Welcome to the third installment of my Asking Questions blog series – when I ask questions of people in the fiber world that I particularly admire (and think y’all do, too).
This installment features an interview with yarn dyer Chris Roosien, owner of Briar Rose Fibers. (You can find Chris on Instagram, Facebook, or on her newly-refreshed website. There’s also an aptly-named Ravelry group: Briar Rose Fibers Fans.) I always love the beautiful colors and textures in Chris’ yarns. Her charming booth is the one I visit first every year at the Michigan Fiber Festival – and I usually come home with enough Briar Rose yarn for several projects. I was eager to learn more about Chris’s work, her background, and her life – especially since she lives just up the road (well . . . highway) from me.
I think you’ll all enjoy learning more about Chris. She is a true master of color.
Kym: Hi Chris! I’m so excited to have you join me here for this Asking Questions blog post. Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell me about learning to knit? Like . . . when did you learn to knit? Who taught you?
Chris: I am so glad you asked! I love to tell this story. It was about 15 years ago. We were traveling back and forth to northern Michigan a lot, and I couldn’t quilt in the truck. (I’m a quilter, too. Or . . . I used to be.) Knitting is so much more portable than quilting -- so I wanted to learn to knit. I crocheted when I was in high school and made several blankets, but I never learned to knit. I am left-handed and no one in my family could teach me. So, I turned to my good friend Nancy and she helped me so much! I had others who helped along the way, like that phone call to another friend when I needed to ask “how do you bind off?”
(As a side note, my friend Nancy’s parents were instrumental in helping me get my business off the ground. They talked to me about customer base lists and about displays and gave me huge support! I might not have a business if it wasn’t for this wonderful family.)
Kym: That’s a great story about learning to knit. Knitting friends are such helpful resources! How long were you a knitter before you started dyeing your own wool to knit with? I imagine it must be very satisfying to knit a sweater with your own yarn! Do you have any favorite knits?
Chris: I actually only learned to knit about a year before I started dyeing yarn. I like to knit most everything but scarves (I find them boring) – and I love cardigans and yoke sweaters. I like simple, but yet crave something that has a design challenge. I really like trying new techniques. They all sound so hard, but in reality they are not. Learning how to do the tubular cast on was the best thing I ever learned -- and it looks so professional.
Kym: So when did you first try dyeing? Was it something you’d always been drawn to? How long have you been dyeing as Briar Rose Fibers?
Chris: I’ve been dyeing yarn and combed top for over 14 years now. When I first started dyeing, I made sweater kits for my friends. I could never find enough wool in dark colors to make sweaters for myself, so I started dyeing. I remember telling my husband one night, “I haven’t felt like this much of an artist in a very long time.” (I used to paint landscapes when I was younger – with oils.)
Kym: What initially drew me to your yarns was the COLOR! Your yarn is unique and so beautiful. Where do you find the color inspiration for your dyeing? Do you have favorite color combinations?
Chris: I love deep, dark, moody saturated colors, but I dye lots of colors -- because not everyone loves dark. I am inspired by a lot of things … but mostly just what’s in my head is what ends up on the yarn. I don’t use formulas and I really just “paint.”
Kym: Most knitters are exposed to your yarn through fiber festivals. What can you tell us about the “festival circuit?” As a knitter, I love to visit vendors at festivals --- but it looks like an awfully lot of work to me. What would you like knitters to know about being a vendor at a fiber festival? How long does it take you to prepare for festival season? What do you do to wind down at the end of a festival?
Chris: Yes, doing fiber festivals is a lot of work -- but I love it so much! I only have a few weeks off during the year. I start dyeing for the season right after the New Year, and I dye all year long, so there really is no down time after a festival. I usually need to dye colors that I have sold from the previous event, and then when the season is over, I need to work on getting my website restocked. (It never ends.)
Honestly, I could not do any of the events without my dear guy. He packs, unpacks, helps set up the booth, and is the cashier. Then he helps pack up again for the next event. We make a great team. He helps me at the festivals -- and I do all of the bookwork for our custom home building business. (I have done that for more than 30 years.)
