Friday, December 21, 2007

Doing Business (3.) Mind Your Money

Keep records So, it all comes down to the money. Do you have enough to start a business? Keep a business running? Service a business? There is a certain amount of start-up cash you will need, but you can control the flow of money of an internet business more easily than a bricks-and-mortar business. Using handdyed yarns as our example, let's say you have enough to pay for one year of internet host, programming services of a web designer to get you looking good, basic shipping supplies and enough raw material to dye up for the coming month. Sales will start out slowly, that is probably going to be the case. Maybe you're thinking that this would be a great time to dye up enough for three month's inventory. Resist the urge to borrow money, put materials on a credit card, or go into debt to finance growth at this unproven stage of your business. Once sales pick up, use a portion of the income to fund the purchase of raw materials for future orders. Do not fund your working capital through debt. Do not do it.
Set your company books up even before you make your first sale, using a computerized bookkeeping program. I use QuickBooks Pro and love it, but be sure to realize that just because you can put checks into a computer program, you are not an accountant. Sometimes the financial programs make us think we know more about accounting than we actually do. These programs will print out your business reports in a flash, and I strongly suggest that you invest in a program and learn how to use it because you want to keep an eye on the bottom line at all stages of your business growth.
The 'bottom line' is just that... the bottom line on a financial report. The most basic profit and loss report will group all income and expenses together in these general groups. The bottom line on a financial report is 'net profit,' and I like to think of it as the net or filter that holds any money after all the expenses and cost of the materials is taken out. The bottom line is your true profit.
  • Sales
  • -Cost of Goods
  • =Gross Profit
  • Gross Profit
  • -Expenses
  • = Net Profit

Control Expenses You will make the most profit if you control the primary expenses, and the main one will probably be the cost of materials. Buy as close to the source as possible; that is, don't buy at retail price. Establish wholesale prices with the suppliers you want to work with. Here is where having a Federal Tax ID number will serve you well and present your business as a viable business. If you have a resale account with your state, you probably will not pay taxes from in-state suppliers, or even with office supply stores or suppliers of other materials. So, shop for your pricing, compare the different suppliers' pricing and products, and establish wholesale accounts right away.

Assuming that your business will require you to ship packages out, here's a good tip which will save you lots of money and time. Set up an online account with the US Postal System. They provide free shipping boxes and have a carrier pick-up service, both will yield savings of money and time. I used to buy recycled brown boxes from a good supplier but the price of shipping was almost equal to the price of the boxes. It was killing me! Once I switched over the USPS's boxes, my shipping expenses were cut. Their largest box is 12x12x8, so this will not accomodate larger orders, but it is still a great way to save on shipping supplies. For packing paper, find a major printer and ask for their leftovers from long runs. In my town, there is a printing press which prints one of the country's major magazines, and I get ends of rolls of glossy magazine paper. Beautiful, creamy stuff, and I love touching it almost as much as I love touching the wool and spinning fibers I sell.

To set us a USPostal Service account, go to www.usps.com. Order the free shipping supplies, and start to schedule carrier pick-up. I schedule one month in advance, and keep a reminder on the door, just in case there is a new postman. Sometimes my name is not on their pick-up list, so I just keep that sign on the door that says "USPS Pick-Up Today. Thank you!"

For office supplies you need, use your tax resale account number to establish a tax-free account. I use Staples' online store, and one of the things I love about Staples is that they do not charge a delivery fee. Yes, free shipping on my large boxes now. I saved a ton of money just in that change of supplier.

Ask for discount or wholesale pricing Now, please use your manners when you approach new suppliers. Ask if they have a wholesale price structure and request a copy of their policies and prices. Remember, they don't have to give you an account. How we write often is not a reflection of our personalities, but our writing style, spelling and punctuation habits, use of smiley-faces, etc. definitely paint a picture of who we are and how we approach business. Present yourself as a competent person who will be a good business partner for your supplier.

Control impulse spending Just because you have a business, and if you're smart, you are not paying state taxes, this doesn't give license to buy anything you want. Don't fall into the trap of using company money to buy personal stash. Don't do it!

Whatever you do, keep your checkbook up to date, pay your bills on time, do not go into debt to fund start-up purchases, research the best sources for your supplies and materials, and be a good customer to your suppliers. Good manners and good business go hand in hand.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Doing Business (2.) Lay the Groundwork

Planning and preparation -- you just can't get enough of either, as you start your new venture. Here are some basics every new business owner should take care of before launching the business.
Legal Structure You may need to do some research on this important basic, or talk to an accountant, lawyer, or small business counselor. Do not start a business without imagining the possibility of future growth and how that will impact your taxes, buying power, credit, business credibility. My advice is to organize your business as a separate entity from your personal and family finances. Keep it separate and keep tabs on sales, expenses, profit. A sole proprietorship is the simplest form of doing business, where there is no difference between the individual and the business. Your sales are counted as income, business expenses are written off on your taxes (with good documentation), and the profit or loss is considered in your personal income tax return.
Better to create the business as a separate entity, with it's own tax identification number. Consider the options carefully. Fifteen years ago, when I directed a Small Business Development Center and counselled start-ups, we used to recommend the simple form of a corporation: Sub-Chapter S Corp. That creates a separate entity, gives basic protection to the owner from lawsuits and liabilities created by the business failure or catastophe. That is the way my own business is organized, but more recently the LLC has become more popular. This, too, gives the owner some distance from any liabilities. Both are managed through separate bookkeeping, and the profit or loss is passed on to the owner at the end of the year. They are actually much simpler than the sole proprietorship's efforts to keep money allotted for business or family. I can't make a recommendation for you, though. This is an important step in establishing your business, and you need to get professional advice you trust.

Name of Business is important. Remember that this is how your efforts will be recognized and recalled in the future. I see so many people naming their business with little foresight. The name you choose will identify you to your customers, and more importantly, to potential customers. Choose a name which allows growth in the products you may sell in the future, and in possible future growth. Don't limit yourself to a product or align yourself too closely with a demographic. For instance, I see so many of my customers naming their businesses after their children. I'll use my dog's name as an example, so that would make me 'Teddy's Mom' or 'Mom to Teddy' or 'Teddy Bottoms' or 'Teddy Feet.' See how young those names look? how limited? They immediately announce that I am young, a mother first, a business woman last, and that I have a fixation on my kid's diapers or feet. Maybe what I wanted to say was that I sell handdyed yarn which could be used for diaper covers and socks. In ten years -- hopefully!-- I would look back and cringe at such cute names.

Tax Registration Once you've decided on the legal structure for your business and a good name which will allow your business to grow in the future and still have a good name, it is time to register your business with the government. Don't ignore this step! It will save you problems in the future. First, get a federal tax identification number. Go to http://www.irs.gov/ and register online for a tax id using the name you have chosen and stating which legal structure you have chosen for your business. This step is important. Don't think immediately that if you have a tax id number then you will have to pay lots of taxes. Learn a little more. Expand your thinking. Having a business tax ID will immediately give your business credibility as you apply for credit with your suppliers, create a line of credit as your inventory demands, and keep your business and personal finances separate.

Also investigate your state's sales tax requirements. Internet business sales are taxed differently in each state. Here in Virginia, I pay sales tax only on Virginia sales, so I collect the sales tax from my customer and then pay it to the state. No expense to me, just passing on a tax.

