Wednesday, December 12, 2012

my new love

I ordered a new-to-me sock yarn, a superwash merino singles yarn, to try out. It is 4 oz and 450 yards of pure sexy. I think I am in love.

I think its extra luster comes from being a singles yarn--there are no shadows from the plying to disrupt the glow. I have known many singles yarns in various weights and fiber blends, but I don't love any of them, not even the silk blends, the way I feel about this one.

I know this is just the honeymoon stage, after dyeing just two skeins of a new base yarn. But it's hard not to share my new infatuation.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

why I sell on Etsy

For several months now, I've been running high monthly bills at my Etsy shop. Why, do you ask, do I continue to sell there? Especially when there is a perception among some that Etsy is so contaminated by amateurs that everyone who sells there is tainted?

Right now, it is about economics. Does a move away from Etsy to a standalone site pencil out? No, it doesn't for me, and here's why.

It is darned expensive to set up a standalone site, if you want a good design and a reliable cart. The firms I've  been checking out are $4000 - $6000 to set up a site. (Some also retain copyright and require you to pay a licensing fee to use their design work, which as a former communications consultant, I find absurd--this is a work-for-hire situation, and I should not be required to license work that I am already paying them to do.) I admit it, I'm a design snob, and I want a beautiful site, not something slapped together because I couldn't afford what I actually wanted.

Finding a cart whose software won't crash under a heavy load is no simple matter, either, if one's business is popular enough to need a server that can function under a crushing stampede of shoppers. I've noticed some well-known dyers use Shopify as their cart. Note their pricing: their cheapest option is $30/month plus a 2.0% transaction fee. At last month's sales level, which was my personal best to date, yes, I would have saved money. Other months, not so much.

Despite its problems (hello, resellers who undercut those who are truly making items by hand), Etsy really works well for my current situation. Their financial success is tied directly to their sellers' success (because they make money off of seller fees), so they have a powerful incentive to keep their site up and running. When there is downtime, they jump on it immediately and get it fixed, so top-notch technical support is included in my fees, and I don't have to nag them about it. The back end of the store is great--uploading listings is simple, the order history is well-organized and logical, and they even offer first-class international shipping at no charge other than postage.

Most importantly, the shoppers are there. If I took my shop off of Etsy, I would spend at least as much money on advertising to drive shoppers to my site. To say nothing of the design time that I would need to devote towards developing fresh ads. I am fortunate in that I have Adobe Creative Suite (the industry standard for graphic design) and know how to use it, and that I have experience with creative, copywriting, and ad buying. Even so, it takes me time to come up with a good ad and to design it--a minimum of two to three hours. Yes, I could outsource it, but even at an underpriced $50 design fee per ad, right there I am spending a substantial portion of my monthly Etsy bill.

I recently met someone whose mother sells on Etsy. In her biggest month this year, she spent $700 on Etsy fees. Steep? Oh, yes. But during that same time period, she had 10 sales on her standalone site.

When I hit 1000 sales on Etsy, I'll start looking at selling on my own more seriously. I think at that point, I'll be comfortable that I have a customer base that will follow me. For now, I'm happy to leave the admin side and much of the marketing to them, and focus on what I like to do best: dyeing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

quick update

Just a quick note to say that I was gone for a week (at Disneyland, more in a later post, I hope) and have spent this past week catching up. Pulling at Strings club has been dyed and shipped, I'm Your Huckleberry club orders are dyed and drying, and monthly fiber club is up next.

Also, I've released a couple of spots for the monthly fiber club, so if you've been waiting for a chance to get in, here it is!

Monday, October 8, 2012

I'm a winnah!

After seeing a Ravelry post, I entered a giveaway for the latest issue of Spin-off, Interweave's spinning magazine. It was at the blog of Joanna Johnson, author of Phoebe's Birthday.

Much to my astonishment, I won! That's Joanna's gorgeous handspun shawl, A Gift from Laurel, on the cover of Spin-off in the photo below. Joanna was kind enough to include a few other goodies, too, including some Phoebe cards and issues of Piecework and Knit Scene, neither of which I'd read before.

Thank you, Joanna!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

back in the old days

Before I had a baby and got back into knitting and then started dyeing and had fiber devour my mind, house, and career, I did a lot of training with my dog, Connor.

Rocket Dog

He is some sort of sheepdog mix (Briard? bearded collie?) that we adopted from the pound. Best dog ever. Sweet, friendly, smart, and eager to please. And fast.

