It’s interview week here on Fringe! This one is by Jess with Hanahlie of Hinterland, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year — remember this? — along with another exquisite swatch by Jess. But I also want to mention Hinterland’s first pattern collection just came out, with the colorwork cardigan I’ve been waiting for a better look at! So, so good.
I’m not sure how I first heard of Hinterland – maybe it was through Instagram, or maybe it was an interview with Hinterland’s founder, Hanahlie Beise, on the Woolful podcast. Regardless, I’d heard only good things about their yarn and was stoked when Hanahlie reached out and offered to send me a couple skeins of their Canadian Rambouillet-alpaca blend, Range. Hinterland is a hyper-local labor of love based in Vancouver Island in Canada, and has only been around for about two years. But once I had the yarn in my hands, I knew it was something unique and quite special.
It sparked an idea to do something a little different for this edition of Swatch of the Month (or “swatchbuckling,” as Karen and I half-jokingly refer to it). I wanted to learn more about this yarn and how it came to life. I pitched the idea of doing an interview with Hanahlie, and she graciously accepted! So with this post, we’re getting a behind-the-scenes look at Hanahlie’s life on an alpaca farm and her vision for Hinterland and their line of yarns.
JS: Hey Hanahlie! As the owner of Hinterland Yarns, you now run an alpaca farm and produce an entire line of yarns. But that wasn’t always the case. Can you tell us about what you were doing before Hinterland, and what led you to wanting to build your work more around fiber?
HB: Before I started Hinterland I was working as a photographer and a graphic designer at Caste Projects, a design studio owned by my husband and me. It felt like I was in front of a computer every day, and that was the case most of the time. My heart wasn’t in it anymore, and I needed a change. I longed to be outside, working with animals, doing things with my hands.
I have always loved material, texture, pattern … textiles in general, so was trying to come up with ways on how I could incorporate those things into my new business. I was big into needle felting, and made this massive bear mostly for an experiment, but also for a design show that was happening in Vancouver at the time. I learned how to knit, and discovered this amazing fibre community. We moved from Vancouver to Victoria (on Vancouver Island), and my search for wooly beasts began.
Originally I was hand-spinning yarn and experimenting with blending alpaca with other fibres. But as my herd grew, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the hand spinning. I started buying more fibre from neighbouring farms who have animals but don’t use the fibre. I’d blend it with mine so I was able to meet the minimum requirements of the mill and away I went! I first experimented with blending with Corriedale wool, and other wools, but once I found Rambouillet merino, I knew I had it! I finally settled on 50/50% ratio, and I think it’s just perfect for garments now.
It sounds like your alpaca flock came together almost by accident or chance. How did you decide that you wanted to focus on alpacas, rather than sheep?
Alpacas were sort of a surprise. I was on the hunt for sheep — I still love sheep and hope to have some one day. There was an ad online for a farm retirement sale, and with that were about 20 yearling alpaca boys. So I thought, why not go out and look at them? I hadn’t really been around alpacas or llamas before, and when the owner took me into the field, all these yearlings came running, jumping, pronging toward me – it was the cutest thing ever. They were beautiful and somehow mystical … and totally stole my heart. After that day I went home and started doing as much research on alpacas as I could, and basically about four days later I bought my original six.
As a farmer and business owner, what does a day-in-the-life of Hanahlie look like?
Typically I get up and take my dogs for a hike or a run. I love that part of the day, being outside first thing with those two. Once they’re tuckered out, I usually head to the barn to do my regular alpaca clean up and feed. I try to get all of my chores done by around 11 or 12 so I can have the rest of the day for computer work. If I don’t have a lot of online orders or emails to respond to I get down to packaging finished yarn, or sorting raw fibre into my next yarn order. It seems like I always have plenty of packaging or sorting to do. Those jobs are never done.
Tell us more about your alpacas.
Over the years my husband and I have been taking on rescue alpacas, shearing for the animal shelters here. When we can, we’ll take them home — and for the ones we don’t have room for, we try to find them homes. I wish I could take them all. We are still pretty small, just 16 alpacas and one llama.
Alpacas and llamas are really interesting. They are very intelligent and have excellent memories. I have gotten to know all of their unique personalities over the years. We have one boy, Bronson, who’s a bit of a bully, but also just a goof. Nutmeg is always looking for treats, so will trot up close and give kisses. Then one of the new rescues, Arthur, who is a very sweet boy, likes to just follow me around wondering what I’m going to do next. They’re all different, so it’s just nice to be around them watching them interact and listen to them make their little hums and grunts.
Their fibre is really amazing too. It’s lightweight because the fibres themselves are hollow (similar to the structure of human hair), so they also retain heat very well. Because the fibres are fairly straight, it creates amazing drape in garments. I love that aspect of it too.
Hinterland yarns are blended with Canadian born and raised Rambouillet and Corriedale sheep, and you even carry a Washington-grown Navajo Churro lopi. Why did you choose to incorporate these specific breeds into your family of yarns?
