Yarnie Spotlight: Julie Asselin Yarn

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:

Julie Asselin website

Julie Asselin Etsy

Julie Asselin Instagram

Helen Stewart
Tech Tip: Blocking your Shawl
 
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Almost all knitting looks better when it has been blocked, but I think shawls are a special case. The difference between a shawl just off the needles and one that has been through a blocking bath is often night and day. After hours of work on a project, it can be discouraging to learn that there’s one more step before your beautiful shawl is truly finished. Blocking is one of those topics that can have new knitters feeling skittish, but it is actually one of the most magical parts of knitting. Stretching out your shawl to reveal its true beauty is a wonderful moment. All lace looks so much better blocked, even simple eyelets. The stitches open up and relax, the yarn fluffs up and “blooms” and the knitted fabric drapes beautifully once it dries. Here’s how to make the magic happen!

Blocking - five simple steps

Ingredient list:

  • Bucket or sink
  • Lukewarm water
  • Baby shampoo or wool wash
  • Large bath towel
  • Pins
  • Optional: blocking/dressing wires
  • Large flat area which can be pinned, like a foam mat or spare bed

 

Step 1: Weave in your ends. Make sure everything is nice and secure!

Step 2: Fill a sink or bucket with lukewarm water. Don’t use hot water: it can cause your yarn to felt. You can also add a tiny amount of a very mild shampoo, such as baby shampoo, or a little wool wash.

Step 3: Soak your shawl. Gently push your shawl under the water. Don’t agitate the water too much, as the friction can also cause felting. Just gently press until the yarn has absorbed enough water to be fully saturated. Let it soak for 10 to 30 minutes.

If you are using more than one colour in your shawl and you are worried about bleeding, stay on the shorter end of the soak time and check on it often. You might also want to add a little white vinegar to the soak.

After soaking, you can rinse your shawl by emptying the bucket, refilling it with clean water (hold the shawl out of the way so that the agitation of the tap water doesn’t hit it) and soaking again for a minute. Repeat as needed until the water runs clear.

Step 4: The towel roll. Have a large towel laid out flat before you remove your shawl from the soak. Gently squeeze most of the water from your shawl: it’s quite delicate at this moment, so it’s important not to wring it or treat it roughly. Then, lay your shawl flat onto the bath towel, and start to roll the towel and the shawl together like a swiss roll, squeezing gently as you go, then unroll and check how wet the shawl is. You want it quite damp, but not dripping. If it’s still very wet, repeat the towel roll with a dry towel.

Step 5: Stretch. Lay your shawl out on your soft flat surface gently. Once you have the general shape, you can start to stretch and pin. If you are using blocking wires, you’ll want to start with a wire threaded through the top and bottom edges. If you are just using pins, start by finding and pinning the center of the top edge. From there, just start gently pulling and pinning as you go. You can slightly influence the shape of the shawl by the way you pin. For a crescent shawl, the ends of the top edge can be curved inwards into a soft “horseshoe” shape: this will make the shawl easier to wear. If your shawl is finished with a picot edge or points, you will want to pin each of the picots or points down individually to make them stand out. Keep adjusting and repinning as you go until you are happy with the shape of the shawl. Leave it to dry thoroughly.

Your yarn may react differently to blocking depending on what type of fibre you used. Wool blends benefit from a lot of stretching, so don’t be afraid to be firm. Luxury fabrics, such as alpaca, cashmere, or silk may require a lighter touch. If you’re in doubt, check with your yarn manufacturer.

Once the shawl is dry, you can carefully unpin it and try it on. The change to the way the fabric drapes after blogging is quite obvious. You are likely to have an easier time getting a blocked shawl to lay nicely than the unblocked version. The most wonderful part will be the way the stitches have relaxed and opened up, showing off the gorgeous result of all your hard work.

 

 
 
Noa Nesher
Announcing... Season II

This week, we released the shawls from The Shawl Society Season I as individual patterns! It’s a pleasure to open up a little taste of The Shawl Society to people who missed the first season. I know there were plenty of knitters who fell in love with one particular shawl on Instagram or Ravelry, so this is a chance to finally add your favourite pattern to the queue!

It has been wonderful to revisit each of the designs for the single pattern release, and to watch new people discovering them for the first time. It’s a whole new context, and this has been a chance to see the shawls with fresh eyes. I really love this collection, and spending a bit of time with it over the last few days has heightened my anticipation for what comes next…

…a new season of The Shawl Society!

Season II will be opening for pre-orders very soon, and I cannot wait to welcome back our founding members and meet all the new knitters that will join our community with this new session. I have been deep in the design and planning process for months; this is where I get to encounter the surprise which is at the heart of the Shawl Society experience. Each shawl begins with the kernel of an idea, a special skein of yarn, and then slowly reveals itself to me as I knit. In a way, being a designer is like participating in a never ending mystery knitalong.

That might be why The Shawl Society idea was born in the first place: I love sharing that mystery and delight in discovery with so many knitters all over the world.

The specific details of the next Shawl Society season are still under wraps for now, but the basic premise is the same: for six months, members will receive a gorgeous secret shawl pattern each month. There will be detailed yarn advice for those knitting from stash, and special relationships with the amazing yarn producers behind each sample. There will be encouraging knit alongs and wonderful prizes for finished objects. There will be fun and chatter and a heaping dose of surprise.

In the meantime, you can learn more about what it’s like to be a member of The Shawl Society with a little sleuthing of your own. Our “testimonials” page is full of lovely words from Shawl Society Initiates about their experience last year, and if you visit the Curious Handmade Ravelry Group you’ll find threads full of chatter and sharing. The project pages for any of last season’s designs are a goldmine of inspiring photos and notes about knitting each shawl, and the Instagram hashtag #theshawlsociety has enough beautiful knitspiration to keep you going for ages.

We’ll be building the anticipation over the next little while (it’s all part of the fun!) and sharing tidbits with you through the newsletter (if you’re not signed up yet, just enter your email on the homepage and you’ll be on the list!).

 

Noa Nesher
The Shawl Society Beginnings
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It has been almost a year since I opened the first season of The Shawl Society. I had such a strong sense of what I wanted this project to be about, but I had no real idea what it would become.

From the moment I launched Curious Handmade I’ve been fascinated by the community aspect of knitting and other handmade arts. I experimented with different types of community projects and challenges, and the results were always incredibly rewarding. I love the way we bonded over our work, taught and learned from each other, and admired each other’s achievements.  That encouragement and mutual growth is one of my favourite things about the knitting community. There’s also such an irrepressible sense of fun when knitters get together, whether it happens in person or online.

When I was developing The Shawl Society, I wanted to capture all of that in something that was more than just a collection of lovely shawl patterns. I took all my favourite parts of mystery knit-alongs, events, subscription clubs, and storybooks about brave bands of adventurers and mixed it up together.

What happened next was magical. The anticipation and joy everyone shared over each pattern release was almost a kind of fairy dust. And six months was really long enough to build meaningful relationships. As we got deeper into the session, I was deeply inspired to see all the ways that the members were connecting with each other.

4179 Instagram posts.

5588 project pages.

More than 10000 forum posts.

Mothers and daughters wrote to say they had joined together as a way to bond across the miles. Strangers recognised each other’s TSS shawls at knitting events and struck up conversations. In some places, Shawl Society members gathered to knit the shawls together in person. Some people reported that the Society gave them courage to knit a shawl for the very first time, while others discovered that the group’s enthusiasm inspired a fresh love of shawl knitting, even after dozens of completed projects under their belts. As a group, there was so much momentum! The energy was thrilling.

At the end someone started a thread to display collages of all six completed shawls together. You wouldn’t think a thing like that could be so emotional, but it was. I was deeply moved to see everything The Shawl Society members had created together.

 

Noa Nesher