Yarn shop focuses on sustainable practices

Dena Royal said she has eight to 10 people a week come into her store asking to copy documents.

Royal owns a yarn shop.

“It used to be a copy shop,” Royal said.

Royal opened Whidbey Isle Yarns, Gifts and Teas at 302 N. Main St. in Coupeville on Labor Day of this year.

Before moving into this location, Royal’s business was located in downtown Oak Harbor. She had to move because she was living in her store.

“I’m the lawbreaking knitter,” Royal joked.

And before Royal moved into her current location, Coupeville Yarns had recently moved out of the same building a couple doors down.

Royal said her focus is on the community and part of that is using sustainable practices.

“It’s just really important to me (to be sustainable),” Royal said.

Royal hand-dyes much of her fabric that she sells in the store. And the fiber she chooses to hand-dye all comes from the United States, so she’s able to vet the origin.

Royal also uses fiber from local farms and goes directly to them to purchase it.

She said she’s been doing fiber arts since her son and daughter were in an Alpaca 4-H group about 10 years ago.

Her passion for sustainability was sparked when she found out she had auto-immune arthritis 15 years ago.

Royal said that got her started thinking about chemicals that are put into products people use every day.

Part of her sustainability mission is that she ensures no dye goes down the drain.

Royal said it took her about five years to hone the technique. She uses just the right amount of powdered dye, fiber and water and leaves the fiber in the crockpot the precise amount required to absorb all the dye. The water in the crockpots she uses to dye looks as clear as it did before they contained any dye.

Another part of the dying process is the fiber Royal uses. She only uses protein-based fibers, which come from animals, not plant-based fibers like from cotton or bamboo, because they don’t soak up all the dye like the protein-based fiber from silkworms and alpacas and other animals do.

It’s no surprise she’s got her process so finely tuned — it’s her favorite technique.

“I could be in the dye studio 24/7,” Royal said. “I love color.”

Another way Royal strives to be sustainable is by teaching others to do the same.

Royal shows younger generations how to make small projects by hand.

When they’re making something, Royal said, “not only are they using hand-stitching, but it gets them thinking about recycling.”

She said the fiber art gets kids thinking creatively.

“Even the scraps they cut off are put in stuffed animals,” Royal said. “Nothing is wasted.”

And many times when customers purchase fabric from Royal, they get a free original pattern to use. But, again, in an effort to not be wasteful, Royal texts or emails the pattern to them instead of printing out a piece of paper.

While Royal owns the shop on her own, she does have some fiber artists who sell their work at her store on consignment.

Kathleen Dodge-DeHaven makes needle-felted pin cushions by taking a barbed needle and poking wool with it to create a soft felt material.

Stephanie Struthers uses Royal’s hand-dyed rovings, bundles of fiber, to create small dolls.

And Royal keeps it local — all the artists who sell in her store live in Coupeville.

Royal and the artists who sell in her store also teach classes for people who want to learn techniques like knitting, hand-dying, needle-felting and more.

Royal and her customers also use fabric that Royal makes from recycled sweaters.

She said she buys cheap sweaters from thrift stores, shrinks them, dyes them and then makes products like whimsical animals and “heartwarmers,” which are like hand warmers in the shape of hearts that Royal fills with rice or organic lavender.

For the fiber artists who sell their work in Whidbey Isle, Royal said her only rule is that they use rovings that she has made.

“I get a lot of joy out of that, when my customers come back and show me what they make with my hand-dyed yarns,” she said.

In addition to her rovings, Royal sells scarves, cowls, mittens, beads, buttons and other products in her shop.

In fact, her button collection, which she calls the “button bar,” is the largest in the Pacific Northwest at about a quarter-million buttons.

Royal also said she makes everything by hand.

“I must have been amish in a former life,” she joked.

But Royal said that while many people think hobbies like crocheting and knitting are only for older people, “there’s a whole genre of young knitters.”

For people who don’t knit or crochet, Royal does custom orders.

She also has a line called “Triad yarns,” where people can pick out three different colors and Royal will make a custom skein for the customer to use.

Despite her many projects, Royal said community involvement remains her top priority.

She said that the interaction with people is something that online shops can’t provide.

So while people may be able to buy cheaper products online, local yarn shops, or “LYS,” as Royal calls them, are more involved.

“You won’t get that one-on-one attention (online),” she said.

For Royal, being a part of the community includes letting the library knitting class use her shop for free when the library isn’t available, teaching for free at the local schools, donating to the local Boys & Girls Club and giving discounts to knitting groups that knit for charities.

“I’m not doing this to get rich,” she said. “I try to do really good with the customers.”

A list of classes and times can be found at her website, www.whidbeyyarns.net