Expanding Horizons: Jude Harper & Lola Johnson

‘Expanding Horizons’ was originally published in Issue 43. A big thank you to Lola and Jude for allowing us to make their interview publicly available here. 


Pom Pom chats with two yarn dyers to discuss the intersection of queer identities and fibre arts.

Interview by Sofia Aatkar
Images courtesy of Jude Harper & Lola Johnson

For our readership who don’t know you yet, could you please tell them a little about yourselves?

Jude: My name’s Jude, I’m a trans man, my pronouns are he/they, and I’m the dyer behind Stranded Dyeworks hand-dyed yarn. 

Lola: I’m Lola, the Dyer behind Third Vault Yarns. I’m also a disabled, queer, non-binary person, and my pronouns are they/them.

Yarns dyed by Lola at Third Vault Yarns

Are you happy to talk about your gender affirmations and how they’ve been received by the crafting community? 

Jude: I came out publicly as trans back in October last year, on International Coming Out Day. At that point I was out to all of my friends and family and the last step was posting on my social media platforms - a fairly daunting prospect, especially as someone whose livelihood is closely linked with social media. Luckily, for the most part, everyone has been incredibly supportive and I’ve had a lot of lovely comments from people who seem genuinely pleased that I’m living my authentic life.

Yarn dyed by Jude at Stranded Dyeworks

Lola: I’ve been out in terms of my business as someone that identifies as LGBTQ+ since 2018, though it’s only in the last few years since social media platforms, including Instagram, have added space for pronouns that I’ve ‘officially’ updated them. There hasn’t been a specific point when I’ve told everyone that one of the ways I identify as queer is as a non-binary person. It’s been a slow journey, somewhat behind-the-scenes, of updating image descriptions, quick discussions with the shops and companies I work with to ensure that when advertising my yarns or my workshops with them, my gender identity is accurately represented. The same can be said for shows, wearing my pronoun pin and/or providing gentle corrections when needed. Generally it’s all been received positively. 

Jude: There is so much behind-the-scenes admin involved, isn’t there? My name still needs updating in so many places.

How might cis members of the crafting community better support transitioning or gender-nonconforming members? 

Jude: If we could move away from clothing and patterns being so gendered, that would be great. Patterns being photographed on multiple genders is really helpful.

Lola: As a wider note for the whole community, I ask people not to assume gender based on presentation, because you never know. Normalise checking pronouns, even if it’s a subtle or pre-emptive check on their social media, or asking how someone would like you to refer to them. I definitely agree that in designing for bodies, we can make a move to degendering clothing, and using gender-neutral language in patterns. Providing information about how to make patterns fit different body shapes is so important in size and shape-inclusive discussions, that have both so much and so little to do with gender, but can be incredibly affirming gender presentation-wise. Though that does add to the wider discussion on how designers are compensated for the patterns they produce and sell.

Lola Johnson of Third Vault Yarns

Jude: I totally agree regarding making assumptions - appearances and pronouns aren’t necessarily indicators of gender. Also normalise putting your pronouns in your bio, or wearing a pronoun pin at shows and events - that way trans and gender-nonconforming people aren’t immediately outing themselves by sharing their pronouns.

There is definitely a lot of overlap between the size-inclusivity and the gender-inclusivity movements. 

Lola: Absolutely, understanding that EVERYONE has pronouns is incredibly important and sharing your own, regardless of cis or trans identity, helps people know how to best refer to you, in a way that affirms us all. 

The act of making your own clothes is often seen as liberating. Has this been your experience?

