Featured Maker: Geraldine Yang of The Wandering Flock
The first time I met Geraldine Yang was at a long table in the subterranean food court at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods.
I was at my first ever Knitting Around New York (KANY) Meetup, surrounded by about 20 people with their knit and crochet projects out, buisilly chatting away. Geraldine has been organizing the group for over a decade. It’s the oldest and largest knitting Meetup in the city, and it’s made her a fixture in the NYC knitting community. On top of the usual weekly Meetups, she has organized outings to the NYC yarn crawl, busses to visit Rhinebeck for NY Sheep and Wool, Indie fiber arts networking events, yarn tastings, and starting in 2018, hand-dyed yarn workshops.
The workshops, led by Yang and held at Better Than Jam Studio in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn New York, were popular with KANY members. As she led more workshops, Yang started dreaming up her next venture: a hand dyed yarn brand called The Wandering Flock. She had access to studio space, she was perfecting her dye recipes in her workshops, and after working in the fashion industry for over a decade, she was looking to start a new phase of her career. The name was inspired by KANY, “we’re a group of wandering knitters, we show up all over the city” says Yang, “we are The Wandering Flock.”
Hand-dyed yarn is a tough business to get into. The #HandDyedYarn tag on Instagram boasts over 1 Million photos of skeins, cakes, WIP, and FO’s. Walk the marketplace at any fiber festival and you’ll find artisans selling a rainbow of speckled, gradient, and semi-solid yarn cooked up in kitchens-turned-dye-studios. Getting your skeins noticed can be extremely tough. Most hand-dyers start out by purchasing un-dyed yarn from a wholesaler. Milling a custom yarn for your business is expensive and requires more up-front investment than many hand-dyers can typically afford.
Despite these challenges, The Wandering Flock (TWF) has managed to become one of the buzziest hand-dyed yarn brands on Instagram; thanks in part to the viral success of Cosmic Tie Dye, a variegated yarn in an icy, pastel rainbow palette. “Cosmic Tiedye was inspired by the pandemic.” she said. “I was kind of depressed. I wanted something light, happy, that captured the feeling of summer. Tie dye was trending, but I didn’t want it to be, like, the Grateful Dead!” Yang’s unique color sense is instantly recognizable, and her talent for assembling well balanced palettes helped her stand out in the crowded hand-dyed yarn market.
Yang launched TWF in 2019 with a trunk show at String Thing Studio during the New York City Yarn Crawl. She had 14 colors in the collection. The first thing I noticed about her assortment was how cohesive all her colors looked together. It reminded me of the palettes I would use when I worked as a fashion designer. I’m used to seeing hand-dyed yarn companies attempt to keep a full rainbow of colors in stock. Seeing this kind of curated palette from a hand-dyer felt fresh. It was obvious to me that Geraldine had been considering how these hues would sit together in garments. “That’s my fashion training coming through,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll take a picture of things I see around me. I dye it out on single skeins. I go through lots of single skeins!” she laughs. “I don’t think about how a color will fit into the collection at first, but if it doesn’t fit, I’ll set it aside. I dye lots of colors that don’t make it to actual sales.” TWF’s color library already has more than 40 dye recipes, But not all colors are available all the time. Yang rotates colors seasonally and monitors the runways and Instagram for new color trends.
By the end of the yarn crawl weekend, it was clear her debut collection was a hit; several colors had sold out the first day. Riding high from her first successful show, Yang set to the work of growing her business. In many ways, she couldn’t have been in a better position to start TWF. She had cultivated relationships with a number of fiber craft business owners over the years organizing events for Knitting Around New York, and they were eager to support her new venture. “Pearl [founder of Knitty City] and Felicia [owner of String Thing Studio] were the first to return my calls,” she recalls. Yang’s experience working in fashion also played a big part in getting her business off the ground. “I knew how hard online sales are,” she explained, “My focus was always on in-person and wholesale. But then Covid happened. I had 5-6 trunk shows set up for spring 2020, and then everything went poof in March. That’s when I started focusing on building up my online business. I thought ‘how can these events be virtual instead?’ I knew I needed to do whatever I could to get in front of people.”
Yang set to work planning her virtual trunk shows, “I started reaching out to everyone I had met at my booth during Vogue Knitting Live” she said. “Early on, I had two wholesale accounts: String Thing Studio in Brooklyn and Wild Hand in Philadelphia. And next thing I know, I had my yarn in Canada!”
Yang’s efforts have paid off: TWF has grown to the point where it can produce its own custom yarns milled to Yang’s exact specifications. She’s especially proud of the brand’s new merino base; during the August Sloe Down Low Down she told attendees, “When we started to look into milling our own, we were able to source softer, higher quality wool than we had before, and offer that to our customer without raising prices. It was an easy decision.” Yang works with mills overseas to make her yarns, a process she was familiar with from her days working in fashion, but there was still a learning curve, “I had to really brush up on my fiber knowledge, and learn about micron counts. Yarn weight standards were hard. There are no rules! They vary in every country. Aran, worsted, fingering, etc. don’t have a concrete definition. I had to dig deep into figuring out what feels good in my hands when I knit.”
Fall is always a busy season for fiber businesses and this one is shaping up to be especially hectic for Yang who is due to have her first child, a baby boy, in less than a month. Earlier in the year she hired her first employee to help keep up with demand. “I don’t know what I would do without the support of my team and my husband.”
Though it’s still technically summer, this is the time of year most businesses start thinking about the winter holiday season; TWF is no exception. “We’re launching a self-care kit,” Yang told me. In addition to a special TWF yarn color, the kits spotlight a few of Geraldine’s favorite makers: Homebody Fibers is contributing a limited edition project bag, Hollybanks Lane making ceramic stitch markers, and The Rosefield is mixing up a custom scent of their popular My Daughter’s Recipe body balm. Pre-orders are starting later this month and will ship in November.