We did competition obedience for a while and earned our novice titles, in organizations that let All-American dogs compete (which reminds me of my Fourth of July post and how it's interesting that All-American is the term for mixed breeds, in counterpoint to how purists of every sort seem to be dominating the airwaves these days, but never mind that), but his true love is agility. We competed in a lot of trials and quite frankly, we were a sucky team. He would get so excited and his brain would turn off, and I would get completely frustrated because he wasn't listening to me. Coming home from our last trial in Canada, when I was seven months pregnant, the customs agent asked me how the trial had gone. I actually burst into tears.

So then I was busy with other things and honestly, the last summer of competition had been too frustrating for me to be very excited about trialing again. In agility, you either qualify or you don't, and we'd missed a lot of Qs by not very much. It was worse than blowing the runs entirely.

We still went out and did it for fun once in a while, and we did our local club's trial several years ago. But the dog is getting old now, and last summer we didn't do any agility at all because he was limping. I thought his competition days were long over. But this summer, I took him out a few times, and he was better than ever. A lot of it has to do with parenting--my style now is to adapt to the dog, instead of trying to force him to adapt to me.

So I entered my 12-year-old dog in a trial last weekend. Our old friends were delighted to see us. Connor was beyond thrilled to be back in the ring. And we were much better than we'd ever been before. Still not always clean--we missed the Q on this run by one fault--but our last run of the day (after my husband had taken the child and the camera home) was perfect. My elderly dog ran a jumpers course (all jumps, no other types of obstacles) with a standard course time of 32 seconds in 18.55 seconds. Old man still has it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

cool news

I'm not exactly sure how it ended up being October already. I can't remember a lovelier September.  Kiddo and I played hooky a lot of afternoons and went swimming, which is usually not to be thought of after Labor Day, but when it hits 80 and you know that many months of dreary cloudy weather are looming, what else is a girl supposed to do?

And there was a fair bit of dyeing of course, because I was a vendor at Oregon Flock and Fiber. Love that show, and the weather was particularly perfect this year. I saw lots of friends and long-time customers, I got to spend a little time in the Willamette Valley, and this year I had the extra bonus of seeing my non-yarny (I know) friend Lisa, who recently moved to the area. Here are a couple of pics of my booth:

2012 Oregon Flock & Fiber booth

2012 OFFF booth

(Oops, pretend that you don't see all the clutter under the table.)

Speaking of OFFF, I saw Lorajean of Knitted Wit and met Brooke of Sincere Sheep there. Have you heard about their Among Friends club?  They invited me to join them for their Best of the Northwest kit, along with Georgia of Yarn Pirate and designer Chrissy Gardiner. Gorgeous yarn inspired by the glorious Pacific Northwest, a beautiful pattern, and signature goodies from the region--this is going to be an awesome box. Signups close in less than two weeks, so order yours while you can.

In other cool news, my yarn will be featured in a couple of upcoming publications. The one I can tell you about is Needles and Artifice, which will be published (soon!) by Cooperative Press. You can visit the Ladies of Mischief blog for a sneak preview.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Summer of Fiber Fortune: this week's winning numbers

This week’s winning numbers are:

10% discount: 38

free shipping: 49

$5 discount: 17

It's hard to believe there's only about 10 days left until Labor Day. I haven't felt that crispness in the air yet, so I'll pretend I didn't see my first hint of autumn foliage today, and that summer will never end. I had a hard time relaxing into summer this year; I'm going to try to make up for it in the next 10 days.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer of Fiber Fortune: winning numbers for week #8

This week’s winning numbers are:

10% discount: 77

free shipping: 39

$5 discount: 81

I feel like has a distinct bias towards numbers in the 70s and 80s. I don't know why that is.

It's 86 degrees here today, which is freakishly hot for around here. We're off to swim in the river for the rest of the afternoon!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer of Fiber Fortune: double batch of winning numbers

Just a reminder that club signups close today. I have one fiber spot left, but several yarn spots. Colorway selections are dyed and drying, and will be mailed out later this week.

Now, onto the winning numbers. I wanted to make sure that people saw the blog post that the club was back open, so I decided to do a double drawing of winning numbers this week instead of bumping my club post down.

10% discount: 49, 63

free shipping: 6, 2

$5 discount: 60, 43

I have plans to get up tomorrow at 6 a.m. to go bicycling, since this was supposed to be the summer I got back into shape and it's almost over. It's going to come awfully early.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I'm Your Huckleberry Club now open

After a brief hiatus due to my summer schedule, the I'm Your Huckleberry Club is open again! When designing it, I thought about what I'd personally like in a club, and at the top of the list was flexibility. So you'll find lots of choices--which colorway you want, what kind of yarn or fiber you want, and how you want to pay for it--in this club. It's your yarn, your way.

