This weeks Yarn Babies is very near and dear to my heart! Last year, I began emailing with Jocelyn Tunney of O-Wool, and have been working on some really fun projects with her yarns ever since. Earlier this week I got to release the first pattern, Pollen, in a series that I am designing with her amazing range of yarns! Every yarn she offers is so unique, and her color palettes are just breath taking! I am thrilled to share some of her story, as told in her own words below!
Could you tell us a little bit about what brought you to owning your own yarn company?
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs so owning my own business was always something I aspired to. After working in yarn retail and then wholesale for a number of years, and having come from a fiber arts and design educational background, it seemed like a logical step. I heard through the grapevine that Vermont Organic Fiber Company, the founders of O-Wool, were looking for a new owner, and in May of 2010 O-Wool was mine! Thinking you can own your own business and actually owning your own business are two different things, though. After a steep learning curve the first few years, I feel like O-Wool and I have settled into a great groove of beautiful colors, fun knitting pattern designs, lovely yarns and fantastic customers.
O-wool has one of my favorite color palettes! How involved do you get to be in in the dyeing process (i.e. picking out and developing the colorways for O-wool)?
I am 100% behind the development of O-Wool's colors! I feel, after a number of years, I've developed a palette I really love. And I am psyched to hear you love it, too! Choosing new colors and editing the palette is the most fun and also most difficult thing. If a new green is just slightly too yellow, or light, or what-have-you, it won't sell, so I have to be really thoughtful. When I started, I was choosing colors that I thought I needed and that I thought other people would love and want to buy. Over the years I've realized that my personal vision is what is contributing to O-Wool's success, so now I only choose colors I like. And then I show them to my trusted colleague who proceeds to tell me that I can't ONLY make greys and blue-greens. I'm not convinced. :) I work with professional dyehouses and it is a communication adventure. They are scientists and I am a designer, so we approach the same thing from completely opposite perspectives. Even though we come from different worlds, they understand weird feedback I provide, like, "this red is too blue" and always produce a stellar product.
Can you tell us about the different bases O-wool has to offer? Do you have a favorite??
I feel like choosing a favorite yarn base is like admitting you have a favorite child... I feel guilty about it. However, in confidence, I will admit right now I am obsessed with my newest yarn called Chunky Merino. It's a big, fat, chunky 100% organic merino 2-ply and knits up like a soft, fluffy dream. It also has the dreamiest palette - really gorgeous, weird, muted colors. I envisioned this being a great sweater yarn, so I went with a more wearable color palette to start.
I'm also very fond of my yarn called Local. This yarn is a labor of love. I drive around to small family alpaca farms about an hour radius of Philadelphia, buy their clip, load it into the truck and take it home. Once I have about 500 lbs, I "skirt" it all (unroll the fleece, remove the dirt and yucky hairs, roll it back up). This takes one filthy, exhausting weekend. And then I stuff it all into big freight bags on pallets (more filthy, tiring hours), and send it off to be scoured, spun, skeined and dyed!
My O-Wash Fingering and O-Wash Sport line I am so proud of. This is a highly unique yarn for handknitters - it is essentially organic superwash merino. So it is organic, machine-washable, crazy soft and has gorgeous colors. I hope to offer dk, worsted and chunky weights in the next couple of years. Superwash is so popular, so I think it's important to offer an organic alternative in every weight.
In addition to Chunky Merino, I have two other classic 100% organic merino yarns that have been workhorses in the O-Wool line for many years. Classic Worsted is the flagship O-Wool yarn, and Legacy Bulky is not far behind. This stuff wears like no other. I call it "bomb-proof". Whatever you make in these yarns, if you take good care of it you will have it for years and years. I hear from folks who knit their kids sweaters in this yarn years ago, have passed it along to other children, and it still looks amazing.