The Navajo Churro came originally as a felting fibre, but because I had bought so much from that farm in Washington I ended up making some rug yarn and lopi with it. Navajo wool is somewhat similar to Icelandic wool in that it has a soft downy undercoat as well as a coarse guard layer so it is suitable for lopi. I’ve been learning how to weave, so have high hopes of making some hand-woven rugs with my Navajo yarn one day.
I was originally trying to blend my alpaca with Corriedale wool, before I got into the Rambouillet. I thought the alpaca could balance out a more rustic wool like Corriedale. It is a beautiful yarn on its own, still very soft, but didn’t quite have the loft I was looking for. The ladies at the mill convinced me to try out Rambouillet, so I did! The Rambouillet is a merino sheep, so it’s got a lot of lanolin (which I love), the wool is incredibly soft, with lots of bounce and loft. It ended up being the perfect blend with my alpaca.
Hinterland yarns are woollen spun and minimally processed. Can you tell us more about your vision for Hinterland and how that informed the development of your family of yarns?
I wanted a more rustic feeling yarn that was suitable for our climate up here on the coast. It’s generally pretty wet up here, so woollen-spun fabric is warmer and fluffier, so softer feeling against the skin. Canadian merino-type sheep (like the Rambouillet merino) have had to adjust to living in a harsher climate so the wool ends up being more dense and wild. It’s still amazing and soft wool, but not as consistent to something like New Zealand merino for instance. I also wanted to make a garment yarn, so needed something that would balance the alpaca out and create a yarn with memory and bounce.
The wool and fibre is washed just with organic and biodegradable soaps by hand, then picked, carded and spun with old machinery. It’s not perfect, but I kind of love that aspect of it. It’s a very old, mom- and daughter-owned mill, so I am happy to support them too.
Sounds like supporting Canadian wool farms and mills is very important to you. What are the biggest benefits and challenges of staying committed to a locally-sourced and produced yarn?
I am constantly learning about the wool industry here — what it was, and what it has become. Canada was once a big wool producing country with many mills and wool-producing farms. A lot of the machinery that is still here is very old, very few people know how to do repairs, so a lot of the time they are working with equipment that has been on its last leg for a while. Many wool-producing farms have also bred meat stock into their herd to create a more dual-purpose farm, but which often lowers the quality of the wool. That’s not always the case, for sure, but it is something I have come across.
Plus, it has been challenging to find consistent farms to work with, but I think that’s because so many farmers here are getting to a retirement age and are not as interested anymore. I am getting there, but I definitely have to work with many farms in order to make a viable production. I am sure that is the case for most yarn producers, but it is a learning curve for me!
Regardless of the ‘what it was’ though, I am very excited about the future of farming in Canada. I feel like I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to the yarn I am making, and it has allowed me to reach out to other wool- and fibre-producing farms to help support them by purchasing wool they have otherwise been unable to sell. That part feels really great too.
Another benefit to this for me is that as my yarn business grows, it will allow for us to take more rescue alpacas and llamas into our herd and grow in that way too. That part makes me feel really good, because there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t get an email about some animals needing to be re-homed.
What’s next for Hinterland?
Along with continuing to make my yarn — eventually coming out with few new weights — I do have a few other plans for Hinterland and how to grow the business in another way. I’ve been conceptualizing a new project that is called Colour in the Cauldron, which is a natural dye research and residency programme that takes place in Oaxaca, Mexico. In Oaxaca we will be visiting the five main valleys around the centre of Oaxaca to visit and learn from various master weavers and dyers. Alongside these tours will be an intensive natural dye course where we learn about the natural plants and insects in the area traditionally used to create vibrant colours.
My long-term plan for Colour in the Cauldron is to open up the residency to various parts of the world that have an ingrained textile history. Places like Peru, Guatemala and Iceland are currently top of mind for various reasons, but there are just so many amazing places in the world where textiles are an enormous part of cultural identity and storytelling. This could be a lifelong journey of exploration and learning.
Once the yarn arrived in the mail, I couldn’t wait to swatch with it. The last time I knit with alpaca was years ago for an ill-fated hat with a 100% alpaca yarn that felt very dense and heavy. So I loved that Hinterland’s yarn was blended 50/50 with Rambouillet to give it some lightness and loft from the wool, while still retaining the softness from the alpaca.
Range has a rustic, nubby look and the strands oscillate between thick and thin. With the Maple colorway, you can even discern fine red fibers twisted around the center core of the yarn, with flecks of cream and tan. It’s incredibly soft, and I can easily see this yarn become a slouchy, simple ribbed hat or a stockinette cardigan that would allow the yarn to speak for itself.
However, I was itching to see how this yarn worked up in cables, and I couldn’t get the cables from Michele Wang’s newest design for Brooklyn Tweed, Auster, out of my mind. I’m happy to report that the cables look simply stunning in this yarn, and I’m already plotting to make a wide, cabled scarf in this stuff.
Yarn: Hinterland Range in Maple colorway (gift from Hinterland)
Needles: US7/4.5mm wood needles
Gauge: 21.5 stitches / 25 rows = 4 inches in cabled pattern, below
M E T H O D
PREVIOUSLY in Swatch of the Month: On the lopapyesa trail
Yarn and swatch photos by Jess Schreibstein; farm photos © Brian Van Wyk, courtesy of Hinterland