Here are the details for the club:
  • Each shipment will have two colorway options, a variegated and a semi-solid (which will usually coordinate with the variegated option).
  • Shipment will be one skein of yarn or braid of fiber of either colorway, plus the option to choose additional skeins of either colorway.

  • You can choose from 3-6 base yarns or 2-4 base fibers, which will vary with each installment. For simplicity, the clubs are listed below as either yarn or fiber, but you can switch back and forth each month, and I will adjust your credit balance/amount owed accordingly.

  • No patterns or other non-fiber items. I’d rather keep prices lower instead of including swag that people might not want.

  • Shipments will be every other month, with an initial subscription period of 6 months. This comes to a total of 3 skeins/braids over six months.

  • Billing can either be per individual installment, or a total upfront for a discount. Additional skeins will be billed separately if you choose the upfront option.
The yarn club selections will generally be new colorways, although I may offer existing colorways for the semi-solid option.

The first shipment will be in late August 2012.

Even More Options
If you would like any of the following options, you may select them below.
  1. Pay for your six-month membership all at once, for a discount of approximately 10% (rounded to the nearest dollar).
  2. Upgrade to a luxury base (an additional $5 per month). For fiber, there is also an ultra-luxe option (an additional $10/month). Luxury options will include wool/cashmere and wool/silk blends; ultra-luxe includes either a higher percentage of silk or more exotic fibers such as camel and yak. You can also choose to upgrade/downgrade your base at the time that colorway selections are sent out.
  3. Ship to a destination other than the U.S. or Canada.
If you wish to purchase more than one skein or braid per shipment, you will have that option after seeing the colorways for that shipment. You'll be billed separately at a later time.

Signups are open through the night of Monday, August 6, or until the maximum number of club members has been reached, whichever comes first. PLEASE NOTE: If you live in Washington state and choose to pay in installments, I will need to manually alter your subscription to include sales tax for all three installments, because PayPal doesn't automatically add sales tax to subscription payments.

For the first time, I will be selling the club memberships on my blog, so let's see if I can get all these buttons right. Flexibility means a LOT of buttons--sorry about that!

EDIT: Signups are now closed. Welcome to all the new members!

Yarn Club

Yarn club, payment in full

Yarn club, standard base, US shipping, 3 installments of $27

Yarn club, standard base, Canadian shipping, 3 installments of $28.25

Yarn club, standard base, international shipping, 3 installments of $31.50
Yarn club, luxury base, US shipping, 3 installments of $32
Yarn club, luxury base, Canadian shipping, 3 installments of $33.25
Yarn club, luxury base, international shipping, 3 installments of $36.50

Fiber Club

Fiber club, payment in full

Fiber club, standard base, US shipping, 3 installments of $21

Fiber club, standard base, Canadian shipping, 3 installments of $22.25
Fiber club, standard base, international shipping, 3 installments of $25.50

Fiber club, luxury base, US shipping, 3 installments of $26
Fiber club, luxury base, Canadian shipping, 3 installments of $27.25

Fiber club, luxury base, international shipping, 3 installments of $30.50

Fiber club, ultra-luxe base, US shipping, 3 installments of $31

Fiber club, ultra-luxe base, Canadian shipping, 3 installments of $32.25

Fiber club, ultra-luxe base, international shipping, 3 installments of $35.50

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer of Fiber Fortune: week #5

I've had at least one winner every week, which is very cool! Maybe this week you'll be one of them?

This week’s winning numbers are:

10% discount: 25

free shipping: 38

$5 discount: 23

After endless days, I finally got through my 2 oz batt that I've been spinning into laceweight. It's terrible yarn because I kept waffling between "it needs to be thinner" and "I hate how this is turning out, so I need to spin it thicker to get it over with." Plying was the most tedious experience ever. Ugh.

But now I'm on to my Sally Bill roving. I was a little regretful when I first got it back from the processor because I thought I should have processed it by hand to separate out and maintain the interesting variegation in colors. But when I started spinning it, the charcoal and caramel started peeping through the silver in the singles. Love it. I'm intending to do a 3-ply in a DK weight. I'm spinning it woolen-ish--backward draw of about 3", but with little to no twist in the fiber supply. It is going so fast--I've spun about 4 oz after two nights of spinning, which is super speedy for me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer of Fiber Fortune: winning numbers for week #4

Sorry I'm late this week. This week’s winning numbers are:

