A conversation with Claire

V: Could you start with sharing a bit about yourself?
C: Hello, I’m Claire! I live with my husband and our two four-legged family members in a 300 year old hay-loft in the mountains in the South of France. Since moving from the Netherlands to the French mountains, with the woods at our doorstep, we live with the rythm of nature and it´s seasons.
As an illustrator I work with colour every day and I was curious to explore the colour world of natural dyeing, understand more about plants and the colours they give us so that I can be even more connected to the beautiful nature that surrounds us.

With plant extracts, foreging wild plants close to my home and flowers from my dye garden I am dreaming up colours. All colours are chosen intuitively, depending on the day, my mood or what I have found while foreging or picked from our garden. It all comes together with the local rustic wool from my neighbours farm that I use for dyeing. It gives me so much joy to connect this way to the landscape it all originates from.

Will you join me on my journey of dyeing with plant extracts and wild flowers?

V: How long have you been practising natural dyeing and how did you first get into it?
C: As an illustrator I work with colour every day so it felt only natural to translate that into dyeing wool. About five years ago I started experimenting in my kitchen after an art show about textile art. I was curious about this craft that was done for generations and wanted to learn more about it. After moving to the French mountains with nature at my doorstep it took flight, and now I have little studio where I can easily move around and experiment.
Have you ever done natural dyeing Vibeke?
V: A  few years back i joined a one-day solar dye with plants type of workshop. That summer, and the next, i did dye quite a lot with this technique. I enjoyed it a lot and i actually don't know why i haven't done it again in so long. Maybe this summer!

V: You are living in the mountains in the South France. Could you describe the nature there? 
C: Where I live, there are ancient chestnut tree forests, I can see the everlasting snow of the Alpes from afar and when I drive down the mountain I can swim in a river with waterfalls. In Spring when it is already warm, only half an hour from our home it is still cold and we can walk the dogs in the snow and enjoy the beautiful moon like landscape.
And you Vibeke, what do you see when you look outside your window?
V: Closest to our house i see the forest and our neighbours houses. And if i look further in distance i see open fields were cows and sheeps grass in season. In the background there are high tree covered hills. When i sit on my veranda those hills are what i see in the distance.

V: Are there a lot of plants for you to forage there that you can use for your natural dyeing? And do you grow some of your own for that specific purpose?
CI forage for medicinal purposes to make salves and teas, and slowly I am learning about the colours that wild plants give us.  I am now waiting for the first signs of spring, when the scotchbroom is blooming and start dyeing with that. My intention for this year is to grow dye plants in our garden following the rythm of the phases of the moon. 

V: What are some of your favourites to make dye out of?
C: In the beginning I started with scraps from my kitchen but that has developed into extracts, wild flowers and home grown flowers. The extracts give me more possibilities when I want to replicate certain colours for my little shop. Recently I have been looking for environmental friendly subtitutes for mordanting. We have a large rhubarb plant in our garden, which is an excellent mordant, but I want to explore more about natural based mordants.

V: Which part of the whole process from creating the natural dye itself to the finished dyed wool do you especially enjoy and why?
C: It has always been about colour and the gentle approach of natural dyeing. The colour palette I use in my illustrations has soft muted colours and so it only felt natural to use that same colour palette for dyeing my yarns. And there is that element of surprise with natural dyeing, which is also important to me when I am working on an illustration. That part of not-knowing, those unintentional little surprises is what I love.

C: From the beginning I have been in love with your colour choises, can you maybe tell me a little bit more about that? How do you choose your colours? 
V: I have always been very interested in and inspired by colours. Like you, my personal colour taste are those soft muted colors. Very often though i find myself deeply inspired by people with a different color taste than my own. I think that the color palette i choose from doesn't really change a lot but i have periods were i have a very specific color combination crush. For a long time i had a pink/mustard yellow color crush. I have had a couple of years were i feel that i ended up being a bit too focused on knitting only with very practical colors. It fastly turned a bit too grey and depsite that it is very practical i simply need more of "my" colors. These days i am knitting on a few baby knits and one of the many reasons to why i enjoy that so much is that i get to knit with colors that i love but never would chose for bigger garments. In my interior i like to "play" a little bit more with colors (not on the bigger surfaces but for example with cushions) than i do when it comes to my knitting (at least on the bigger garments). I would say that the colors are still the typical ones that i like but in a brighter version. 

V: We have been looking forward talk together about wool too haven't we Claire!? It is definitely one of the many things that we both love. How are the possibilities, in the area were you live, to get your hands on local wool?
C: Actually, each morning I hear the bells of the sheep that give the wool for the yarn I use for dyeing.  It feels really special that everything, from the colours to the wool, is from so close to my home.

V: What type of wool do you enjoy the most?
CWithout a breath rustic wool.

