Riverstone spins ripping good yarns in Canyon

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Susan Chamberlain spinning wool in her Canyon workshop.

Riverstone Yarns has been in business for just over six months, and already the products from Canyon are gaining an excellent reputation — even as far away as New York state.

With online ordering possible, the yarn dyed in the Creston Valley can be purchased with ease, but it’s also popular among Kootenay stores, including Creston’s Stitchin’ Time.

“It’s a big thing to local retailers,” said Riverstone owner Susan Chamberlain. “They’ve been very supportive when approached. It’s going to be from Invermere to Castlegar and Rossland.”

Chamberlain offers three lines of yarn: medium worsted weight wool (suitable for hats, scarves and sweaters), worsted weight mohair (sweaters, shawls and combinations) and sock wool (a durable blend of wool and nylon). They’re available in 30 colours — with more colours and lines to come.

She and her husband have been in the Creston Valley for nearly three years, having lived most recently in Portland, Ore. Through Community Futures, the Canyon resident purchased her equipment in January, starting up Riverstone Yarns in May.

Dying yarn isn’t exactly what she’s done in the past, but it follows in a similar vein, which grew out of acting in high school.

“As you get older, you realize that’s not your particular talent,” she said with a laugh.

Chamberlain, who was raised in Dawson Creek, got into the costuming aspect of theatre, and ended up in Toronto for seven years, where she dyed fabric for TV and stage productions. The work was stressful, she said, “especially TV, which is very different than theatre.”

But it offered a welcome challenge — she took part in the creation of “really campy, outrageous stuff” for a production of Cinderella, as well as making costumes without fabric.

“We actually didn’t sew things,” she said. “We dyed fabric-covered foam and glued it together. …

“I love having somebody ask me to do something different. That pushes me to find new ways to do it.”

An avid knitter, Chamberlain never stopped being creative, and found hand dying to be a perfect fit. She now creates new colour combinations, which vary slightly from one batch to the next.

“That’s the beauty of hand-dying — you never get two the same,” she said.

She makes it sound simple — take six to eight skeins, soak them for 10 minutes in hot water, squeeze them out, and then put in a pot with dye and let them simmer. To create each specific colour, a second dye can be added at the appropriate point in the process.

Once the skeins are dyed, she rinses them well.

“One of my pet peeves is when you buy something and the dye comes off on your hands or needles,” she said.

Once they’re dry, the skeins are spun into loops, which are twisted and put on the shelf, ready for sale.

The majority of Chamberlain’s yarn is bought wholesale by retailers, but it has been a particular hit at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market, one of the few places she directly sells.

“Of course, nobody goes to a farmers’ market to buy yarn,” she said. “But people from out of town buy it as a souvenir of the market. Men will buy it for girlfriends, mothers or wives.”

And as much as she loves making it, one of her favourite parts of the job is seeing what the yarn is turned into later.

“I love to get photographs,” she said. “When somebody on Facebook writes to me and says, ‘I made this,’ I love that. I love to see people’s creativity.”

For more information, visit www.riverstoneyarns.com or like Riverstone Yarns on Facebook.

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