10% discount: 76

free shipping: 72

$5 discount: 78

Busy wrapping up a wholesale order and developing new apple colorways. I belong to a group of artisans called Universal Mama, and our August theme is apples. Right up my alley!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer of Fiber Fortune, and BSG recap

Oops, I posted this on my Ravelry group but forgot to also post here. This week’s winning numbers are:

10% discount: 4

free shipping: 36

$5 discount: 90

Kiddo's summer camp schedule didn't start till this week, so I took a sort-of vacation from dyeing the two weeks after BSG. I reorganized the yarn storage/winding room, sorted through my dye jars (why on earth did I have five jars of fuchsia, two of which have never been opened?), and started sales analysis. The sadly-neglected house got some attention, too: I purged my closets, we all got rid of stacks and stacks of books, and the garage got a major overhaul. It's amazing how my mind feels less cluttered, too.

Speaking of BSG, here are some photos:

My booth, the yarn side

Black Sheep Gathering 2012

The fiber side(s)

 Black Sheep Gathering 2012

A gorgeous parasol that Maiya made from some BFL/silk lace that she got from me last year. Isn't it stunning?

 Maiya's parasol with Huckleberry Knits lace

BSG was wonderful, as usual. The organizers always ensure a smoothly running show. And this year, I had rock star helpers who made my weekend completely stress-free. Kathy, Alexis and Val did a fantastic job with setup. And Alison spent most of the show helping me out in my booth, writing up sales and answering spinning questions. At breakdown time, Kathy, Alexis, and Alison got me out the door in a record 40 minutes. (Though I squandered my time savings by getting on the highway in the wrong direction after filling up my car at Costco, boo.) Thank you all so, so much!

This was my third year, and the vendor and customer friends that I've made are a huge part of what I love about it. I feel like the other vendors are basically my co-workers, and the ones who feel the same way and share their knowledge and stories really enhance the sense of community that fiber shows tend to have. Before I started doing shows, I wouldn't have guessed how much I would look forward to seeing my vendor friends on the circuit.

It was pretty soggy for most of the weekend (I was so happy that I got an indoor booth this year) and the Olympic track and field trials had incited most hotels to do a bit of price gouging, so turnout was noticeably lower than usual. Some of my vendor friends also commented that people were buying less per purchase, as well. My own sales went up a bit this year, so I am really grateful to everyone who visited my booth. Thank you for giving into temptation!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer of Fiber Fortune: winning numbers for week #2

This week's winning numbers are:

10% discount: 71

free shipping: 8

$5 discount: 30

I've changed my comment settings for the summer, so you won't need a Blogger account to post here. :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

news flash: you don't have to be white to be an American

This weekend, we went camping with the in-laws. This is normally pretty fun. We were at a lovely place, Lake Wenatchee State Park, the weather was cooperative, and our neighbors were mostly quiet.

But on Saturday night, I had the most enraging conversation that I've had in quite a while. My sister-in-law's 15-year-old stepson said something about all the "foreigners" at the campground.

Slightly unable to believe what I was hearing, I said, "What do you mean, the Canadians?"

"What? You haven't noticed all the Indians, and how they all talk in their funny language?" And he started to make some sounds that apparently he thought sounded like ones heard on the Indian sub-continent.

My blood started to boil. "Just because they're not white, doesn't mean they're not Americans," I said flatly.

"Well, yeah, it kind of does."

Full boil. I leaned over and stared at him. "You want to look me in the face and say that again?"

He stammered, "Um, well, you kind of look white to me."

Dear god. I have not been smacked in the face with such stupidity in a long, long time. I said with a certain amount of disgust, "Just keep digging yourself a deeper hole," and said nothing else to him for the rest of the evening.

He's just a kid and I certainly don't blame him for all the racial problems in this country. Hopefully he was a little shaken up and will do some thinking about his assumptions. Maybe he'll eventually realize that white does not equate better (though of course I am ever so grateful that he thinks of me as white) and that not all true Americans have to have the same color skin that he does.

But I'm pretty sure it was the first time that my son, now 7, has heard the news that white people are better than others. That some people will look at him and only see the color of his skin. And once they've neatly labeled him as Asian (when he is only half), they will then stick him in the foreign/outsider box.

(Digression: this is pretty similar to how many people look at President Obama and never see the white half, just the black half of his parentage.)

Despite being born in this country and speaking English more correctly and precisely than the average America--this grammar nerd's dog does not respond to "lay down," only "lie down"--a fair number of people will take one look at me and assume I am from elsewhere. I thought people were getting less ignorant, though. This exchange used to be pretty common when I was in my twenties:

"Where are you from?"

"Olympia." (where I was living at the time)

"No, I mean originally?"


