I have been thoroughly enjoying finding local handmade dyers since I’ve been back in New Zealand, although I should hasten to add, my definition of “local” includes Australian as well as New Zealand dyers. After all, we’re only a ditch apart, sound vaguely similar and share the same seasons!
One of my recent discoveries has been Nunnaba Artisan Yarns from Australia and what a delightful discovery it’s been! Jenna has a way of creating beautiful fresh, romantic colourways that capture my imagination and make my fingers start twitching to cast on. Plus, her colours are all dyed onto the most glorious of bases; White Gum Wool, which is simply divine.
I recently managed to snaffle some Nunnaba yarn by ordering some in Jenna’s Ravelry group when she let everyone know that she had developed some new colourways and was taking a limited number of orders for semi-solids and coordinating gradients. It was only a short wait before my beautifully packaged yarn arrived and I was thrilled with the colours she created and the quality of the wool she uses.
Needless to say, I was very keen to ask Jenna some questions about how she creates her magic and I think you’ll really enjoy what she has to say.
Without further ado, let me introduce Jenna!
I was amazed at how fast your last order of yarn sold
out! You seem to have fantastic fans who snap up your yarns as soon as they’re
available! How did you get into dyeing and when did you start?
I’m very lucky, I have such a delightful group of
people that are so supportive and encouraging which means that I can keep
dyeing! It is a wonderful blessing.
I first got into the yarnie world when I
was pregnant with no. 2 (over 6 year ago now) and was too big to make him the
quilt that I had planned, so decided that knitting was a better option for
someone who couldn’t really get up off the floor anymore. It turned out pretty
horrible and wasn’t finished until he was one anyway, but it did start a bit of
an obsession with yarn.
Anyway, when I first got into it, I fell in love with
hand-spun yarn and so started spinning shortly after he was born. I loved that
so much more than knitting at the time (is it weird to like making yarn more
than making with yarn?). I
then started to make my own batts, and then dabbling with dyeing fibre, which
kept me occupied for quite some time, but then yarns beckoned again and here we
Bit of a tangent, but our number 2 is also behind the name Nunnaba, not
just the origin- he was always called ’Nunnaba’ by my students at the time. We
lived in outback Western Australia in Wongai country where ‘nunnaba’ means
‘little and cute’ and although I wouldn’t say my yarn is little or cute, it was
just a special name to me.
You have a knack of dyeing beautiful, fresh colourways
which look so romantic. Where do you find inspiration for the colours you
Thank you! I spend a lot of time on pinterest and
Instagram “working” where I find so many beautiful, inspiring photos. I will
quite often find one that just catches my eye and that will start a theme that
I then look for complementing photos to use as inspiration for the colour
For example, there was a photo of an elegant ballerina in soft, sweet
lighting that caught my eye, which led to looking for more ballet inspired photos;
they will become part of an upcoming collection that should be out within the
next few months, I just need to work out which order I’ll do the next few
The Spiced collection actually all started from an inspiration
photo that I didn’t even end up using! Although I loved the solid that I made
for a ‘cinnamon’ colour way, the gradient just didn’t work, which meant that
the solid found it’s way into my stash instead- oops! One of the perks of the
Gradients seem very popular amongst dyers and knitters at the moment and yours are particularly lovely. Do you enjoy dyeing them?
Oh I really do! The very best part is where I have dyed up a new colourway and wind it into a ball and I get to see the lovely colours coming together in their final form – it’s just magic every time! Although planning them and tweaking them is wonderfully fun too as that’s where the creative process really comes in, like, how will these colours react together, how could I blend so that these two don’t muddy, those sorts of things. And the actual dyeing part- that’s awesome too- when the planning and the playing come together on the yarn and I can see how it all comes together, so much fun!
Actually, I think the whole process is my favourite part! Except for the cleaning up part, that I could totally live without.
I love hearing about the places people create, especially yarn dyers. Where do you dye your yarn and what is your workspace like?
