Ok so I'm not a vegan, but I'm a vegetarian and I don't wear leather so I do definitely know the rare feeling you get when you go into a store or a restaurant where everything you see is buyable for you. When you don't have to check a single label for content but just shop away. And that is exactly what Heidi from Quo Vadis offers to knitters. Not only for vegans and wool-allergic people but also for those who love yummy organic handspun and handdyed yarn. Which should be everyone basically.
Naturally, I wanted to know more about her and her shop!
Please tell us a bit about Quo Vadis and yourself!
I’m Heidi, and I’m the person behind Quo Vadis Yarns. Quo Vadis is a completely vegan yarn shop focusing on sustainable and cruelty-free fibres, and low to no-impact dyes. I also hand spin yarn from time to time with organic cotton, linen, bamboo, soy, ingeo (corn) and other plant-based fibres. I use plant dyes for my organic cotton line of yarns, which is really fun, since I get to ‘brew’ up all kinds of colours straight from the plants themselves. It’s amazing how many vibrant colours you can get from flower petals, nutshells and wood chips.
What inspires you?
My customers inspire me a ton! Its one thing to be at home with grand ideas of changing the impact of the textile industry on the environment, being a compassionate knitter, and choosing to use dyes that won’t contaminate the water and soil and so on. But when I see that there are so many other people that feel the same way? Wow! To have the customers that I do, is to have support and encouragement that makes what I’m doing meaningful, and beneficial to others, and therefore, truly worth the effort. I’m honoured to have a creative outlet that others can enjoy and appreciate.
Can you outline your creative process?
Dyeing is something I do when I need action. At the end of the day when I’ve finished dyeing a few batches of yarn, I feel like I’ve really accomplished something. Discovering new colourways is always a different experience. Sometimes I know exactly what I want, and I know which colours I’ll use and how I’ll do it. Other times, it’s a complete experiment and it feels like I’m playing with the colours, like finger painting or doodling. Sometimes I’ll simply mix, and pour the dye over the yarn in even sections. Other times, I’ll make stripes, dots, or blend it evenly so I get a smoothly transitioning gradation of colours. I’ve also been known do dip it, or spray it with a dye-dipped toothbrush. The whole time I’m adding colour, I try to keep in mind what the finished product will be like, and how it will knit up. I like to make colourways that are beautiful both on the skein, and as a knitted object. When I started out I didn’t keep this in mind, and ended up with really interesting colours, but they looked horrible once they were knitted. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot since I started.
How did you come up with your business? Was it a sudden idea that struck you or did it evolve over time?
Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to work for myself doing something creative. At first I thought it was in fashion, and that carried me into the world of sewing, and later costuming. I’ve knitted since I was a kid, but didn’t get serious about it until after my son was born, when I finally learned how to read a pattern, and committed to vegan fibres. It was a bit of a slow process, with a few bursts along the way. I knew I wanted to do something creative, and once I found etsy I started to see new possibilities. I have a friend who is also a dyer on etsy, and very successful. I was really inspired by her freedom to set her own hours, and how much she loved her work. I asked her opinion about having a vegan yarn shop, and she gave me the thumbs up! It’s definitely a niche, and there are lots of vegan and wool-free knitters out there.
What is the best and worst about running your own business in this industry?
I’ll start with the worst. The worst thing is that every so often I’ll come across someone who simply doesn’t appreciate what I do. For me that means that die hard wool knitters can sometimes be harsh and judgmental of my (vegan) fibre choices. Though mentioning that I offer an alternative for people who are vegan or allergic to wool often softens their views. After all, most people nowadays have a family member or friend who is allergic to wool or hair fibre. The best part I think is when I’m at a fibre show and someone who’s allergic to wool or vegan comes to my booth and says “So, everything here is wool free/vegan?” and when I answer the affirmative, they purposefully and with much delight, touch, handle and feel everything excitedly! I occasionally get emails from people who just want to tell me how happy they are that they’ve found my shop and they love my yarn. Wow! I love getting emails like that. It gives me a good reason to keep going when sales are slow or if I’m not feeling very productive.
How do you balance your life between business and creating?
I’m not a natural business sort of person. I like to ‘make things’ with my hands. Many technical aspects I find I have had to put some serious effort into learning, like accounting, shipping, and advertising effectively. To handle the steep learning curves I have encountered along the way (at the moment I’m learning how to use my new Canon Rebel DSLR camera) I’ve made sure to be patient and do a little bit at a time, and not get so immersed that it takes up all my time and stresses me out. Currently it’s a constant flow between looking after my son and organizing his complicated autism therapy schedule, working outside the home as a set decoration seamstress (for film and television), cycling and running, practicing violin and ukulele with my fiancé, who also happens to be my bandmate, and operating this yarn business. Often I’ll be printing out cue cards for my son’s therapy sessions, making dinner, and preparing an order to be shipped all at the same time! Sometimes when I bike to work, I’ll bring packages with me, and drop them off at a mailbox somewhere in between on the 25km ride. I have found that the flexibility of this work has been amazing. It has allowed me the opportunity to create independently, and even make a humble income while doing many other things at the same time. I’m so glad to be able to have that, because if I had work hours set in stone for this shop, I don’t think I would be able to do it.
Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue a career in crafts?
Be patient. Make what makes you happy. Don’t accept boredom, or dissatisfaction. Its your job, you are your boss, so don’t get the impression that you have to do anything you don’t want to do. If you need help, ask. Many people are surprisingly helpful and supportive of independent artists.
I also asked Heidi to show us her workplace. I'm sort of obsessed with seeing the space where magic happens.
The den is where I do most of my work. From the bottom left is my spinning wheel, electric skein winder, behind the orange curtain is my vintage singer industrial sewing machine. The boxes on the left are my knitting machine (still figuring it out), and on the shelf I’ve got all my yarn and fibre. I like to have a few things about me that make me smile while I work, so I have my Sock Summit 2011 vendor badge hanging from the rack on the left, and my Vancouver Half-Marathon medal. In the foreground is my yarn drying rack that used to be a upright loom. Very handy and pretty too!
Thank you a thousand times, Heidi, for taking your time for this interview! I wish you all the best with your beautiful yarn!