"No, where are you really from?"

I once got this from an African American man. I said, "Do you know where in Africa you're 'originally' from?" He half-laughed and said, "Of course not. I'm from here." Um, well, why don't you think I'm from "here"?

So really, this is nothing new. It's just that most people don't tell me to my face that I'm not white enough to be an American.

This week, my country celebrates the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. It seems as good a time as any, and better than most, to think about what makes us Americans--and it sure as hell isn't the color of our skin.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer of Fiber Fortune: winning numbers for week #1

This week’s winning numbers are:

10% discount: 52

free shipping: 3

$5 discount: 6

the Summer of Fiber Fortune begins

It's summertime--the season for fun and games! At Black Sheep Gathering last weekend, I kicked off my Summer of Fiber Fortune game. On the back of each yarn/braid label, you’ll find a fortune cookie-style message and three random numbers. All yarn and fiber purchased between now and August 31 will have these labels.

Each week during the summer, I’ll be drawing random numbers for little prizes, like free shipping, $5 store credit, 10% discount, etc. If you’ve got a label with a winning number, send me a photo (or you can post it as a comment on my blog, my Facebook page, or in my Ravelry group), and claim your prize!

All prizes and discount codes must be redeemed by the last day of Oregon Flock and Fiber, Sept 23. They cannot be applied retroactively.

Other fine print: Each winning number can be used once. If a number gets drawn for more than one type of prize, the customer will be able to choose which prize to redeem, but won’t be able to use both (e.g., either free shipping or 10% off, but not both). If she has two winning numbers with different prizes, she can use both. Discounts are not additive, so if you have two numbers for a 10% discount, you can only get 10% off a transaction, not 20%--but you can use your second discount for a second transaction.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

getting ready for Black Sheep Gathering

BSG is this week, and I'm in the homestretch of prep work. In an effort to get more than nine hours of sleep during the 72-hour period before the show, I quit dyeing a few days earlier than normal, in order to do labeling and pricing. It feels utterly unnatural but I'm glad I did it. If I end up with some extra time, I'll dye a little more.

Because I'm already packing, I've taken down the fiber listings from my Etsy store. If you've had your eye on any of the yarn listings, those will be taken down on Tuesday.

I have a super fun game that I'll be launching at BSG. Details this week!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

HBK at Shepherd's Harvest this weekend

I'm buried under wholesale orders right now, so just a quick post to say that my yarn, spinning fiber, and silk hankies will be in Darn Knit Anyway's booth at Shepherd's Harvest this weekend, in Lake Elmo, MN. Wish I could be there, too!

For those of you who can't be there, I've been adding listings steadily to my shop over the past week. More next week, after my wholesale orders are on their way.

Friday, April 27, 2012

new retailer, Yarnover, new listings

In the upper Midwest? Huckleberry Knits has a new retailer: Darn Knit Anyway in Stillwater, MN. They'll be at Yarnover (tomorrow!) and Shepherd's Harvest with my Willow BFL/nylon sock yarn, Cascara MCN fingering, and lots of spinning fiber. And silk hankies!

A few of the silk blends and BFL braids that DKA will have:

I also put up some new Etsy listings today: Polwarth/silk yarn, silk/merino, luscious yak/merino fiber ...

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

thank you, self!

I love it when I put on a jacket I haven't worn in a while, and find money that I'd forgotten about. Sometimes, as a little treat to my future self, I deliberately leave a five or ten in a coat pocket at the end of the season.

A couple of years ago, when I knew I'd be quitting my job sooner rather than later, I bought myself a pair of my favorite Keens, and stored them away for the days when I'd no longer have a steady paycheck and might not feel comfortable about buying nice shoes anymore. I just broke them out a couple of weeks ago, and I love my old self for being so kind and thoughtful.

The latest example: I finally got my current wholesale order to the point where I felt okay about switching gears to working on taxes today. I steeled myself for the tedious task of sorting my PayPal expenses into the various categories--only to find that I'd already done it in January, before I'd even received this current crush of wholesale orders. You have no idea how grateful I was to my January self for having done that.

Now I need to think of something nice to do for myself during my next time crunch. Even though it was just planning ahead, it feels like a friend took time out of her day to think of a wonderful present for me.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

closing the shop for the weekend

I'm vending at the Whidbey Weavers' annual spin-in this weekend (Oak Harbor High School, open to the public from 11 - 1 on Saturday, $15 otherwise for both days, including spinning lectures and clinics). All the fiber at my Etsy is coming with me, and I was going to deactivate only those listings to avoid duplicate sales, but now I'm thinking my head might explode between now and the spin-in, so it might be simplest to just put the entire shop in vacation mode.

