We catch up with Kelly Browning of The Merino Mermaid to find how she creates her hand dyed and spun sea-inspired yarns
Kelly Browning’s craft career came about by chance when she posted a picture online of a crochet mermaid she had made for her daughter. As requests for the pattern came flying in, Kelly’s fledgling business, The Merino Mermaid, took off.
Working from her home in Somerset, Kelly is one of a growing group of indie dyers across the UK, creating beautiful and original yarns made the old fashioned way. We caught up with Kelly, to find out why making means so much to her and what to watch out for when creating your own wool to work with…
Hi Kelly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I live near Stonehenge with my three daughters, including seven-year-old twins. I started out as a crochet pattern writer, but thanks to a mermaid I made for my daughter, my business has grown and I now dye and spin my own yarns.
Describe your workspace and why it works for you?
I currently work from home. I soak all my fibre and yarn in the bathroom, do the dyeing on the kitchen hob and dry the yarn outside on the washing line when the weather is good. All the packing and admin is done in my bedroom, where I also store all the yarn, fibre and accessories. The business is outgrowing the space though so I’m moving into a workshop in November, which is very exciting. Especially as my combs and hackles are so sharp they have to be hidden away before the children get home!
How did you learn to dye yarn?
I’m completely self-taught. It all started when I bought some hand-dyed yarn from a craft show and fell in love! I hate not knowing about something, so I read and watched everything I could find online until I knew enough to take the plunge. There was a lot of trial and error, but sometimes mistakes are more beautiful than what you originally planned.
What’s the first thing you ever made?
I learned to knit and crochet when I was six, but I didn’t make anything worth keeping until I was pregnant with my twins. I spent the last four weeks of the pregnancy on bed rest, so my mum bought me some yarn, knitting needles and a crochet hook and I made both babies a blanket.
What inspires you?
The ocean and everything in it. The fish, coral reefs and wildlife in the ocean have such an enormous spectrum of colour that you can never be lost for ideas and inspiration.
Who are your favourite indie yarn dyers?
For sock yarns, I love Norah George. Tracy, the dyer, uses a lot of popular culture references for inspiration. She’s a huge Harry Potter fan just like me, and I love her themed yarns! For fibre and fleece, I love Siobhan’s Crafts. She does one-of-a-kind colour ways and I love her organic and relaxed style.
What’s your favourite thing to make and why?
Cake. You can’t eat yarn! My favourite craft is probably spinning, I love the process and transformation that the fibre goes through. It never looks how you expect it to, and sometimes a really ugly piece of combed fibre can make an absolutely spectacular yarn.
What’s been your biggest craft fail?
Not wearing gloves to dye wool. I had bright purple hands for days.
What does making mean to you?
It’s a kind of independence. If I can’t do something, I will go and find out how to do it. The crafts I do are things that have always wowed me, so I have learned how to do them for myself.
What are your top three spinning and dyeing tips?
- Give dying a go, even though in can seem intimidating at first. You can easily have a go at dyeing your own yarn, using food colouring, vinegar and a slow cooker.
- With acid dyes, the same rules with mixing colours don’t always apply in the same way as mixing paints. For example, red and blue won’t necessarily make purple.
- When you start out learning to spin, it can be helpful to pre-draught the fibre so that the individual fibres are loose, just until you get the hang of spinning the wheel and drafting the fibre at the same rate.