Meet Alley Cat Yarns

Alley Cat Yarns logoAlley Cat Yarns launched July 20th of 2020, after the pandemic had already settled in, with early posts on Instagram ranging from 3 to 30 likes; and less than six months later, the Ottawa-based indie dyer already had 347 followers, two stockists, and plans to keep dyeing beautiful yarn that's just the right fit for any project needs.

Now, in September of 2021, Alley Cat has already hit some of the goals you'll be hearing about soon, and is edging up on 1000 followers on Instagram. From new bases to new partnerships, yarn types, and amazing efforts like the Corriedale Sheep to Skein project and Rainbow Bridge colourways, Alley Cat has had a very busy and very wonderful year (and a bit).

Melissa—the colour genius behind Alley Cat Yarns—is an avid cyclist and cat-lover who works hard to select as many local and Canadian bases for her dyes as possible, with an emphasis on cruelty-free yarn. She loves to knit, and we love to see what she makes. Without further ado, meet the maker: Alley Cat Yarns!

How did you get into yarn dyeing?
When Covid-19 restrictions shut down my concert band and triathlon activities this spring, I looked for a creative activity I could do at home. I started knitting quite a lot more than usual, and found myself wishing I could find certain colours and bases that weren't easily available at the time. I decided to dye my own yarn, and the rest is (recent) history!
What's your favourite type of yarn to dye—variegated, speckled, tonal, striped/self-striping, solids?
I love to dye in all kinds of styles, but my favourite is multi-layered tonals or semi-solids; these types of complex and interesting colourways are unique to the hand-dyed realm, and that makes them special.
Do any of your colourways have a story behind them?
"Bicycle Red" was one of my first colourways, and is special to me because it is designed to match my bike. One of my favourite hobbies is cycling and triathlon, and I had a custom bike built at a local bike shop last year. As part of the design process, I was able to choose from limitless colour options, and this red was my favourite colour in the entire paint library. Now I have it on yarn, too!
How do you decide on names for your colours?
I get name inspiration from all sorts of places: plants and animals, locations, special moments, songs, television shows or movies, and sometimes my kids name my yarn colours. Occasionally I use a descriptive name, such as "Amber Gold" to try to convey a sense for the colour, where colour or tone is more likely to be difficult to interpret through screens.
Do you have any plans to make yarn collections in the future?
I have all of the plans! I love exploring all of the incredible yarns and techniques in the craftiverse, and admit to having a few types of yarn in the studio that haven't yet had their turn. I've also got some licensed/purchased patterns on hand that I plan to release as kits in the new year. Note: Alley Cat has already released some bundles and sock sets!
Is there any type or weight of yarn you want to start dyeing in the future?
I plan to release limited edition collections of interesting yarns. I have some mohair, yak, and perhaps camel in mind. I may try out some non-superwash yarns in the future as well. Note: At the time of this posting, Alley Cat has released some of these already!
Was there a runner-up after "Alley Cat Yarns"?
No; Alley Cat Yarns was a quick and perfect name, and there were no runners-up. "Alley Cat" of course references my love for all things feline, but is also a term used to describe unsanctioned bicycle races that usually take place in larger cities among bicycle messengers. It also references the movie, whose music I adore. Cats, bikes, and music are three of my favourite things!
Is there a project or pattern that you really want to see done in your yarn?
Oh, so many! I really wanted to see "Irish Coffee" by Thea Colman on my Duchess DK BFL/silk/cashmere base, because I wanted to find out how the weight and drape of the yarn would compare to the pattern's original light woollen-spun yarn, so I recently knit one up. It was a beautiful success. A friend is knitting a "Weekender Light" by Andrea Mowry in Minou merino/cashmere/silk and I'm excited to see that one completed, too. If I could wave a magic wand I'd love to see some of Linda Marveng's more intricate cabled designs in my yarns as a treat.
What colours do you think you'd never work with, but love seeing in other projects?
Until last week I would have said I'd never work with hot pink. But I found a beautiful pattern that called for just a touch of hot pink against a darker contrasting yarn, and I just cast it on this morning!
What's your favourite colour palette to dye from?
I enjoy dyeing all sorts of colours, but one of my favourite ways to use colour is to create depth and richness on tonal yarns using analogous hues.
Is there anything you haven't dyed yet that you want to try, colour- or technique-wise?
I've often wondered how my cats would look in a rich mauve semi-solid, perhaps with navy speckles? I promise I'll never find out! Otherwise, I would like to try out gradient dyeing. I recently acquired some equipment to make that happen, and look forward to the gradient experiments!
Do you have any colourways you've dyed off a picture, or any pictures you want to base one off of?
I have tried this, but I found the process of replicating colours more restrictive than helpful. I prefer to create colours more intuitively, allowing a loose concept in my mind to take shape as I work. When aiming for coordinating colours, I use a common base and once again intuitively branch out until the colour feels right.