Baby alpaca and baby camel grow some very nice wool that can be sheared off and spun into 

beautifully soft balls of yarn. Skeins of yarn, actually – that’s the term that Whitehorse artist Sophie Jessome uses.

She and her boyfriend Yann Le Roy have a passion for natural fibre. They’re also interested in learning old techniques for doing things by hand.

So even though it’s time-consuming, they’ve been heading out into the Yukon wilderness, collecting plants, and boiling them down into extracts to hand-dye skeins of natural wools.

Part of the beauty of the process, they say, is that the colour of each batch is unique.

“It’s really hard – actually impossible – to reproduce exact colours,” Jessome says. “Which is actually really nice… This is like the natural ways of life. It’s like all living things – everything is totally unique.”

Jessome and Le Roy will also use scraps from dinner, like beet peelings and onionskins, to make dyes. They’ve also experimented with turmeric spice, coffee beans, and cranberry root, among other ingredients.

Then there are the natural commercial dyes made from plant extracts – Jessome and Le Roy will use those, too.

The couple dye batches of yarn to sell to the growing community of fibre artists and knitting enthusiasts in Whitehorse. Jessome also keeps some of the yarn for her own knitting projects – she makes a variety of hats, shawls, baby cocoons, and sweaters and will custom-make anything a client would like.

Le Roy says she is always knitting something. Everyday. She’ll hunker down in front of the computer and put on a radio broadcast from France or Quebec and lose herself in knitting.

“Hats are my favourite because they’re really fast to make and you can be very creative,” Jessome says. “I like to make many different projects, too, and I really like shawls and scarves with lace. They take a long time, but the end project is complex – and that’s really nice.”

The couple arrived in the Yukon two years ago – Jessome is originally from Montreal, and Le Roy from the Brittany region of France. They had been travelling the world racking up experiences – like sailing and becoming SCUBA diving instructors. Their adventure-seeking brought them to the Yukon for work, to stake claims. That job ended, but their adventure has continued. The next undertaking is to open a store to sell items that can rev up the heartbeat of fibre artists, like hand-dyed, natural wool, spindles, and bunches of wool for felting.

They feel there’s a market in Whitehorse, and have developed a plan to open The Itsy Bitsy Yarn Store in the small retail space in Horwood’s Mall currently occupied by the gift shop called The Collective Good, which is on its way to a larger space across from Baked Café and Bakery, and Jessome and Le Roy aim to open their store in the spring.

For more information contact Sophie Jessome at [email protected].

Sophie Jessome’s Recipe for Onion Skin Wool Dye

This method can be used to dye silk as well as alpaca, camel, and sheep wool.

  • In a stainless steel pot, cover 100g of onion skin with 6 litres of water.
  • Boil for 2 hours.
  • Let it cool overnight and strain the liquid.
  • Gently wash a 100g wool skein with a mild soap. Rinse.
  • Soak the wool skein in a solution of 15g of alum and 6 litres of water. Raise temperature to not more than 80°C and let sit 30 minutes. Remove the wool, and gently squeeze out excess water.
  • Insert wool in the onion extract, raise the temperature slowly and to not more than 80°C. Let the wool sit in the dye bath for one hour or more.
  • Remove the dye bath from heat and let it cool down. Remove the wool from the dye bath and put it into a pot of water that is the same temperature as the bath it was just in. Rinse the wool, dump the water, and repeat until the rinse water remains clear.
  • Remove wool from the rinse bath, and gently squeeze out the excess water.
  • Hang to dry.