Knitting from Kennisis Lake Road to the world
By Sue Tiffin
Published Aug. 1, 2017
Tucked away in a studio on Kennisis Lake Road, a group of knitters have been building a strong, global community.
But set aside any negative stereotypes you might have of knitters being traditionally of a certain age or a particular gender. They might not make a lot of noise about their work – you might have passed the studio countless times without realizing it’s there – but the knitters at indigodragonfly aren’t quiet, even when they’re busy. They’re vocal and involved and passionate about what they do and why they do it. The studio itself is alive with vibrancy, laughter, witty sass and caffeine.
“When we see a headline that says ‘not just for old ladies anymore,’ the knitting community cringes,” said Kim McBrien Evans, a self-described textile maven who co-owns the studio with her husband Ron. She said knitting has long been a hobby and a skill for all ages, men and women alike. Business has only steadily grown since the couple opened the studio in 2009, when, only a year into the venture, they found they had to invest more time into it as a full-time pursuit to keep up with demand.
“How is knitting a dying art? People say, ‘look, it’s coming back again, look, it’s the new yoga,’ but we’ve been here, doing this,” she said. “A surge did happen after 9-11, when people started doing more home-based things like knitting and sewing, and there was a huge wave that has stayed pretty steady.”
McBrien Evans has been knitting since she was four, and very intensively since 2000, while Ron said he can knit but rarely does, with little time to fit it in. Their studio offers everything from high-quality hand dyed yarn and fibre, designer patterns, project bags and accessories and dye camps – courses to teach the fundamentals of dyeing techniques. McBrien Evans said the company serves a wide range of knitters – about 500 regular customers a month – from around the world, including from Europe, Asia and Australia.
“When you start thinking about leisure activities, look at golfing,” she said. “There are 4.5 million active golfers, those are people that golf at least once every two weeks. In North America, there are 24.5 million knitters, and they’re active knitters, they knit at least once a week.”
McBrien Evans said there has been a shift in the projects people have worked on, with patterns outside of just traditional clothing becoming more popular.
“Those kinds of things are fun, and quirky and get people’s attention, but there is equally beautiful clothing people are designing,” said McBrien Evans.
Knitting projects like a hat made to look like a brain, an anatomically correct heart or a knitted version of a frog dissection model make waves online frequently, but there’s also a change in the clothing being knit, so that beyond being functional, it’s also flattering, stylish and reflects the attitude of the wearer. She notes a recent project that resulted in a wedding dress made out of indigodragonfly yarn by the bride.
“She’s just knit herself something that fits her body perfectly and is exactly what she wants the style to be,” said McBrien Evans. “It’s amazing what’s imbued in the things we make with our hands and the clothing we wear. People are shifting to create protective garments for themselves, almost like an armour.”
The colour palette offered by indigodragonfly gives further proof that the studio working environment is as fun as McBrien Evans enthusiastically claims. Staff – three full time and two part time – put great thought into naming colourways, and so names such as Tiny Bloodsucking Dancer, Sage Fright, Jaune D’arc, Sharktreuse, No Man is an Island (except for the Isle of Man) and Ooooo…Shiny attract knitters looking for something that best suits their project.
“The colour names often make people buy yarn they wouldn’t,” said McBrien Evans. “They fall in love with the name of the colour and make a positive association between the colourway name and the colour that’s in their hands.”
McBrien Evans said the quality of yarn and quality of dye used at the studio is “really fantastic.”
“We’re not afraid of trying different ways of dyeing, and not afraid to try different colours,” she said. “Every stitch, the colour is just a little bit different, there’s always something new happening in my hands, and it’s very exciting.”
Excitement is a big part of the hobby – for the pattern, for the colour, for the work, for the end result. Via online forums such as Ravelry.com, customers share projects and ideas, encouraging each other or suggesting ideas until McBrien Evans gives in.
As a result of some of those requests, indigodragonfly offers clubs that knitters sign up to in order to receive themed or custom-made packages throughout the year: the Sweater Club, the Smart-Ass Knitters/World Domination Club and the Geek Club are popular. Members of the Sweater Club receive customized patterns for three sweaters a year, and yarn with colours that are custom dyed for them.
“There are no recipes,” said McBrien Evans. “Nobody else will ever have that colour, exactly, so it’s unique to them.”
The Geek Club is made financially accessible by offering small to large amounts of yarn so members can choose their cost and time commitment. Four shipments with themes like Cult Classics and Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings arrive by mail each year. The Smart-Ass Knitters/World Domination Club, which sees about six packages, or skeins of yarn delivered throughout the year, is already filled until 2018, with messages on the studio’s website asking for a waiting list.
“They all have different audiences and different purposes,” said McBrien Evans. “People love the clubs. Those who have been in it since the beginning won’t let us stop it. They really feel that that’s their grounding in knitting and keeps them knitting through the year.”
The online knitting community also genuinely cares about each other, according to McBrien Evans. Besides conspiring with each other to send each other yarn wrapped as gifts, to hide their yarn addiction from family members, the knitters have joined together to help each other when times are tough. McBrien Evans recently solicited nominations for people in need and donations to send anonymous packages, but when asked, more donations were received than nominations.
“More than 30 packages went out to completely new people who were either having a terrible illness, had just lost their job, were just having a difficult time in their life, were going through a divorce or their kid had gone off to college or they got nothing for Christmas, and somebody wanted to make sure they felt supported,” said McBrien Evans. “People just feel that need to reach out to other people across the world.”
The knitters have wanted to reach out to others so much, that since indigodragonfly was opened eight years ago, more than $33,000 has been raised to support scholarships and various events and charities, including local ventures such as the Minden Community Food Bank, Hike Haliburton and the Winter Folk Camp.
“A lot of the knitters we know are in positions in their lives or in their work to do some real good in the world,” said McBrien Evans. “Knitters in general have made a really big impact on the fundraising world. A portion of all of our club fees goes toward a fund that we use to help out wherever and whenever we can.”
The studio is putting Haliburton on the map for knitters, too. McBrien Evans said the studio promotes Haliburton when they frequently travel to teach or attend shows.
“We’re out there representing Haliburton everywhere,” she said.
Indigodragonfly itself also draws in knitters who travel to the area for dye camp or just to stop in and meet the people who they’ve formed friendships with online through their hobby.
“People come to the area specifically to see us, to see the studio, to see the yarn,” said McBrien Evans, who is welcoming guests from Alaska, Seattle, Boston, England, Scotland and from throughout Ontario at the next dye club. “The fact that people are coming that far to spend time with us in our studio, and stay for a week or two in this area – it’s that community that we’re really most proud of, that I really hoped this company would have, this community built up around it.”
The eighth annual Fibre Fling open house held at indigodragonfly is open to everyone – knitter or not – and takes place on Aug. 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1946 Kennisis Lake Road in West Guilford. Guests can try indigo dyeing, see dyeing demonstrations, enjoy a barbecue and join forces against the annual piñata. Indigodragonfly is open Tuesdays through Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., or by chance. Visit indigodragonfly.ca for more information.