Name: Kate Chiocchio
Where you live: Kensington, Md.
What is the one piece of equipment that you can’t live without? “An old, ugly, small serving spoon that was part of the stainless set that belonged to my husband’s grandmother. I have been using this spoon to add dye powder directly to the simmering yarn since I began dyeing in 2006.”
“When I’m not making stuff, I’m. . . ” “I have a lot of animals. Two dogs, two cats and a rabbit. I hang out at home with my family. We just got a puppy, Tank. So I hang out with him and I knit. Sometimes I quilt, too.”
Kate Chiocchio started dyeing yarn after falling down the slippery slope of crafting — scrapbooking led to sewing, then quilting and knitting.
When she realized she was in love with the actual material she was working with, she started visiting yarn shops and took classes on spinning and dyeing.
“Suddenly there was yarn and fiber and mess all over the house,” Chiocchio said. “My husband said, ‘Maybe you should start an online shop and sell this stuff.’ He was thinking that the yarn would get out of the house.”
The opposite happened. The hobby went from a box of yarn in her living room and one pot on the stove to taking over her basement and deck. In 2007, Chiocchio turned her passion for dyeing yarn into the full-fledged business it is today — Dragonfly Fibers.
“It was kind of a crazy scene for several years,” Chiocchio said.
The mother of two set up three double propane stoves and a plastic table on her back deck, dyeing yarn in the rain, sun or snow.
“I would get my kids off to school, and then would head out and work over the hot temperature in all kinds of weather,” she said. “I dyed out there when we had two feet of snow.”
To keep her business growing, Chiocchio enlisted the help of other mothers from Kensington, and in 2009 they moved into a small studio space. Chiocchio continues to do much of the dyeing, while her business partner, Nancye Bonomo, handles finances and inventory. Dragonfly Fibers has roughly 150 colors and color combinations, which can be bought on its Web site. Prices vary, but a four-ounce skein typically costs $25.
Quality and color are key to Chiocchio. Inspiration for her wide array of colors comes from real-life experiences and music. She offers skeins in a mix of oranges, purples and grays called “Bad Moon Rising,” and a mix of pinks, oranges and golds called “Walkin’ on the Sun.”
“Our colors are vibrant,” she said. “They are strong. Sometimes completely crazy. It’s what people love the best.”
The yarn is sourced from two mills in Canada. It took years, she said, to find the right mills to develop the yarn she was looking for, and she still tries to inspect every piece to maintain quality control.
It helps that her studio is only five minutes from home, giving her the flexibility to keep an eye on things at work but also pick up her kids from school every day.
But the work is still challenging, involving standing over pots of boiling dye for four to five hours a day. “I love what I do,” she said. “I’m 51. I’m relatively fit, but it’s physically very, very demanding. I do a great percentage of the dyeing.”
The fiber market, Chiocchio said, is larger and more competitive than most people realize. Lots of people want to be yarn dyers but have a hard time keeping up with the demanding work or have trouble standing out among the crowd.
“One of the things that I’ve learned as I’ve gone along is that when you’re selling something creative, something handmade, you’re also selling a piece of yourself, and people want to know you,” she said. “Make it as reflective of who you are as possible, and be true to yourself. Don’t look at what other people are doing and say, ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’ and try to copy it.”
Up next for Dragonfly Fibers? The five-person team is searching for a studio with more storage space, Chiocchio said.
“When we moved into a studio I was absolutely scared to death. I was scared it wouldn’t work out. I wouldn’t even buy a trash can. Now we are looking for a bigger space.”