C: Where you buy your wool? Do you go to local shops or farmers where you can buy more rustic wool?
V: It is easy to find more rustic wool in the shops here since that is the typical Norwegian wool. The two yarnshops that is closest to were i live have incredibly good selection on that type of yarn. I have a very weak heart for the wool from swedish Hönor och Eir so i buy most of my yarn from them (online) and all the fiber i spin with are from them. I am so lucky that i am often gifted yarns by friends for birthdays and Christmas so a lot of the yarn that i have i haven't bought myself and it is yarn that i wouldn't have gotten my hands on here in Norway.

V: What inspires you?
C: The woods, old books about art and design,  vintage stuff, visiting museums, photography, I could go on forever...

V: Lately i have done a little bit of spinning, with a drop spindle, and i enjoy it so much. I find it to be very meditative. If you were to learn a new craft what would that be? 
C: I would love to take pottery classes and then hand paint the pottery with natural pigments. These natural pigments can be found not so far from here and have been used since prehistoric times.
That sounds so wonderful Vibeke! Is spinning something you learned from someone in your family maybe? Can you tell me a little bit about the process of spinning?
V: I am VERY new to spinning (i use a drop spindle), only been doing it for a couple of months or so. And i find myself completely hooked on it. For the moment i am actually even more eager to sit down with my drop spindle than with my knitting needles. I haven't learned to spin by anyone, i am simply learning through doing, and that is a very unusual approach to be me. I always like to know what i am doing, even before starting! But with spinning i haven't, to my own big surprise. 

V: How did you learn to knit and how long have you been doing it?
C: I come from a creative family, so I was very little when I knitted for the first time. I remember making a cardi for my doll with bright red mohair with the help of my mom. After that I forgot about it and started knitting again when I saw your beautiful knitwear Vibeke and felt so inspired that I picked up from there again. There is this sweet family knitting story about my grandmother who used to make for all of her grandchildren woollen underwear and socks. When she passed away we found in her knitting basket a sock half way done together with her sock recipe. I also have a favorite sock recipe written down on a piece of paper, do you have one too? And do you knit a lot of socks?
V: It was so incredibly wonderful for me to hear that you started up with knitting again because you got inspired by my knitwear! I had no idea!! I do have a favourite sock recipe, and it is the Emily's Favourite Socks by Emily Foden. Yes i do knit a lot of socks but i am one of those knitters who have periods when i knit a lot of socks and then it can go a long time before i do it again. After i had learned to knit my first pair of socks i used to always have a pair on my knitting needles but now it is definitely more in periods.

V: For me, knitting goes deep. It is a big part of my daily life. What meaning does knitting have for you?
C: That is the same for me,  Vibeke. Knitting was from the beginning something that helped me calm down, be grounded in a world that sometimes can be quite overwhelming and the pressure I often feel in my creative work life. And knitting simply makes me happy.

V: Of course i am eager to know what you are currently having on your knitting needles and what you want to cast on next?
C: I am pretty monogamous but I often start a project and last minute decide on something different. Now I am knitting the Felix pullover by Amy Christoffers, a lovely calming knit. For my next project I have dark blue/purple fingering yarn waiting for me that is fresh from the dye pot. Maybe some socks or fingerless mittens. I really do not know yet. Do you have any suggestions? And what are you knitting right now or planning to knit?
V: When you ask about suggestions the first thing that comes to my mind is Emily Foden's beautiful and inspiring book Knits About Winter. It is filled with beautiful patterns, inspiring writings and the most gorgeous photos. Her color palette is a true feast for the eye! So far i have knitted (from the book) two of the Skyhill hat and have both the Full Moon wrap and the Snowdrift shawl on my needles. The Snowdrift shawl is super for left over yarns by the way. I am making mine mainly out of left overs. These two shawls (and a pullover) is getting a longer rest in my knitting project basket as a result of my eagerness to spin and also because i am focusing on knitting on a few gifts. The socks pattern i mentioned earlier when you asked if i had a favourite is also in this book. In two different yarn weights.

C: I known you from your blog, and it is because of you that I started knitting. I was so inspired by your beautiful knitwear! Can you tell me a little bit more about why you started blogging?
V: I got so touched when you told me this. That you actually started kniting because of me! Thank you so much for sharing that with me. 
Because of health issues i had to quit working and after a while i found myself needing a place were i could be creative and share my interest for interior (i worked as an interior consultant and missed that terribly). So when i first started blogging it was a blog about interior. It not only served as a creative space for me but also a place were i could meet other people. At that time my health wasn't good enough to have an active social life so connecting with people through my blog was of deep value to me.
After a while with not getting better health wise i suddenly found myself having an identity crisis. Not being able to work or contribute with DOING something left me wondering who i was WITHOUT that. Who was i without all the doing!? Even my self worth i questioned. It was a long and hard process to go through, a lot of grief and sorrow. Out from this came a deep and strong need to create something with my hands and that was when i found knitting and also started up this blog.

