Artist: Stephanie Alford
What kind of items do you make?
I hand-dye yarns for knitters and crocheters.
What got you interested in your art of choice?
I woke up on Thanksgiving morning when I was 19 years old with an overwhelming desire to learn to knit. I don’t know what sparked it off – I knew no one who knit, had never seen a knitting magazine and this was way before the Internet. And, yet, for some reason, I knew – right from the minute I woke up — that I needed to learn how to knit.
Spinning and weaving came years later, when the community center just down the road from my house in England began offering a class. I used to walk with my spinning wheel slung over my shoulder and I’d get the weirdest looks. Several times I got asked, “Is that a… a… a sewing machine?” Most of the women in the class were shephardesses and I used to buy my fleeces from them, fresh off their sheeps’ backs and spin uncarded in the grease. I loved being that close to the source.
I moved to the US just as Ravelry was starting to take off and then met some of the members of the Pittsburgh indie fiber arts community – incredibly talented women who really inspired me. My wheel and all my fiber arts stuff was still in storage, but seeing their work got me feeling turbo-charged, and I immediately set up a craft area in our new house. I started to experiment with dyeing and found I loved it, and I haven’t looked back since!
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
For me, it’s the creative outlet, absolutely. It is such a thrill to just make something beautiful, and have that bring joy to others! I was never good in art class and my life had always been pointed toward stable and solid career path, and so I was stuck in one drab, beige cubicle after another… It was killing me and killing off my creativity — I honestly didn’t think I was an artistic person at all. And then to try something like dyeing and to have it stick, to really have it work and just flow out of me. Oh, it’s been incredible! It’s redefined my whole life outlook, really.
What most inspires you?
In terms of colour, most of it comes straight out of my head. I have something called synesthesia – it’s a condition where the senses don’t fully separate during infant development. The sense remain intertwined and stimulating one sense sets off another. For me, that means I see colours and shapes in front of my eyes whenever I hear a noise or feel a physical sensation. I know it sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t have this, but it’s true! Hearing music makes coloured shapes dance before my eyes, and stubbing my toe or feeling a warm breeze suddenly casts different shades across my vision. As a dyer, it means I have colour inspiration constantly! But it also means that if I’m trying to dye, say, purple yarn and I’m listening to “yellow” music, I can’t do it. I have to turn the radio off to get any work done!
Do you have a favorite item or colorway?
Ha ha! Every new yarn that comes out of the dyepot! Seriously, I fall in love with every single one. That’s how I know I’m onto a good thing here!
What is your fiber arts superpower?
I can smell out silk at 10 paces! I thought everyone could tell a silk garment by its smell – it’s so distinctive — but I’ve since discovered that’s not the case. I’m not so good with wool – it doesn’t smell much after it’s been commercially processed, but when it’s still raw-ish, it smells so good and sheepy.
How is the fiber arts world different for you today than it was five years ago?
The fiber arts world is changing so rapidly that it’s incredibly exciting. Five years ago, knitters knit mostly in isolation or in very small pockets. Now, it’s exploding with the internet, with new knitting magazines, and a knitting group in every bookstore and coffee shop in town. Spinning is becoming popular and crochet is really on the rise. It’s such an exciting time to be a part of the fiber arts community!