Bank Account / Credit Card Once you get your Federal Tax ID number online, then open a new bank account in the name of the business. When you go to the bank, take a copy of the FID# with you for your banker. Get a credit card with low interest, too. This will probably not be one which pays you back in airline miles or credits for gifts. Remember, you are looking for the most efficient way to handle your business finances, so shop for a low interest credit card. NOT a debit card. Debit cards open your bank account to the possibility of fraud because they are a direct link into your account. Guard your credit information carefully. Create files for your bank account and credit card, and pay credit card charges each month to avoid paying interest. Keep a separate accounting of your business expenses and do not use company money for personal spending. I recommend getting a good computer bookkeeping program, and personally use QuickBooks Pro. Go to a big office supply store and spend some time reading the packages of these programs, and buy one and keep it up. Balance your checkbook every month, and go online and double check your business account to be sure that there are no fraudulent withdrawals against it, and no unnecessary bank service charges.
When my business went into a growth phase, I let slide the keeping tabs on my account except for end of the month reconciling. One month, when balancing the account, I saw a one dollar withdrawal for a middle east relief fund, $40 to a bank in Paris, $1,000 to an online word search, and $4,000 to an online financial investment company. None were authorized. All were fraudulent. It took a good six weeks for the money to be returned to my account, including filling out multiple forms for the bank on each fraudulent incident. A real headache. The one thing they all had in common was the use of my debit card number. That was an expensive lesson. Please learn from my mistake and get a credit card for your business account, not a debit card.

Internet Platform How you present yourself online is tied up with how much effort you are planning to put into your business at the beginning. Many of my customers hold down fulltime jobs and run their online businesses parttime. They dye yarns over weekends, skein and ship them in the evenings. There are business models which tell us what the profit points are when we should make a move towards more independence. You may want to start out with a 'cart' or 'store' on a host seller like eBay, HyenaCart, and Etsy. (I have links to HyenaCart and Etsy instructions for getting set up on my website LINKS page.) These are good ways to get started. They do the website work for you, and all you do is sign up, upload your pictures and descriptions, and start selling, basically. These are the easiest and most efficient forms of eCommerce.
A step up is a website of your own. In recent years, host companies have learned that they can make money and create loyal customers -- something we all strive to do in our business life -- by offering packages to the startup business. You can sign up with a host and create a simple website with them. Some even offer to program the site for you. Others have simple fill-in-the-blank types of programs. A couple of these host servers are LunarPages.com and Go-Daddy.com, and there are lots of others. They also have payment mechanisms to choose from.
PayPal is probably the most popular payment mechanism out there. It is actually very safe because once a person joins, they never enter their credit information again, just their password, and then have access to funds in their account or to use of a credit card attached to their account. Of course, nothing is perfect. I know. I used PayPal for the first few years of my business, and am now changing over to a more complex site and a true eCommerce site where I can accept any credit card I choose, with daily deposits into the business checking account. I have chosen to keep PayPal as an option, but not as the only form of customer payment. Let's face it: not everyone likes PayPal, so I want to create options. Of course, this is a more expensive option for me as a business owner, but the time and volume of sales warranted the move to a fully automated eCommerce site. Actually, I am a little behind the curve on this one and should have been at this point 18 months ago. My slow decisions were the result of not knowing enough about the possible programs, costs of changing the website over to a new one, benefits of eCommerce, and at what point I should have moved up to maximize profits. I learned a lot during the past 18 months.

Remember: plan, plan, plan. When we are in control of the facts, we have a more intelligent basis from which to act. Think of yourself as a business person and make business-like decisions. Look at the big guys. See how they have created a 'brand' for themselves and customer loyalty? It is all about planning, and these beginning steps are the basis of a well-run business.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Doing Business (1.) Make Plans

This post, and some which will follow as a sort of series, is aimed at the start-up internet business owner. While it uses yarn as the product, the ideas apply to any new business venture.

The very best businesses happen because of good planning, not because of luck. Most people are not skilled at all aspects of running a successful business, but I contend that anyone can learn and acquire the basic skills of running a business, watching the competition, understanding the effect of the economy on your field. It takes good planning, a strong work ethic, a realistic approach to life, and the ability to learn from mistakes and the strength not to repeat the same mistakes. To start and run a successful internet business the owner needs to consider some basics: time, finances, future.

Time is limited because of whatever reason applies to you. Do you have a fulltime job? Are you starting a parttime venture? Are you a work-at-home-parent with sporatic blocks of time available for a business? Do you have demands on your time which involve family committments? Have you lost your job? Do you have time to make the product you want to sell and to run the business, too? Do you have time to invest in learning about the how a good business in run?

Finances are just as important as a person's will to start a new business. The best plan will fail if you cannot afford to put it into action. Start-up capital will be needed for every business. It is true that the actual costs of getting a website up and running (if you choose the route of establishing an individual website for your business) can be controlled through the use of good resources, and going only as far as your money will allow you to go. Best course: write down all costs associated with three phases of your business: Start-up costs, initial inventory and launch, how to manage costs of holding adequate inventory for at least the first two years of business.

Future: I often think of a terrific TV ad which featured a happy group of entrepreneurs who were launching their first internet business. They gathered around the screen to watch the hits, and then the orders as a ticker slowly turned over. As the order ticker started to spin faster and faster, their reactions went from joy and pride to wonder to dismay! That ad says it all. How will you finance the demand of product if your venture takes off? How will you keep family finances secure and still grow you business? Basically, a good rule of thumb given by the SBA is not to put your home in financial jeopardy or use up the equity to finance a new busness. Savings and personal credit are probably the two best financial resources for the startup business. Banks are not in the business of financing startups, and there are no grants for the first time, start up. At the beginning is the time to examine all aspects of committing to this big step. Imagine how your life will change if and when the business takes off. Will you run it out of your home? Rent a warehouse? Move? Hire family members, or outsiders? Are you willing to give up control of the business to employees? Will you expand or contract business activities to maintain a desired lifestyle? Will you be willing to quit your job?

Write down every idea about time, finances, and future growth which occurs to you. Keep notes and as they grow, divide them into folders (physical or on a word processing program). Whatever you do, keep notes of this planning stage. Some ideas will be the basis of a brilliant marketing strategy down the road. Some will be unrealistic but you will learn if you can spot the reason why some ideas just won't work and others attack your needs. It will help you as you begin to develop a budget and make plans to launch your new venture.

I firmly believe that entrepreneurs can improve the quality of their lives by putting their dreams to work. In fact, I often say that the purpose of my businesses, over the years, has been to improve the quality of my life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December Shipments are Slow

We are hearing from customers that orders are not arriving in the usual three to four days lately. Since the beginning of December we have had many queries about whether or not an order had been shipped. We do use Priority Mail, which is supposed to arrive within four days; however, it is slow at this time of year.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Are you in business, or playing at it?

I remember, from years ago, reading some good business advice which said if you are starting your own business, try to look like the big guys. If you think about it, this is excellent advice! The major yarn companies build brand awareness through the naming of their company, repetition of their logo, naming of their website, Internet moniker, yarns, etc. Everything ties together so that when the customer thinks of the company, one or all of these interlinked ideas or images comes to mind, making their yarn easy to find and to buy.

In my own business I try to follow this advice, and I wish that more of my customers would follow it, too. In previous posts, I have tried to gently suggest that customers simplify the number of different names they go by. For instance, when we set up an eMail account, we choose the name that will be seen by the recipient of our eMails. Signatures are another opportunity to reinforce your name/company/yarn names in the customer's mind. These two pieces of information should form a cohesive idea in your customer's mind, not confuse her/him.

Many of my customers maintain a separate eMail address for their PayPal account. Here is another opportunity to put all of this info into one neat package. BUT what I usually see is a separate name for PayPal email, personal email, signature, and even company name. Four different names for one person or customer. If I have to search through the history of eMails to find out who is writing, time is lost and the experience is frustrating. I always feel like the customer with so many cutsey names/eMail addresses/automatic signatures is just playing at having a business; they are not a serious contender. I am sure it will come as a surprise to some, but everyone does not think a business name/eMail/Internet moniker/alternate eMail address is as clever or as imaginative as you may have intended.

