Natural Ewe is one in a million. They are independent yarn dyers, originally from cottage country here in Ontario, now located in Nova Scotia. They are a mother -daughter team working together to create beautiful yarns that are ethically sourced, naturally dyed and a dream to knit with. They are the only yarn store in their town – and there hasn’t been one there for over thirty years, how neat is that?! We have always been big fans of their yarns and with their move came the addition of other products to their shop. We are so excited to see them grow and follow along with what is next for them!
You’ve moved from Ontario to the East Coast! What changes has that brought the business?
We relocated to Eastern Canada in July of 2021 to live a more artistic life at a slower pace. We chose Pictou because there hasn’t been a yarn store here in over thirty years. We opened our own studio shop, in May 2022, and it’s the best decision we could have made. We showcase our work as artisans, and we’ve expanded to incorporate undyed and recycled yarns, and handcrafted notions, such as stitch markers and shawl pins. We now carry Kollage SQUARE, a Canadian brand of ergonomic knitting needles, which is also a non-profit dedicated to expanding employment opportunities for those living with disabilities.
One of the first things we did upon moving here was to get involved with Creative Pictou County, which acts as a hub for artists and makers to connect. This led to our collaboration last spring with Seafoam Lavender Company and Gardens to create the Maker’s Meadow gift box, a naturally dyed yarn and lavender pamper set.
Our shop has become somewhat of a destination for tourists and fibre enthusiasts looking for a souvenir. People bring friends and family from away, and we get visitors from cruise ships that dock overnight in the port. A customer, who had travelled by sailboat to the Maritimes from the St. Lawrence River, made Pictou a stop on her travels just to grab some yarn! We no longer need to travel for trunk shows and we are doing fewer festivals, which allows us more time in our studio to create.
One thing that really sets you apart is that all your dyes are totally natural, can you explain what kinds of dyes you use?
Our design aesthetic is an eco-friendly, chemical-free approach to colour. We work with plant matter and extracts, and our mordant is food safe, making all the waste from our dye pots compostable. Since settling out East, it has been an ongoing process to explore new territory to forage while also establishing new dye gardens. Luckily, we have more space and sunshine now to grow marigolds, hollyhocks, coreopsis, cosmos, Hopi sunflowers, and bachelors buttons. Our colourways are always changing, shifting with dye materials as they bloom and become available to us.
We work with sumac, indigo, madder root, logwood, eucalyptus, goldenrod, and kitchen waste such as avocados, pomegranates, and onion skins. We hand dye in small batches, making every skein unique. We make bolder moves and experiment with colour, proving that natural dyes are more than just pastels. We’d really like to dispel the myth that natural dyes are just a novelty. Just like your little black dress, all colour, whether natural or chemical, fades with time. In natural dyeing, we call this softening of the tone ‘maturing’. When properly applied and lovingly cared for, natural dyes can stand the test of time.
You have four bases in the shop right now, and so much section in terms of colourways and also sets and GOTS options and gift sets. Are there specific colourways to specific bases?
In the beginning, we were offering similar yarn bases to mainstream dyers and suppliers because we were afraid of being too different. It wasn’t until we realized that what makes us different is what sets us apart, that we found our niche. We eliminated chemically treated (aka superwash) wool, and synthetic, petroleum-based fibres from our line. On the website, our bases are organized into 4 categories based on weight. Our main bases are:
1) Halo –laceweight mohair and mulberry silk for strength and radiance
2) GOTS To Have It – a GOTs-certified fingering merino, that has undergone the Schoeller EXP 4.0 chlorine-free machine washable treatment. EXP is the first wool finishing process in the world to meet the strict criteria of the “bluesign®” and “Global Organic Textile (GOTS)” standards.
3) ECHO – previously called Eco Sock, this combination of organic merino and recycled nylon present an alternative for the eco-conscious knitter.
4) Lush DK – This luxurious base is a blend of 80% Superfine Alpaca, 20% Wool
5) CAKE – our chunky yarn is a sweet treat with a blend of 70% Extrafine Merino and 30% Tencel
Cellulose bases are seasonal and subject to change. The variety of bases we offer, in combination with the variability of dye ingredients, means that colourways change continuously, they’re not offered across all bases, and some colourways are never repeated. All skeins are OOAK. If you like it, snatch it up! Our aim is to help yarn enthusiasts create original, beautiful pieces with quality, earth-friendly alternatives.
Can you tell us about what other products you’ve added to your shop? Especially loving the dyed aprons and project bags.
In addition to the wool, we also produce, in small quantities, eco-printed cotton shawls, aprons and silk scarves, shibori-dyed sarongs and pillows, and botanically dyed canvas project bags. These artistic creations are a by-product of the process – sewn items from naturally dyed fabric, and eco-prints from harvested blossoms. Andrea is an artist, so her take on eco-prints differs from what others are doing. Her prints come off as whimsical, like watercolour paintings. This past summer, Masstown Market, a local landmark here in NS, purchased all our eco-print and shibori items for their new “Close to Home” artisan market, which was exciting! As we take the winter months to rebuild our inventory, these items will find their way onto the website sometime this Spring. It’s been a challenge to do everything simply because there are not enough hours in a day.
The Sock Set of the Month is such a fun idea, how do you choose which colourways to use?
Your average sock set includes a full skein plus mini, which we also offer, but we like to be as different as possible. Our hot take? The combination of two 50g skeins of ECHO makes the perfect set of socks. Colours depend upon the seasons and the available dye plants, but they will also be based on special occasions, such as Valentine’s Day! February features Lovebug and Blümchen (German for blossom).
I’d love to learn more about The Year of Adventurous Knitting! What exactly is this KAL all about and how can people join?
