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Calgary company's hand-dyed yarn sought after by knitters all over the world

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A Calgary store is becoming internationally known for its hand-dyed yarn.

Caroline Sommerfeld opened Ancient Arts Yarns in 2008 and jokes her title is "chief yarn officer."

The company specializes in hand-dyed yarn from heritage breeds of sheep, shipping their product to customers on seven continents.

"One day that I remember, it was absolutely fascinating because we shipped yarn to Finland, Japan and South Africa all on the same day," said Sommerfeld. "How neat is that? It shows you how worldwide this community is nowadays."

Sommerfeld says she's event sent a batch of yarn to the South Pole before.

"There were researchers down in Antarctica," she said. "They formed a knitting group, there were seven of them, and they were actually doing knit-a-longs with patterns I designed for our yarn, so (the skeins) were flown down on research planes, which was the neatest thing in the world."

Sommerfeld says much of the wool she uses comes from producers on the Isle of Mann, Chile, Norway, New Zealand and even here in southern Alberta.

"It depends on the breed of sheep and what kind of things that you're doing with them, but Alberta has a really good climate to produce very fine fleeces and long and lustrous fleeces and, of course, we have good pasturage for them."

Sommerfeld says she saw business pick up during the pandemic when people where forced to stay at home.

"People were looking for something that would connect them in ways that they could without leaving their house," she said. "So getting into knitting gave them something that was therapeutic, it meant that they could go online and connect with this great big community of people, so the pandemic was, I hate to say it, really great for us in that we could really grow."

Wendy Makohoniuk is Ancient Arts Yarns' head of customer service and sales, and says the company recieves emails from customers all over the planet.

Makohoniuk says she enjoys solving problems for them, and figuring out how much yarn they need for a pattern, but her greatest joy is chatting with the customers who visit the company's Calgary store on Manitou Road S.E.

"When everybody walks in the door, it's just like meeting an old friend, and you get to show them this (yarn) and it's fun."

Almost a dozen people work behind the scenes producing the vibrantly coloured yarn.

Megan Slater and the team at Ancient Arts Yarns dye a batch of yarn by hand. Stephanie Loewen is the company's senior dyer and says it's a real team effort to come up with new dye combinations.

"We are always working together bouncing ideas off of one another. If things are a little bit slower in the dye queue, or we've just gotten through our work for the day, then we'll come and give production a hand."

Megan Slater is an assistant dyer. She says she's not a great knitter yet, but when she's working on the dye process, she's conscious of what the final product will look like.

"I like the process of it all as well so seeing it come together is really quite satisfying," she said.

Sommerfeld's family has a long history in textiles; she is the sixth generation to use a spinning wheel.

She recently discovered a rug that her great grandmother started and was finished by her grandmother.

"They were spinning, they were weaving and they took up rug hooking," she said. "They were hand spinning their yarn and hand-dyeing it and putting it into rugs."

That rug now has ties to her company's name and connects her to her family's craft.

"It's really important to me, and that actually is what the name of the company is all about," Sommerfeld said.

"I named it Ancient Arts because this is something that goes back many 1,000s of years and it connects us to all the people that came before us, but it connects us to all the people around the world at the same time."

To learn more about Ancient Arts Yarns you can visit the company's website.

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