So! Advice to work-at-home-moms who are trying to sell handdyed yarns on the Internet: make all your names and addresses have a logical connection. If you stop and think about how the major companies handle these sorts of business issues -- the very basics of how their customers will communicate with them -- then you'll see excellent examples of business communication in action. Do business; don't play at it. You'll actually sell more when you begin to think of your internet sales as a viable business and give it the respectful consideration it deserves. Good luck!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Backordered BFL -- Due Dec 7th

Happy to announce that the Blue Faced Leicester will be back in stock in all categories at the end of next week, around Dec. 7th. We expect arrival of...

BFL Ultra! on one-pound Cones (there are plenty of skeins in stock, too)
BFL Roving
BFL Superwash Roving
BFL Bulky on kilo cones

Introducing... New Formulation of Wool2Dye4 SuperSock

I just received notice that the new Wool2Dye4 SuperSock has passed through customs, and should be in the studio by Dec. 7th. This is an entirely new formulation of our signature sock yarn, and I think it will be well received.
It is so hard to decide on a yarn which bears the name of my company and to count on each shipment to be the very same as the previous one. We had some problems with the former yarn; sometimes it came in with such a tight twist that it took lots of work to ease it into a workable sock yarn. I remember one morning when I was browsing the Internet blogs to see what nice things people had written about Wool2Dye4 lately. There was my former signature sock yarn pictured in a spaghetti bowl! The caption said something like 'this is Wool2Dye4 spaghetti yarn.' Everything stood still for a brief second in life as the shock sank in! Horrible, horrible feeling.
This yarn, though, is not ever going to appear in anyone's spaghetti dish, unless they are doing some sort of interesting knitted food art. (Actually, that sounds like a neat idea!)
Wool2Dye4 SuperSock has a new look, feel and act. This is a fingering yarn with spring and bounce to it, a yarn which feels lively when it passes through your fingers. The three plies make for a nice and round yarn, so important for pattern work and the details of cables. The new formulation takes dye evenly and beautifully, too. Here are the details:
New Wool2Dye4 SuperSock ... 3-Ply superwash merino, 2,175 yds/lb prox. Put up: 8 oz skeins of 1,085 yds prox. Cost $18/skein.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Knitting Community: Ravelry

Have you heard about www.ravelry.com yet? If not, navigate on over to the link and take a look at this new online knitting community. Great background work and programming! These folks are putting together an upscale site where we can all take a part in a knitting and crochet community. Lots of opportunity to post pictures, exchange patterns, learn about yarns, trends and popularities of yarns and patterns, discussion forums (Oh, dear. What is the actual plural of this Latin word? Fori?) ... a very exciting internet spot to visit any time of the day.
There is a waiting list to sign up because they are testing it. I believe that more than 4,000 have signed up in the past few weeks, and that the waiting list may have that many names! I signed up when one of my customers told me about it, and Wool2Dye4, Inc. is planning to advertise there.
Check it out: www.ravelry.com

Monday, November 19, 2007

Queen Elizabeth's Hand-Knit Socks

Today is the 50th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. On this morning's news, there was a piece on the unique gifts they received 50 years ago, and the three mentioned were ... knitted hats, knitted tea cosies, and hand-knit socks!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Overdue Introduction to Chrissy, my Assistant

I am ashamed to be late in introducing a new permanent member of the Wool2Dye4 studio, Chrissy, who has been working for at least a month. She eased herself into the workings around here so easily that it seems that she has always been working with me. Oh, no! I do remember the search. It took more than six months to find the right person, no joke.
Chrissy is the right person, for sure, and has taken over the job of putting together the new websites. I know, I know I've been promising new websites forever. Now, with Chrissy at the keyboard, we are making real progress and are ahead of the webmaster and waiting for the next assignment so we can be up and running in the new format soon. She has a way of just doing what needs to be done, and I truly appreciate some extra time I can spend on implementing a portion of my new business plan.
Just yesterday I wrote to a new customer about planning and how important it is especially to the new business owner. Opening an internet business is relatively easy, compared to opening a bricks-and-mortar store, and sometimes because it seems easy, we skip over some of the basic, old-fashioned planning.
Chrissy has taken over much of the responsibility for the daily business at hand, allowing me to work with the manufacturers and develop new yarns, work on budget and pricing guidelines, refine the wholesale marketing strategy, implement a new advertising campaign. I like to get down to the basics sometimes and work from the most simple operation to the most complex, looking at each step to see how it can be improved, how my message can better be projected, how to achieve my business goals. I have always said that the first purpose of having a successful business should be to improve the quality of the owner's life. Having the right people work with you is one of the keys to creating a successful business.
So, I welcome Chrissy to Wool2Dye4. Even though it is a late introduction, it is absolutely heartfelt!

Australian YARN magazine to close

I was sorry to read that YARN magazine, the Australian magazine for knitting and more, is going to cease publication very shortly. What a wonderful magazine this is, and what a shame that we will not have this record of the exuberant Australian fiber artists scampering across the pages of this quarterly magazine. They always seem so full of spirit and energy, and I looked forward to pictures of the gatherings and wacky promotional ideas. One, for instance, was themed on knitting beanies and there were just hundreds of beanies from all over the countryside. Articles on how Australian knitters are frustrated with their yarn choices, too, gave insight into the the worldwide wool market, and they always seem like such hospitable hosts to the authors and teachers who travelled there for workshop presentations. The pictures were of rooms teaming with knitters of both sexes, all ages. She truly did a wonderful job of celebrating her country's knitters.

Owner and editor Barbara Coddington has offered the publication for sale, but, as she says in her letter included in the November issue, no buyer has been willing to take on the project. This is a true loss to magazine publishing in the fiber arts market. Barbara grew her magazine into a glossy publication with thoughtful articles by her Australian colleagues, well known authors and teachers in the field, and with the marketing support of major yarn manufacturers serving that part of the world. What an accomplishment! Congratulations on a wonderful job, and thank you, Barbara, for your committment.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Knit Lit and Fiber Fables

Recently two friends have suggested some new reading for me, and I want to pass them on with my recommendations. Both are novels which are set at fiber festivals! Both feature a murder, a fiber fanatic unravels the mystery, and both conveniently have boyfriends who are policemen! Both are a good read.
Mary Kruger's Knit Fast, Die Young, a Knitting Mystery is good reading and subtly introduces knitting info as background information. This one was lent me to and I see on the cover that there was a previous one, also featuring the same wool shop owner as sleuth, called Died in the Wool.
The other one is by Susan Wittig Albert, called Indigo Dying. This is one of several mysteries which feature a plant in the title, as the main character is an herb shop owner who, conveniently, also holds a law degree. Yes, her boyfriend is also a law enforcement officer. Good storyline with an interesting mystery. For some reason, the info included about dyeing seemed almost to sound like a research paper, not very conversational or introduced occasionally. But, this will not stop me from reading this author's other books.
Other titles come to mind: Debbie Macomber's Shop of Blossom Street and followup novel, A Good Yarn. Of course there is Monica Ferris and her series of the needlework/yarn shop owner sleuth who's love interest is, yes, a policeman.
I am sure that not all fiber related mysteries have a lawman in the background waiting to rescue the delicate fiber artist from her musings and adventures. Lots of the female sleuths, actually, have a strong male lawman as a love interest whether they run a yarn shop, a cookie shop, or herb shop.
Fun reading, all.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Reskeining mill skeins for resale

From time to time, customers ask me about how to get two equal skeins from one of the 8-oz skeins they purchase from me. My advice is this: if you are reselling yarn in 4 oz skeins, please do not start with 8 oz skeins. Start off with one pound (or larger) cones. The reason for this is that at this end of the market -- what is known as the 'gray goods market' -- our yarns are not weighed and measured with accuracy. The accuracy comes in the final stages of the finished dyed goods. For instance, the large yarn manufacturers process thousands of yards of each weight at one time. They are spun, then dyed, then measured out into salable units which we find in local yarn shops wrapped up neatly with a label on them announcing weight, among other specifications.

