Creative Boss Interview No. 2: Anna Castillo, owner & natural dyeing genius behind Gregoria Fibers
Anna is the creative soul behind the beautiful hand-dyed yarns of Gregoria Fibers. She uses only natural dyes - either plants she foraged or extracts - on sustainably sourced yarn that comes from Spain, her home country.
Who are you, what do you do and what’s your story?
I’m Anna, I live in a city close to Barcelona in Spain, and I’m a natural dyer and knitter. I dye with natural dyes that I get from my parents’ garden - others I find in the mountains or the woods and more exotic ones I buy online.
What I found fascinating when we met each other is hearing the story of your yarns because I think it’s quite unique - at least I don’t really know a lot of people in Europe who do what you do. Do you want to tell us a little bit about where your yarn comes from and what makes it special?
When I started experimenting with natural dyes I started withcommercial yarns because they were easy to find, but I wanted to base the product that I was working on on nice materials so I started searching for more respectful and environment-friendly yarns. At that point I was in Germany, but I knew that I would move to Spain again so I wanted to find yarn local to me, yarn raised in my country.
I started searching and thought that it would be an easy thing because it is easy to find sheep in my country. I thought "well, that means it’s easy to find wool". But that’s not true - we have a background of raising sheep and processing yarn, but at the moment there are not many places that process wool and make yarn.
Luckily I found a group of people that got into the same problem when they wanted to find yarn and now they work together to create yarn from Merino sheep (which is the most famous yarn from Spain). They do all the things that are involved in the process. This yarn is from the Western part of Spain - it’s my sustainable Merino base. It’s cleaned and spun in Spain. It’s quite rustic because it’s not processed.
I love the story behind this yarn. Hopefully I will find other stories - at the moment I only have this one special yarn and one other base. My other Merino base which comes from Southern Spain is softer as it’s more processed.
When I watch what you do with your yarn and your colors it’s always something that I’ve never seen anywhere before and never with natural dyes. I also feel that it varies with season. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I’m inspired by other makers and things that surround me. It’s not necessarily only dyers - one picture is enough sometimes. I’m always inspired by nature, and I love to combine three or four dyes. Of course I can’t achieve the same color combinations you would achieve with acid dyes so I like to focus on three, four simple dyes and see how they work together on different parts of the skein. It’s quite experimental because natural dyes are surprising. I love to mix colors to work with and then apply them on different parts of the skein.
Do you do a mixture of dipping the skeins and then painting on them? How does that work?
I use different techniques. One that is amazing for me is speckles - it’s not kettle dyeing or hand-painting, I'm just working with the dye and throw the dye on the skein. Sometimes I love to dip-dye the whole skein or a part of the skein and then use my speckle technique. I’m constantly trying new things and surprise myself!
Although I take notes it’s not easy to get the same color way - even if you’re using the same quantities, the same technique, the same process because sometimes the color just works differently. But I love that part of natural dyeing.
What’s your journey, what made you first start dyeing yarns?
As I mentioned, I moved to Germany two years ago and there I discovered yarn shops. Here in Spain it’s not easy to find beautiful yarn shops. In Germany, I had a lot of free time and I spent a lot of time in this gorgeous yarn shop. I started buying and creating a stash. At some point I told myself - "why shouldn’t I dye my own yarn?"
So I started searching and found some "how to dye” tutorials. I discovered natural dyes and decided to try them because I lived in a small apartment and I thought it was easier and safer to dye with natural dyes like onion skins in my kitchen. I started trying new things, new dye materials, and kept going, kept trying new things. Now I’m at a point where I’m very comfortable with natural dyes - I understand them and can control the process.
What’s your plan for your business?
I would love to keep going on natural dye experimentation, keep learning new things, new techniques. I would love to be a pattern designer, but I tried a few times and it’s not for me. I love to freestyle new designs - sometimes I start following a pattern and end up with something else entirely! But at the moment I don’t want to be a designer - a pattern designer, that is. I am a product designer.
What I really love is dyeing and experimenting with colors and working with yarn. My goal is to add new yarns, special yarns, to my shop and create more colors and color combinations with natural dyes.
I’m also working with a Japanese team on a collaboration right now which is really exciting. It’s a group of four very talented women - three designers and one yarn shop owner who work together to create very delicate patterns using specific yarns. I’m dyeing special colors just for them and their Japanese customers. You can find them under @lul_blossom on Instagram and Ravelry.
How do you market your yarns? Do you use a lot of social media?
Instagram is my medium to connect with the world. I would love to be more on Snapchat or Facebook, but sometimes your day just hits you. I’m very busy dyeing in the studio and sometimes I don’t have time to do that. I love to take pictures - it’s my way to show others what I’m creating. It’s also my way to learn how others think about my work. For me, Instagram is the way to share and connect.
Do you have a couple of favorite people you like to follow?
There are a lot of amazing makers and I will probably forget half of the people I love now. Melody (@bmandarines) and Jessica (@sugarhouseworkshop) are two of my favorites, but there are a lot of amazing people that create out there.
With Jessica from Sugarhouseworkshop you did two kit collaborations with your yarn and her hand-dyed project bags. How did that start?
Well, we met on Instagram and I always loved her pictures - she’s always baking yummy things. I wrote her and told her that I would love to do something together. At that point I think she had started dyeing fabric because she’s a quilter. We started to write emails and at some point we found this way which works for both of us. I love her - I’m always inspired by her pictures. She lives in a wonderful place!
Let’s talk a little bit more about your business and your creative career. What was the best day you’ve had so far?
The best thing is to wake up every day and be so grateful for what I’m doing. Waking up every day thinking that I’m going to create or work with yarn or forage plants or seeds is wonderful! Also it’s amazing when I receive comments or emails that someone bought my yarn and really loves it. That’s the best feeling.
What’s the hardest part?
The hardest part would be the worry that someday I can't find inspiration or energy to keep creating. I always have a big to do list - waking up and not having this to do list or my inspiration anymore, I’m always worried about that.
I think it’s hard if you’re in a creative hole to pull yourself out - especially if you’re working alone and from home. You have to find ways to get inspired.
For that reason social media is THE way to connect and not feel alone. Of course you need loneliness, but you also need to share and connect to know what others are thinking about your work.
We don’t have yarn festivals or knitting clubs so for me Instagram is really the way to connect.
What is one unusual business tip that you would give other creative business owners?
I think I’m always talking about the same - but get inspired by the others and connect and share what you’re creating.
Don’t be scared to share what you’re creating because that gives you feedback. Sometimes you are focusing on things that are maybe not the best for you. Don’t worry if your path changes to another style or product because that means that you are growing as a maker and a creative person. Just share and connect and learn and teach what you’re doing.
I love that - such good advice. Second to last question: What are you currently in love with?
Right now I’m really into speckled dyeing - when I started dyeing with this technique I thought it would be just two or three shop updates and after the summer I would continue with my solid colors, but I realized that I really enjoy and my customers love it! So I’m going to keep working on that.
Where can people find you?
Also, there’s going to be a shop update at the end of July - make sure to follow me on Instagram to get the exact date!
It was such a joy to talk to Anna about her business! We met through the wonders of Instagram and then started working together on her website - and I can't wait to see where she takes Gregoria Fibers next! Now excuse me, I'm off to knit myself a yummy hat with some of her speckled yarns...