The concept was developed with our Merry Maritimes Advent customers in mind. Over the course of the year, we will be tackling 4 different projects together while using our minis! This way we can offer customers knitspiration through examples, community, and encouragement through connection, and continued enjoyment of the calendar throughout the year. For those who didn’t purchase the advent calendar, mini skein sets are available online.
The first KAL of 2023 featured the Coffee Break Shawl and concluded earlier this February. Our KALs include weekly check-in posts and Facebook Lives, bi-weekly Zoom socials and participation ballots toward a grand prize. We encourage knitters to subscribe to our newsletter and join the Facebook group for information on the upcoming KALs. The group is also a fantastic resource for project suggestions that incorporate minis, reminders about virtual knit nights and socials, and photos of WIPS and FOs from members.
What is next for Natural Ewe, what are you up to for 2023?
2023 is all about having a greater impact. We will be hosting virtual knit nights and social knit events on a rotating, bi-weekly schedule. We are a big believer in collaboration, not competition, and strive to work with local shops and creatives in the arts community. We look forward to more collaborations and the exciting yarn boxes that are to come. Our yarns are now available in multiple stores across the country, and we hope to build a greater export component into our business and increase our wholesale clientele. It would be wonderful to expand our dyeing operations and hire additional help.
This year we are looking to improve our e-Commerce website with a mobile-first design. Inventory in-store and online would sync in real-time, even when we’re at events! We’re looking into payment options that would allow customers to pay for big-ticket items (ahem, advent calendar) in instalments. And we hope to offer a Loyalty Program that rewards customers for their purchases later this year.
Seeing your finished objects on your website is really fun inspiration, especially with you both wearing them! What types of projects are your favourites to knit?
Andrea: I always have a pair of socks on the go. They are the go-to project that I can take with me anywhere. When I’m not knitting socks, I tend to knit a lot of sweaters with circular yokes and lace work. For years now, I’ve been fascinated with mosaic knitting. I love to play with colour but don’t enjoy stranded knitting, so I’ve turned to patterns that incorporate slip stitch instead.
Jasmine: If I’m knitting something small it needs to be a hat, full of textured stitches, that I can top with one of our vintage fur pompoms. Like the Slightly Twisted Hat I designed. I need to have that end in sight! But surprisingly, I tend to knit sweaters more often than anything else. My first project ever was the Ranunculus Sweater. I think I like the challenge and construction of a good knit. I love sheer panels, puffed/ bell sleeves, and bobbles. I’m very girly in my pattern selection.
Secondary to what types of projects, which is your favourite base to knit?
Andrea: I prefer fingering for versatility. Our ECHO base is great for socks, shawls, sweaters, baby garments. If the pattern calls for DK yarn, I just double it up.
Jasmine: I love pairing a fingering weight yarn with mohair. It’s also a great deal of fun to hold fingering double for a marling effect.
I know this is an impossible question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Do you have a favourite colourway, or maybe a favourite shade? My personal fave in your shop right now is Pinky Swear, such a perfect pink.
Jasmine: Thank you! Pinky Swear was named by a follower in a “Name That Yarn” contest. We don’t hold them very often, but when we do, we get a lot of feedback.
My favourite colourway is “Everything is Love”, offered exclusively on our GOTS To Have It merino. This colourway is special because we bring it out once a year for Pride. Andrea will create two dye lots and then that’s it for the season. Creating the rainbow of colours and speckling is intensive and an ode to Andrea’s talent: first the yarn is kettle dyed (partially), followed by a dip dye in an organic indigo vat, and finally bundled dyed. The dye process is extensive and artful: a true labour of love.
What are your most recent finished objects?
Andrea: I just finished The Sprocket Sweater. I cast it on New Year’s Eve, making this my first project of 2023. It used minis and slipped stitches in the yoke and it serves as a great example of what someone can do with their advent minis.
Jasmine: The Coffee Break Shawl, as part of first KAL in the Year of Adventurous Knitting. I enjoyed learning the ‘Brick Stitch’.
What’s on your needles right now?
Andrea: I dabble in design, and right now I’m working on something that may have potential. My last design, the Eyelet Pop-Top is available on our website and Ravelry.
Jasmine: I’m on sleeve island with my Harvest Cardigan, and I’m about to cast on String of Hearts socks by Tea Bercek.
What patterns have you recently added to your queue?
Andrea: The Sprocket Socks and Hat to match the sweater. Schieffelin by Martha Wissing is an elegant pullover with a garter stitch mosaic yoke and a slight A-line. I have Manis by Yamagara Knits in my queue, but I was thinking of Jasmine when I put it there. It is knit in mohair with a fingering-weight chevron edge.
Jasmine: The Rococo Pullover by Sari Nordlund speaks to me with its top-down, circular construction, lace and bobbles. It’s so feminine and Rococo is my favourite period in art – it gets a bad rap but I like the frivolous! I also have my eye on Helleborus by Anna Johanna, which should be released this Spring. It is a flower-inspired pullover with a gorgeous, cabled yoke, that holds fingering double. I’d love to knit it using one of our sweater sets.
PS. We keep meaning to get the PDF of your Taylor Swift Stockings because they are so cute!
*Is there anything upcoming you’d like to include?
On March 1st, we will be releasing The Boreal Forest Collection. The Boreal Forest, also known as Taiga, is considered the largest land biome in the world. We were inspired by this jewel of nature with its vast waterways and wildlife. To mirror the diverse ecosystems in the Boreal Forest, our collection of 8 colourways will incorporate tonals, variegated skeins and nature wraps, featuring our merino and mohair bases. Over the coming weeks, we will be releasing yarn “teasers” alongside the photos that inspired us!