Anyway, if you've had your eye on something, now would be a good time to get it, because it may not be there after this weekend.

Look for some fiber listings the second week of April. I'll try to be consistent about listing fiber over the next couple of months, but Black Sheep Gathering is getting ever closer, so listings will probably tail off as we get towards June. Someday I'll have enough stock to both list AND hoard for shows, but today is not that day.

Instead, today is my last day of dyeing before the show, and you can tell. The dyeing plan never survives contact with show week, and there are all sorts of random things in various stages of dyeing scattered about the studio. The clinical observer part of my brain has noticed that the last few days before a show can produce some really interesting colorways. Cleaning up my dye table becomes a low priority, so splatters of color end up juxtaposed that would never have occurred to me otherwise. Leftover dye solutions get mixed together, the wrong dye bottles get grabbed, and oftentimes beautiful, non-reproducible things happen. They get released into the wild at shows, and sometimes that's the last I see of them.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Four Commandments of Dyeing Fiber (Roving)

I have recently been trying to spin some fiber from another dyer, who has a reputation for good fiber prep. And I have to say that I'm a little shocked that people would consider this to be good. Yes, anyone can have a bad day and turn out something that's not up to their usual standard. But I had two braids, and to let two of these slip through the QA process seems like it's a standard rather than an exception.

One braid is a total loss--the felted bits of Wensleydale are knot-like, and despite the gorgeous colors, I've given up on spinning it. Disappointing, because I was looking forward to spinning my first longwool. But hey, maybe it was me, as a newer spinner working with a more challenging fiber.

Because the first braid was a waste of money, I was determined to spin the other braid, which was 100% BFL, a fiber I have dyed hundreds of times and am very familiar with. Imagine my disappointment when this, too, turned out to be difficult to spin. It's technically spinnable after you rip it apart sideways, and I've spun nearly 2 oz of it so far. But it doesn't draft easily at all, and leaves my thumb and forefingers aching for the next day, with tenderness radiating up to my shoulder and neck. I've decided that despite the lovely colors, it's not worth it to me to spin the rest of the braid. I have enough joint problems as it is.

Yes, people are always saying, "Don't spin bad fiber--sheep grow more wool all the time." But the fact of the matter is that buying fiber COSTS MONEY, and when you work hard for it, it's painful to just throw it away.

This experience has gotten me thinking about what I consider to be fiber dyeing rules. Others may dye it differently with great results, but here's what works for me.

1. Thou shalt not touch the fiber when it is hot. When you're intentionally felting/fulling fiber, you put it in the hottest water you can stand, with detergent, and agitate it. When you're dyeing fiber, hot water is unavoidable--it's an essential part of the process (unless you're talking about plant fibers and fiber reactive dyes--totally different process that I don't use). And detergent is present as well, since it helps to open up the fiber and remove the last bits of processing residue. Only the last leg of the felting triumvirate is missing--agitation. KEEP YER HANDS OFF OF IT. I try to avoid even bumping the pot.

How do I define "hot"? Anything higher than room temperature. If it's even a little bit warm, I keep my paws off the pot. Room temperature does vary with the season, and I dye fiber with as much success during the summer as the winter in my unheated garage--so I often try to justify to myself that if it just gets down to about 70, it's okay to rinse. But I talk myself out of it. Cutting corners to save some time often means that I just end up having to redo the whole thing again. It's not a timesaver at all.

2. Thou shalt not rinse too many times. Sad to say, I have (in my opinion) ruined BFL/silk with too many rinses. Last year, I did have a customer who bought one of my seconds at Black Sheep Gathering come and find me at Sock Summit, so that she could tell me that there was nothing wrong with my "second quality" braids. I'm not sure if I'm too picky or if customers are accustomed to doing some yanking and pulling during drafting. But ...

3. Thou shalt err on the side of being too picky. Every time that I'm on the fence about whether something is first quality or not, I throw it in the seconds bin. I think, "If this is the only thing of mine that this customer sees, would I want this to be her or his only impression of my work?" When I put it that way, the answer of what to do is always clear, even if it costs me some money.

4. Thou shalt not dye fiber for wholesale. I do have exceptions to this commandment, as I have retailers who take my product to shows that I can't vend at myself. But generally, when I'm filling a wholesale order, I'm dyeing colorways chosen by someone else, and attempting to match a stock photo. I'm focusing on accuracy, and if an interesting variation or idea pops up, I don't pursue it. By keeping fiber at a retail level, I'm preserving a certain creative freedom that makes me a better dyer.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Apple Yarns order

I'm in the middle of a series of wholesale orders right now, and here's the latest.

