A chat with Helena of Oink Pigments

Last week I sat down for a virtual conversation with Helena of Oink Pigments. Without further ado, let’s jump right in:

little acorn:
We met at TNNA this past January. I’m always curious when I learn a company isn’t a solo business. When and how did you and Alexa begin working together?
Alexa had been basically family for years, and in January of 2009 I taught her how to knit. She loved it so much her first question was, “How can we make a living doing this?”

My off the cuff response was, “Well, we could open a yarn store…” to which she enthusiastically responded, “Yes! Let’s do that!”

I said “Okay,” quit my job, cashed out my retirement, and on July 5, 2009, we opened a yarn store. Less than a year later, Alexa discovered dyeing, and so Oink Pigments was born.

Clever Knits was a dreamy, wonderful place that was very well loved, but our economic timing was less than stellar, and when SoCal lost roughly half its LYSs two years later, ours was (tragically) amongst those that had to close its doors.

little acorn:
I wonder what the world would be like if more yarn and book stores were still open.

Now for the question on everyone’s mind: How did Oink Pigments get its name?

This question is asked often, and for the sake of simplicity, we have started telling people, “We love pigs and we think we are hilarious.” It’s a marvelously complex and multi-directional pun, since within Oink you find Ink and within Pigments you find Pig, and most of our color names involve some level of wordplay.

We knew we wanted an animal, but wanted to avoid sheep as they are too cliche, and feared that using some other furry animal would bring an array of questions (“Are these yarns made with cat fur?” or “Is it all angora?”). Little did we know how many would ask if we use pigs to make our wool! And some years later we discovered that there is indeed such a thing as a woolly pig, though I imagine its fur is rather coarse and not well-suited to handknitting.

So we decided to start with ‘Oink’ since the ‘O’ could easily be turned into a pig as part of the logo (I demonstrated this with my stellar stick figure farm animal drawing skills).

(helena very graciously scanned these for me to include. /psg)
“But we can’t just call it ‘Oink’,” Alexa said. “It has to have some link to what we’re doing.” So we made a list of words – Oink Yarns, Oink Dyes, Oink Fibers… but none of these really fit the bill, so we pulled out a thesaurus and LO AND BEHOLD, the very first synonym for ‘dye’ was ‘pigment’ — and how could we NOT choose such a terrible pun?!

little acorn:
I’m trying really hard not to go all punny on this interview. It’s been a challenge. I love me a terrible pun!
What brings you the greatest joy when customers first experience your yarns, such as at Stitches, VK Live, or YarnCon?
I wish everyone would say “Can I take them ALL home? Here is my credit card!”

In all seriousness, I LOVE the reactions we get to our products. People get so excited by our colors, yarns, fibers, and accessories — and then they read the names, and laughter ensues. I love it when someone picks up a skein and holds it to their face and gives it a sniff — it’s like the top of a baby’s head, dreamy and intoxicating. There’s nothing better than being amongst fiber loving people at a yarn event, no drug in the world that could match the high.

Oink Pigments at Stitches West 2016

Oink Pigments at Stitches West 2016

little acorn:
Yes! When not making, you can be found…
Eating tacos. Organizing the studio or building yarn display systems out of PVC. Making friends at Stitches, TNNA, Vogue Knitting Live, or any number of indie fiber festivals and conventions across the nation. Knitting, crocheting, or spinning at home. Sketching out patterns that I hope to someday have enough time to write and publish. Eating more tacos.
little acorn:
Yum. Tacos. Ok, what part of the business process drives you? What do you find the most fun? Is there a part you struggle with?
Early on we learned that each of us has a different set of talents that complement each other nicely, so we divvied up the responsibilities accordingly. From the very beginning, I played an advisory role, and my business savvy made me a natural fit for the role. I also handle the blog and newsletter, and most correspondence and customer communications, as well as roughly a thousand other things…

To find inspiration, I sleep. Seriously. I’ve been an insomniac my whole life, which is unfortunate, because my dreams are the lifeblood of my creativity. For example, the shape of the Kwolek gauntlets literally came to me in a dream, and then I spent weeks knitting and frogging and sketching, trying to figure out how to make the geometry work out the way I saw it in my sleeping mind.


Coming up with new ideas and making plans is easy, but following through is something I struggle with. It’s easy to get excited about new things, but it’s not long before they aren’t new any more. I’ve probably got a dozen or so patterns on the tips of my needles just waiting to be born (and half of those are done and just need to be test knit and written up), but making the time to focus and work is hard when there are so many lovely yarns and colors to play with!
Oink Pigments Oink Pigments

little acorn:
Kitten or puppy snuggles?
For me, kitten, hands down. Alexa and Julie both have darling, sweet pups. Julie (we call her our Chief Oink Operator, as she makes sure we keep operating even when we can no longer brain) is dog people, but she likes cats too, and Alexa likes cats just as much as dogs, but I’m cat people through and through. Unless it’s a wee little baby pup, then all bets are off, but who can say no to a wee baby animal?!

I agree! Thank you Helena for taking the time to chat with me!

2016-03-01-OinkPigments-mittsAt VK Live NYC in January, I purchased a skein of Oink Worsted, in colourway, the silver living.

I knit it into a quick & warm pair of over mittens to go with a new pair of fingerless mitts I knit in yarn by another California based company, Anzula.

It was really hard to choose a single skein. I wanted to bring them all home with me!

You can find Oink Pigments all over the web:
patterns at ravelry
twitter, facebook, instagram, ravelry: @oinkpigments
Will you be at Yarncon in Chicago, 1st weekend in April? You can see Oink Pigments there! Check out their calendar of events for more.

Oink Pigments

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