Lola: I’ve made clothing for myself for a very long time. There is so much value in understanding your own shape and developing the skills to adapt or build garments to fit you personally, instead of generically. This has always been something that has affirmed me, if not relating to gender, then more to shape. My experiences with gender dysphoria tend to centre around feeling like I have to perform a specific gender, so being able to make and decide my own fit definitely detaches a lot from that. I have a shape that isn’t typically catered to in mainstream fashion and if I didn’t want to struggle with shopping for clothes, my best recourse was learning how to make for myself or having items tailored. The former provides so much more agency, but requires skills that are partly self taught and partly the privilege of a widely trained textiles teacher. I wish that these skills were more readily taught and easily accessible for everyone to learn. Given that mainstream or ‘straight size’ fashion excludes so many, empowering everyone with these skills would make us happier overall. 

Jude: Although I know my way around a sewing machine, I am one of those people who isn’t equipped with the skills to sew garments. I’ve always loved the idea of garment sewing, but was put off by the fact that so many of the patterns marketed towards beginners are simple skirt and dress patterns. I’d never been comfortable in skirts and dresses, even before acknowledging I was trans, and the jeans and shirts I’m more comfortable in are a lot more complicated for a beginner to attempt. I would love to see more masculine entry-level sewing patterns, but until then I’ll keep knitting sweaters instead. 

Yarn dyed by Jude at Stranded Dyeworks

Has making clothes to fit a changing body or a gender-nonconforming body altered your relationship to fibre arts? 

Jude: Prior to my transition I’d knit a lot of sweaters for myself - when choosing patterns I just picked things that I liked and would fit my mid-sized AFAB* body. Whereas now, I’m very aware that the way a garment fits a cisgender model, regardless of their size or body type, is not how it’s going to look on my body. I’m a lot pickier about the patterns I choose now. I’m also hesitant to cast on sweaters - as my body is changing fairly rapidly, and I don’t want to invest a considerable amount of time into things that might not fit in a few months - so I’ve been doing a lot more gift knitting instead. 

Lola: As I think about making for my body, I tend to look at pattern shapes and styles and understand what gets emphasised vs minimised or ‘neutralised’. I used to think about what would be the most flattering shape-wise, and creating balance based on my larger chest and hips, and smaller waist. Now I pay a lot more attention to building garments that might fit my mood and will de-emphasise my assigned gender when wearing them, without leaning too much the other way. I note often that androgyny tends to be more male coded, which isn’t my aim. 

I like to remind myself often that I don’t owe anyone else androgyny, I owe myself comfort and that doesn’t mean presenting as more masculine overall for me. 

What’s on the horizon for you both, professionally and personally? 

Jude: I’ve just moved into a new studio space - I’m very excited to have more space to build my business and hopefully expand Team Stranded. Apart from work, I’m hoping to get top surgery - a gender-affirming surgery - at the end of the year, and to start volunteering at a local LGBTQ+ charity around the corner from my new studio. 

Lola: I’ve been planning a lot of changes to the way Third Vault Yarns works, in terms of how we share our colourways and also adding more focus on my design work. We hope to work on creating more meaningful collaborations with other makers in our next book and otherwise. I’m also hoping to be able to continue with the projects that I’ve started around promoting learning about different cultures and celebrating them through the mediums of yarn, and science fiction and fantasy. Outside of yarn-related things, I’ve been playing in streamed tabletop role-playing games which I hope to do more of, whilst also supporting LGBTQ+, disabled, BAME**, and other historically excluded groups in all my projects.

* AFAB stands for ‘assigned female at birth’. AMAB is the corresponding acronym for ‘assigned male at birth’. 

** BAME is an acronym used in the UK to stand for 'Black, Asian, and minority ethnic’.

Jude Harper (he/they) is a late-blooming trans man in his early thirties and is the dyer behind Stranded Dyeworks – a small batch yarn company based in Fife, Scotland.
@strandeddyeworks strandeddyeworks.co.uk

Lola Johnson (they/them) is the dyer, designer, and knitting teacher behind Third Vault Yarns. They have been dyeing yarn for nine years, seven of which have been for Third Vault Yarns, with science fiction and fantasy inspirations as a way of combining their love of yarn and these genres.
@thirdvaultyarns thirdvaultyarns.com

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