Apple Yarns - Jan 2012 order

Click on the photo for a link to my Flickr, where you can see colorway names. This order's for Apple Yarns, here in Bellingham.

In this order, my favorite was Sleeping Bear with Turquoise. This is a very old colorway--I dyed it for Apple Yarns right before the holidays, and it was so popular that she asked for it again. But before that, I can't remember the last time I dyed it. I really like how it came out this time; I'll have to put it back into my regular lineup. Sorry about the flash; it was a little less glare-y in Lightroom.

Sleeping Bear with Turquoise

And this was the runner-up, Mercado. Mercado

Next up on the dyeing list: NW Handspun's Madrona order, Pulling at Strings' February sock club, and a secret sock order. I have a busy few weeks ahead of me!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

taxes: the no-whining edition

I filed my state taxes last night. There was no whining. There was minimal confusion and delay. And they're not even due until next Tuesday.

Could it be that I have finally turned a new accounting leaf? Well, not entirely; my good intentions of downloading and categorizing all my PayPal records on a monthly basis didn't really happen. But I did enter all my wholesale and fiber show sales as they occurred last year, and that was a huge time savings.

Certainly it helped that I was doing this as a full-time, wage-earning business. Nothing motivates you to properly track income like needing to earn your daily bread.

I'm thinking a little more about buying QuickBooks. I find myself wanting to do sales data analysis that would be pretty cumbersome and time-intensive with my current spreadsheet setup. I've asked around and a lot of people think that it's too much program for a business at my scale. I also asked an accountant friend, who loves it. And QB integrates with the Washington Dept of Revenue's sales tax filing requirements (DOR has a database plug-in for QB). That alone might make it worthwhile, if QB has the capacity to tap into the state's GIS database; sorting out my in-state transactions and manually looking up location codes takes me quite a while. If I still have to manually look up the rate by street address, it won't really help, though.

Washington is one of the states participating in streamlined sales tax efforts. This is a multi-state attempt to collect sales tax from out-of-state businesses; so far, two-thirds have signed on, with 24 states that have already switched over to destination-based sales tax. States are losing a huge amount of revenue because of the growth of online sales, which has led in part to the dire financial straits that most of them are currently facing. Because Washington doesn't have an income tax, it's feeling a particular crunch from the decline in sales tax revenues. I have a lot of sympathy for the state budget people; many services that aren't mandated by federal or state law have been cut to the bone. People are getting kicked out of the state health insurance program (which has really stringent requirements; when I first moved to the state and was making $10/hour working part-time, I didn't qualify for any subsidies. But my experience with individual health insurance and my sheer outrage over premiums is a whole other story).

Anyway. The United States is moving towards collecting sales tax for all online sales. I had a horrible no good very bad six-month ordeal with the Illinois Dept of Revenue last year, rectified only after I fired off an email to the agency director (lesson reinforced, girls and boys: always go straight to the top), who to his credit, responded to my message at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night and got it worked out for me in one business day. But if that experience was anything like what I can expect to endure after streamlined sales tax goes into effect, I might be rethinking how I sell yarn.

Monday, January 16, 2012

finding true bromance

Valentine's Day is coming up, so naturally a young dyer's fancy turns to thoughts of ... bromance. At Universal Mama, our theme this month is famous couples, and instead of doing Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, or Romeo and Juliet, I wanted to do something just a little off-kilter.

Over the past year, I've listened to all of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series (sometimes called the Master and Commander series), read by the marvelous Simon Vance. So when I started thinking about bromance, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin were the first to come to mind.

Meet Aubrey--he is a blend of sea greens and blue, with accents of navy (he's a captain in the Royal Navy) and gold (he's nicknamed Goldilocks, or you can prefer to think of it as a stand-in for prize money if you prefer):


And this is my take on Maturin. He was a bit harder to pin down, but I finally decided on this combination of black, charcoal, dusty and earthy browns, and the pale turquoise of the blue-footed booby, his favorite bird:


I've also recently been rereading the Sherlock Holmes stories and books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I watched Sherlock: Season One, a fantastic miniseries produced by the BBC, and it sparked my interest in the stories again. I like the BBC's Watson so much more than the one in the stories, who is really rather dim and more of a narrative device than a believable character. BBC Watson doesn't just let Sherlock's condescension pass (or not always, anyway), and his thirst for action makes him the perfect companion. Love this series, can't wait for Season 2 to get to the US.

