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Meet Local Maker Second City Yarns
Second City Yarns, created by Jo, was born from a passion for colour and a life-long obsession with crafting. Hand dyed in small batches right here in Birmingham, all the colourways take inspiration from the city's vibrant culture
What first fuelled your passion to make/ create your designs/ products?
I have been a life-long crafter and just love colour - the more colourful the better. Just ask my friends about my rainbow coat! I have been knitting, stitching, embroidering and generally making things for as long as I can remember, so when I discovered hand dyed yarns and realised that I could create wool in my own colours I had to find out more.
Tell us about the origins of your business.
I bought a knitting magazine in summer 2021 and the article about an indie dyer who started their business dyeing yarn on a narrow boat really grabbed my attention. I googled their website and was excited to see that they run wool dyeing workshops. I signed up for a workshop in February 2022 where I dyed my very first yarn. We only had time to dye one colourway that day and I had so many more ideas in my head, so as soon as I got home I bought some undyed wool, dyes and pots and started dyeing wool in the utility room at home. I showed my friends what I’d been doing and was soon asked if it was for sale. That’s when my little business was born.
What’s your motto?
It’s a bit corny, but I find myself thinking ‘believe in yourself, you’re doing great’. You’re often so immersed in what you’re doing that you forget that what you’re doing is a bit special and how far you’ve come.
How would you describe your designs / products?
My yarn is predominantly 4 ply or double knit British wool which are hand dyed in variegated, semi-solid or self-striping colourways. The colours I choose are inspired by places in Birmingham including the Botanical Gardens, the Jewellery Quarter and the 11 bus route.
What was the first success / landmark moment for your designs / product range?
This was definitely my first yarn show, wool@j13 near Rugeley, at which I exhibited in May 2023. The opportunity of talking to like-minded yarn addicts and showcasing Birmingham through my products in such a creative environment was really thrilling and I can’t wait to do it again.
Tell us about your materials - where do you source your materials from?
I only use non superwash, British wool which carries the British Wool ‘crook mark’ logo. I source my wool from a family-run mill in Yorkshire, as they are the only mill that I have found who sell a wide variety of British wool which has not been superwash treated, a process which involves treating the wool with chlorine to make it machine washable. I buy my dyes from a company in Lancashire. The dyes I use are ‘acid dyes’, so called as the dye baths are made mildly acidic using citric acid or vinegar to enable the wool to take up the colours and I plan to start dyeing using natural dyes in the near future. I try to be as sustainable as possible, using only recycled card for my wool labels and plastic-free packaging, all of which I buy from family-run British suppliers.
Tell us about your making process?
My yarn is dyed in stock pots which contain the dye, acidic water and yarn. The pots are gently heated in order for the dyes to set in the yarn, being careful not to felt the wool in the process. The variegated colours are tie dyed, building up the colours in layers, resulting in combinations of colours which represents the source of the inspiration. For example, I have a colourway which celebrates Hurst Street, the centre of Birmingham’s gay village. In order to achieve the resulting rainbow, I tie-dye the wool with red, then blue and finally yellow to give all the colours of the rainbow. This can take all day to achieve, as the process can’t be rushed. Once all the dye has been taken into the yarn and the water in the dye pot is clear, the yarn is left to cool, rinsed and washed by hand, and left to dry before being twisted into skeins.
Have you ever had any interesting commissions?
My daughter is a knitter and Dr. Who geek, so when she found a free pattern for tardis socks, she asked me to dye the wool for them. The result was the colours ‘Moody Blues’ for the navy blue, ‘Black Sabbath’ for the black and ‘Sheepcote Street’ for the undyed wool.
Do you have a favourite of the Birmingham museums? If so, why?
I love taking my children to Thinktank. Being a scientist, I’m always fascinated by how things work and Thinktank has interactive exhibits which allow children to find things out for themselves by getting ‘hands on’. There are also the monumental exhibits such as the wonderful Spitfire, the impressive Smethwick Engine and the fabulous Planetarium.
And finally, a tourist arrives in Birmingham for the first time ever, where do you take them?
I’m hoping the tourist is a classical music enthusiast so I could take them to either the magnificent Symphony Hall, the country’s best concert hall or to the historical, more intimate Town Hall, which underwent such a beautiful refurbishment in recent years. If the tourist is a nature lover, a trip to Mosley Bog, just 5 miles out of the city centre, would be magical. The bog is a rare fenland environment which has evidence of Bronze Age activity and is close to the childhood home of JRR Tolkein and Sarehole Mill. It is thought that Moseley Bog and Sarehole Mill were Tolkein’s inspiration for his fantasy lands in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.