Of Sheep & Vikings: Four questions for Tuva of Norne Yarn
If you haven't heard of Norne Yarn yet, it's a line of amazing, fingering-and-lace-weight yarns hand-dyed right here in Oslo by Tuva. What makes them super special (besides the luxurious colours themselves) is the thought and care that Tuva puts into naming each colourway. We asked her Four Questions about her processes and preferences:
"How did you come up with the name Norne Yarn, and how do you find the names for your different colourways?
In order to tell how I came up with the name «Norne Yarn», I must first tell you a bit about myself and how I came to be an indie dyer. I have always been deeply interested in history. I have a masters degree in history, specialising in the Norse medieval period. As a hobby, besides knitting, I do historic archery and reenactment. One summer I was at a Viking market at a place just outside Kristiansand, and took a class in dyeing with woad and other plants with a very talented Danish lady called Tove Lodal. This made me want to dye more. As I was already a competent spinner and mastered several different crafts to make yarn into fabric, I wanted to be able to dye my own yarn as well. I started experimenting a little with plant dyeing. But as I live in an apartment in Oslo, I found the quantities of plants needed to do a lot of dyeing hard to come by.
Then I got some synthetic dyes from an aunt and started experimenting with those kinds of dyes. And while I enjoyed the living history and ancient roots of plant dyeing I also greatly love the more predictable results, the ability to repeat colourways, the light-fastness and the brightness of synthetic dyes. And as relevant jobs for a medieval historian are few and far between, I began to think that I might try to make it as an indie-dyer, but then I could see plainly that synthetic was the way to go for me.
Along with my best friend and fellow yarn and knitting enthusiast, I went on a trip toScotland to take a dyeing workshop with the fabulous Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt Yarns. We went to her studio in a lovely little village called West Kilbride a little outside Glasgow that has built itself up as a craft village with amazing studios where you can visit a wide rage of talented artisans and buy their goods. In the workshop we first got a lot of small skeins to experiment on before we got to dye fullsize skeins of one of the colours we had made up earlier in the day. The colour I came up with was a deep sea colour; it was hard to tell if is blue or green. As we got labels for our skeins, naturally we also had to name the colourways. I began thinking about the deep sea on a rather wild day. And from there on to the Vikings, their sea journeys and both the mastery they had of the sea and the respect for the sea in myth and folklore. Ràn is a Norse goddess of the sea. She catches drowned men in her net, and everyone lost at sea belongs to her in the afterlife. Rán’s husband is Ægir, the god of the sea and of the art of brewing ale. Rán and Ægir have nine daughters. They are the wild waves. All nine are named after different types of waves. As a group, they are referred to as either of their parents' daughters, or by poetic descriptions like “the nine skerrybrides”. Therefore I came up with the name “The daughters of Ràn.” This colourway and its name made me think of all the other possibilities there would be for a series of colourways inspired by Norse mythology and history.
I decided I wanted to go with this idea and try to create my own yarn brand as a line of work were I could use both my creative skills and my knowledge of history. When I knew what I wanted to do, the name “Norne Yarn” came as a given. The Nornes are female deities that rule the fates of both men and gods. The three most important Nornes are Urđr, Verđandi and Skuld. Urđr represents the past, Verđandi the present and Skuld the future. In some depictions she is also a valkyrie. They are commonly depicted as three sisters living by a well by the roots of the tree Yggdrasil, spinning, weaving and cutting the life thread of every person:
Thence come the maidens
mighty in wisdom,
Three form the dwelling
down 'neath the tree;
Urth is one named,
Verthandi the next,
On the wood they scored,
and Skuld the third.
Laws they made there,
and life allotted
To the sons of men,
and set their faits
The naming of colourways happens mainly in two different ways. Either I have an idea about something that I just have to make a colour named for, or I make a colour and then have to come up with a name. The grey colourway Fenrir is an example of the first. I could not make colourways based on Norse mythology without a colour named for the giant wolf, and all indie dyers should have at least one good grey. Fenrir is a son of the trickster god Loki and the giantess Angrboða. The gods went to great troubles to bind Fenrir on a lonely islet. Part of the reason for this, is the role that is foretold for Fenrir in Ragnarok, the ending of the world. When Ragnarok comes, the great wolf will break his bonds and kill Odin. Odin's son Vidar will then slay the wolf in order to avenge his father.
In the case of Fenrir, I also had a clear idea of what colour I needed for the name. I wanted a middle grey with hints of brown and yellow undertones, inspired by the colour of a wolf's fur. I looked at a lot of pictures of wolves and started experimenting. Sometimes I also have an idea about something I want to make a colour based on, but it took a bit of thinking and asking people weird questions like “what colour do you think the great serpent Midgardsormr is?”
