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Meet the Maker: UpNorth Yarns

Meet the Maker: UpNorth Yarns

Good things come from Michigan! We can't wait to introduce our String Theory community to the gorgeous, nature-inspired hues of UpNorth Yarns. Be sure to check out the UpNorth Yarns trunk show from February 10 - Feburary 24! 

**BONUS** trunk show alert! The UpNorth Yarns trunk show will run concurrent to a project bag trunk show with fan-favorite Beautiful Syster. Stop by in store or online to nab a bag for your new skeins!

Meet the Maker - Monica Thoune of UpNorth Yarns

How did you get into dyeing?

Oh, where do I begin? I am a self-taught crafter - seamstress, knitter, and crocheter. I actually helped my 85-year-old Mom learn how to knit socks. She, a life-long crafter, had always been afraid to try it – and she was an Intarsia expert. 

I started dyeing yarn in September 2015. I was admiring the many fabulous indie-dyed yarns I saw online and thought, “I would like to try my hand at that.” That month I was on a road trip, marvelling at the stunning Autumn colors. When I got home I poked around the internet for yarn dyeing instructions, ordered some acid and natural dyes and my first colorway, Yooper Autumn, was created.  

What is your favorite part of the process?

I really enjoy laying down the colors, but honestly, my favorite part of the process is mapping out the colorway. Which dyes will I use and at what concentration? Will I apply speckles? How many colors and in what order? Which yarn bases?

 Where do you get your inspiration for colors?

I find my inspiration from the colors I see abounding in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I gain inspiration from the four seasons; gorgeous hues from my flower beds; the Great Lakes, and even from the amazing hues I see in the rocks I collect from all over the UP. My colorways are my attempt at translating the beauty of nature into a skein of yarn that buyers will enjoy in their creations. 

How do you come up with names for the colors?

Because I am so drawn to my natural surroundings, many of my colorways are named by the place or thing that inspired me. Some of the yarns that I am sending are very specific to the Great Lakes region. Examples are Agate Beach, Pictured Rocks, Isle Royale Aurora, Kitch-iti-kipi, Grand Haven Ice Blanket, Mackinac Blue Ice, Moonrise over Pickerel Cove, and Third Coast. I also use flowers as my inspiration as well as music titles, cocktail names. I see colorways EVERYWHERE. In fact, I dream in color and when listening to music (that Spotify feed, though) I see colors. 

Which color best reflects your personality and why? 

Gosh, that’s like asking me which grandchild is my favorite! When I look at the colors I tend to pick for big shawl projects, I see a lot of greens, blues, pinks, and peach. I’m also drawn to the neutrals. 

Tell us about a WIP or a project in your queue that you're really excited about! Which of your yarns would you recommend for this (or these) project(s)? 

How timely - I literally bound off a sock yesterday and had to resist the urge to cast-on a new sock. I mean, sock knitters always have at least two sock projects going, amiright? I purchased Stephen West’s Year of Socks and I am fairly certain I will be casting on Painting Honeycombs. I LOVE a high twist sock yarn - it makes such durable socks (not that I mind darning socks). I sent quite a few different colorways dyed in the 85/15 High Twist. I would use the Daffodils as the main color in Painting Honeycombs and pair it with Lady Astro. Or Third Coast and Cherry Bomb!

For a bigger project, I have A Color Story by Tif Neilan queued up. I have some tonals that I am going to use for the colorwork. I'm trying to make a decision on the base color. I was thinking of using yarn in its natural color, but I have done that with a couple of my recent sweaters. So, I’m not sure. Maybe a soft gray? But that’s my go-to as the main color in many of my WestKnits MKAL shawls. The struggle is real. 

Of what you are sending us, what are your favorite colors or color combinations? 

Kitch-iti-kipi, Wild Lupines, Moonrise over Pickerel Cove, and Rustic. I like to combine unlikely combinations, which I’ll address in your next question. 

One of my knitted samples I am sending is the Grotine Shawl by Caroline Dick Designs. I paired Rustic, which is a Donegal Tweed BFL yarn, with American Kestrel Mohair/silk. I kept knitting that linen stitch until I ran out of yarn. Here’s a link to the pattern

Grotine Shawl Linen Stitch

What advice do you have about combining colors in, for example, a two-color shawl? 

Quite a few of my repeat customers participate in the same KALs as me. They ask me to pull together some color combinations for them. I really look at their order history to get a feel for what they tend to prefer. Maybe they order tonals, or always variegated or speckled. Maybe they like pastels or neons. I draw from their preferences and then surprise them with a super-bright color that will really make their shawl pop. If they always order purple, I’ll toss in a high contrast gold, peach or even a shade of red. Of course, it really depends on whether they want high or low contrast in that shawl. 

What is your best knitting or crocheting tip? 

Best knitting tip - if you’re knitting a sweater, take the time to knit and block a swatch for gauge. And always wind your skein twice. For the crocheters, learn how to reach charts. I am such a visual learner that if I don’t have a chart to follow, I am lost in those long rows of what sometimes looks like gibberish. 

What are two interesting things about you that aren’t fiber related? 

  • Crafting: I love learning new crafts! I am fortunate to live close to the Bonifas Arts Center, which is a gem of a nonprofit. I have learned how to make stained and fused glass pieces, how to throw pottery, and wood burning. I have also attended painting classes, but my artwork could only be liked by somebody who loves me. LOL

  • Family/Friends: I am a proud Mama to my adult daughter who has blessed me with two wonderful grandchildren. I am a fierce friend to those I hold precious. I am blissfully single, enjoying my “alone” time. 

If you didn’t dye yarn, what would be your dream job? In 2020 I retired from a very rewarding 32-year science teaching career at the high school and college levels. It was a dream job. I was particularly drawn to the kids who were struggling (troubled ones, you know, the ones some teachers have given up on or sadly, see nothing good in). I was very good at helping them mend those broken wings so they could see that they really could fly. 

What is the best advice you've ever received? 

Go with your gut - it’s never wrong. 

Where are you from/ call home/ live now? 

I am a native Yooper (resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). I lived downstate (what we call below the bridge) for about 30 years. About 15 years ago I made a very intentional move back to the hinterlands and haven’t looked back. When I need to join the rat race for a moment I head to Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit or Grand Rapids. But mostly, you will find me completely at peace along a lakeshore with my head down, looking for rocks. Or looking up at birds, smelling flowers, or foraging for plants to use in natural dyeing.

Assigned Pooling from UpNorth Yarns


Knit or crochet? Knit first, crochet second

Starting a project or finishing a project? Um…… depends on the project

Solids or Variegated? Oh you’re killin’ me - depends on the project. But generally, I mix them together in projects. 

Coffee or tea? Coffee in the a.m. Hot tea in the p.m. Every day. 

Sunrises or sunsets? Sunrises. 

Netflix or audiobooks (while crafting)? Netflix. while dyeing - Spotify or Audible.

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