Jake Kenyon is the founder of Kenyarn, which produces hand-dyed, small-batch wool fiber for knitting, crocheting, weaving, macramé and embroidery. He began selling his hand-dyed yarn in 2018 as a side hustle. As the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 inspired many of us to take up hobbies, including knitting and crocheting, demand for Jake’s hand-dyed yarn increased. The maker left his job as a speech language pathologist to pursue Kenyarn full-time in early 2021. Like the brand’s fans, we adore Kenyarn’s bold color stories. We caught up with Jake to learn more about him and his craft.
Artisan Joy: How did you begin dyeing yarn?
Jake Kenyon: Since I can remember, I have been deeply invested in the visual arts and, as a child, was thoroughly enamored with color. I loved sidewalk chalk, face painting and was always enrolled in an art class. In 2017 I began crocheting out of necessity during a particularly anxiety-inducing period of graduate school. After learning to crochet, I discovered through Instagram the world of hand-dyed yarn. After purchasing a few books and some small jars of dye, I began dyeing my own yarn in the comfort of my kitchen.
AJ: When did you realize that you could turn yarn dyeing into a full-time business?
JK: I first released a small batch of yarn to an Etsy shop in 2018 and made a very limited amount of income that year. Since that time, sales have grown steadily, and in February of 2021, I left my job as a speech language pathologist to pursue Kenyarn full-time.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
JK: I find inspiration from everywhere—nature, magic, astrology, my favorite cartoon villains and even some of my favorite films. It’s such a fun experience to bring characters or concepts to life in a color palette on bare wool
AJ: How do you apply that inspiration to your work?
JK: I really only dye from themes that deeply inspire me. If the inspiration is not there, it will not translate well to my yarn.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
JK: I think folks often assume I have been doing this my entire life. I received my master’s in speech language pathology in 2015. Then, from 2015 to 2021, I worked full-time in an acute care hospital setting.
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
JK: Yarn dyeing is very fickle. Often times a planned experiment can go completely awry. In many cases, some of my “worst” mistakes have actually produced my most popular colourways! I struggled with perfectionism a lot when I first started this business but have realized that my audience appreciates my authentic self and the “colorful chaos” style of dyeing and visual marketing. I try to be myself 100 percent of the time, from every interaction on social media to greeting customers at in-person events!
AJ: When it comes to running a creative business, what keeps you going through the ups and downs?
JK: I think checking in with my body regularly, both physically and emotionally, is very important. I also take periodic days of rest where I completely log off social sites to really have time for myself in my own home without my business pinging in the background. I have seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows but trusting in your art and allowing those moments to shape you keeps me moving forward. I would be lying if I said everything I’ve ever done is a wild success! I have had some terrible failures, but I’ve learned from every one of them!
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their work out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?
JK: I say “screw the world”! Haha, I jest. But in some ways, I’m serious. If your work brings you joy and makes you feel alive—it will have the same effect on a customer or patron. Believe me, take the risk. No one ever discovered greatness by playing it safe.
AJ: Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?
JK: I tend to get criticism at in-person markets from the ‘Debbie Downers’ who ‘would never buy expensive yarn like that.’ When, in fact, they are deeply unaware of how much more eco-conscious buying sustainably sourced wool is and just how much more quality is in merino wool than the acrylic yarn you buy at a craft store. I often try to approach those moments with education rather than just convincing someone to buy my yarn. Also, if someone truly doesn’t see the value in my art, I don’t necessarily want them to have it!
AJ: Creatives are often very in tune with what’s happening in the world. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. If this happens to you, how do you cope?
JK: I try to stay engaged in the world and the political climate. I do often get very overwhelmed, but I try every day to use my platform to enact change and to educate folks. I am a huge supporter of civil rights, trans rights, and women’s reproductive health. Each year I try to host multiple raffles for various products in my shop. Since the start of my business, I have donated over $12,000 to various charities, including Black Lives Matter, Rainbow Railroad and Trans Lifeline. Although I can’t change the entire world, I can certainly try and change my small corner of it.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: What brings you joy?
JK: There are so many things that bring me joy. Inside of my business, I find joy in interactions with my employees, selling someone their first skein of yarn, seeing the creations people make with their Kenyarn. Outside of my business, I find joy in spending time with my partner, my best friends and my doggy niece and nephew. I love reading, knitting, using my Tarot deck and walking on the bike path!
This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.