Interview with Petra of Black Elephant


Among the Pom Pom Team, Petra of Black Elephant is known for her outstanding colourways and her gorgeous, moody photography! She is also a stockist of ours and her shop stocks kits for both long sleeved and short sleeved versions of Aphotic from Issue 30 (see above)! So we were delighted to work with Petra during May of our year-long KAL!

Black Elephant is May's sponsor, which means that if you enter our KAL before midnight BST on Monday 31st May, you could win a £50 Black Elephant voucher or a personalised Pom Pom package - hurrah! 

Between Team Pom, we've made several projects from the magazine using Black Elephant yarn and we can confirm that Petra's colours have an astounding depth to them and they are a joy to work with. We could wax lyrical about Black Elephant yarn, but why not see for yourself? Petra is kindly offering a discount exclusive to Pom Pals (aka you lovely lot!) this weekend! Simply enter the code pompom15 at her checkout and enjoy 15% off her 'dyed to order' products! The code is valid between midnight BST on Friday 28th May until midnight BST on Sunday 30th May. 

Without further ado, let's hear from Petra! 

For our readers who don't know you or Black Elephant, tell us a little about both! 

Firstly, a little bit about myself. I moved to the UK from Slovakia in 2008. The plan was to stay here for a couple of years, then move to Canada and final destination New Zealand. 3 months into living here I met my partner and the plans have changed. 13 years later, I'm still here. 😊

Black Elephant was established back in 2016 when I started selling knitting kits on Etsy and from there gradually started experimenting with hand dyeing yarns. At that time, I was still working full time as an architectural technologist so it was kind of a hobby during the weekends, but deep down I knew this was something I would like to take to the next level as I didn't see architecture as my future. So, as hand dyed yarn became more and more popular on Etsy, and my weekends turned into working days, I rented a small garage across from our flat. It had no windows, no running water and no heating and had about 20 steep steps leading up to it. I used to carry pots full of water up those stairs from our flat. It was a proper workout. 😊 Soon, it became apparent I couldn't do both jobs and knew which one I didn't want to do. It was a really scary decision as I gave my notice at work the day we bought our first house. Bonkers! From that moment there was no way back. I had to make it work. That was in September 2017 and I haven't looked back since.

Does your background in architecture at all influence your yarn dyeing process, or your flair for colour? 

I left architecture because I was really unhappy at my job, so at the beginning I didn't want to think about it. However, I did create a colourway inspired by my favourite architect - Gaudi. I based it on his building Battlo in Barcelona. I think I applied my background in architecture more in how I arranged the studio. It's a useful skill set to have when I'm trying to achieve a movement flow around the tables and shelves, and when I'm thinking about how light enters the rooms. This determines how I arrange equipment too. It's pulling from the more technical aspect of architecture.

Do you have any tips for someone wanting to experiment with hand dyeing yarns?

Please, please, please, don't try it in your kitchen where you also cook, unless you are experimenting only with Kool-Aid. Dye powder is so light and literally gets anywhere and everywhere no matter how careful you are. You don't want it on your cookware or in your food.  Also, definitely use PPE like face masks with a filter and gloves. I had to have an extensive examination of my respiratory system after I first started as I wasn't feeling well at all. This is because I saw other dyers working without protective gear in their home kitchen, so I assumed it was safe. If you want to experiment, I would recommend a spare room, like a utility room, garage or outside. Health and safety first, always.

Here's Petra testing out Eila from Ready Set Raglan

The fact that you started a blog (hladko obratko / knit purl) to create knitting resources for Slovakian-speaking makers is really inspirational! Can you speak to your experience of learning to knit in a language which isn't your mother tongue?

I wish I had more time to continue with Slovakian knitting videos. I really enjoyed it. Luckily, since I started back in 2010, more and more Slovakian knitters started creating instructional knitting videos so there is now plenty of resources. Back then, there was only me so I am glad there are plenty of resources for new knitters now. I still get an occasional cheque from YouTube for my videos so that's a nice reminder that people still find my videos useful.

The transition to reading English patterns was gradual. I started with socks as I really wanted to learn how to knit them and was looking for YouTube videos for each abbreviation and term. At the beginning, it was also difficult to understand because I'm used to Continental Knitting (holding a strand of yarn in the left hand) while most of the videos were using English way of knitting. Once I knew about basic abbreviations and what they do, I was able to understand written patterns, and was looking less and less for help on YouTube.

Are you a one-woman team? Does using a dyed-to-order system help keep your workload sustainable? 

Yes, I have been mostly a one-woman team with my sister working full-time for me at some point and my mum and a couple of other people working part-time. After Covid last year, I worked by myself again as I thought it was safer for everyone - myself, family and customers. However, I just started training my new helper, who is with me part-time at the moment and it surely helps, not just with workload, but with my mental health too. Working by myself and not speaking to anyone for months wasn't the easiest.

The dyed-to-order system was created for customers who couldn't find colourways on the bases of their preference from our retailers. I think it's a more sustainable way of working as I don't end up with piles of yarn sitting on my shelves for months and I don't have to guess what will sell or not the following month. This way I let customers talk first about what they want and I dye only what's needed.

Earlier this month, you posted enticing photos of your Summer 2021 colourways! You must have known that the Pom team LOVE pink + yellow! What inspired these new tones? 

My craving for summer! Last year was my first "summer without summer", well at least, there is no real summer in the UK (for those of us who moved here from warmer countries 😊) and the craving is translated in the new tones. Sun, beach, cocktails, warm dry air, dusk - everything I miss here.

You've already made knock-out Pom projects with your yarn, such as Delphinus from Issue 34, Aphotic from Issue 30, and Eila from Ready Set Raglan! Which Pom Pom project is next on your list, and which of your colourways would you choose? 

Oh there is too many. I wish I had more time. I will definitely make another raglan from Ready Set Raglan as Eila is so comfy to wear and is the most worn sweater in my collection at the moment. Then there is Aubade by Nataliya Sinelshchikova in Issue 32 and I'm just starting on Reifel by Carlie Olfert in the latest Summer Issue 37 - I'm actually using vegan (bamboo-linen) undyed yarn for this. I haven't decided on colourways for the rest of them. Probably something neutral and moody from my new Summer Collection which is yet to be published.

Petra's Delphinus from Issue 34, shown in her colourway Azure 

Is there anything new or exciting happening for Black Elephant this year which you want to tell the yarn world about?

Well, this interview is pretty exciting for me. 😊 Another exciting thing at the moment is our advent calendars as they sold out very quickly. I still can't believe it really. This is the first time I am making these so I hope our customers will like them. I hesitated about advent calendars in the past as my business is very environmentally focused and I don't like unnecessary packaging, so wrapping each mini skein into a separate envelope/paper was a no-no for me. Luckily I found a solution so I decided to give it a go this year.

I am also in search of a bigger studio as it's getting a bit crowded in my current space, so I hope I can find something appropriate this year (crossed fingers).

There are a few collaborations with designers I have admired for some time coming up later this year and early next year, so I will be busy creating special colorways for them, which is always an exciting time!


Thank you for your thoughtful answers, Petra! We can't wait to see your Aubade and your Reifel! 

Remember to shop Black Elephant's 'dyed to order' section before midnight BST on Sunday 30th May and enjoy 15% off! And don't forget to enter our KAL to be in with the chance of winning a £50 Black Elephant voucher! 

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