Friday, June 26, 2009

Sock Summit puts their handdyers to the test!

Sock Summit -- what a great name! -- has grown exponentially into a huge machine. Now, they've come up with a terrific contest. Not for just any dyer, but for dyers associated with the event itself. This includes the organizers -- who number among the Who's Who of our fiber arts worls -- the vendors, advertisers, etc. Here is some must-read material on the contest.

... and, if you are a Ravelry member, log on and then check out this thread ...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Haven't heard of Ravelry?

Several times I have mentioned that my blogging time started to get eaten up by Ravelry. What I have been reminded of recently is that everyone in the world has probably heard of blogs, but not everyone in the world has heard of Ravelry. So, to clarify ... Ravelry is an online community devoted to knitting and crochet enthusiasts. For me, this includes handdyers of my natural wool yarns, and especially sock knitting affectionados.

On Ravelry, there are groups created by either individuals or companies. One of my customers told me about Ravelry, and so I checked it out only to discover that it was in beta version, and that there was a couple month wait to get accepted into the fold. Someone must have contacted the folks at Ravelry, because we received an invitation to join as a potential group moderator for Wool2Dye4. So, we jumped to the front of the line, became a member of the online knitting community and started a group called Friends of Wool2Dye4.

Amazing. Just amazing amount of contacts immediately began to fly back and forth. I had a quick look around the site, and quickly found out that it is like any large group of many people with varied interests and that discussions could quickly turn to things other than wool. For me, the value in maintaining a group was not to discuss cooking, children, navel gazing, or --worse! -- politics and religion. No. Immediately I decided to guide the discussions, as much as possible, to be on-topic .. the topic being my yarn, right?

People's personalities come out in informal little posts. Their humor, their approach to business, to the scope of their businesses, to what they consider a lot or a little business, method, etc. '

It's fun. I like logging on and seeing the discussion of my yarns, the expected new yarns on the delivery schedule, suggestions for yarns and fibers to add to the lineup. Last summer when my British Wool supplier came to work with me for a week, we held a quasi Cyber Open House on Ravelry on a July Sunday afternoon. I was so surprised that within just the one hour of our Open House, we had more than 100 posts back and forth. It was exhilarating to be tapping away, the two of us sitting side by side, and calling out, 'Hey, I'll get this one!' and 'Oh, look who it is!' We truly did have almost instantaneous interaction with some people halfway round the world.

But, of course, it is not all fun and games. Like last month, for instance, I had the brilliant idea that I did not want to carry spinning fibers any more on the Wool2Dye4 website. There were very good reasons, which do not need to be repeated because I was called down good and proper. My customers practically told me that they were disappointed in me.... a sure way to get my attention. They had their say both on Ravelry and in personal eMails, which, I may say, were even more pointedly worded than the publicly posted Ravelry discussion. And, yes, I backtracked and am still carrying spinning fibers. What else could I do? In a way, I was irritated that I couldn't do what I wanted to do, and in another very big way, I was proud that so many people felt so strongly about the site and the products that they had to resort to strong language to make their point.

Ravelry is good for my business, and I buy adversing, of course, and also support the owners' efforts by sending a small gift of cash every once in a while. A sort of general 'thank you' for the opportunity to interact with my customers, to get to know them better, to see pictures of their dogs and cats and kids and hubbies. And of their knitting, their dye jobs on my wool, their designs. Many times a customer will write a private eMail to find out more about a wool or when new stock is expected, or just how a particular fiber reacts to a method or expected wear. And, many of these eMails end with, 'Whatever did we do before Ravelry?' Must say that Ravelry has given me a chance to get to know my customers in a way that mere eMails do not afford, and I like it.

There is a down side to almost everything! Maintaining an active group with viable questions and discussions takes an awful lot of time to keep up with! As a result, other forms of communication have suffered, including ... yes, the blog. I was thinking that this will be a good spot to introduce the fiber artists who are supplying the lovely yarns for the new website, Uptown Stitches, in the next weeks. I've started a new Ravelry group, Friends of Uptown Stitches, and am introducing the artists there, but sometimes I worry that I may be preaching to the crowd there.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sheila's Sock is a hit ... and hasn't even arrived yet!