The folks who I do events with (booth mates, if you will) are so kind and friendly … we are sort of like a big family. Hugs are usually first before setting up the booth! We have made really good lifelong friends through this fiber thing.
Kym: I love that your husband is your partner-in-fiber and that you have worked together for so long. (I do the books for my husband’s consulting business, too.) I would think it would be hard to do the “fiber thing” without that kind of support! How long does it typically take for you guys to set up your booth? (By the way, I think your booth is one of the most attractive and “cozy” set-ups I see at fiber festivals.) Do you switch things up in the booth very often?
Chris: It takes us around three to four hours to set up a typical booth. We keep things generally the same from festival to festival, as we know what works for traffic flow and how the yarn displays well. Some booths are smaller, some larger, so some adjustments are made. I am so grateful to Roger for building my lovely display units. Thank you for your kind words about the booth.
Kym: One thing that I’ve noticed about your shop is that you pay close attention to the more popular (“trending”) patterns on Ravelry that work well with your yarn, and then you highlight those projects in your booth. For example, I had been interested in knitting Andrea Mowry’s Night Shift shawl for months, but was a bit intimidated by finding the “right” yarn. Then I visited you at the Michigan Fiber Festival and discovered you had put together kits for Night Shift! I was thrilled — and my finished shawl is stunning! Your colors make a magical version of that shawl. Anyway . . . how do you discover the designs that work up so beautifully in your yarns?
Chris: I spend quite a bit of time looking at patterns on Ravelry. I try to have an assortment of projects for every skill level. As we have learned over the years, some folks want super easy and some want a challenge; some want small projects and others want to knit a blanket or two. Some customers just want to knit when they get home from work, to unwind -- and they want something simple.
We have also found over the years that samples really help sell the yarn. As an example, we have the Love Note Sweater by Tin Can Knits and people say it looks so different in real life. And as you can testify to, the Night Shift Shawl … looks so different in my yarn.
I have several designers that I really like in the way they write their patterns, so we carry those in the booth. And I am eternally grateful to the sample knitters I have!! I could never dye all this yarn and knit all the samples as well.
Kym: How do you like to spend your time outside of your dyeing work? Do you have “hobbies” (“practices”?) that influence your work?
Chris: I knit!!! I LOVE to knit!!! I love making everything from hats to cowls, to boot toppers to sweaters. I have a little Featherweight sewing machine and a big stack of fabric waiting for me upstairs and it calls to me once in a while to make pillowcases. I used to be a quilter, and made large quilts. So I have a large fabric “stash.” I keep saying . . . one of these days . . . I will make a couple of quilt tops.
Kym: How do you deal with stress in your life?
Chris: Me? Stress? Just ask my dear friends! I have stress just like anyone else, but I have amazing friends who I can talk to. And my dear husband has my back, always. Honestly I have the best life!
Kym: Would you like to promote anything? Upcoming books? Classes? Anything at all?
Chris: I’d like to invite everyone to visit our newly-refreshed website! It’s easier to navigate - and shop! - now. There is a handy list of events, too, so you’ll always be able to find me.
Kym: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Chris. It’s been great hearing about what you do – and a little behind-the-scenes look at fiber festival life, too! Now that I’ve finished the gray cardigan I’ve been knitting since the holidays (and once I finish a special-request hat for a particularly knit-worthy friend), I’m going to be casting on for the new Rays Crop sweater (by designer Annie Lupton) with your beautiful Abundance yarn. I can’t wait!
Not only was Chris gracious enough to answer my questions, but she has also offered the following extra-cool treats for my blog readers:
- From now until February 26 (next Wednesday!!!), all Stepping Away From the Edge readers will get 10% off their purchase of yarn from Briar Rose Fibers. Just enter the coupon code STEPPING when you check out on the website, and the discount will be taken off your order.
- AND . . . If you respond with a comment to this blog post, you will be automatically entered into a drawing for Briar Rose Fibers yarn! There will be THREE yarn prizes, as Chris has offered one hank of Sea Pearl AND one hank of Abundance yarn AND one hank of Fourth-of-July yarn as prizes (the winners get to pick their color). These yarns are gorgeous! This is a very special treat. The deadline for commenting is Thursday, February 27, 2020. Winners will be notified by email.