C: What do you knit in summer? Do you knit less because it is too warm, or do you then knit with linens or cottons?
V: I think i knit about just as much as i do in the other seasons because the typical Norwegian summers aren't so warm. But i think i tend to maybe knit more on smaller projects like socks and shawls than for example casting on for a warm new sweater. If i already have something big on the needles from before though i do knit on it in summer. 
When it comes to pure linen or cotton yarns i actually don't enjoy knitting with them. I have tried a couple of times but it gets far too heavy on my hands and arms. A few years back though i knitted myself a Siri cardigan out of a yarn from Gregoria Fibers which contained about 25% linen (50% Camelid - Alpaca, 25% Cellulose - Linen / Flax, 25% Silk) and THAT was heavenly to knit with! 

C: Norway is known for its knitwear, have you ever made a traditional sweater like that?
V: Indeed it is. I have knitted two more modern designs/versions of the Norwegian kofte (traditional sweater) but not one of the older traditional designs yet. The reason why is because i simply can't manage to decide upon which one to pick. Since i love the Selburose so much it has to be one with that in the design i think. And i would like to knit it in either Finull by Rauma or Pelsull by Hillesvåg.

C: Do you knit in public?
V: Yes i do. And quite often actually. Both alone or together with a friend or my mom. I always have a knitting project in my bag when i leave the house.

C: Your sense of style, colour choices and yarn are always impeccable. Can you tell me a little bit about how you choose a pattern and wool?
V: Oh thank you so much! The wools that are originaly used in the patterns i choose to knit aren't available here in Norway (it is very seldom that i knit a Norwegian pattern) so i always use a different one. Since i like to try to use mostly Norwegian wool and/or support smaller indie dyers like Hönor och Eir that is what i mostly choose to buy and knit with. And of course all the wonderful yarns that i am gifted. Because of kind friends from other countries i get to try different yarn brands than i find here. Anna, the dyer behind Gregoria Fibers, who is a dear friend of mine, is one of them. 

C: My stash only has left over wool from projects, because I only buy wool when I have a certain pattern in mind. How about you? Do you have a stash of wool and hand pick from that when you start a new project?  
V: Yes i do have a stash of wool but i wouldn't say that it is very big. So when i come across a project that i would love to knit i look there to see what i can use and other times i look in my stash first and then search for a pattern that i like that will be great pairing with the yarn. When i do buy yarn i usually have a specific idea/pattern in mind for it but i must admit that very often that specific idea i had turns into other ideas.

V: I have understood that walking in nature is something you love and like spending time on. Can you share more about your relationship with nature?
C: When I am in nature everything falls into place again. It gets me back to my true self, after a busy day, it calms me and gives me joy and new inspiration when I am stuck. 

V: Favourite sound and scent in nature?
C: This morning I heard a couple of woodpeckers in the forest, and the echo of their peckering was like a little concert. The subtle smell of wild roses. The sound of a Douglas fir forest when the high trees catch the wind. And what about you?
V: I love the smell that comes with the rain. The sound of birds, especially in spring. The smell of the forest and chopped wood. And like you i love the sound of the wind playing with the tree tops in the forest. The smell from our neighbour's apple trees when they are in season. Oh and the scent from blooming peonies in our garden.

C: What do you do in your free time – when not knitting or spinning?
V: Family and close friends are very important to me so i spend a lot of time with them. I also love reading a good book (or watch a good movie) and i am very fond of cooking. When my body is up for it i like to do some restorative yoga and every day i do mindfulness meditation/exercises.

V: When you do creative work, or simply sit down and knit, do you usually like to have have it quiet around you or do you listen to something at the same time? 
C: I like to listen or watch podcasts about people who inspire me. However, I would like to learn how to knit and read at the same time. I am still figuring out how you can knit and turn a page at the same time…How about you? Do you sit quietly when knitting or do you listen or watch a knitting podcast? And if you read a book while knitting, can you tell me how you do that?
V: It all depends on the day and my mood, and also what i am knitting on. Sometimes i sit in quietness (especially if i sit outside, for example on our veranda) and other times i listen to or watch something. I am definitely not able to read at the same time though (but audio-books is something that i often listen to). I am so lucky that my mom and sister knits and also a couple of close friends so often i knit together with someone.

V: I want to thank you Claire for having said yes and taken the time to have this conversation together with me. I have enjoyed it so much and i look forward to follow along on your dyeing journey through your inspiring blog and instagram account. What about ending with a quote or saying that has special meaning to you and why?
C: I have these cards with spiritual quotes that I read on days when I need some guidance or direction. Today I picked the card said:

“Do I let myself listen to the impulses of my soul?”

When I listen closely I know that knitting, dyeing wool and going into nature is good for my soul. So I will continue to follow this path and am curious to see where it brings me. Vibeke, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you about the things that gives us so much joy.

All photos are by Claire.