At this end of the market, the measurements and weights are not nearly as exact. In recent years, since the hand dyed yarns have gained popularity, smaller dyers are discovering that an 8 oz skein may not weigh exactly eight ounces. I try to sprinkle my descriptions with the words 'approximate' and 'prox' throughout, so that people get the idea that the weights and measures will fluctuate. You can count on that.

Here's a good example of the last batch of BFL Ultra!, my wonderful sock weight in Blue Faced Leicester superwash. The skeins are weighing in at 7.6 to 7.8 ounces. The one pound cones, though, are weighing in from 1.2 to 1.6 pounds. Next batch may come in at different base weights. At this end of the market, it is not an exact science. I must tell you that I have never once received a complaint from a customer that they received up to half a pound of rare yarn for free! Not once. BUT I have heard from people who are beginning to dye in small amounts, and they think that they can buy 8 oz skeins and divide them in half to resell.

My plea is this: if you are going to skein up smaller measurements for resale, please buy yarn in cones.

All of this said, I will note that I am gradually gaining control over details such as weight and measurement, as I move closer and closer to the source of my yarns. I am having more yarns manufactured by a mill which is known for being consistent in its weights and measurements. Even though the weights will be more consistent in the future, though, my advice still stands to resellers:
The Golden Rule of Measurement: If you are reselling yarns in small quantities, start with one-pound minimum cones. Don't try to split small skeins into smaller measurements. We are at the gray goods end of the market where measurements and weights are approximate.
My suggestion: sell sock yarns by yardage. Most sock knitters examine labels to see if there are close to 400 yards in a ball of commercial sock yarn. That seems to be the benchmark to knit up a pair of socks, so be a little generous and make your skeins into 425 or even 450 yards. This measurement may increase your sales because you will be giving the customer what they want...the number of yards needed to knit a pair of socks. Giving the customer what they really want is how we do business.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Studio Assistant Caitlin's First DyePot!





Here is the happy face of Caitlin, our parttime college studio assistant, holding up her first roving dye experiment. She is self-taught and an enthusiastic spindle spinner. Beautiful job, Caitlin!

Caitlin will be with us until May 08 when she graduates Randolph College (formerly Randolph Macon Woman's College).

New Patterns in Stock


NEW PATTERN from Second Nature Design. Karen Alfke has just sent us her two new latest patterns... Unpattern Vest (using her famous "Top Down" techinque) and her CableDown Pullover. This picture shows my version of her CableDown Pullover in Almerino. We still have some Almerino left in nice pastel colors. (Almerino=Alpaca + Merino, 50/50)

See GALLERY picture.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Designer Karen Alfke's New Blog

http://akabini.squarespace.com/

This is the address where you can read what one of our designers has to say about the process. Karen Alfke has a fresh and fashionable approach to her design. If you read her blog, you will get a nice idea of how much interaction her designs create and feed from, as she gets help and advice from her circle of creative support.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rumors of a New Website ...

Well, they may not be rumors, but real websites
coming online in a few weeks. The word 'rumor' just might cause you to read this!

My webmaster has put together some modules of a good eCommerce program, and I am working to get my part of the duties completed so that we can get up and going. There will actually be two new websites: one for retail customers, and one for wholesalers. The wholesale site will be a password-protected site. The screens should make choosing which yarn, the weight, and payment options easy to understand. Because the new program is a true eCommerce site, you will soon have choices in how you pay for your purchases. Hooray! I feel like we have all been a prisoner of PayPal for the past three years, far too long, especially for me.

When you are ready to order, you'll just fill out a form with all the shipping and billing info on it, and that form will be available to me at any time. It will make life easier for me because I won't have to chase the details of your order through a series of eMails or back through the history of your PayPal purchases. As you use the new site for repeat orders, I will be able to read a history of the yarns you order, which could be useful if I get in a limited supply of a yarn similar to what you've been using.

Yesterday I was describing the new site to a person I was interviewing for a job. She was applying for what I loosely call the 'studio assistant' position, but in her case, I was looking for someone who is more savvy at the computer than I am. Years ago someone, whom I admired very much, told me to always hire people who are smarter than I am. Hmmm. Is this why I am having such a terrible time finding help around the studio? I think not! BUT I don't have an answer either for why it is so hard to hire someone for the job.

No, this person will be primarily responsible for getting the site up and running, creating a beautiful home page where I can communicate any news of back orders, stock levels, details of new yarns or special purchases, etc. As I was describing the position to her, I had this growing sense of excitement. Just hearing myself describe the new sites and imagining using them to communicate, to retrieve orders much easier than the current set-up, well, it was just so invigorating and I felt very much as I did when I first began to plan the business.
Yesterday I wrote to a new customer who is just setting up a new business, and as I wrote I again felt that excitement. It's really fun to put ideas into practice! No matter if you are just rumbling about with the hint of an idea, or if you have been up and running for a while and get that surge of enthusiasm and that shot of adrenalin. Of course, business is very practical and at the same time it is very much like any complex project. It takes planning before implementation.
I've had months of planning for the introduction of the new sites, and was ready to get them up and running months ago, but have to work with the schedules of my webmaster and find a good person to keep it up dated regularly. Maybe just maybe everything is aligned as it should be, and my plan will actually get implemented soon. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Knitting for a Great Cause: Children in Need

Here is a link to the ultimate charity for our hobby:
http://www.knittinguniverse.com/childrenincommon/childrenincommon.htm

Are you going to Stitches East this year? If so, you can sit down and work on knitting socks for children in Eastern Europe. Or, knit them before your trip and drop off a pair of child's socks at Booth #89, near the entrance to The Market. Please pass the word along.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Riding the Wave of Interest in Hand-Dyes


I have customers who have been so successful at their handdye business that they have quit what they used to call their real job, and have become fulltime fiber artists. They're making a living at it too. When they write to me about trends they see in the demands of their own customers, I listen.


Lately, what I have been reading from these folks is that they foresee a need for good handdyed yarns in sport and DK weight. Their customers, who buy handdyes at fiber festivals, go back to the local yarn shops and tell the local shop owner that they wish they could find something like the handdyed yarn they got at such-and-such fiber festival. Shop owners have been responding with shelves full of Koigu and other yarns which have ridden on Koigu's success, especially in their choices of filling their sock shelves. First it was the self-patterning sock yarns which looked like Fair Isle, then it was the more muted yarns which mimicked handdyes, and now, they are actually buying your handdyes and stocking them on their shelves.


Not all knitters who see the lovely handdyed yarns are sock knitters. In fact, it has been said that there are fabulous talented knitters out there who have never knit a sock in their life! So, see? There is a huge market of sweater knitters, baby clothes knitters, shawl and shrug knitters out there and they are awaiting some lovely handdyed yarns in a little heavier weight.


What I hear is that the next wave of popularity of handdyes is in the sport weight and Dk weight. So, when I heard about a closeout on an upscale yarn, I decided to take a chance and buy all of it. What 'it' is is a blend of 15% silk with 85% superwash merino in a DK weight yarn. I have some of it shown on the SPECIALS page of my website. Other choices to try creating your own line of handdyed sweater yarns would be Kona Superwash (for the superwash customer) and two yarns from the non-superwash lineup, giving you some choice. Try Montana for a classic knitting weight yarn, and Licorice Twist for a visually interesting yarn. (Remember the Licorice Twist is a 4-ply with some superwash merino in the blend, and the SW takes up more dye than the non-superwash, giving the yarn a candycane look. When knit into fabric, though, Licorice Twist gives a sort of heathered look. Very nice, and lots of fun to dye, too.)


