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To Dye For: Yarn Color Named for Sophia Smith

By Jan McCoy Ebbets

Smith women commemorated in yarn from Schaefer Yarn Company in Interlaken, New York. Pictured are (left to right) Sophia Smith, Julia Child and Betty Friedan variegated yarns.

The story of Sophia Smith, the Massachusetts woman whose vision and family fortune were responsible for the founding of Smith College in 1871, has led not only to books commemorating her life but also to an induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Now her legacy is celebrated in yet another way: the Sophia Smith colorway created and sold by the Schaefer Yarn Company in Interlaken, New York. The yarn, a swirl of soft pink, sand and turquoise, is part of the Memorable Women line of hand–painted variegated yarns that are sold wholesale and well known to knitters, weavers and fiber enthusiasts around the world.

The Sophia Smith colorway became part of the company' yarn series in 2007, says fiber artist and company founder Cheryl Schaefer, after a Smith alumna suggested Sophia Smith's name be added.

"Memorable Women came about when a yarn I was dyeing was such a bright orange, it reminded me of Lucille Ball's hair," Schaeffer says. "There are 36 colors in wool and cotton named for women from all walks of life, some famous, some infamous, others virtually unknown and chosen because I thought they ought to be remembered."

Among other Smith notables represented in Schaefer's Memorable Women yarns are Julia Child '34 in rich browns (reminiscent of Child's mousse au chocolat) and Betty Friedan '42 in vibrant purples. "There is something about the color purple that I associate with feisty independence, hence it seemed right for Betty Friedan," says Schaefer.

Other notable women commemorated in Schaefer yarns include Margaret Mead, Susan Sontag and Billie Holiday.

According to Laura Nelkin of Schaefer Yarn, Cheryl Schaefer collects "'names', some she thought of, others suggested to her by friends and knitters. Now every time we work on new colors we look through the file to see who fits the new colors we are working on."

"I personally love the Sophia Smith colorway," says Nelkin, whose mother is Beth Seidmon Nelkin, Smith class of 1965. "The pink is feminine but has some blue in it, which makes it not garish but natural and toned down; the sand and turquoise colors play off this so well. It's a sophisticated and colorful mixture that I think works well for Smith."

Sometimes, however, matching a color to a woman can be a tricky business, Schaefer says. "We don't always successfully mate color and person. I was roundly chastised, for example, for giving Emily Dickinson a bright pastel. On the other hand, Indira Gandhi's colorway, which is two purples, brown, green and rusty gold, looked Indian to me, so I named it for India's most memorable woman. It has been our best–selling color for a few years now."

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