At times, experimenting with colours for one idea for a colourway leads to more than one colour that is good enough for me to want to use it. Freyr and Gullinbuste is a good example of this. Freyr was the original idea. Freyr belongs to the group of gods called the Vanir. He is the son of Njord, and Freya is his sister. Vanir are associated with fertility, love, nature and magic. Freyr himself is a god of harvest, fertility, rain and sunshine. At the autumn and midwinter blòts, sacrifices were made to Freyr for a good year and peace. I was a bit unsure if he would be best represented by a fresh young green, like the first buds of spring, or by the golden colour of ripe fields at harvest time. I ended up with great colours for both ideas, so I had to come up with a new name for one of them. The golden yellow also made me think of old gold, and when I was reading about Freyr, I was reminded of Gullinbuste, a boar with golden bristles. The dwarf brothers Brokk and Sindre forged him as a gift to Freyr, as part of a bet with Loki. Gullinbuste pulls Freyr's chariot, and his golden bristles glow in the dark and light the way in dark places. So then I had two colourways from the one original idea.
At yet other times I just have an idea of a colour I want to make. Then I have to try to think up a name for it. This way is usually a lot more difficult. My family, friends and acquaintances often have to be sounding boards for ideas about colour names when I am working it this way around. The S'n'B I attend weekly gets it fair share of this, as the people there understand yarn. I developed the names for many of the mini skein gradient sets in this manner. There I started out by making the pink via plum to purple set just because I wanted to experiment more with that family of colours. This one I found a name for fairly fast, as I had been thinking about doing a pink colourway for Freyja. Freyja belongs to the Vanir clan of gods. She is the sister of Freyr and the daugther of Njord.
The Vanir are all fertility gods. This gradient colourway is inspired by Freyja as a goddess of sexuality, beauty and fertility, and is called Frejya's Flowers. Soon I got the idea into my head to make a gradient going on from the purple end of Frejya's flowers, and from violet to navy blue, exploring Freyja's other side, as a godess of magic, war and death. This led me on to make a series of gradient in a full colour wheel circle, were each one takes up from the last one. You can use them alone or put together as many as you would like.
And I suddenly had a lot of colours to name. Sometimes the process is made more difficult by language, as I sell to an international market and a lot of the the things I name colourways for, sounds more natural in Norwegian and some things just does not work if simply translated word for word into English. One solution I use a lot, and that I learned from reading scientific texts when I went to university, is to just use the Norse word. At other times, I have to change it a bit to make it work in English. Like with my newest full skein colourway, a lovely bright emerald green, I was thinking about the Norwegian phrase “i vesterled”, that literary means “in the western ship route”. In Norwegian, vesterled is used specifically about the Viking travelling to the British Isles, but this does not translate well. So working on that chain of thought, I read about the Vikings in the British Isles. And I came across the Scottish title Lord of the Isles. The Lords of the Isles started as Viking chieftains ruling the isles on the west coast of Scotland and mixing with the local Gaelic rulers, forming a NorseGaelic dynasty. Their power was largely based on their ships, and they had a system of requiring their subjects to man and maintain ships for military service very similar to the Norwegian Leidang. They were largely independent rulers of the region, even though they at various times swore nominal fealty to the kings of Norway, Ireland and Scotland. At the height of their power, the Lords of the Isles were among the mightiest and richest lordships in the British Isles. Lord of the Isles had a nice ring to it in English, and it captured my original thoughts about the emerald green colour and Vikings in the British Isles, so that became the name of that colourway.
Talk us through your dyeing process. What do you particularly love about dyeing your own yarns?
The production begins with large boxes full of undyed yarn arriving from my wholesale supplier. Then I have a large spreadsheet were I plan what colours I am going to dye next. I try to work it out so I always have a good distribution of colourways on the different bases and also have good colour combinations available in each base. I work with small dyelots. The dyes I work with are a type of synthetic dye for animal based fibres called acid dyes. This means that an acid is used to set the colour. The brand I use comes in 16 different colours. These I mix to get the desired colour. Getting the colour just right can sometimes take a lot of experimenting, while at other times you strike gold on the first attempt. This creative process of experimenting is what makes dyeing a lot of fun for me. It is important to write down what you do when you experiment, so it is possible to recreate the colour. When I have a recipe for the colourways and a plan for what colourways to dye, I just have to prep the yarn, soak it in soapy water, mix the colours according to the recipe, put the dyepot on the stove, add dyestuffs and acid, add the yarn, stir and shift the yarn so it gets as even or variegated as I want it, wait until the water clears, take the yarn out, add more dye (in order to get interesting colours with depth in them, you use several dyebaths), and repeat as many times as needed before I rinse the yarn out and hang to dry. This dye technique, that I mostly use, is called kettle dyeing. There are a lot of other dyeing techniques out there, and you can fill a book just giving a glancing overview of them.