Trends and fashions change, and in the knitting and crochet world, we are a part of the next wave of interest. Our luck, though, is that we can see it coming! Think about it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Customers With Many Monikers

I spend so much time trying to match people's different names, and have tried to remind people that I would like some help in finding their information. I wish I could count the wasted time spent in searching for alternate identities. For example, a customer may write an email asking about a yarn, and that email could be their husband's address, or one of many they hold. Often, customers only sign their first name, or do not sign the email at all. The biggest problem in identification is in the name which appears in the 'From' spot on emails, and that's where people love to get creative and invent new nicknames, use a company name which may not appear anywhere else, abbreviate their email address, or ... my favorite ... use their first name. Help me, please!

If theirs is a Special Order, I have to use an email address to invoice them through PayPal, so I go into PayPal and use the invoice from the original request to bill them. If they have a different email address for their PayPal account, they write back asking me to bill them at the alternate address. I go back into PayPal, edit the invoice, send it again, print another invoice copy, and throw away the first one. Or, they could throw me a curve, and pay the invoice through another PayPal address and I have no clue who is whom.

I have some customers with two or three email addresses -- all cloyingly cute, by the way! -- and who's names I have never seen. They do not sign their emails or inform me that they are writing from a different address than the one I should use in PayPal billing. It is so frustrating.

A couple of months ago, I decided to add to my email signature an automatic message which asks people to tell me if their PayPal address is different from their regular email, and also to sign their first and last names to their correspondence. A few have been so very nice to help me out, but most people either have ignored the message, or think it just doesn't apply to them. I am thinking particularly of a few regular customers who are billed for their shipments, and they never, ever copy down their billing email address.

So, how can I conquer this constant irritation? Through a new website program! Yes, that is definitely in the works. It will be a true eCommerce site, powered by OSCommerce, and customers will fill out a form which asks for this information. I will have behind the scenes access to these reports and can more easily find the info I need. Now, the only problem is to gently urge my webmaster towards my problems again. I'm in a waiting mode for his attention at the moment, and will be so happy to hear from him again!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

www.spin-out.org

That is the address of the big spinning party in Central Park, NYC coming up at the end of the month: September 29th from 11 to 5. It is actually a wonderful day in many ways. A place for spinners to get together, a place to shop, the chance to mingle with other fiber artists, etc. The big event will benefit a wonderful charity organization, Heifer International. Proceeds will go to purchase chickens, goats, sheep, animals which feed families in underpriviledged areas, all in the effort to end world hunger. (http://www.heifer.org/) Check out these websites. Very touching, and a way we can actually make a difference.

Spinning in the Open?


I cannot remember when this day of spinning out in public is, but think it is coming up. What fun it would be to dress up in my little colonial costume, don my mop hat and sit out in the driveway and spin. But, I can't recall that date.

Hard to Find Good Help


Picture: Such a creamy, lovely, just exquisite yarn in this picture. It is a blend of silk with superwash merino (15% to 85%) in a 4-Ply yarn. Because the silk takes less dye than the superwash merino, one strand dyes up a few shades lighter than the other three plies. Nice. Unfortunately, there is a limited supply of this yarn because it is a closeout of a high-end yarn which I bought. All good things must come to an end! You can find this yarn on the Specials page of the website in 8-oz skeins (640 +/- yds), priced well at $28.
I have lost my helper, my wonderful and enthusiastic helper, to higher education. Yes, I know that I should be 100% happy for her, but I do need some good help around the studio. This work is a mixture of handling yarn all day in filling orders and accepting the incoming shipments, labeling cones, neatening things as you walk by. But, there is quite a bit of computer work in accepting orders, sending invoices, printing info cards and labels, and even shipping by computer.
Some days I declare the afternoons as Play Dates, and that's when the dye pots come out and I raid the secret stashes of yarn which have been hoarded just for this day! I always seem to have a stash of mystery yarns which got separated from their buddies, so they get tossed into the Mystery Bin and are destined for my dye experiments. My new natural dye buddy is out of the picture for a while as this Maine native deals with allergies to the pollens and pests of Virginia. I sure do miss her, too, because together we just came up with terrific combinations and tried all sorts of methods and combinations of dyestuffs and mordants and after baths which simply did not occur to me alone. I am hoping that after mosquito season, she will be able to join me for Play Date again.
But back to the search for a new assistant. I am reduced to passing out my card at the local drug store! Actually, it was the closing of the last locally owned drug store in our town, and I had stumbled upon their closeout sale. I fell into conversation with the people in front and in back of me as we stood in line, and wound up passing out my card to everyone in hopes of finding some good help. In my mind, there is someone out there who would just love this job! Unfortunately, they just haven't heard about it yet, so I am having to raid my husband's crew for help with the heavy lifting and repetitive tasks of labelling things. They're great help, but not very good conversationalists about fiber.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Indigo Dye Weekend at Folk School

I was lucky enough to get to spend another weekend at John C Campbell Folk School at the end of August. That is such a lovely spot ... still rural and peaceful, though I heard several locals complain that too many people had discovered it. I am guessing that retirees who went to Folk School just fell in love with the area and decided to move there to share the peace and quiet, but the locals don't like the rising tax rates. Evidently the newcomers are building nice fancy houses in the area and tax rates are being affected.

One of the people in the class was from Asheville, and expressed the same sort of feeling about recent growth in that North Carolina city. She said so many folks have moved into the area that now the original locals can't afford the prices in their hometown. There is a terrible mixture of expanding one's experiences, discovery of very special places, being welcomed and rejected at the same time -- all mixed up with some of our desire to reclaim the simple days of the past yet enjoy the comforts of today.

This is not what I began to write about though. Putting aside the inclination to pontificate, it's back to indigo. The class was thorough, though if we had had two pots of indigo it would have been more productive. We dyed silk and wool fabrics in indigo baths, then walnut, marigold, and made up sample sheets to take home. Basic colors created ran from blue to brown with some muddy yellow in there. I always like to see yarn dyed and have moved away from fabric in recent years. After all, there is only so much time in life, and my time seems to be taken up with wool.

In a former post, I wrote about instant indigo. After the Folk School weekend, I will definitely give that a new try because I realized that I probably was not looking for the right color of green/yellow just under the surface of the pot, and didn't know when to adjust the pot or even that the temperature had to be fairly constant. The word 'instant' may have given me a little too much confdence. Now, I wonder if the results I got in my first experiment will be bonded to the fiber or if they will 'crock,' as the flaking of indigo is called. Pretty cool to use that term in a sentence! I admit to not having much of a control over that first experiment, so do plan to try it again and be ready to alter and watch that pot with a more practiced eye.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Heat + Agitation = FELT, my friends


Within the past week I have received two letters from beginning dyers who have created felt without intending to do so with fingering-weight yarn and roving fibers. Both had been worried about scouring the yarn/roving, so they heated them for an hour, and, in one case, and stirred. This is the perfect recipe to felt yarn or roving ... heat plus agitation will definitely give you felt.

Truth is that the yarns and spinning fibers at this level of the market have already been washed a couple of times. They may not have been scoured, but all that is needed to remove residual lanolin and spinning oils is a couple of hot baths. I plunge my yarn into a warm bath and let it soak for about 20 minutes, then gently squeeze water from the skein and repeat until the water is no longer milky looking.

The same treatment is used for roving, but more care has to be taken when lifting heavy wet roving from a bath so that it does not tear or mat together. Just put your hands under the roving, down in the bath, and sort of gather it together while it is still in the water. You may even want to drop it into a colander and give a few gentle pushes from the top to get out the water.

If you're using raw fleece or yarns spun from raw roving, yes, they'd need to be scoured, but these yarns are commercially prepared and are a far cry from raw fleece with the dirt, straw and unmentionables found in the fibers. These yarns and spinning fibers do not need to be boiled and stirred at all, just washed or rinsed in a couple of hot baths.

