Your Yarn Story: Marina Skua

Your Yarn Story: Marina Skua

This coming Saturday 20. July we are hosting a Pop-Up in the shop with the mega talented Marina Skua and I couldn't be more excited. I've known Marina for a few years now and I was thrilled when she decided to start creating her own line of locally sourced yarn. She's a fibre enthusiast through and through and loves all the earthy hues and woolly things. In addition to dyeing yarn she's also a talented designer and technical editor.

We're very excited to be hosting this Pop-Up from Saturday 20. July - Sunday 4. August (in-store and online) while supplies last. If you'd like to come chat all things yarn and fibre with Marina herself, she'll will be on hand to meet & greet on Saturday 20. July from 11-3pm.

Let's get to know Marina.

Q: What is currently on your needles?
A: I have three current WIPs, which is about the right amount for me. Maybe I can fit in another sneaky cast-on before I start to get overwhelmed. 

There’s a pair of socks in Whisltebare Cuthbert’s Sock in a lovely salmon colour, as part of the #mssummersockskal with Making Stories. As a personal project, I’m trying out various no-nylon, non, superwash, natural fibre sock yarns this year as a bit of an experiment! 

I’ve just cast on a Ginkgophyte (by Emily Greene for Pom Pom) in some nice olive-green ramie yarn that was given to me as a gift last year. My gauge is off so I’ve done some maths and am knitting a larger size to compensate – a far-too-common occurrence for me!

In the background there’s a raglan jumper I’m making from some of my hand-spun, combined with naturally grey Mendip 4-Ply (my own yarn). I’m alternating yarns every round to try and get more fabric out of the hand-spun so hopefully I’ll have enough for the whole jumper! I’m working on the sleeves both at the same time to get them to the correct length, then I’ll use up the rest for the body. It might all go wrong, but at least it’s something of a plan!


woman wearing orange hand knit jumper standing in front of a fence

Q: When did you start knitting/crocheting? Who taught you?
A: I started knitting when I was very young – about seven years old. My maternal grandma gave me a little kit with wooden needles and taught me how to knit a few rows. Then my brother used the needles as ice picks to hike up the stairs and broke one. I didn’t knit again for about five years. 

My other grandma taught me again on a visit to Argentina. I made her a terrible, scrappy scarf, and as far as I know she wore that little scarf as a tie every Sunday for the rest of her life. 

Then another few years later I picked up knitting properly in uni, when I wanted something creative to do with my hands and needed a lot more warmth in my life. Third time lucky! I started off with a simple hat with accidental bits of moss stitch in the ribbing. Then I discovered Ravelry, started more ambitious projects – prompted by whatever tutorials and blogs I could find to show me techniques – and it all snowballed from there. 

Q. What influences and inspires you as a designer/dyer/spinner? Where do your ideas come from?
A: Oh I’m inspired by so many things! It’s probably a bit cliché, but I find inspiration all around me. Most of the colours I dye are in some way inspired by nature – plants, flowers, the weather, even the tint of the soil. My phone is full of photos that I take to remind me of colours – or combinations – that I want to remember. A bit of paint on rusty metal, or a sunlit oilseed field with storm clouds behind it. I find colours so much more interesting when they’re grouped together to blend or contrast, so when dyeing I tend to think of groups rather than individual shades. 

My design work, however, is generally a bit less naturalistic in origin. It’s often quite geometric, and I love to use strong diagonal lines and textured stitches. I’m interested in shapes and structure, and adding visual interest without fussiness. With knitting designs I’ll often start with shapes or a stitch pattern in my mind, and will start sketching then work from there. 

Q: How much time do you usually spend knitting/crochet per week?
A: Oh wow, I should probably keep track! It’s probably around 8–10 hours on average – I knit most evenings for a bit after dinner, and occasionally in work breaks during the day. Then on a free weekend I can usually get a few hours in. 

I do go through phases. Sometimes I knit obsessively in every spare moment, but it depends what I’m working on. I have to keep an eye on my wrists to make sure I don’t injure them. It’s happened before! 

Q. Do you have a "yarn crush"? What's your favourite yarn to work with?
A: I’m going to be a teeny bit egotistical here and say I’m completely in love with my own Mendip DK. It’s the first yarn I’ve designed and worked with the mill start to finish to create exactly the yarn I want. The base is a natural, heathery grey lambswool from a local flock (on the Mendip hills!) – and I love the way it takes the semi-solid colours I’m dyeing on it. It’s woollen-spun, so is bouncy and a bit rustic but also soft, and it’s so warm! It’s going to be perfect for toasty winter knits. 

The yarn’s only been out for a couple of months and the crush hasn’t worn off yet – I keep having to remind myself to prioritise projects rather than designing everything under the sun in all the colours! I know it’s great for colourwork, and can’t wait to use it for more textured stitches.  

Q: What is your favorite fibre to work with? Or do you have a favourite yarn that you come back to time and time again?
A: It really does depend what I’m using it for, but I have a serious weakness for alpaca. It takes colour beautifully, has a lovely, gentle halo and drapes incredibly. The lack of stretch can make it a little difficult to knit with, so I really love a blend of alpaca and something springier, like a bouncy wool. I think it’s one of my most commonly used fibres when blending for spinning. I also love holding a strand of alpaca together with another yarn to create interesting texture and harness the properties of both yarns. 


