Indie Spotlight : Rachel Brown of Porpoise Fur

by Lori Law
Owner: Rachel Brown
Q: How did you decide to start an indie fiber business?
I decided to start my own dyeing business in the summer of 2011. My training is as an academic biomedical research scientist, which I’d been doing for quite a while, but I was really thinking seriously about looking for other things to do with my time that would let me have more of a creative outlet. I’d done some dyeing on my own before, and done some classes and workshops, so I had some idea of how to go about it. The tougher part was thinking about what my fiber business would look like. I initially toyed with the idea of selling handspun yarn, but there were two problems with that. The first was that spinning, for me, is incredibly meditative. It’s what I do to zone out or calm down if I’m having a rough day. I didn’t want to get into a situation where I was spinning because I felt like I had to do it to put yarn in the shop. The second issue is the problem of pricing handspun yarn – I looked around online, and found that, generally speaking, handspun yarn was woefully underpriced given the cost involved in making it (of both materials and time), and I wasn’t sure there would be a market for it that was willing to pay what it actually costs to make. My husband gave me lots of support to get started though, and over the course of that summer I came up with the first of the semi-solid colorways in my Vital Dyes Series. It’s just gone on from there!
Q: Favorite fiber/yarn and favorite color?
My favorite fiber is honestly whatever I happen to be spinning that day. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of merino, and I find 100% silk to be very challenging, but otherwise I haven’t found a fiber I really don’t like to spin. At the moment, I am particularly enjoying spinning “crunchy” wools – things like Cheviot and Dorset Horn – I love the way the fiber changes from fluff to yarn to finished object, softening at every step along the way.
Favorite colors would have to be any kind of blue, and also purple and teal. One of my biggest challenges as a dyer is actually using those colors that I don’t have such an affinity for, and trying to make sure I’ve got a complete colorwheel in my colorways. Recently, I’ve also found myself to be completely obsessed with pumpkin oranges and muddy chartreuse – those are the yarns I gravitate towards in the yarn shops these days, although I’m not at all sure I can wear them successfully!
Q: Sources of inspiration? What things do you see cropping up over and over in your colorways and/or designs?
I get a lot of my inspiration from my day job as a biomedical scientist, particularly from microscope images. I’ve got a Pinterest board where I collect images that I use to inspire colorways. I also find a lot of inspiration in places I’ve visited – for example, both Hawa Mahal and Naeroyfjord are colorways inspired by some really amazing vacation trips. I try to put unexpected colors together, and I’ve recently been doing more playing around with mixing, trying to get different shades of colors that play nicely with each other. That’s been lots of fun, but isn’t always terribly successful!
My design inspiration comes from all sorts of things, but one consistent source for design inspiration has been architecture and physical structures, but I’m not particularly wedded to any particular garment or accessory type. I like to use textured stitch patterns quite often in my designs, and I really try to evoke a sense of the place or structure that inspired the piece. The Fjord Mitts are heavily influenced by a trip I took to Norway with my family at the beginning of the summer, both in color and stitch pattern. The slipped stitches were an outgrowth of a day spent out in one of the fjords with cold hands – I wanted a nice cozy fabric to keep me warm! These mitts are also more of a play with color then I usually do, and it was an interesting exercize to think about how to spin the variegated top to get the effect I wanted. They were great fun to design!
Q: What project(s) are you working on in your spare time?
What spare time I have is getting eaten up at the moment with Yarn in the City, a knitting partnership with my friend Allison (of Champagne & Qiviut). Like me, she is a North American expat living in London, and when we met a couple of years ago, we immediately hit it off. Our first venture into the yarn/knitting industry was organizing the Great London Yarn Crawl, a charity event that has just had its second running this past September. We send teams of yarn enthusiast on specified routes through London, visiting local yarns shops and travelling on public transport, before meeting up at a pub at the end of the day for a big party. This past year we raised over £800 for our charity partner Refuge, an organization providing safe houses and resources for victims of domestic abuse in London and across the UK.
At the moment, we are taking GLYC on the road, and heading down to the Bath Christmas Market on 29 November with a bus full of knitters to take care of the holiday shopping! We’ve got loads of plans for next year’s event to be bigger and better, so we’re working on that a lot. And to add insult to injury, we’ve also just started a podcast, which is ending up being a lot of fun!
Q: Other mediums you like to work in?
I took up weaving a couple of years ago, mostly out of sheer desperation at the amount of yarn I was amassing. I’ve really gotten in to weaving warp-faced handspun scarves for presents, where the handspun really gets to stand out. Plus, weaving is much faster then knitting, which is gratifying in trying to reduce the size of the stash. Sadly, the stash has not shrunk as much as I would have hoped, so I might need to get a bigger loom. Or two… ;-)

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