Interview: Shelly Kocan of Snow Capped Yarns

Meet Shelly Kocan, the woman responsible for the amazing collection of the hand-dyed skeins, Snow Capped Yarns. Shelly creates beautiful colorways by pulling inspiration from her local surroundings of Cordova, Alaska. Her new collection Olde Salt that debuted at the Net Loft recently, is sold exclusively at The Net Loft and their online store.

Last week I sat down with the Shelly over a cup of tea.

How did you first learn to dye?  What made you want to start?  

It was serendipitous that I started, I wouldn't say that I had a longtime plan of trying to learn to dye.  But Dotty had brought Sharon McMahon from Three Irish Girls here to Cordova, probably about two and a half years ago, and she did a series of classes.  The last day of her classes, she did a workshop on dyeing, and it just looked really fun.  It was really fun!  I remember we were still wanting to be dyeing even after the class was over at the end of the day.  She sent us home with our leftover dye stock, which was probably very important, I don't know if I would have gone out and gotten more dye right away.  Since I had that, I was very compelled to get more undyed yarn and keep at it.  I dyed at home that summer. I still remember those first skeins hanging in the shower to dry, losing sleep getting up every hour to see how they looked or what had possibly changed.  It was such a fun process.  I brought some to the Net Loft to share, and after a couple of months, Dotty noticed that I was still buying yarn and still dyeing it, she asked me if I was interested in dyeing yarn for the shop to sell.  I thought that sounded like a fantastic idea. She was going to give me the yarn, then I would dye it, and she would pay me for that.  It sounded amazing.  I started with 8 skeins of a color and that was the beginning.

Do you have your first color here?
I found one skein left of it.  When Dotty gave me that mission, I went out in late July, the salmon berries were still on the bushes.  They were a dark melon to yellow color, and the fireweed had already started blooming that a lovely fuchsia color. I snipped off pieces, brought them back home, and experimented making colors that matched the berries and flowers. Then I dyed this first colorway, Salmonberries & Fireweed.


How do you describe your style?  Where do you get your inspiration?

I do really try to draw a lot of inspiration from Cordova, Prince William Sound, and this area.  We live in such a beautiful area, also really unique place as far as lifestyle.  There's so many great dyers and hand-dyers out there right now, what I try to focus on is capturing some of the colors of coastal Alaska and the lifestyle of people around here.  Looking back to this fall, I did a color about the chanterelle mushrooms that are great to go out and harvest, cook up, save for the winter or enjoy in the fall.  I also dyed some to commemorate duck hunting which my husband is really passionate about, colors called Chest Waders, Duck Blind, and Autumn Comes to the Delta.  I try to do things that are seasonal, specific to our lifestyle.   


My dyeing style I would say, even though my first colorway is pretty bright and variegated, is that I tend more towards tonal and semi-solid colors.  I think that is because that's what I like to knit with.  I enjoy a highly variegated skein for accessories, but for sweaters and bigger projects I like the timelessness of semi-solids and tonals.  That's the direction I've gravitated to. Even the style of dyeing I do is different than what we learned initially, I don't do much hand-painting or even kettle-dyeing, I tend to do layers of immersion of colors, playing with saturations, playing with laying colors on top of one another.  I feel like I can get a product with enough similarities for knitting a sweater, everything will look pretty similar, but still have the richness of hue and variation.


What part of dyeing is the most satisfying?

There are a few parts, because dyeing is definitely a process from the color inspiration to the time it's in the store.  There are plenty of parts of the process that are laborious, wet, and sweaty, smell like wet wool and vinegar.  One of my favorite parts is when you do finally get a color you were thinking of, after playing with different ratios, and trying to figure out how to get just that red or just that orange.  There's so many variables with dyeing, and it's not an exact science at all, especially when you're trying to replicate something with variation.  When you get a color that you've been aiming for, that's very satisfying.  I would say I still feel a lot of satisfaction when I see the skeins of yarn hung up and dry, when you just look at them and say "yes!" You've finished the first part, and they're like squishy rows of color.  That really is a good feeling, in the preparation part, those are it.  On the other end, it's pretty great when you bring them into the store and people see them.  When people have a visceral reaction and they're excited about it.  So much of the creative process happens on your own and you never know if people are going to like it.  When people are moved by the colors, that is pretty satisfying as well.

Do you feel like the colors you like best are the colors people react to best?

No, I think it's really different.  In the Olde Salt collection, people have been most drawn to Rusty Anchor, a rusty orange color, and Low Tide, the dark purple-black.  I like those colors plenty, but they're not my most favorite colors.  It is interesting that in a series of 3 colors, the color I'm least excited about could be the most well received.

We made a little video to introduce readers to Shelly's Olde Salt collection, enjoy!

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Thanks Kathryn,
I agree and so grateful to be working with Shelly. I am knitting on one of her earlier colorway releases, “Xtra Tuffs, again”, and I love the way her color knits into a finished piece. The soft variation of subtle color change makes for an enjoyable knit as well as a beautiful finished product. Thanks for your support.


A very interesting interview with an extremely creative woman. Thank you for sharing it with your readers.
Shelly states that her inspiration comes from the natural beauty found in Cordova and she does a phenomenal job interpreting so many different facets from this area. If you’ve never been to Cordova, come up next June to the Fiber & Friends Retreat and Festival at the Net Loft and enjoy the spectacular area where we live!
I promise myself I won’t but any more yarn to add to my stash but every time Shelly brings out new color ways, I find I can’t resist a few skeins. They are wonderful in every way.


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