Q: Tell us about a project that you’ve finished and you’ve loved and why
A: This follows on nicely from the last question, as one of my favourite projects to date is my Rhombille, which I knit with two of my hand-dyed yarns. The pattern was designed by Gina Rockenwagner for Pom Pom Issue 16 and I fell in love with the design when I saw it. The original was in a lovely undyed cream aran-weight yarn, but I ended up doing something completely different. 

I held together a strand of my Mendip 4-Ply in Fox on the Stormy base – a burnt orange dyed on naturally beige woollen-spun wool – with Caia Baby alpaca in Persephone, which is a deep burgundy-purple with highlights in a brighter pumpkin orange. It doesn’t exactly sound appealing but the subtle tweedy effect given by the two yarns, with just the right amount of structure and drape, is heavenly.

I modified the pattern a bit – as I always seem to do with other people’s patterns – to account for the difference in gauge, and the result is one of my very favourite garments. The surprisingly simple construction and really pleasing stitch pattern, along with a generous amount of garter stitch, made a quick, fun knit and a lovely addition to my wardrobe. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about the textile crafts? (knitting, crochet, weaving etc.)
A: The act of creation is so fulfilling. Slow, meditative work with your hands is soothing and mentally beneficial – and when you’re done you have a finished, tangible object as a result of your efforts. Add to that the endless combinations of colour, texture and form so there’s always something new and exciting to try out – it’s just completely irresistible and keeps my brain and fingers working. 

Q: What is the last project you completed?  
A: I’ve just finished a pair of socks I designed in Hey Mama Wolf yarn – they’re an amazing purple-grey colour and I’ve included lots of little details that’ll hopefully make them really durable as well as pretty and comfy to wear. I’m sneaking in opportunities to wear them in the evenings as it’s too hot for socks during the day at the moment! 

Q: Anything else you would like to share about yourself? 
A: Even though winter is amazing thanks to all the knitwear and cosiness, I really love summer because it means I can spend lots of time in the garden. This year I’ve been working hard to dig and plant a garden that’s both visually pleasing and useful. 

That means lots of veg and herbs for meals, but also lots of plants for the dye pots! With madder for red and woad for blue on the way, and an abundance of sources of yellow already blooming (coreopsis, calendula, yarrow and more), I’m looking forward to having an amazing range of colours growing in my very own garden. I can’t wait to be able to use them all, though it’ll be at least another year before I can harvest the madder! 

I have a video podcast on YouTube where I share what projects I’m working on, some of my processes, and the last couple of episodes have included updates on the garden!

Q: Do you have any pets? If so, please share a bit of info about them.
A: No pets, but loads of plants! The plants stay where I put them and don’t get all up in my yarn, and I don’t feel like too much of a terrible person if I forget to water them sometimes. 


Q: Your colors are quite unique, what makes your dye style so different?
A: The fact I dye on non-superwash yarn means that the colours are slightly gentler than you see in a lot of indie-dyed yarns. The superwash finish gives that really vibrant, zingy effect, which isn’t really what I’m going for. 

On top of that, I don’t really use acid dyes, which are the standard dyes designed for use on animal fibres. I prefer fibre reactive dyes (usually used for plant fibres) as I mix most of my own colours and I find that they give me more control over the finished effect. 

I also love experimenting with techniques – I’m really pleased with the method I use to layer up colour on my Caia Baby alpaca base for a really rich variegation. 

And of course there’s the naturally dyed collection, which I either forage for or save from the kitchen – and a lot of those techniques have been around for centuries! There’s something a bit magical about dyeing yarn with plants harvested from the same hillside as the sheep were raised on.

Q: You wear many hats in the fibre industry - which is your hats is you favorite to wear and why? (dyer, spinner, designer, tech editor)
A: I can’t possibly choose! I think I need all of them to balance each other out. The dyeing satisfies my all-encompassing obsession with colour, and my desire to work with local fibres and have a good degree of control over the supply chain. I love creating shades within a range that can combine really nicely with each other, and to do that on a yarn that’s spun from the fibre of animals I know and can visit is a real privilege. 

Spinning is pure meditation. It plays with my love of texture, and lets me work with my hands with zero input from the brain. 

Designing is a joy – ever since I started knitting again in uni I’ve been designing in some form or other. But I’m still cutting my teeth in the indie publishing world; I’ve been taking it slowly, making sure my pattern writing is top-notch. Now I have a few accessory designs out, I am starting to work on garments to release as patterns rather than just personal projects. Garments are what I really love so this is really exciting for me! 

And then tech editing pulls together my background in publishing, the maths skills I never really thought I’d use once I left school, and the fact I’m almost unbearably pedantic. I love helping a designer make their pattern as good as it can be, coming up with solutions to occasionally sticky problems, and keeping my brain ticking over regularly. 

So my favourite hat to wear is the one I’ve dyed, spun, designed, knitted and begrudgingly had someone else check over, because even tech editors need another pair of eyes on their work!

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