Monday, May 29, 2006

Twist on Wool2Dye4 SuperSock

In this recent shipment of Wool2Dye4 SuperSock, some of the skeins look quite curly. A few customers have written to me asking if this 'twist' will interfere with the dye process. The answer is that the extra curls go away once the yarn is soaked, and there is not actual twist added to the yarn.

One of the advantages we all love about sheep wool is that the fiber is a wonderful water repellant. It stands to reason, then, that in order to manipulate the fibers and to prepare them best to receive dye pigment, we must break through that natural repellant. The way to do this is a good long soak. Use warm, not hot, water and soak your yarn for several hours. This allows the fibers to relax and absorb water, and as the fibers begin to accept water through that lanolin barrier, they begin to 'bloom' and fluff up. Some people even soak it overnight; I usually soak for four hours minimum. I put in a batch in the morning, go about my business for the morning, and after lunch I settle down and get lost in the colors and the smell of wet wool.

If you receive one of these skeins from me, or from any source, all you have to do is put your hands into the skein and give it a little pop-pop outwards. You will see that these little curls straighten out. Once wet, dyed, and steamed, they go away entirely. But if you do not prepare your fibers well, if you rush through the soaking process, the little fiber barriers that are covered with lanolin will win over all your efforts.

I am always amazed at the difference between yarn wound on a cone, and that same yarn after the dye process. I'll attach a picture of Pony 2-ply which really bloomed after an all-day soak. Don't skimp on the soaking time, thinking that the chemicals of the dyes and the heat of the dyebath will get through the natural lanolin barrier on the fibers. The very best advice I can offer from my own experiments is to soak your yarn for four hours minimum.

Teri Persing's Glass Buttons

Recently I sent a glass button to several customers who had been on backorder, waiting patiently for Wool2Dye4 SuperSock to come back into stock. These buttons are the work of Teri Persing, and I wanted to give her credit for her work. Many customers have written to tell me that the button inspired them to create a fabric to showcase the color and luminosity of the glass. Here is where you can find Teri's work:

Friday, May 26, 2006

Wool2Dye4 SuperSock in Stock!

Whew! At last the Wool2Dye4 SuperSock is in stock again, and a welcome sight it is. I filled half of the backorders yesterday and will complete them today. My thanks to my loyal customers who have waited calmly, and to my new customers as well.

Back to work here! There are orders to fill!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

SuperSock This Week

The wait for the Wool2Dye4 SuperSock has not taught me any lessons in patience, sadly. It has been all I could do to control myself and not pester the supplier, but to learn to wait, instead. Actually, I have done a little pestering within the past few days. After the first call, I was excited to hear that the mill had my order ready to process. I just learned that my order is being shipped today and had been delayed because of the skeining process. So, the bad news is that this yarn is delayed two more days, and the good news is that it is actually being shipped to me today. It should arrive Thursday or Friday, and I can immediately begin to fill the backorders from my customers who have shown more patience than I have.

I know that yarn is not one of the necessities in life, though some of my customers would be hard put to admit this. I know we don't need our yarn; we just want it.

During the wait to stock the Wool2Dye4 SuperSock again, I have been surprised at my customers' reactions. Some were involved in the recent Dye-O-Rama yarn swap and did have a deadline. Some just wanted their sock yarn! Others were fairly laid back about the entire thing. I wrote a note to everyone -- and that was a lot of people -- offering the subsitute of Kona Fingering for the Wool2Dye4 SuperSock. Most people took me up on the substitution; several chose Kona Superwash instead. Of those who took the subtitution, several wrote back to say that the Kona Fingering was just a bit too thin for their sock knitting preference. Many had been knitting with the SuperSock and immediately put in a backorder and chose to wait for the stock replenishment.

The recent internet swaps may have introduced sock knitting to many knitters, some of them new knitters. People wrote asking my advice on the yarn they should choose, which is always a difficult question to answer. There are so many possibilities and combinations of yarn with needles, pattern with knitting experience, etc. that I can only tell them what I've got, how people use it, and leave the decision up to them. Over the past three weeks, I wound up with several dissatisfied customers. During this time, three people wanted to trade their yarn, something that has never happened before and is a little awkward for me. I know how I protect the yarn while it is in my care, but I don't know what happens to it on the other end.

I can't make everyone happy, I know that. It's just that I have been pretty successful at making my customers happy until this stock thing hit me. We Southerners do not like to be the cause of inconvenience or to make waves, and being a true Southerner at heart, I have been uncomfortable with the wait.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Studio is Almost Ready

At last the carpenter has left, my helper is not around -- I love her, but man! this teenager talks all day long! -- and I have some cleared out space in the studio. Weeks of remodelling, waiting, moving/sorting/discarding/organizing my 'stuff',' left me a little frazzled. Today all has been quiet and truly enjoyable.

