Jill Draper has stolen our hearts with her beautifully hand-painted yarn from the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. So much goes into each and every skein, we thought you all might like to learn a little bit about her brand, Jill Draper Makes Stuff. Below is a conversation we had with her that made us appreciate her product even more.
Jill Draper Makes Stuff Splendor in Lavender, 80% Merino Wool 10% Cashmere 10% Nylon, 100 grams, 435 yards
Jill Draper Makes Stuff Nimbus in Graphite, 70% Angora 30% Silk, 50 grams, 435 yards
Jill Draper Makes Stuff Catskill in Jade, 100% Merino wool, 100 grams, 218 yards
How much input do you have on the product before it gets to you to be dyed, with the farmers, and the mill?
I have a lot of input, I’m kind of a control freak so I need it to be that way. I work with farmers & mills that work in a way, I can be proud to support, both in the way the animals & human workers are treated. Not everything I make is sourced domestically, yet, but I’m moving in that direction. You’ve heard of slow food, this is slow yarn.
It takes a long time to go from sheep to skein. I decide which farms I’m going to work with based on the quality of fibers and which breeds they raise. Farms work on a much different schedule than factories, they can only move at the pace the seasons, weather & sheep dictate. Sometimes shearing happens in March, sometimes in April and no amount of wanting the yarn can make it happen before it’s ready to happen. Then, when the fiber gets to the mill, I work with the mill to decide the thickness of the plies, and how many plies each yarn will be and how many yards, ounces or pounds (in the case of the Empire mega hanks) the yarn will be skeined in. This is a long process that takes lots of back & forth and sample making, I’m sure I drive the mills a bit crazy but it’s all in service to providing the best quality product.
I think of this business a lot like a garden. You plant seeds, water them & wait. Some will flourish with almost no aid and some no matter how much you help them along will wither before they ever flower. It’s been a great lesson in patience.
This is fascinating stuff. I think a lot of knitters realize that dyers approach animal vs. plant fibers differently, but probably don’t realize how much variety there is from one breed of sheep to another and even among a breed from the best quality fleeces to the lowest quality. I really like what you said, “It takes a long time to get from sheep to skein.” And not just time, but so much focused attention.
Yes, even the same flock can have a pretty big variance from sheep to sheep & year to year depending on their conditions, age, the weather & their diet.
What characteristics, in your opinion, does the ideal yarn for hand dyeing have? How does the ply and the weight effect how the yarn takes color, and how do you plan differently for different types of yarn?
It isn’t so much that it takes the dye differently based on plies or thickness. Each breed takes dye differently. It’s more that the staple length of the fiber and micron count of a fiber/breed work better or feels better when spun or plied a certain way. I think two great resources for fiber people interested in ‘nerding out’ on the properties of different breeds of wool are Clara Parkes’ Knitters Book of Wool and Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius’ The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook. Honestly, until I started sourcing my own wool & going to lots of fiber festivals where farmers were showing their sheep I thought it was just Merino and then “wool”. I didn’t know there were so many different breeds of fiber sheep out there.
I was wondering what your background is. Are you an artist? Craft lover? How did you get into dyeing?
I mostly think of myself as a maker. I love art and went to Pratt Institute where I graduated with a BFA so, in that sense I guess, yeah, I’m an “artist”. I think of art as something that is just for aesthetic or emotional value. Most of things I make have end uses. I like to think they at their best they are beautiful or artful but also useful. I have always loved making things. I can’t actually remember a time when I wasn’t making things. I started (and still do) make clothes, because I could make much nicer, more stylish things than I could afford. I studied Fashion Design at Pratt and already was knitting for fun or to pass the time on the subway. There weren’t any knitwear design classes at Pratt then but I decided my final collection had to have sweaters in it. I’d never knit from a pattern and had no idea how to even make a sweater. A professor I had gave me the broad strokes, as they understood them to handknitting a sweater & I went from there. I’m laughing to myself, actually, thinking of the first sweater patterns I made. They were the same size as sewing patterns with each rectangle in my hand drawn graphs as a stitch, even though the sweaters were mainly stockinette!!
I started dyeing because I was dyeing the fabric for my collection and I wanted the yarns I used to coordinate. So I dyed my first yarns in my bathtub in a rented apartment in Ft Greene.