The story of the Jazz Hands yarn bundles January 22 2015, 8 Comments

Some time just before the turn of the year, I got a message from the lovely Kate Davies asking if she'd mind if she used some Voluptuous Skinny she had for a mittens pattern.

I silently squee'd. Then very professionally answered with a delighted "Yes please" or similar. Not to say it wasn't a daunting prospect for a one-woman dyer with a brand new studio assistant who works part-time (but who is a very fast learner).

A couple of weeks later, she sent through photos of her beautiful design; colourwork based on the geometric design she'd used for Epistropheid and Epistrophy.

Introducing Jazz Hands - the pattern is available to buy here.

So I had to get to work.

Voluptuous Skinny is a 4 ply yarn consisting of 80% Exmoor Blue 20% organic merino and is spun by John Arbon in Devon.

The Exmoor Horn is a rare, hardy hill sheep native to Exmoor in Devon and the ewes are often bred with the Blueface Leiceister ram to produce a hard-wearing but soft yarn with a lovely bloom. The organic merino hails from the Falkland Islands.

I usually buy in 30 kilos at a time and the lead time at the mill is around 3-4 months.


The undyed yarn comes in 100g and 200g skeins, tied in two places. These then have to be tied by hand in a further two places. And all the yarn is soaked overnight in large tubs with food grade citric acid (an alternative would be vinegar, but it's a bit fragrant for me). This preparation time can take an hour or two.

The skeins are then fully immersed in dye in hot water - 3 or 4 at a time - and left for 20 minutes. I then, very carefully, lift the skeins, one-by-one, out of the pots to avoid tangles. Mix up more dye in hot water, add it to the water, and extremely carefully, lower the skeins back into the pot to ensure maximum coverage. They are then left in the water for a further 20 minutes. This is called double dyeing and can lead to a certain intensity in colour.

Production was very nearly brought to a halt on Monday by an almost-electrical-fire in the workshop - moisture and electricity - the eternal battle of the dyer. Hence regular electrical inspections are essential. Pleased to report that the workshop is all dried out now and safe for the next batch of club dyeing next week.

The yarn is then spun, dried and brought to the studio.

For these yarn bundles, we had to break the yarn down from 100g and 200g skeins into 50g skeins.

Here's Eliza loading up the new swift which arrived from the States just after Christmas.

She sets the metre on the electric skein winder to 170m. It automatically stops when the desired length has been reached. However, this is far from an exact science. All kinds of factors play a role including the exact positioning of the flexi-skeiner arms. 

Hence we have ended up with skeins varying between 46g and 59g (depending on the generosity of the original skein too). But we will team up the lighter skeins with the heavier so that you will receive 100g or more in total and as the largest size called for 115m, there will be more than enough yarn for the mittens.

And to make matters more complicated, our original set of winders refused to count in metres. So we used rotations to gauge the weight. 

Both of us worked all day on Tuesday on the skeining up. Then I worked on it myself yesterday and Eliza is furiously winding up more as we speak. The skeins she's currently winding will be available in the online shop from 8pm GMT tonight (22nd January).

And tangles are time-consuming. It's a bit of an art to know when to persevere and when to abandon!

This morning, we were ready to go as Kate launched the pattern with 100 yarn bundles, with more to be added tonight at 8pm GMT.

The tags, yarn labels, tissue and ribbon are at the ready. One customer has already come in to purchase her set and there are many orders waiting to be wrapped and posted out around the world.

Next week, I'm committed to club dyeing, but am aiming to get more bundles into the February 5th shop update. Due to demand, I'm being very strict with myself and sticking to the original colourway and original yarn weight. 

I would hope to produce enough so that everyone who wants one gets one, and to have some in the shop permanently available. But it may take us a few weeks to get to that point - thanks for bearing with us. And so looking forward to knitting a pair of Jazz Hands for myself at some point!

Huge thanks to Kate - it's been fab working with you.