Of course, I did have a visit from the satellite TV guy who charged me $75 to push one button on the remote control and get all the settings back to normal. My little helper, evidently, was searching for something other than my New Age background music on the satellite stations. There are just some things you don't think you have to teach people, and messing with the remote is one of them. Can you tell that I did not have children?

I am looking at a nice big bin that awaits the shipment of Wool2Dye4 SuperSock. It's empty now, but by Wednesday, it will be filled to overflowing with 100 pounds of my favorite sock yarn. The loom now has a place of its own with lots of room to move around it and from any angle. The dyeing area is organized. What? I think I hear it calling my name? Oh, yes! I miss getting lost in the smell of wet yarn, the excitement of swirling colors together in a mad experiment, the thrill of the moment when color hits fiber, even the wait is pure anticipation. But, the perfect moment is the great unveiling. That's just about the most fun a person could ask for.

Perhaps this weekend I will do a couple of skeins of the new Kona Fingering, and then next week will repeat my version of Koigu, the Sheila-do!

I've been thinking about writing to the magazine that published the Strong Heel one page article to see if they will allow me to write up my simplified version in my blog. My version has no engineering schematics, but is just plain talk about how to knit a no-flap heel. Once I got the hang of it (that would be Sock #2 of the first pair), I have never done the flap-and-pickup routine again. Next month I'm going to Carodan Farm's SoXperience and will take a class on the Turkish toe-up method, so the problem becomes how to work the No Flap Heel from the bottom up. Everytime I try to imagine it, my thought processes get fuzzy, so this tells me I need to pick up a pencil and grab a notebook the next time I devote some mental energy to the bottom-up No Flap Heel. The picture shows the heel, and on this one I did the little s-1, k1 for a heel stitch. The turned part is just short rows. The yarn is Wool2Dye4 SuperSock.

Actually, this heel has been around a long time, but Gerdine Strong wrote a beautiful explanation a couple of years ago. (can't recall the issue, but when I Google 'Strong Heel Sock' the magazine and issue date come up) It is so logical and it is really beautiful. Everytime I do it, I feel like I have completed a mini-engineering project! Last weekend I taught two women to do this flapless / continuous heel, and they are now converts, as well. If I can get permission from the magazine, I will post my version of the directions. I don't want to get into any copyright trouble with a magazine where I advertise. That's not very good form.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Dropping a Couple of Yarns

My webmaster is working up some changes for the website -- adding pages for the new Blue Faced Leicester that I am now importing, adding a page of Karen Alfke's Unpatterns, making it easier to see the variety of sock yarns I carry, and changing the payment mechanism to a true e-commerce site. Big changes, all!

Now is the time for me to review the popularity of all of the yarns and to decide if I want to try to hold stock of some of the ones that do not move very well. Here are the stock changes coming up:

Dropping from Stocked Yarns:
Silk & Ivory ... new name is Carrera ... (silk & wool blend)
Newport (cotton)
Noko Bonjour (cotton)
Toaga (mohair)
Twirly (cotton)
Big Ben II (mohair)
Cuddles (alpaca & wool)

Adding to Stocked Yarns:
Bolero II
Blue Faced Leicester 2-Sport
Blue Faced Leicester 3-Aran (worsted weight)
Blue Faced Leicester 4-DK
Kona Fingering

Of course, the yarns on the drop list will always be available by special order, but I think it's wise for me not to try to hold stock of them now. What is happening is that the website is becoming known as a source for undyed sock yarns -- which is exactly what I had in mind when I started the site! So, this move is going back to the original concept and I think it's the right thing for me.

The Dropped Yarns will appear on the Specials page of the site until they are sold out.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Wait for Wool2Dye4 SuperSock is over!

Whew! I just got the news that the sock yarn is 'on the truck' and on it's way to the mill warehouse. This stock situation has been a nightmare, really, with two yarn swaps going on just now. I have been offering each customer a substitution of the new Kona Fingering for the Wool2Dye4 SuperSock. Most have taken it, which was good for those who were on a schedule. Several customers have opted to wait -- patient souls, they! -- and I will be so glad to fill their orders.

I think I'll put a little gift into their package when I ship. One of my customers and I did a little trade of wool for her hand blown glass buttons. What beautiful work!

This morning someone wrote that they like the Wool2Dye4 SuperSock because it is so very similar to Koigu, and that's true. A couple of months ago, I saw a new shipment of Koigu in new colorways, and almost raced home to see if I could duplicate the effects. Evidently I was fairly successful because people ask me, 'Is that Koigu?' My answer is, 'No, it's Sheilado.'