The less rough handling of the fiber, the better your result. Avoid heavy stirring in the pot, or if you cannot contain yourself, be sure to add several extra choke-ties to the skein before you wet it. Same thing goes for roving and spinning fibers: use a gentle hand. If you're doing an open pot method of dyeing, then get a big spatula to lift the fiber in the pot and distribute the color, always taking care not to allow the fiber to support the weight of the rest of the material and the water, which, of course, will pull it apart. Even when dyeing roving, there's no need to smush and push and agitate the color into the fiber at all! Just apply it, gently blot the color into the fiber and let nature/osmosis/color bleeding/heat take its course.

Felted yarn is hard to get into a usable state. It's time to pull out the imaginative ideas to work with felted yarn, and I will leave that concept alone for now. Felted fiber can be saved by working with it to fluff it up, stretching gently in all directions along the length of the roving. Another method is the thigh-thwacking procedure! Yes, a technical term which aptly describes a way to introduce air between the little matted fibers while offering some exercise to the fiber enthusiast at the same time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Black Eyed Susan as Dyestuff


Several people have asked me how I got the yellow/chartreuse color in my recent natural dye experiment. I admit to being too excited to keep records, but will record here what I recall. We only had enough flower heads and about 6 inches of stem and leaves to fill a gallon size freezer bag. These were cut up with scissors, cutting through the thick part of the flowerhead, and simmered in about a gallon and a half of water.
The skein of yarn, BFL Aran-100 grams, had been mordanted the day before with alum/cream of tartar and left in the mordant bath overnight to cool. Excess water was squeezed out before entering the yarn into the dyebath.
However, we had been testing the dyebath as the flower heads and leaves simmered by dipping in little bits of roving. The color was weak, a sort of brownish green, and unattractive, so I decided to add some iron to the pot. Remember, I am a novice at natural dyeing, but I did recall from my classes and reading that iron is a 'saddener' of color and figured that it might give some depth of color to the bath. After dissolving the iron in a small amount of water and then adding that slowly to the dye bath, the yarn was entered into the dyebath.
Immediately I could see that that greeny-brown color was what I was going to get, so I left the yarn in the bath for about 20 minutes, about as long as the flowerheads had steeped in the bath. After cooling, the yarn was dipped into an ammonia bath (about 1/2 cup to 1 quart of water), and the color began to change before my eyes to the yellow/chartreuse color.
Maybe I am having beginner's luck, but all the yarn is turning out just beautifully so far. My next experiment is to try out indigo, but I am afraid of the chemicals used in the indigo vat preparation process. I did find on the Internet a mention of freeze-dried indigo crystals, and tracked down the source to Paradise Fibers. What nice folks! All the literature says that a little goes a long way, but I didn't know just what measurement 'a little bit' was, so I ordered 10 ounces... which looks like a lot to me. That will be my next effort.
At the end of August, I am going to an indigo dye weekend at John C Campbell Folk School in southwest North Carolina. I am meeting up with The Accidental Knitter, after a long correspondence. I am sure we'll be doing the entire indigo process at the Folk School, and can't wait to have someone show me what it is truly all about. Should be a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Natural Dye Experiments


Today I declared a 'play day' and, with a friend, dyed up four pounds of wool. She is a spinner and did some Blue Faced Leicester roving, and I dyed 100gr skeins of BFL Aran. Attached is a picture of the colors we got out of cochineal, logwood, and Black Eyed Susans flower heads. The flower bath was very light and we added some tin, then some iron, then rinsed in ammonia.
The yellow came from that mixed bath, beautiful accident that it is! The almost-blue is logwood with an afterbath in ammonia. The different pink shades came from successive exhaust baths of the cochineal.
We just didn't have enough flower heads, and only got one nice skein from that bath. But the yellow is very nice. This is how we learn. I admit to being so excited over the process that we absolutely forgot to take notes!
I am taking the advice of my natural dye teachers, Carol Wood & Debbie McCrea, and am raiding the onion bins of the skins every time I go to the grocery store. This, in hopes of achieving a nice yellow from an onion skin bath.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My Sister's observations from Scotland...


The scenery observed either from a train or bus window or from Shank's mare was new and striking whether it was a sharp cliff diving right into the sea or inland hills that were like restless seas with lots of "moutons" or sheep, according to the French appreciation of whitecaps - but in this case, the sheep were real! They were everywhere. Indeed, they have the priority of the roads on the Isle of Skye! (Apparently the naughty English tried to discourage rebellion from the islanders at an earlier epoch and displaced many of them by putting sheep on the land.) In any event, I have never rented a car with an emergency kit composed of a camera to take photos of damage in the event I hit a sheep (i.e. damage to the car; the sheep that refused to share the narrow roads with me did look as if they might walk away from the collision).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vogue Knitting's revamped website

Here is a link to Vogue Knitting's recently revamped site. Some very beautiful patterns, great instruction, and excellent inspiration ...
http://www.vogueknitting.com/vkm/

Podcast Interview of My Customer, PigeonRoofStudios

One of my regular customers, Krista of PigeonRoofStudios, was interviewed by the StashandBurn podcast folks. She gave Wool2Dye4 such a nice plug (around minute 28 ... of Episode 22 ...) that I had to include the link: http://www.stashandburn.com/



It is so very much fun for me to hear my customers' voices, see them on TV, or to read about them in the interviews and shows in the media. Little by little people begin to tell me things about their personal lives and how it affects their art. I hear who just had an operation, who recently lost her mother, who moved into a better lighted space, who is pregnant, who overcame their fear of starting a business, who spoke at a big show ... on and on. It always surprises me to realize that my customers represent all ranges of the fiber arts world. AND I have to say that we are a pretty mellow and understanding group of folks.



Thank you, Krista, for the plug! Now, here's one for you:
This is a link to PigeonRoof Studios Etsy store: http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=71825

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My First Natural Dye Day at Home


After that wonderful workshop at MAFA just after July 4th, I shaved the Lilly of the Valley bed and made up a dyepot. Attached is a picture of three batches which came out of the base of Lilly of the Valley. Yarns for 1, 2, and 3 were pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar. Batch 2 had cochineal added to it, and 3 had iron added. Some were dipped in an afterbath of ammonia, which deepened color in most cases, and turned one skein yellow.


Then, I was so happy out in my yard cooking up colorful yarn that I cast my eyes about and just couldn't picture any of my other garden plants winding up in the pot. I ran upstairs and ground up 3/4 of a pound of good Latin American coffee, and came up with some wonderful browns. Batch 4 was dipped in ammonia afterbath, and 5 was just the exhaust. You'll notice some are brighter than others, and those are superwash yarns.


I did attach a picture to the former entry where I wrote about the MAFA class with Carol Wood and Debbie McCrea. Check out the samples!

Monday, July 09, 2007


MAFA Workshop -- Natural Dye

I am back from a wonderful workshop put on by MAFA (Mid-Atlantic Fiber Arts) and held in northern Pennsylvania at Merrywood University. My teachers were Carol Wood and Debbie McCrea, and there could not have been two more talented and enthusiastic examples of dye artists.

We created 64 different colors, using 50 gram skeins. The dyestuffs were onion skins, cutch, brazilwood, osage orange, weld, logwood and indigo. Carol and Debbie had already done the mordant phase in preparation before the class began. Each of the dye pots had 3 skeins done in alum, chrome and tin, and from there the skeins went off to be overdyed in other pots, or to be dipped in either vinegar or ammonia. Without the skeins being marked with a code and matched to their chart, I can see that we seven students would have been confused easily.

Maybe that chart represented one of the valuable lessons of the workshop. Taking notes and keeping yourself organized is absolutely essential in a big experiment using so many different dye stuffs and mordants. We had each, at the instruction of our teachers, brought with us one gallon of our own tap water and did individual experiments to see the difference between our tap water vs. the use of distilled water. That was an opportunity to weigh out the tiny amounts of mordants, and I was glad to get that chance. I think that my fear of natural dyeing has always been about measuring some of the elements used in the process, but this experiment took the fear away entirely.

