Frab­jous Fibers: The Fluff Life

Creative Knitting - - CONTENTS - By Cor­rina Fer­gu­son

The very first sets of mini-skeins I ever came across were from Frab­jous Fibers. When I was shop­ping at a lo­cal yarn store, the dis­play was enough to stop me in my tracks. I was so en­tranced with all the won­der­ful col­ors that it was im­pos­si­ble to choose just one set to buy. So I bought two.

Stephanie Shi­man, the owner of Frab­jous Fibers, has de­signed a gor­geous drop-stitch scarf for this is­sue, so I thought it was the per­fect time to get to know more about her and the amaz­ing com­pany she’s built up.

Q& A

Cor­rina: Tell me about how you got started. Stephanie: Once I learned to knit, I was so en­am­ored with yarns and fibers and col­ors and tex­tures that I jumped in head first, hunt­ing down ev­ery fiber fes­ti­val and yarn shop. At Mary­land Sheep and Wool, I found this funky, col­or­ful, wildly tex­tured yarn; it was hand­spun from silk threads, rem­nants from sari weav­ing mills. I picked up a few skeins and de­signed a bag with it. The yarn alone was so eye-catch­ing that even a sim­ple de­sign made a great­look­ing bag. I sub­mit­ted the pat­tern to Knitty mag­a­zine and they pub­lished it (Fall 2004, Un­bi­ased). As soon as the pat­tern was re­leased, I started get­ting dozens of emails look­ing for this funky yarn, so I found a source and put to­gether a lit­tle on­line shop. So, with boxes of yarn stuffed un­der my din­ing room ta­ble, Frab­jous Fibers be­gan.

The more I got into knit­ting, the more I needed to do all the things! I started spin­ning and dye­ing, and of­fer­ing my dyed yarns and hand­spun in my on­line shop—mostly to pay for my new fiber habit! It wasn’t un­til af­ter mov­ing to the woods in Ver­mont that I re­al­ized I could earn a liv­ing this way and stay home with my then-4-year-old. So, 14 years later, there are 11 of us dye­ing yarns and fibers—enough to reach to the moon and back ev­ery month. It’s my pas­sion, my joy, and I’m so glad for the lit­tle twists of fate that have brought me here. Cor­rina: Tell me about the fair-trade as­pect of your busi­ness. Stephanie: Our Sari Rib­bon and Re­cy­cled Silk Yarns were our first yarns and are hand­made for us by cot­tage in­dus­tries in In­dia and Nepal. From the start, it’s been im­por­tant to me to re­spon­si­bly source these items, tak­ing care to see that the mak­ers are well paid and have good work­ing con­di­tions. There’s so much I love about these yarns, but the best is the idea that some­thing that’s nor­mally a waste prod­uct can be made into a fab­u­lous yarn, sup­port­ing women in Nepal and In­dia, sup­port­ing women here, and giv­ing knit­ters a unique yarn like noth­ing else they’ve ever used. It’s great all around.

In ad­di­tion to sell­ing the re­cy­cled yarns, we work with a group of felt mak­ers in

Kathmandu who make lit­tle no­tions bags and nee­dle cases for us from my de­signs. It’s one of my fa­vorite parts of my job! I draw out the de­sign and schemat­ics and choose the col­ors, and the ar­ti­sans in Nepal make it come to life. I’ve de­signed ev­ery­thing from dough­nut no­tions bags to voodoo­doll pin­cush­ions to more clas­sic flo­ral themes. The folks in Nepal are great to work with, pay their felt mak­ers well and give back to their lo­cal com­mu­nity. I love the con­nec­tions with fiber artists across the world. Cor­rina: What was the first yarn/ col­or­way you dyed? Stephanie: Oof! Em­bar­rass­ing ques­tion! I wanted to dye a mo­hair/ wool blend to knit a hat. For­est green— sim­ple enough! Es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing I bought a lit­tle packet of dye and all I needed to do was sim­mer the yarn with the dye pow­der (which even had the mor­dant in­cluded) un­til the wa­ter was clear. So, why, why did I add soda ash? Most likely be­cause I was chas­ing around a tod­dler and only half pay­ing at­ten­tion to the dye­ing. So, my first dye ses­sion ended up with nox­ious fumes pour­ing out of a pot on my stove and me on the phone with poi­son con­trol— you know, to see if this chem­i­cal re­ac­tion was go­ing to cause me to grow a third eye. Harm­less fumes they told me—we sur­vived un­scathed—and I even ven­tured to dye again. The yarn, how­ever, was sort of fried, stiff and scratchy from its chem­i­cal bath and not good for knit­ting. It’s still in my stash, how­ever—sen­ti­men­tal value. Ha! Cor­rina: Why Alice in Won­der­land? Stephanie: We are a fam­ily of word geeks. So when I asked my dad for a word that sounded good with “fibers,” he sug­gested “frab­jous.” The word, coined by Lewis Car­roll, ap­pears in his poem “Jab­ber­wocky” and means joy­ful, fab­u­lous. That fit ex­actly how I felt dye­ing the fibers! Won­der­land Yarns came five or six years later when I added hand-dyed yarns to my line of hand-dyed fibers. The Alice in Won­der­land books are filled with col­or­ful im­agery and the cre­ative sto­ry­telling that fit our fun and funky ap­proach to dye­ing. Cor­rina: What’s your fa­vorite Frab­jous Fibers prod­uct? Stephanie: Ask any­one on Team Frab­jous and they’ll tell you—I love sport-weight yarn and I love teals and pur­ple-blues. So much that one year when we brought out mul­ti­ple shades of teal (be­cause why not have tons of shades of teal!?), one color was named “Ditto, Ditto” as an in­side joke. “Sum­mer’s Glory,” one of our mini-skein packs, en­com­passes all my fa­vorites— teals and pur­ple-blues. Cor­rina: What’s your fa­vorite thing to knit? Stephanie: Easy an­swer! Tri­an­gle shawls on the bias with mul­ti­ple stitch pat­terns and col­ors in “Mad Hat­ter,” our sport-weight yarn. Nearly ev­ery­thing I de­sign is with our sport-weight base— it’s just so yummy! Cor­rina: What’s it like at the Frab­jous Fibers head­quar­ters? De­scribe a day in the life. Stephanie: Team Frab­jous is a tight-knit group (pun in­tended!). I love work­ing with these guys. The stu­dio is usu­ally a bus­tle of en­ergy, laugh­ter, in­spi­ra­tion and fun. We get re­ally ex­cited when some­one brings show-and-tell and plan way more knit­ting projects than even the most in­dus­tri­ous knit­ter can pos­si­bly fin­ish. We re­ally love our jobs. We spend most days dye­ing and dry­ing and la­bel­ing and pack­ing, but you never know when odd things will hap­pen. Like the night a skunk wan­dered into the space and spent a cou­ple of hours slink­ing around be­fore trot­ting back out, or the day we opened a fiber ship­ment to find skull-em­bossed men’s dress shoes in­stead. The fluff life! I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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