Helene’s hand-dyed yarn company Happy-Go-Knitty was the first hand-dyed range from New Zealand that I heard of. Her gloriously rich colourways caught my eye and I was immediately a fan. Funnily enough, Helene was also the very first dyer I met in New Zealand. The day after we arrived from the UK we visited (very jet-lagged!) a craft market where I found Helene and her beautiful stand of yarn. She was absolutely lovely, friendly and smiley and I was thrilled to find her and her yarn so quickly. Of course I had to buy a few skeins and you’ll see some of her self-striping knitted up into socks in the photo below. They’re all finished now and these lovely striped socks are one of my favourite pairs.
We’ve met a couple of times since at yarn shows but when (excitingly) Helene contacted me earlier this year wondering if I’d be interested in designing a shawl for one of her clubs I leapt for joy. Of course! I pushed my nerves to one side and jumped in. My shawl is well underway now and I can’t wait to show you – but it has to stay top-secret until the shawl club packages are sent in a few months.
The Happy-Go-Knitty shawl club runs over May, June & July this year. You’ll receive a beautiful skein of hand-dyed yarn, a shawl pattern and a selection of “treats” each month. I’m designing one shawl and the others two are being designed by Brenda Green from Natural Star. If you’re interested in finding out more about the shawl club and want to join in the fun, keep an eye on Helene’s Facebook page for details of when and how to sign up.
But first, let’s hear from the talented dyer herself! I asked Helene some questions and here’s what she had to say:
I first heard of Happy-Go-Knitty when I was living overseas. You’ve got a loyal following and are one of New Zealand’s most popular places to shop for hand dyed yarn. How long have you been dyeing and how did you start?
Thanks, that’s lovely to hear! I started dyeing cotton yarn 12 years ago, when my kid’s were toddlers and I still lived in Sweden. The yarn was a basic but great quality 100% cotton and I used it for beanies and jerseys. They were soft and nice for them to wear and easy to wash. When I moved to NZ in 2004 I took lots of cotton yarn with me.
One day when I was knitting I thought “maybe it’s possible to sell this cotton yarn at craft markets?” I asked my mum to bring some yarn on her next trip to visit us. She also brought the dyes with her since they are very different to the dyes I can find here. The yarn sold pretty well and next time my sister came to visit I asked her to bring a larger lot. That also sold but when my sister was here she asked me “Helene, NZ is full of sheep and wool, why don’t you dye wool instead?” The dyeing process is very different but I gave it a go and I was hooked! That was about 4 years ago and ever since then I have been experimenting with new qualities and dye ways.
My customers seem to knit a lot of shawls and socks and therefore I have specialised in 2ply and 4ply yarn. My range today consists of 2ply silk/merino and silk/yak down. In 4ply sock yarn I have got 100% BFL, MCN (merino/cashmere/nylon), alpaca/merino/nylon, sparkle wool and merino/nylon. For shawls I have also got a lovely 4ply silk/merino which has quickly become my best-selling yarn.
I dye my yarn in the following colourways – semi-solid, variegated, self-striping, painted and from time to time I have gradients.
When I think of Happy-go-knitty yarn I think of rainbows! You have such a beautiful palette of colourways available. Do you have favourite colours and colourways that you like to use?
When I started dyeing yarn Happy-go-knitty was all about bright colours in bold combinations. I soon started experimenting with four-colour self-striping yarn and my customers liked it, it was very successful! Eighteen months ago I tried six-colour self-striping in rainbow colours and that has since been one of my best-sellers! I now sell it in several different sock qualities including sparkle yarn.
About a year ago I decided to try some new colours and bought more muted colours – browns, greys, olive green and dusky blue. I tried them on my silk blends and the result was amazing! The colours came out beautifully and the muted colours are now a part of my range, I’m very pleased with them.
I’m quite fond of dark pink and purples myself – think black plums, blueberries, raspberries – yup, those are my favourites!
I love hearing about the places people create, especially yarn dyers. Where do you dye your yarn and what is your workspace like?
When we moved to a new house 18 months ago the plan was to create a dyeing studio in the basement. It still hasn’t happened so I dye all my yarn in the kitchen… Luckily I have a very patient family!
The rise in popularity for fibre craft seems to be happening around the world. Have you seeing a rise in the popularity of knitting and knitters using indie yarn in New Zealand?
Oh yes! People are definitely interested in hand dyed yarn! Knitting and crochet is very popular and many people don’t mind spending the extra money for hand dyed yarn since they put a lot of time and skill into what they are making. The end result is so different with hand dyed yarn.
I can also see a growth in the yarn events I visit as a trader – for example Knit August Night in Napier (August)* and Unwind Fibre Retreat in Dunedin (March). I have visited both of them twice and they have grown for every year. On Saturday 23 May, Woolfest* will be on here in Auckland for the second time and we expect it to be much bigger than last year! Don’t miss this event at Corban estate!
*Truly Myrtle will be at these events too! Do come!
I’ve loved playing around with yarn and dye. What tips would you give to people wanting to have a go at dyeing their own yarn?
Don’t take it too seriously and don’t be afraid of experimenting! Your first skeins might not come out the way you wanted them too but don’t give up. It takes quite some time to learn how to do it your own way, to come up with a style that you like and feel is your identity. I also recommend dyeing with proper wool dyes to make sure you get a colourfast and lasting result.
I’m super excited to be designing a shawl for your new shawl club. What clubs do you have and how do they work?
I’m super excited to have you on board for the next club and I’m very much looking forward to see what you have designed!
I have run six yarn clubs so far and they have been very successful. The clubs have been sock clubs, arm warmer club and shawl clubs. Right now I’m running a Sock Club for Beginners as I noticed that many people want to learn how to knit socks. I have already been asked to run it again so it’s likely that I will do.
My clubs run for 1–3 months and each month the members receive a package including a pattern, yarn to make the pattern, a knitting treat and a healthy, edible treat. The packages are meant to be a surprise when they arrive so only basic information is revealed when the club is announced. The patterns are a secret but they are always by talented designers and lately all the patterns have been designed specifically for my clubs! There are always several colour options to chose from but the exact colours are not given, only a name for each option. In my latest club the names were Hummingbird (bright), By the shore (muted), Rose garden (bright) and Berry smoothie (muted). People had to use their imagination and make a wild guess!
The shawl club you have designed for will be a 3-month shawl club for knitters and it will be announced soon, I just need to make a final decision on colours and some other details. I also have a 1-month shawl club for crocheters in the pipe-line and another, still very secret club up my sleeve! I highly recommend that people check out my facebook page and instagram for these exciting clubs!
* * * * * * * * * * *
Thank you so much Helene!
I’m really enjoying working with Happy-Go-Knitty yarn and have a few more design ideas sketched out for future patterns with this gorgeous yarn. You should try some yourself!
If you’d like to sign up for any of Helene’s up-coming clubs follow her on Facebook to receive announcements. You can also find Helene on Instagram and she regularly appears at a variety of markets and festivals around New Zealand.
Ensure you’re signed up to the Truly Myrtle Minimag to stay in touch and get discounts on new pattern releases.
We’d love to see you in the Truly Myrtle Hangout on Facebook!