Happily, we ordered Sheila's Sock twice! I thought that the first order would be a nice introductory order, just enough to get a few folks interested in what I think is a great yarn with a great future. Evidently, lots of folks must have had the very same reaction to this 100% superwash in our springy merino, because we have pre-sold the entire first order. All of it! It hasn't even arrived yet, either.

Not to worry, though! We have a nice sized stock order coming the middle of July, and again in August.

This week I am spending my spare moments winding up little butteflies of this yarn so that we can drop them into outgoing orders. Every time I wind up this yarn, I want to fire up the dyepot and try out a full-sized skein, instead of the tiny one I allowed myself to dye for samples. This year definitely looks different when it is dyed and dried! The two firmly twisted plies swell up against each other, giving a nice cabled sort of look.

I will have to wait for the mid-July shipment before I can afford to take some of this yarn out of stock and experiment. Nice stuff, this!

Noted added: June 19, 2009
One of the comments is a question, actually, and it is about Sheila's Sock being presented on cones. Yes! We expect the cones (and more skeins!) mid-July. I will start crowing when I hear they have passed through Customs, and will let all know.

The first shipment of this new yarn came and went within 8 hours! We worked like demons here turning around orders which ate up every single skein. Well, I admit that even though I was shorted 100 skeins from my original order, there was a little package of 4 skeins which I secreted away. At least, I think I did, but will know when things calm down. Corwin, my Studio Assistant, could have parcelled them out. As it was, we had to ask two customers to give up a couple of kilos so that we could make good on our promises to those other folks who expected some of the 100 lost skeins.

That is the way of orders and measures at our end of the market. The entire shipment is weighed within a reasonable margin of the original order. We are lucky that the skeins from this mill are consistently weighed, but in the grand scheme of things, 100 skeins in either direction is to be expected. It's been a couple of years since we pre-sold a new yarn and had to ship every single skein which arrived. I think it was Ultra Merino 3-Ply, the last time this happened.

No worries, though. The next shipment will be here in just a few weeks ... cones and skeins. We are taking pre-orders now on the website, by the way.

Many thanks to all who took the plunge to try the new formulation of our springy superwash merino and on the new size skein.

Monday, June 08, 2009

GreenerShades - more thoughts on these nice dyes ...

GreenerShades acid dyes are a new set of dyes on the market, and I recommend giving them a try. For a list of re-sellers of GreenerShades, follow this link:

I wrote to Greg Driscoll at Still River Mill/GreenerShades, and he gave me more information about their approach to working with dyes and fibers. As owners of Still River Mill, they process all sorts of fibers. Here is some of what he had to say:

"In keeping with our environmentally friendly philosophy, we really try to do things as nontoxicly as possible here in the mill, hence the GreenerShades dyes in the first place. The dyes have been tested on a lot of different fibers, including nylon swimsuits, and they outperform other dyes in most cases. "

(Sheila's note: I wrote to Greg and mentioned that in my experiment I had used some superwash/nylon yarn, and his answer gives us more insight into the reactions of fiber to process. Read on ...)

"Thank you very much for the writeup on your blog and the link on your site. The superwash process is quite toxic, so we don't purchase superwash fibers. The process uses several chemicals to clean the wool and then applies a synthetic resin to essentially glue down the scales of the wool. (This lessens the felting that happens when you wash and dry wool.) This process adds many more dyepoints to the fiber, allowing the fiber to absorb a lot more dye. Hence your deeper shade on the superwash.

The light spots on your yarns are usually caused by the skeins not being clean enough before you dyed them. There is something on the wool and usually it is the oils applied in the spinning process, natural lanolin, or scouring agents that prohibit absorption of the dye."