After all was dyed and dried, we tied samples to a tipcard so we can always see and fondle our results. The tip card, by the way, was coded to the chart used to direct the skeins to this pot or that dip in the actual dye process.

I bought copper, alum, cream of tartar and iron (as mordants). Also, sawdust from brazilwood and osage orange, cutch, cochineal to start my own experiments. Perhaps my new dyeing friend, Lara, and I will grow in our skills as Carol and Debbie did as they began to dye together. At least that's the plan!

On the last evening, our class participated in the fashion show. We all wore black and draped ourselves in the skeins and in three silk scarves which we had also dyed during the workshop. We walked up on stage and struck poses, with our backs to the audience, and on Debbie's count of three turned to face the audience and reveal the colorful splendor of our skeins and scarves. For some reason we all were working the mental image of The Supremes! What a roar of laughter and a sea of smiling faces met our performance. Lightbulbs flashed, applause spread across the room! We were a hit!

Well, Debbie and Carol were the hits. They are just terrific. I would take another class from either or both of them in a flash.

One of my classmates is sending digital pictures to all who participated, so when that arrives, I will post it with these paragraphs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Superwash method

One of my customers recently wrote to me about the superwash process. Basically, this is a chemical application applied to wool fiber and it essentially strips away some of the cells lining the shaft of each fiber, leaving it exposed. This means that the little cells which line the fiber shaft will not rub against each other and catch, causing felting or fulling. Also, since more of the actual shaft is exposed, a superwash yarn will be a more vibrantly dyed fiber.

What was so interesting about this email was that my customer had attended a lecture at Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival about fiber processing. The speaker said that there was a superwash process which individuals could actually at home in their washing machines. Then, they said it was a government secret. I couldn't get if this was a joke or not! BUT if you know about such a process, please, please let me in on this secret!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ALMERINO = Alpaca + Merino






Almerino is a soft yarn blend of baby alpaca and merino -- luscious! These five colors are closeout yarns, packaged 10 wound balls to a bag. They come in two weights: ARAN, with 533 yds per package and DK, with 615 yds/pkg. This is a one-time purchase and I was not able to secure many of them, so if you want them, check out the details on the SPECIALS page of the website, or email your question to info@wool2dye4.com.
Note made on July 25, 2007: I have taken these yarns off the website, but they are still available. The cost is $10 per bag, and the reason for the low price is that there are little knots in this yarn every 20 yards or so. It is a wonderful yarn, but the knots might put people off. I am doing a sweater in the Sugared Almond blue, and the knots are easy to hide on the wrong side. If you are interested in this soft, yet slightly flawed yarn, email me.
The colors are Grape, Custard, Strawberry Cream, Gooseberry, and Sugared Almond. They are spun in England.
So! give yourself a little rest and knit up something very nice in these comforting colors.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Further reading on the Merino shortages

To read further about the shortage, follow this link:
http://www.wool.com.au/Trade_News_and_Media_Releases/Media_Releases/page__7561.aspx

More on Australian Merino availability

In an earlier post, I wrote about an Australian fiber artist who publishes a magazine (called Yarn Magazine) and writes extensively about yarn from the ground up, so to speak. We exchanged emails about my questions on the shortage of Australian merino, and she posted my letter on her blog.
There were many comments in reply to that entry, and most concerned two issues: the droughts, which have affected the feed available for the flocks, and the fact that Australians are not marketed to as a viable merino customer base. Here is the link to that blog for a broader view of the merino situation:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Interweave's State-by-State Directory

Every once in a while, a customer writes to me asking if I know of a knit shop near their home. This week, someone was moving, so I forwarded a link to Interweave's Traveling SourceBook. Here is the link for your own use:

Testing new Merino


Lately I have been widening my search for the perfect sock yarn, and am testing three new superwash merino yarns. Some of my regular customers have volunteered to serve on this Yarn Review Board, and have sent excellent comments to help me make the decision.
The reviewers' comments are fascinating, and it turns out that the way we each define the perfect sock yarn is slightly different, yet has some basic similarities such as weight, roundness of yarn, and whether it splits when knit.
Look for a summer announcement of a new line of superwash merino. Once the votes are in, my business will import enough for all of us. One of the qualities of the perfect sock yarn for me is availability year round!
Comments are always welcome.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sheila's Basic Sock Pattern

A Word about Socks

My favorite sock needle is the 12" Addi Turbo circular in size 2. I cast on and rib, back and forth, for about an inch, then join the ends by switching the first and last stitches. Then it's round and round, in any pattern. Staying with the same circular needle at the gusset, I increase one stitch at both side markers, every other row until I like the depth of the heel. To turn the heel, I just move directly to the center back, and begin the short rows. Neat and easy! When it's time to decrease for the toe, I switch to two 24" circulars, positioning the stitches so that the decreases fall in the center and not at the edges. To end, reposition the stitches one more time on the 2 circulars, and turn the sock inside-out for a three-needle bind off. A sock is a small engineering project!

Back to shipping by USPS

Ok, I tried UPS and learned lots, but am returning to the good old Postal System for shipping most orders by Priority Mail. The difference in price and delivery time is the deciding factor, and when some of my good steady customers began to complain of delayed delivery, I was pushed to make a decision.

One thing I did learn is that shipping to Canada is so very much easier with UPS than with the US Postal System. In the future, I'll ship all orders to Canadian customers by UPS Standard service.

For US customers, I am back to Priority Mail. It's a good service, but I had been avoiding the bad mood of my pickup man and was loading and unloading each day's orders. The business has grown so much in the past year that shipping had begun to take up most of the day, and that loading and unloading became a chore.

Begining tomorrow, I will steel myself for any bad moods with my local pickup man, and return to shipping by USPS Priority Mail.

PS on May 11, 2007
A few Canadian customers have emailed me and one responded below (see comments) that UPS is not a good option for them because of the duty they must pay. I have always felt a flush of guilt roll over me when I have to charge Canadian clients the postage. It is outrageous! Your emails and comments help so much as I try to serve this customer base efficiently. This is how we learn. Thank you for letting me know.

I was looking for a way to avoid a trip to the Post Office to stand in line. I have just signed up for Carrier PickUp and will ask if I can just hand over Canadian packages in the future.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Interweave KNITS Features Socks, summer 07

The latest issue of Interweave's KNITS magazine arrived this week. Happily, there are three -- count them! -- articles on sock knitting, all by Ann Budd. She is a designer whom I would love to meet. So creative, Ann Budd writes in a clear and conversational style, practical designs.

There is also a review of six sock knitting books by Clara Parkes, also a wonderful writer and entrepreneur/founder of Knitter's Review.

I am still fascinated by the question of which hand-dyers were interviewed for the fall issue of Knit Simple. This is a Vogue publication. It is wonderful to see the big time money folks at Vogue giving the nod of recognition to independent hand-dyers. If anyone has any inside info on the artists' work featured in this issue, please tell all!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

YOU-TUBE Video features Yarn!

This link to a You-Tube video was sent to me by Ann McCauley, author and teacher of knitting nationwide. It is delightful!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Folk Life at Pharsalia Plantation April 07



This picture is of Judy Adams, a friend and talented fiber artist, who accompanied me to Nelson County Days on Saturday where we were costumed and fit to create a little folk ambiance, sitting outside the spinning and weaving house. On Sunday, another friend, Ann Vonnegut, brought wool from her Leicester sheep and she spent the day spinning and inviting people to dip their hands into sacks of raw wool 'in the grease' and then into some cleaned and combed rolags. This all happened at a folk life festival held at one of the last remaining intact plantations in Virginia. I always think it is interesting that men seem willing to try their hand at weaving a throw or two, or at mastering the drop spindle. Several boys took to the drop spindle in lots less time than I did!