I played around with a couple of methods, but this is the best way I found to duplicate that wonderful Koigu look. With my dampened skein spread out, I sprayed a weak acid dye solution over all, patting and turning so there was no real concentration of color and some white wool was visible. Then, with a flat pouncing brush, I flicked dry acid dye powder over the skein. Here I also turned the yarn over several times so there was good coverage. A spray of white vinegar and then into the steamer for 40 minutes, cool, rinse in tepid water and then in Eucalan, and a spin in a lingerie bag tossed into the washing machine (water taps off). Beautiful!

Using some of the blended colors (not primary or pure dye powder) can often yield interesting and unexpected results, and that is just what happened with the Seabreeze / turquoise I used. There were little flecks of blue, yellow, red and brown in the mix and since it was so lightly applied, the dry powder had a chance to explode into the dampness of it's little tiny area where it landed and show its true color.

Time flies by when I am working with color.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Knitting and Memories of Punch

Today, Saturday, I am driving home to join a group of knitters who meet monthly in the country church where I grew up, Hillsboro Baptist Church in Yancey Mills, Virginia. That's in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Charlottesville (historic, beautiful, cosmopolitan) and Waynesboro (a small town which has managed to hold on to its charm, just over the mountain in the Shenandoah Valley). For me, that drive is like going to a massage therapist who works out all the kinks in the shoulders and neck and leaves you feeling wonderfully relaxed.

It's a sweet simple little village with ten houses, a church, and a small lumber mill ... owned by the Yancey family, hence, Yancey Mills. There used to be a small grocery store there, too, which my dad owned and where he fed folks who were a little down on their luck. Every summer during the 50's he would come up with a new project. One summer he built picnic tables and sold them by the side of the road. Another year it was bird houses. He often had a fruit stand and my older sisters worked selling peaches from my grandfather's orchard among the ever present bees and the sweet pungency of ripening peaches.

The church has been modernized and most of the people I knit with are from families that I did not know growing up. I guess we all go there for different reasons; I know that the knitting group is sponsored by the church and they even feed us lunch! For me, it is the chance to go back in time for a few hours. There's a smell of polished wood and old musty hymnals, a familiar sound of 150 year old wood floors settling. I played under those trees as a girl, I rode my bike around the driveway and stopped to look at the mountain just behind the church and the farms on the rolling hills at the foot of the mountain. Now, one of those farms is a golf course, but when I was little, it was an old fashioned four-up, four-down solid clapboard farmhouse and the daughter of a slave lived there with the family. She had been left at their doorstep, literally! when the slaves were freed and disappeared, looking for a better life, or, at least, a different one. Her name was Punch, and she always sat by herself in a pew up front, dressed impeccably every Sunday, always in a carefully brushed forest green felt hat.

I remember in the 60's the church had a meeting one Sunday to talk about integration. The pro's and con's flew back and forth, and finally someone piped up and called out, "Well, what about Punch?" There was a shocked moment of silence as the thought of Punch being actually black settled in, then the leader said, "Punch is one of us." Punch was at that meeting, and I remember afterwards as everyone filed out, she stood under the tree out front and watched the groups talking. People came up to her that day and hugged her and she was so gracious and regal. I'll never forget Punch standing under that tree in her felt hat. She was a true lady. For the first time, it occurs to me as I write to wonder what Punch was thinking that warm summer day.

That's where I'm going today to knit. This group is just learning to knit socks, so I'm taking along some of the dyed skeins of Wool2Dye4 SuperSock, left over from the Spring Fiber Festival, and will wind up a couple of skeins of dyed Kona SuperWash for those who are not used to knitting on smaller needles. I haven't had time yet to dye any Kona Fingering, and am looking forward to that. Some of these knitters are interested in learning to dye with Kool Aid, so one of these days, we'll do that. Next month on their scheduled meet, I'm giving a Kool Aid dye session to another group, off in the opposite direction towards Roanoke, VA. But, that's another beautiful ride, and another set of memories from a different stage of life.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Changes and Re-organization in Sight

New computer! And actually works after a few tinkerings here and there. I am having the studio rearranged and a some new shelving installed, so everything is being moved around. It is fun to rearrange my 'stuff' and get organized again. The loom is sitting right in the traffic area just now, but this will soon change.

More changes are in store for the website as well. My webmaster is putting up the new yarns on the site: Kona Fingering, the three Blue Faced Leicesters (2-,3-, and 4-ply), and rovings in Australian 80's grade and the BFL roving, too. The Unpatterns will have their own page now.

The next move is to go to a completely e-commerce checkout, instead of PayPal. I have always wondered if the current use of PayPal has hindered the ordering process for the customer. One thing I don't especially like about it is that it takes the customer away from my website, and with e-commerce, checkout will be a part of the site and easier. Many people don't have a PayPal account, and even though it takes credit cards, it is a bit cumbersome.