Friday, June 05, 2009

Greener Shades - Experiment
Still need to do a similar experiment with my old dyes from ProChem, but I did want to post this picture. There are three fibers dyed with each of the nine colors. The little sock yarn on the right side of each bundle is superwash merino with nylon. The middle bundle is regular merino, the mini on the left is Bluefaced Leicester.
As you can see (and please click on the picture to enlarge it and get a better view), there is little to no difference in the colors of the non-superwash fibers (merino and BFL). There is shade change and difference in absorption with the superwash/nylon fiber on a few of the colors: Yellow, Orange, Black, Aqua, Green. By no means is this a scientific experiment, and I think I should do this again. Also, I will push myself to do the same exercise with my ProChem dyed.
All this said, I would not hesitate to use Greener Shades dyes. The colors are vibrant, truly, and since most of us are in the habit of testing before jumping into the dyepot, I think the more intense absorption of the colors listed above can be taken into account when we dye. My mind is not made up, but I have nothing negative to say about Greener Shades.
If anyone else has tried this brand, please speak up!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The new site is open ... ... and we are offering free shipping
through July 31, 2009 to customers within the Continental U.S.
At checkout, enter Coupon Code: W2D4-06.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

I have no idea why the picture is turned sideways, but you can still see that it is a Starter Kit from Greener Shades. The kind folks at Greener Shades sent me this sampler so that I could try the dyes out myself. They are acid dyes which are formulated to be absorbed with greater intensity by the fibers, and to leave less metals in the dyebath which gets integrated into our water system.

Yesterday I did a little test using mini skeins of Bluefaced Leicester and Merino and another of a superwash merino with nylon. My test actually brought up more questions than answers, and I now realize that I have nothing to compare the results to, so it's time to do a test on the regular dyes I normally use, i.e., ProChem, and the same fiber combo. Initially I saw that the superwash with nylon changed hues with the yellow and orange, and absorbed much more dye in the blue and black than the non-superwash yarns. I know that superwash yarns do absorb more color than non-superwash yarns, but I am talking a major difference in the amount of absorbed color.

Using a set of three little measuring spoons with denotations of A Pinch, A Smidgen, and A Dash, I did not follow the set of instructions which came with the samples, but used my old quick and tried routine of a little dye, a splash of white vinegar, a cup of hot water all into a zip-bag and into the microwave for two sessions of two minutes, with a rest in between. Colors were nice and clear, and most of the color was absorbed from the mini-bath.

I will say that my first impression of Greener Shades is that the colors are vibrant and lovely. Ever since the experiment, I have been daydreaming of dyeing up some of the limited British Merino in SW DK and making a one-of-a-kind sweater for next year. Maybe a sleeveless vest, even, since I've picked up Barbara Walker's book, Knitting From the Top, and am becoming obsessed with some of her ideas. She and Elizabeth Zimmerman can just put me into that wonderful zone where ideas flow, there are no dropped stitches, and long swaths of plain knitting go by effortlessly.

Will post a picture of the results of both experiments in the next few days, but wanted to see if anyone else has used Greener Shades with success? They look good, so far. Good enough to have me daydreaming about an Amethyst vest, knit from the top down.

Wish I could remember where I got those little measuring spoons. They come in handy when mixing colors and I recall that I found them just after buying Maryanne Lincoln's book, Recipes from the Dye Kitchen. She is a rug hooker, but that doesn't matter. She is a genius at mixing color, mostly for wool fabric swatches, but wool is wool and her recipes are wonderful. She does mention the TOD brand dye measuring spoons, which are calibrated scoops at both ends measuring down to 1/32 of a teaspoon. Also the Grey brand of spoons which go to 1/128th of a teaspoon! Maybe they are the Grey spoons. If so, I have only this information for the hunt (though the internet will surely yield some better results -- this book was written ten years ago when we didn't think to look on the internet as a natural reaction): Ralph Grey: 4877 Ashworth Road; Mariposa CA 95338. Happy hunting!
Here's a link ... (the tiny ones!)
Found them: