When I first began thinking about this new website for The Shawl Society, one of the most exciting aspects was creating a space to celebrate the incredible yarns I work when I’m designing each season’s shawls. As makers, the materials we use mean so much. The tactile joy and the aesthetic pleasure we get from working amazing yarn is at least half the fun of knitting. Even when we’re making for other people, that experience stays with us long after the finished object has gone on to its new home.
When I’m designing, the yarn really leads the way. It often spark the earliest idea for a shawl the first time I pick it up, and as I work and learn more about its qualities and “personality” it sometimes leads the design in fascinating new directions. But it’s not just the physical yarn itself that matters. There’s a less tangible but equally important factor that adds so much to the experience of working with yarn. The stories behind a skein of yarn, the huge amount of creativity and care that goes into its making, and the passionate people who make it all possible: every tidbit I learn seems to add more magic to an already very special skein.
I wanted to share as many of these magical tidbits with Shawl Society members as possible, so I’ll be interviewing our wonderful indie yarn partners as we go. Today we’re featuring Jule Asselin, the wonderfully talented Canadian dyer who made the delicious Merletto yarn featured in the lace-weight version of our still top-secret second shawl. Julie began dying wool about five years ago, and since then her yarn has become an indie success story, selling deeply-in-demand skeins in her Etsy shop as well as through over 50 venues online and in local yarn shops around the world. She and her husband work the dye pots together these days, and a small team of friends helps them manage all the moving parts of a small creative business.
She talks to us about her family’s generational legacy of making and fibre craft, what it’s like to run a yarn-based business every day, and offers a little advice for people with yarn dreams of their own.
Have you always felt called to a creative job? Did you do a lot of making as a child?
I always did. All the women and most of the men on my mother’s side are makers. Knitting and crochet have been a part of my life since a very young age. Add to that sewing, photography, music, painting and drawing, it was very stimulating creatively as a kid. I was taught to knit by my grand-maman and mother around the age of 4 and I've been hooked ever since.
Can you think of a moment when your passion for yarn really ignited?
In the form that is is today it was about 6-7 years ago when one day, being curious about how things are made I started researching yarn production. From there I really wanted to make my own colors and knew that I also wanted to be involved in the yarns conception as well.
How did you learn to do what you do?
My mother used to do, and still does, all sorts of things related to textile craft so I gravitated around dyeing for as long as I can remember. I made lots of experiments as a teenager with that when wanting to create my own clothing. Not always happy results by the way!
Are there particular inspirations you use when you’re choosing colours?
Nature, music, people, state of minds, events, foods can all translate into colorways.
What’s a “day in the life” for you as a yarn dyer?
It’s hard to say because it changes everyday. As business partners we have to be ready to jump to any task that needs to be done. It can go from dyeing to putting on labels, shipping, social media, running errands.
Do you have favourite fibres or blends you love to work with most of all?
Too hard to choose. Different fibers means different ways of taking to the dyes so they can all bring something special to a yarn when it comes to color.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
Color and yarn development of course but I also really enjoy the inspirational part of it like when it comes to recommending patterns for a certain yarns or putting color combinations together. Meeting knitters and making connection is also a big part of who we are.
What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making the leap into a creative business?
Think outside the box, do your research and at the same time, even if you might not be reinventing the wheel, you have to be genuine.
Do you ever feel tempted to hoard your own yarn?
I never do, my stash is only other people’s yarns. If I need something for a project we make it when I need it.
When you’re knitting, what do you like to make?
I am a sweater knitter. When it comes to accessories it is hats then shawls.
Besides yarn and knitting, do you have other creative pursuits?
Photography and Cooking.
I really want to thank Julie for being such an important part of The Shawl Society Season II, and for taking the time to answer my questions. Very soon I’ll be able to share some sneak peeks at the shawl which features her magnificent yarn. Until then, you can keep up with the magic Julie Asselin is making every day (and make fall in love with a few skeins yourself) by following her online: