?
Absolutely, I look at other dyers’ work, especially on Instagram. There are a lot of talented indie dyers out there. I see their skeins and am blown away. Dying is so fluid that I’m not sure it’s possible to plagiarize a colorway. (I could try but probably wouldn’t succeed.) I suspect most indie dyers are purchasing dyes from one of several primary suppliers, and I know most order bases from the same wholesalers. Like pretty much everything else, we’re all just selling different variations of the same gorgeous yarns. That’s also why I’m so passionate about my Watershed Worsted and Freshwater Fingering bases--they’re regionally sourced and not the same ol’ variety of bases stocked by every other dyer. They’re truly unique.

Are you a knitter as well?
Uh, ya. I am an OBSESSIVE knitter. Before starting Tributary Yarns, I focused on designing and selling patterns on Ravelry. I like to knit every day, most typically after my son is asleep at night. I settle in on the sofa and watch a show while I toil away.

Did you do have a formal business plan?
(Laughs.) Nope. Maybe someday. It’s in my head, though.

Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor. I could use one though! (Volunteers, please make contact via email!). I have been inspired by a lot of amazing knitters and dyers I have connected with online since starting my blog, This Knitted Life. I’m grateful for those relationships.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 

Try. Fail. Try harder. Stumble. Keep going. Surely you can do this.

What impact has the Internet had on your business? 

Without the Internet, I probably wouldn’t have a business. I’ve also recently partnered with my local yarn shop. In addition to stocking my yarns, they also offer my inventory online through their web portal. This saves me the time of taking product photographs and updating my own online shop, which I found abysmally tedious, and allows me to spend more time simply creating. 

Some fun Stream Sock colors in Andrea's shop

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I’m supposed to have balance in my life? Hmmm. I will have to work on that. I just do my best every day. I have a lot to do in a scarce amount of time. Most days, I run out of steam before I run out of tasks. I don’t beat myself up when I crawl onto the sofa at 8:00 p.m., calling it quits. I’m human. Realizing that and acknowledging my limitations while forgiving myself for my imperfections is really the best I can do. 

How do you deal with criticism? 

I started designing in 2013, after the birth of my son. I starting dying last winter. In all of my years in the fiber industry, I have not received a single criticism. I am constantly touched by the kindness, support, and love that has been offered to me by total strangers. Knitters are remarkable human beings, and for that, I am thankful.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? 

Ya, I’m still working on that. I don’t think I will be quitting my day job anytime soon.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dying yarns? 

If I can do it, you can do it. But make sure you really love it and are self-motivated. It’s not easy, and it probably won’t be an overnight success. You’ll lose money before you make money. And you’ll make a lot of messes. That said, dream big. Anything is possible. You are a bright star. 

Some of Andrea's favorite River Silk/Merino colorways.

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