Etsy: Recycling and Upcycling Yarn With Nikki Ross

Posted on by MK Carroll

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Rainbow_trout Twilight

left to right: Rainbow Trout and Twilight

Nikki Ross (my7kids on Etsy) hand-dyes yarns she recycles from sweaters when she isn't riding a motorcycle, roller-skating, or homeschooling her kids (she has 7 children and 2 grandchildren!) in the beautiful Smoky Mountain foothills. This 46-year old college graduate also bakes gourmet desserts, quilts, sews, reads, gardens, and knits. Nikki graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her Etsy shop and the yarns she recycles.

Nikki, when did you get started on Etsy?

I registered as a buyer in Feb. 2008 and started selling in May 2008.

What got you started on upcycling/recycling yarn and/or yarn materials?

I dabble in all kinds of crafts... I bake gourmet-style desserts, quilt, sew, read, garden, knit... I LOVE to knit.  I started exploring different fibers and was APPALLED at a couple things.  The first one was, the price of high-end fiber yarns!  With 6 kids still at home to feed and on 1 income, no WAY could I afford to indulge in mohair, cashmere, merino.  The second thing was, I came across a site on the internet, explaining how to re-use a sweater.  Like, Aunt Gladys gave you a darling knitted deer jumper... hmmm... what can you do with all that yarn?  I started noticing all the wonderful fibers hanging around the Goodwill and yard sales, disguised as sweaters.

Who/what inspires your work?
My husband of over 25 years, Richard, is always an inspiration and encouragement.  He lets me bounce ideas off him, inquires about what I am doing, how my sales are, whether my prices are competitive.  Also my kids are a terrific inspiration... because they haven't yet learned to fear judgment and failure, they come up with the BEST ideas.

How do you choose the themes for your yarns?
My oldest daughter (now married and a mom herself) is SO into literature... I guess she got that honestly... she suggests a literary work that we both love, with interesting characters and then there we are, on the phone talking about how this personality should be this color...  The next thing you know my stove is covered with dye pots, the air in my house is full of floating wool fibers from my swift spinning around and around with the latest sweater casualty, and my hands are multicolored and blistered from squeezing dye out of yarn...  LoL


left to right: "The Gruffalo" and "Early Dark"

What are your favorite parts of recycling/upcycling?
Hard to say if my favorite part is  "the Hunt" for suitable victims, or the actual unraveling, which is kind of soothing; or the coming up with ideas, or the dyeing, or seeing the end result, or being able to offer these wonderful, soft, luscious yarns at SO much less than they cost at the LYS.

But I kind of think it might be the coming up with ideas.  Because once I have an idea, the fiber takes on that character for me, and it is almost an obsession to get it into its yarn form and see it "come to life," dyed into beautiful new colors.

What are the most challenging things about recycling/upcycling?

The first most challenging thing is balancing what I want to do with yarn and on Etsy, with my time with the kids, their school, and order in our home.  It would be easy for me to just create, and neglect other things.  But I can't because the 2nd most challenging thing for me is space.  There are 8 of us living in a 1450 sq. ft. house and I have to make sure my creativity doesn't overtake us.  LoL!!

Oh and the 3rd challenge is, finding sweaters that have been gently cared for.  I recently took a trip and SO many of the sweaters I came across had been washed improperly, felted, etc.  It is a shame that we are so consumer-driven that we can treat what we have shoddily and then just cast it off and go buy more!

Anything else you'd like to add?

I am incredibly so thrilled to have found a marketplace like Etsy.  It is such a refreshing (and polite!) change from just anything else out there. For the remainder of 2008, all the profits from my Etsy listings (sales
less listing fees, CoMS, and mailing supplies) are going to the
building of a new Youth Center here in the Greater Knoxville area!

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