Well here is what it looks like when it is tidy, but if I stepped back and took a bigger (ahem… more honest) picture, it would be surrounded by bikes and balls and cars and other things to trip over – I get to share my back deck with my 4 kidlets (1 passionate kitchen gardener, 2 future rugby players… or race car drivers, and 1 eager helper).
So behind that window is the laundry, where I soak the yarn and rinse it and fill up bottles and that sort of thing, and then I’ll do the actual dyeing out the back on this table where I store my dyes and bottles and pots and pans. It’s not glamorous, but it is what it is really like here. My basic process goes like this (coz really, the dyeing is just a small part of the process) – I have all my winding equipment inside, so while the kids nap or have quiet time, I prepare the yarn inside (so that’s an afternoon job), I’ll also do any winding during naps too, then while kids are awake I’ll get the dyeing done while they play outside.
This does mean it’s a bit stop-start at times, depending on how well everyone is getting along that day, but it does mean that I can watch them play while I’m working. Then at night I will do the computer work, which is basically the emails, photo editing, more emails and invoices, and I’ll do most of the packaging at night too, basically anything that can’t be done while I’m a little bit distracted.
I’ve had a ball dyeing up my own yarn recently and although I’ve heard dyers say there are never “mistakes” when dyeing, I’m not so sure! It’s tricky getting exactly the colour you’re after. What tips would you give to people wanting to have a go at dyeing their own yarn?
There are definitely no mistakes, although there can be some very frustrating learning experiences!
Having said that, those
“mistakes” can be really valuable as they can teach you so much about the
colour that you are working with.
I would say just jump in and have a play, but
I understand that most people don’t have the luxury of having oodles of yarn
lying around, so perhaps more practical advice would be- pick a small palette
of colours and spend time experimenting and just playing with small quantities
just to get a feel for how the dye works on the yarn. Once you really know how
they work in different strengths and with different blends then you can start
adding to your collection and expanding with a bit more predictability.
I started off with 6 colours and just spent time playing with them for quite some
time and learnt so much from them. I would also add, on a much less insightful
note, that Powerade bottles are the best dye bottles that I’ve used- they have
a really wide mouth, which makes it easier to pop the dye in, and hold a good
amount, especially for gradients. Oh, and if in doubt, over dye – that’s where
you will get some really interesting layers of colours that have so much depth!
See? No mistakes after all, just cover it up with more dye!
Do you have any special tips for making blanks and
When I first started gradients, there weren’t many
sock blanks that you could buy and I didn’t have a knitting mating of any
kinds, so making blanks was out of the question, so I developed a “top secret”
technique to prepare my gradients, which gives that dappled effect when knitted
up. I’m not going to have any great answers for this one, I’m sorry! But, I
will say that there are ways of making gradients that don’t use blanks and
don’t end up in a tangled mess – if you use a little bit of lateral thinking.
If you would rather not spend hours and hours researching and making
mistakes like I did, there are a few places now where you can buy the knitted
blanks premade and just enjoy the playing with dye part. Or you could just
bribe a friend who has a knitting machine.
I could share a little tip in terms
of dyeing them though, make sure you don’t use too much water, as the colours
won’t necessarily behave themselves. Limited water = more control over where the
I bought my yarn from you through a pre-order in your
Ravelry group. In the past I see you’ve also run yarn clubs. How can people buy
your yarn at the moment?
I usually work on a preorder basis at the moment and I
post all the details each month on the Nunnaba Facebook page (www.facebook.com/nunnaba)
and over on Ravelry as well in the Nunnaba group, though I am hoping to open a
website soon where I will sell the preorder yarn, but for now it’s all Facebook
I’m just finishing up the Heirloom colours at the moment, but the next
lot will be available very soon! I can’t wait to get stuck into them!
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Thank you so much Jenna! You can find Nunnaba Yarns on Facebook and on Ravelry – be sure to get in quick!
Did you catch my last podcast? Jenna has kindly donated one of her beautiful gradients for me to giveaway to one of you. Head over and find out how to be in the draw to win. I’ll draw a winner when I record my next podcast on 9 June 2015.