You might notice that the gentleman at the loom has on a red/maroon remembrance ribbon, and this is because the festival happened just 6 days after the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Nearly everyone in central and southwest Virginia has a connection of some sort to this school. If your dog or horse is sick, you cart them off to the veterinary school at Virginia Tech. If you need your soil tested, you send it to them. My uncle graduated from that school, and I graduated Radford, just 10 miles away, and at that time known as the women's division of the university. This part of Virginia is a Tech football bastion, and just across the historic James River begins the emotional loyalty to the University of Virginia's Cavaliers. We have attachments to one or both of these schools.
The day of the folk life festival at Pharsalia, I noticed many outfits in the crowd which were put together in variations on the red/maroon Va Tech colors, a reminder of truly awful things while we sat and wove and spun and talked to passers by, all in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside a gracious Southern plantation house perfectly set on a knoll and overlooking hundreds and hundreds of acres of apple orchards, pastures laid out logically to allow movement of cattle across the land, two creeks cutting through the pastures with walnut and locust trees overhanging the bends and curves.

It was a mixture of old and new in so very many aspects.

It occurs to me to tell anyone reading this and who may not have been to Virginia, other than a quick pass-through on the north/south routes, I-95 and I-81, or the east-west Interstate route 64, that this is one of the states in our country where a bit of the old colonial history lies around the next corner. I have lived in Virginia, Italy, Mexico, California, and finally made my way back to Virginia again, and I absolutely love it. I know my roots are in Virginia. Running through my town, the James River winds its way to Richmond in one direction, and through mountain passes to eventually join the New River in the other direction. Every single time I cross the river, I say out loud in my car -- no matter if I am alone, or driving Mr. PeeWee to the dog groomer -- I say, "Ja-a-a-a-mes River!" I love saying that. Sometimes I get a quick flash of a memory of the grade school stories of children walking along a corduroy road to school, or think of the bateau festival that starts here in Lynchburg and winds it's way, literally, to the capital of Virginia, Richmond, when, during that two weeks, the boatmen-and-women are reliving a part of our country's early history, every town and village along the way comes out to greet the floating boats, or to put them up in tents on their land along the banks of the James.
If you come to Virginia -- and you must! -- please get off the interstates and drive the old roads because that is where you will see bits and pieces of history, preserved and lived in every day life. When I stopped at a country store after the festival, wearing my colonial dress and apron and bonnet, and walked along oiled pine floors creaking beneath my feet, made my way to a cooler in the back to buy a Starbucks Double Shot drink, no one looked at me twice. I could have been wearing my usual jeans, but my colonial costume somehow did not raise any interest at all. And suddenly, all those yards and yards of fabric getting in my way and wadding between my knees every time I moved, seemed a perfectly natural dress to wear on a late Sunday afternoon in the mountains.

All of this to say that our crafts are pieces of the old ways, our movements are remembrances of women and men who made those same movements and wove and spun and knit and dyed and sheared and combed wool and nursed new little lambs sometimes to health and sometimes not. What we do is important. Every time we turn towards these fiber arts, we are a little tiny representation of a living folk life festival, all to ourselves.








Friday, April 20, 2007

UPS, Here I Come!

Starting next week, I am going to try out USP as my shipper. Getting out the orders in late afternoons has become a real rush, and so I signed up for a retail UPS account. This way I can leave packages outside the studio door and not have to stand in line at the Post Office.

For the next month, then, I will be using UPS ground service for shipping the orders, unless the mailing address is to a post office box. In that case, I'll continue with USPS Priority Mail.

At this point I cannot accurately compare the costs of shipping between UPS and USPS, but if it does prove to be cheaper -- as UPS assures me! -- the shipping costs will be changed on the website.

Hopefully, this will put a stop to the mad afternoon rush to ship and the frustrations of wasting time standing in line. I will give UPS a one month trial and if all goes well, will change over to them permanently.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

American Bald Eagle: Live camera shots

I know, I know that I say all of the posts on this blog will be about Wool2Dye4, but today I make one exception ... the American Bald Eagle's nest at the Norfolk (Virginia) Botanical Gardens. This is a link to a live camera trained on a nest of three, and it is fascinating. I don't know how long the link will be active, but here it is for now.

New! Superwash Blue Faced Leicester Roving


I am expecting an order any day now from England and the Blue Faced Leicester folks. This time I am trying out the BFL Roving in Superwash.


Several spinners of sock yarn have been asking for superwash BFL rovings, and now we have it. It will soon be posted on the website, but until then, just email me (SheilaMahone@wool2dye4.com) to order.


Cost: $25 /pound.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Knit Simple magazine Features Hand Dyers!

I was recently contacted about advertising in Knit Simple magazine's upcoming issue, and am happy to report that they are featuring hand-dyes in the Fall issue. Here is the blurb for that issue of Knit Simple ...


TO-DYE-FOR KNITS You won’t be able to resist these classic sweaters in delicious yarns from the industry’s best hand-dyers.

Now, which hand-dyers would a Vogue publication consider 'the industry's best hand-dyers?'
Is it you?

P.S. on May 10th ...
Just found out that Lorna's Laces is one of the featured dyers for this issue!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Kona Fingering is coming .. I promise!

Today I heard that Kona Fingering is soon to be on it's way to Wool2Dye4. Hooray! When it arrives, I will take the blocked order key off the website, and insert a message across the top of HOME page (where the messages crawl across the page). It's been a long wait for this merino from Australia, and we have all been faced with either changing our choice of wool, or learning to wait. BUT the good news is that it will be here in about a week.

Many customers decided to swap their backorders for Kona Fingering for the new BFL Ultra! yarn, and I am hearing back from them that they love the Blue Faced Leicester. Thank you to everyone who was so gracious through the backorder wait. Let's see ... that would be everyone except for one person who seemed unable to wait and needed someone to blame. That, of course, turned out to be me!

Emails: Help me Identify you

Here's a simple request and one which will absolutely help me out. When you write with a specific request, please sign your emails with your first and last names. Many times customers have creative email addresses which have nothing to do with their names, and they sign their emails with their first name only.

This will save me searching through old emails trying to find a place where you might, just might, have given me your full name. Or, worse, searching through PayPal to match your email address to a name. If you are requesting that I send you something, please give me your address in the original email. That helps!

This simple act will save me hours!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Compare dyed / undyed Konas & BFL Ultra! yarns

One of the most frequent questions I get from new dyers is about the thickness of the yarns, so I thought I would post a picture of the three most popular sock yarns side-by-side. The top two are the Kona yarns. Yellow is the DK/light sport weight; green is Kona Fingering. Pink is BFL Ultra!

All three are superwash yarns.
All three bloom/expand/fluff up when dyed or given a very hot bath.

Kona Fingering has 2,240 yards per pound, and is a 2-ply.
Kona Superwash has 1,120 yards per pound, and is a 4-ply (Basically double the weight and plies of the Fingering)
BFL Ultra! has 1,900 yards per pound, and is a 3-ply.

Kona Fingering and Kona Superwash are merino yarns from Australia.
BFL Ultra! is Blue Faced Leicester from England.

Which one you choose depends on your preferences. I have read in people's blogs who have written that the BFL Ultra! is thinner than the Kona Fingering, and I'd disagree with that observation. The difference in yards per pound is one clue, but the most telling difference is in the number of plies. Kona Fingering is actually much more loosely twisted than BFL Ultra! making it not as firm and round a yarn.

I know I keep talking about round firm yarns because it is important to understand how a yarn will act when knit into fabric. Round firm yarns give more detail to the stitches, especially if there are cables or ribs involved. Also, the fabric itself has a better hand.

Of course, it all comes down to personal preference. Price may figure into the equation, too. Remember, though, you pay for what you get, and while the BFL Ultra! is a little more expensive than Kona Fingering, it is a different breed, a different ply, a different twist.