It's a little bit hard to believe, but Sweet Paprika has been in business for exactly 10 years this month! We have a few things planned to celebrate our anniversary, but I thought it would be nice to start off with a little look at where we started, and where we've been, over the past decade.
It all began way back in 2007, when Elizabeth and I, and our other sister Margaret, were all living in Ottawa. We knew we wanted to put our skills to work in some sort of business, but we weren't exactly sure what direction that would take us in yet. That didn't stop us from being interviewed for the "Mainstreeter" local newspaper though!
At around the same time, we started doing our first experiments in dyeing wool yarn, using an old enamel pot on our kitchen stove.
We tried out a whole bunch of different dye techniques, and soon we had more hand-dyed yarn than we could possibly knit ourselves... the solution was, of course, to start selling it!
One of our early experiments left us with three different blue yarns, plus a bunch of sample skeins in bright colours, all on a fingering-weight base.
Elizabeth was inspired to find a fun way to use it all together in a pattern, and created her Fish in the Sea sock design.
We decided to package the yarn and pattern together into kits, and they turned out to be a big hit. These fun and whimsical socks have been one of our best sellers over the past 10 years.
During that first summer we also started experimenting with selling downloadable patterns online, both on our own website and on Ravelry. Some of our very first patterns were the Rambler's Scarf and Catawampus Cap, both modeled by Elizabeth's husband, Paul.
In the fall of 2007 I moved to Montreal to attend the Design for the Theatre program at Concordia, and when Elizabeth and Paul followed in early 2008 we officially moved the business to Quebec - and moved our yarn stock into a bookcase in their new apartment.
Over the next year or two we continued adding new yarns, colours and patterns.
We even dyed a special colourway for a sock knitting club - one of our very first wholesale orders.
In 2011 I finished my degree at Concordia, where I had been incorporating knitting into my coursework whenever possible. My favourite example is the chain mail armour that I knit as part of my costume design for the theatre department's production of Red Noses.
Finishing school meant that I had much more time available to focus on Sweet Paprika projects, and 2012 was a big year for us. Among other things, we published our very first collection of knitting patterns, the Cloudy Day Collection.
And we attended the inaugural Twist Fibre Festival, where I used my set design skills to build the display for our booth.
In 2013 Elizabeth's son Henry was born, an event that we of course celebrated with a new knitting pattern.
And in 2014 we made the very big leap from dyeing in our kitchens to renting our first dedicated dye studio, located on rue St Denis in downtown Montreal.
It was in this studio that we had our first experience with washing wool straight from a farm in Ontario. We started with the raw fleeces, washed them, and sent them to Wellington Fibres to be spun into yarn.
We dyed it all up, and it became Norwood: our a brightly coloured, super-soft, Canadian-sourced DK weight wool.
One of our next challenges, in the fall of 2015, was moving the studio to it's current location in the Marché Centrale area. This is what it looked like the day we moved in:
It's come a long way since that day, and it's now a busy place full of yarn and equipment, where we do the day-to-day dye production as well as teach dyeing workshops.
In the past year we've been busier and more ambitious than ever, with projects like our Little Luxuries shawl club.
To help us out with all of this, we had three lovely interns in the dye studio last summer. It was a great experience for us, and we're excited to have two more working with us again this spring.
We continue to vend at fibre festivals, and since we've been selling yarn to more and more shops, we've started adding Trunk Shows to our event schedule. We especially loved getting to spend time with Clarisse and to meet the crowd of lovely knitters at Coeur de Mailles in Quebec City last fall.
Now I think I've got us more-or-less up to date, but remember I mentioned that we have plans to celebrate our 10th anniversary? Well, we're currently working on some new patterns and kits using the Fish in the Sea motif for mittens and a cowl. We'll have patterns and kits available for both very soon!
It feels pretty good to see how far we've come over the past 10 years, and I can't wait to see where the next decade will take us!
We first met Catherine Knutsson, our collaborator on the Beyond Merino yarn club, when she organized the Great Canadian Wool-Along last summer as a way to celebrate crafting with local materials and supporting Canadian wool farmers. We loved the concept of the wool-along, and jumped at the chance to connect with a community of Canadian wool-lovers.
This year we're celebrating Sweet Paprika's 15th anniversary, and it's honestly been a bit hard to get my head around where the time has gone! We've been looking back through some of our old photos, and thought it would be fun to share a little retrospective here. Our little business has come a long way in the past 15 years!
Most of the images I'm including are not our polished product photos (although those have also come a long way since the early days), but more of a behind-the-scenes look at some of the memorable stepping stones along our journey.
Last December, just as we were shutting down the dye studio for a holiday break, we got an email from one of our favourite customers telling us all about an upcoming event we might want to look into: the Year of Gnomes Knit-Along. We loved the idea, and couldn’t resist joining in by dyeing up some mini-skein Gnome Sets for you to play with. We ordered in some special yarn as soon as we got back to work in January, and our Gnome Sets are now ready to head on out into the world!
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+About Sweet Paprika
Sweet Paprika Designs offers high-quality materials for knitters and crocheters, with a focus on locally-sourced and sustainable products. Co-owners (and sisters) Debbie and Elizabeth create their own hand-dyed yarns, knitting kits and patterns in their Montreal dye studio and organize knitting and dyeing events in the community.