The new system will allow me to track orders easily, offer a choice of shipping methods to the customer, create a history for each customer, too. The administration tools will give me reports and this will help me manage the growth better than I can currently manage it.

The Dye-O-Rama mamas sent me the first winner of a skein of yarn. As part of my sponsorship of Dye-O-Rama, I am gifting a skein of sock yarn each month to someone who's name is drawn. This month's winner is Karen Snyder of Charlottesville, Virginia. My hometown and one of my favorite places! Congratulations, Karen! Today I'll send her an 8-oz skein of the new Kona Fingering.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Computer Lessons Learned

Being without a computer has meant a huge lesson for me! The machine had overheated twice, so I thought it would be a good idea to have it checked out while I went to the Maryland Sheep & Wool show this past weekend. Good idea, but that meant it had to leave here one day before the show and get picked up one day after the show, leaving me without communication with my cyber customers for five whole days. When I finally got all the wires and plugs in the right places this afternoon, and checked the orders, there were 47 new ones! This would normally be great news, but they are mostly from the Dye-O-Rama participants who all want the same yarn. Due to some miscommunication, my fax'ed stock order wasn't received, and the supplier was having the yarn remilled anyway. This left me high and dry in the yarn department!

But wait! The new Kona Fingering is very close in weight and feel as my Wool2Dye4 SuperSock, so I wrote to the first 40 pounds worth of people who ordered my sock yarn to see if they'd take substitute. Everyone is being so very nice about it, and I'm hearing back quickly. Still, I am running about 8 pounds short so I put in an emergency order for the Kona Fingering 2-ply. Unbelievable.

The Kona should be in by Thursday and I'll get all orders out by the end of the week, if all goes well.

So, there were two lessons learned this week. 1) Keep more stock on hand for swaps, internet knit-alongs, etc. 2) Buy a backup computer! Both have been addressed, and things will very soon be back to normal. I guess these are growing pains of my little business. Sometimes there are internet knit-alongs and people post my website name on the event's discussion board. All of a sudden I'm getting a rash of orders for one yarn, and then in a couple of weeks it slacks off, and a new one starts, and it is very seldom that anyone writes to me to tell me what's going on. I thought I had planned well for the Dye-O-Rama and was not counting on the mill supplying the 'wait factor' at all. That settles it. From now on I'm keeping 50 pounds of the most popular yarns as my lowest stock figure.

I just hate being late with the orders. When I was planning the structure of Wool2Dye4, one of my very first objectives in the original business plan was to fill all orders within 24 hours, and what has just happened is driving me mad. Maybe I get one pass from my customers, but I sure don't want to find out what happens if stock falls low again! Thank you, dear customers, for your generosity of spirit.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Going to Maryland Sheep & Wool

It's my turn to have some yarn fun. Thursday I leave for the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival and am looking forward to some time to myself. I'm taking a class from Margot Johnson on knitting vests from side-to-side with two contrasting yarns. I'll probably use some of the Blue Faced Leicester and a ball of Andee that I dyed into a shade close to chartreuse, very pretty.

This year I'm staying with an old high school friend who lives outside Baltimore. We met up a couple of years ago at our high school reunion and have maintained contact since then. She had not been knitting for years and after hearing about Wool2Dye4 and the classes and festivals, her interest was peaked again. Now, she's going with me on Saturday and may even bring along another friend.

It's funny, but when you attend a high school reunion and see the faces you knew as a young girl, you feel comforted in some way. We all are getting gray and soft, but it's in the eyes where you see the old friend you knew years ago. Several of us have kept in touch, and I even took a trip with one classmate to see another who had retired to Costa Rica. I trusted them both because I knew them so long ago and they were wonderful people even then. I hadn't seen them in forty years, yet I still felt at ease with them. It has been a wonderful experience, really, and I love opening my e-mail and seeing a note from these old friends.

Now I'm planning to meet one of my customers after my class on Friday afternoon. We only know each other through the internet, but we have been writing back and forth, and somehow I trust her, too. So, we each directed the other to our blogs and our pictures, and decided to meet at 4:00 outside the fairgrounds building where my class is. I think I'm probably a few years older than she is, but she is wise and smart, and I'm looking forward to strolling the aisles at Maryland with her and getting to know her.

The personality of so many of my customers comes through in their emails. I can honestly say that there has only been one instance of ... well, here in Virginia we would refer to this sort of behavior as bad manners. By far, my customers are delightful people who share little bits of their lives with me, and make my little business a real pleasure .

So, no shipping for three days and lots of work when I get home, but, boy! am I ready for a break.