And then there's the most popular O-Wool kid - Balance! This yarn has been so popular because it is a really unique and useful yarn. It is 50% certified organic cotton and 50% certified organic merino in a light worsted weight. When dyed, it has this fantastic tweedy look to it. The cotton makes it great for Fall and Spring items and also makes it very soft and cool to the touch - folks love it for baby stuff. There's also Balance Bulky, which is the same thing in a bulky weight for folks like me who like a quick knit.
Where can we find your yarn?
I mainly sell O-Wool through my website o-wool.com, but I am also a vendor at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival every October in Rhinebeck, NY, and I do a pop-up at Knothouse Yarns in Frederick, MD during Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival in May. I know some folks find it hard to buy yarn online, but I sell shade cards for all the colors in every line, and am totally into answering emails like, "is the color Oyster Mushroom more of a pink, or a beige, or a grey?"
I am blown away by how you have been able to keep your yarns organic, cruelty-free, environmentally friendly and processed here in America. On top of all that, they are very fairly priced. What do you feel has been the most challenging aspect of this?
Educating my customers, processors and suppliers about what can and does go into making O-Wool has been the biggest challenge. Also, not compromising on any of the above-mentioned issues can be challenging. I have a Frequently Asked Questions card you can download on my website that I update periodically, and I am as transparent as possible about every step of O-Wool sourcing and production - I encourage everyone to read through it. Many folks assume that I have a sheep farm, have my own mill, and hand dye all of the yarns with natural dyes. Let me tell you - this is my DREAM! However, there are many lovely folks who offer that product, and O-Wool offers something different. O-Wool supports commercial sheep farmers who have chosen to undergo the difficult and expensive process of becoming certified organic. O-Wool supports some of the very few remaining spinning mills in the USA in hopes of reviving the USA textile industry (and I will say my mills have become exponentially busier over the course of the last 5 years, so things are looking up!!). And O-Wool supports commercial dyehouses in the USA for the same reason. I actually don't use the term cruelty-free to describe my products anymore, because I want folks to understand the nuances of the lives of animals being raised in certified organic husbandry instead of reading that phrase and making a snap decision. So read through my FAQ card to learn more! https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0155/0473/files/O-Wool-FAQ-Card.pdf?7089696914339681033
What advice would you give to people out there wanting to follow their creative dreams?
This is probably some sobering, un-inspiring advice but I think it's important. If your dream is to be an entrepreneur in an art/design/craft realm, then take some business classes in additional to your art and design education. I have a BS in Studio Art and did 3 semesters coursework in a Textile Design and Engineering graduate program. All of this education was truly priceless for informing the creative half of my business, but it took 3 years and some expensive lessons to learn how to do the other half - the business half. So balance your creative and business learning!
What is your spirit animal?
A PitBull! Because they are very loving, kind, loyal, enthusiastic and resilient. And sometimes hyper and annoying :)
What is your favorite noise?
The cacophony of a huge band of starlings hanging out in the trees above my house.
Thank you so much, Jocelyn, for taking the time to tell us more about O-Wool today!!
I absolutely fell in love with O-wool Local, and designed a sweater that I can't wait to share with you in a couple of months! In the meantime, I was lucky enough to have some left from my sweater, and new I needed a beautiful textured hat knit out of this light-as-air yarn for Spring! So - Pollen was born! Knit up in the River Oats colorway - it reminds me of the pollen coating all of the bees legs as they busily move from blossom to blossom in Spring! With instructions to fit the whole family, Pollen is my ideal hat. Textured, cozy but light, and a fun, quick knit! You can find the pattern here in my shop and also over on Ravelry! And keep an eye for more fun designs knit up with O-wool, coming in the next few months!!
Leave a comment below to have a chance to win the Pollen hat pattern .pdf, as well as a skein of O-wool Local!! Tell me if you continue to knit thru the warmer months, and don't forget to include your email address in the body of the comment!!
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Want to hear more of Joceyn's story?? Check out her interview on the ever-engaging Woolful Podcast!
Congratulations to the winner of the Silver Spun Giveaway -Taciana Simmons!!