What’s your favourite yarn to dye?
It is very hard to pick a favourite. When I was choosing yarn bases to start with, I tried out around 15 different bases and had a hard time narrowing it down. Each of the yarns I do have in my selection is there because I really love it. The Lace – Mulberry silk is a lot of fun to dye because pure mulberry silk is so shiny and takes colour in such an amazing way. This base is pure luxury, 100% grade A mulberry silk, spun in Italy. This yarn is perfect for shawls or for garments that use the way silk drapes to a great effect.
But I am also absolutely in love with my two BlueFaced Leicester bases, Fingering – BFL/silk/cashmere and Lace – BFL/silk, as the long wool is shiny and woolly at the same time and lends a more yellow undertone to these yarns. BFL (BlueFaced Leicester) is a breed of sheep with gorgeous shiny, longstaple wool that is still softer than most long-wool sheep. The BlueFaced Leicester also takes colours very deeply. The mix with silk and cashmere is just perfect, as it all works so well together and accentuate the qualities I love. Lace – BFL/Silk is a delicious base that is perfect for a shawl or a lightweight summer cardigan, and Fingering – BFL/Silk/Cashmere is crisp and soft at the same time. This is a yarn that would be perfect for a luxurious fingeringweight cardigan or sweater, as well as for accessories.
The mini skein set are pure BlueFaced Leicester, and it is so nice on its own too. Mini skein sets are a lot more work, but they also give me a lot of room to experiment with more colours together in both gradients and colour sets. This I love. The last fullskein base I have is Fingering – Merino/Silk. It takes colours a bit brighter and does not have as warm an undertone as the BFL blends, so it definitely has its own charm. Fingering – Merino/Silk is a super soft and shiny base with the best qualities from both merino and silk. This yarn will give you something wonderfully soft and drapey. It is a very good choice for shawls, scarves, cowls, hats or other accessories, but is not the best choice for hardwearing garments.
Any tips for new beginners, or knitters who want to have a go at dyeing their own yarn?
You need a bit of equipment to start kettledyeing your own with acid dyes. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of different dye techniques out there, and if you are interested in them, there is a lot of information on the Internet. If you just want to have a go to see what dyeing is all about and are unsure if it is for you, I recommend first taking a workshop to try it out without having buy a lot of stuff or experimenting with food dyes, as Wilton, as those dyes are foodsafe and can be used in your regular post and pans. I can really recommend visiting Old Maiden Aunt in Scotland and taking her workshop.
If you want to go for kettle dyeing, the first thing you need is a goodsized dye pot. You need to have a pot only for this use, as the dyes aren't food safe. The pot needs to be a good size it you want to dye enough yarn for something like a sweater. The rule of thumb is 5 litres of water per 100 grams of material to be dyed. Hand dyed yarn can have a lot of difference even within dyelots, and I always recommend alternating skeins when shifting to avoid lines, so it is good to have a large pot. Pots can be expensive if you go to a kitchen supply shop. Flea markets and Finn.no are your friends here. The dyestuff can also be a bit of an investment, if you want a full range of colours for maximum possibilities. Of course you can start with the basics and build on that if you decide that you enjoy dyeing. Or you can try what I did at first: lure my best friend into taking an interest in dyeing, so I had someone to share the prize of a full colour set with.
The dyes comes in powder form on small jars, but even the smallest size is enough to dye a lot of yarn if you do this for a hobby and not with intent to sell. There were some jokes about “Breaking bad” and the value of curtains as we sat at the kitchen table, dividing up powders on a scale accurate down to 0,1 grams (something every knitter that likes to play yarn chicken should own, by the way). The dyes are mixed in water before use. The ones I use can be left mixed for quite some time. So you need as many bottles as you have colours, as well as needleless syringes – they are a great way to measure out colour. Ordering a hundred syringes at the pharmacy also made me feel a bit suspect. Then you just need some clothes you do not care about getting dye spots on and a disregard for your manicure."
Have you ever tried dyeing your own yarns? I'm itching to give it a go after hearing Tuva's stories! Let us know in the comments :)
You can find Norne Yarns on Etsy, or at this year's festival in November!