If you're a knitter, you know there's something magical about the pursuit. Knitting offers an irresistible combo of creativity and versatility -- it can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be, all about rules or completely free-form, and the project possibilities are endless. Then there's the meditative, almost addictive lull of the repetitive motion. Last but not least, for many of us, the tactile aspect is another huge draw. You'll find many a texture-obsessed knitter at any yarn store, lovingly fondling the manifold fibers.
But it's those very textures and fibers that invoke the most agita for the vegan knitter. Yes, we still love the way those high-quality wool and alpaca yarns feel; no, we won't use them in our projects. It can be a huge challenge to find animal-free products that offer comparable softness, durability, and sustainability. But it's getting easier.
Enter Heidi Braacx and her two brands, Vegan Yarn and Quo Vadis. Vegan Yarn is an online shop selling a wide variety of yarns, spinning fibers, knitted accessories and patterns, while Quo Vadis is an all-handspun line available via Etsy. It's all luxe, and all cruelty-free.
"Quo Vadis is a Latin term, meaning 'where goest thou,'" said Heidi, who is based in New Westminster, Canada with her husband and business partner Jeremy. "To me, that means how I choose to live, and how that affects the world I live in."
She takes that to heart in more ways than one. In addition to ensuring that her yarns are cruelty-free, Heidi also prioritizes environmentally-friendly, sustainable fibers and dyeing processes. "My work background is in costuming for theater and film," she said. "I was a seamstress, and sometimes a dyer. One thing I noticed was how toxic some of the products used in the industry are. When I took my Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System course, I realized how nasty some dyes could be both for my health and the environment. Getting cancer from working with dyes isn't cool, so I looked into safer alternatives. I'm also a bit of a costume history buff, so the idea of using traditional methods of plant dyeing appealed to me. Now, I absolutely love natural dyeing, and enjoy the process immensely."
As if all of that didn't already make her impossibly fab, Heidi is also a musician. She and Jeremy put out an album in 2013 (they both sing and play various instruments) and have more recordings in the works. In addition, Heidi collaborates with a Yann Tiersen cover band. "We're planning on doing some shows locally later this year," she said. "We really like the Amelie soundtrack, so there will be quite a few of those tunes in our set."
Some people just get all the coolness.
Hoping a little of it might rub off on us, we chatted with Heidi about how she got started, everything she loves to wear, what keeps her motivated, and lots more.
When did you go vegan?
I went vegan in 2007 after being on and off vegan or vegetarian since high school, and Jeremy started cutting out meat around the time we became bandmates. I loaned him the documentary Earthlings, and made some pretty amazing gluten-free and vegan cupcakes that I'm pretty sure sealed the deal.
When did you start knitting, and what's kept you hooked?
When I was 7, I learned how to knit from a family friend. Knitting appeals to my love of making and creating things. It’s also a great way to keep my hands busy when I get fidgety. Unlike many other crafts, it's portable, so I can take it with me wherever I go. I've got a reputation for knitting everywhere, at any time.
How did you go pro?
I started Quo Vadis on Etsy in 2009 with my handspun and hand-dyed yarns. It was a great way to figure out what I wanted to do, and to learn how to dye yarns well… In the mid-2000s the word "vegan" was still generally seen in a negative light, but I knew things were changing, and I thought I'd wait until it became seen as more positive. By 2012, times had changed, and I was ready to grow my hobby into a [full-fledged] business [with Vegan Yarn, which officially launched in 2013].
Why don't more brands offer quality vegan yarn?
The knitting world is still very attached to wool. There are many knitters who sneer at anything that doesn't have wool in it. I also think that the big brands kind of put their foot in it when they made dishcloth cotton. It gave people the impression that all cotton feels that hard and heavy. I've noticed that our presence has had an effect on the industry, at least locally, and there is increasing demand for it, so I think other brands are starting to get on board. The yarn I use is typically organic cotton including many heirloom varieties that have unique properties that look and feel great.
What's the most challenging part of running your own labels?
Right now the trickiest part is knowing when to step away and do something else. I work out of the home, so I never really leave my work behind.
What are your goals for each brand over the next few years?
I'd like to build our range of colors and add some new yarns like linen, hemp and soysilk to Vegan Yarn's lines. I'm working on building it to the point where I can afford to have a dedicated studio space with an industrial dye kettle and plenty of storage space. I'd like to be able to host workshops there too. With Quo Vadis, I'd simply be happy to get some time in to spin some of the fibers I've been dyeing.
What is your daily schedule like?
I get up around 7 a.m., and get our son ready for school, then we bike up the hill and I drop him off. When I get back, it's time for tea and emails, then I pack up any orders that have come in. After that I take an hour or so for a P90X workout (weights, yoga, plyometrics, etc.), then have a shower and lunch. After that the afternoon is spent dyeing yarn, and winding, tagging, and listing new yarns, with a break to pick up our son again from school. Then it’s helping with homework and making dinner. In the evening I like to knit or practice (violin, mandolin, ukulele). If it’s a busy time of year, I sometimes continue working for another hour or so in the evening.
Do your music and knitting tie in together at all? Any common inspirations?
Haha! Actually, Jeremy wrote a jingle on guitar for Vegan Yarn this summer. No recordings of it yet, but he likes to play it at yarn events to entertain folks when things get slow. For me, fiber arts, like dyeing, spinning, and knitting are my way of expressing myself, whereas, songwriting is Jeremy's main creative outlet. We work in the same space on our separate projects quite a bit, so I usually get to listen to him play while I work, which is great. I'm certain he influences my work that way.
What keeps you motivated?
Usually it’s a new colorway that I'm working on, but if that doesn't work, then coffee and a little Florence + The Machine (volume up) helps.
What's your favorite item that you've knitted?
My Deneb shawl. It was kind of the one that started it all. I knitted it up, wrote the pattern, and published it on ravelry.com. I wore it to a yarn show and people loved it so much we sold out of the yarn I used to make it. It’s soft, light, and suits me perfectly.
Speaking of your wardrobe, what's your sartorial style like?
It’s a bit of a mishmash of earth mama/fitness/badass cyclist. I make some of my clothes, but I also like to thrift and shop local. I bike nearly every day, and I don't like fussy things, so I tend to wear clothes that are not super feminine. You wouldn't catch me in something frilly in a million years, but I'll wear any pants that show off my muscular legs. Jeremy calls them my "Power Mongrels," and I'm very proud of them.
Who do you admire most in the fashion and fiber arts worlds?
I love folk textiles, like Ajrakh block printed cotton from the artisans in the Kutch desert region of India. I really like it when someone has taken the time to embellish a garment in their own unique way.
What's your favorite vegan treat to make?
Kale chips, hands down.
What's your favorite thing to do when you need to relax?
Knit (surprise, surprise!) and listen to audiobooks at the same time.