This is Holmes--a brooding semi-solid of dusky blue and charcoal:


Watson echoes the same blues and greys, but the addition of several shades of brown and silver makes him a little warmer and more approachable:


It surprised me that Watson and Maturin would be somewhat similar. Watson's more like Aubrey--never mind maneuvers, just go straight at 'em. I thought about substituting a different color for the blue-footed booby in Maturin--I might play around with that a bit more.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

show roundup: Distaff, OFFF, Rhinebeck

Yesterday was NWRSA's St. Distaff's Day spin-in. No icy roads this year, so there were nearly twice as many spinners as in 2011--a guild member told me that there were 275 people who signed in this year, versus last year's 150. As usual with the small events where I've got an hour to set up, I forgot to take photos till pretty late in the day, so I'm afraid I didn't bother at that point. I was cleaned out of Polwarth/silk and silk hankies. I've come to the conclusion that how you display hankies makes a huge difference in how they sell. When I have an outdoor booth, I can't put them out because they fly away, and consequently they just sit there. But lay them out on a table, where people can see the brilliance of the colors, and they all find homes. I'll have to work on that for the outdoor shows.

Mr. Pocket Wheel was there doing tune-ups, so I brought mine and he was able to identify and fix the problem instantly. A very lovely bonus to the show!

It also occurs to me that I never did recaps of Rhinebeck or OFFF, lo these many moons ago. OFFF was so much fun. It has that wonderful atmosphere of camaraderie and fiber cheerfulness that a great show has. Lovely customers, as usual, many of whom came on the recommendations of their friends, which is just so nice.

One of the things I've most enjoyed about being on the show circuit is meeting other vendors, who I usually think of as my co-workers. I find most of them feel the same way--we help one another, share tips, commiserate and celebrate together. At OFFF, I connected with several old vendor friends as well as meeting some new ones, chief among them Bruce of Alana Marketing, my booth neighbor. Bruce used to be one of the co-owners of Lantern Moon, and then recently sold his interest and opened his own import/distribution business. We had a lot of conversations about retailing, working with LYSs, and the administrative/marketing side of running a business. We come at this industry from different angles with interesting intersections. Great stuff--I loved talking with him.

Rhinebeck was fun to attend, and it was great to go to a festival where I wasn't vending so I could actually take classes and see the animals and vendors. I met Ysolda Teague--I didn't realize she'd be there, so it was a happy chance that I was wearing my Vine Yoke cardigan when I walked by her book-signing table.

Vine Yoke detail

We chatted a little while about the pattern--she said that while the results are deceptively simple, it was quite a challenge to write the pattern for various sizes because the garter and lace sections have different gauges. She admired the buttons on the cardigan, which were a lucky find--I think the leafy branches really add the perfect accent. Later on, I found a copy of Little Red in the City (the bookstore hosting her had sold out) and she was able to sign it. Word to the wise, the sticker in the back of the book with the code to download the PDF is a scratch-off, not peel-off sticker. Keep scratching and it will come off--don't just dig at it with a tentative fingernail, peel off the sticker instead, and then have to humbly email Ysolda's assistant with a plea for help.

Rhinebeck was a little overwhelming. I don't mind crowds, but when you can't even get to a booth because you're trapped in the middle of the aisle by a sea of humanity, then it's not my optimal festival experience. I have to think shoplifting would be a huge problem there. One of the reasons I wanted to go was to see if I'd want to vend there in the future. While the exposure would be incredible, and I could cope with the logistics of shipping and the amount of prep work it would take, the sheer number of shoppers would be overwhelming. The vendors who I'd consider comparable to myself looked frenetic--like the overcaffeinated and underslept state that I usually find myself in on the first day of a show, but amped up a million times.

I also paid a visit to the Bosworth booth and picked up a lovely Bosworth Mini spindle. That was really the only place where I got the sense of connection with other knitters/spinners that I usually associate with fiber festivals.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Polar Bear Dip 2012

Yesterday we did the annual Polar Bear Dip in Lake Padden. My husband got it into his head that he wanted to do it, the boy eagerly agreed, and I decided I wasn't going to get left out. We were first-timers, and I was astonished by the number of crazy people in Bellingham who were willing to do this. The parking lots at the lake were filled and cars were parked all along the road--there were probably twice as many people there as on the hottest summer day. This is just a handful of the people who were there.

Some people dressed for the occasion.

It was the low 40s so we waited till 11:59 on the countdown clock to strip down. Then we dashed down to the water. My philosophy was to think as little as possible, so I splashed in till I was deep enough to not belly flop on gravel, and then flung myself in. Then I got the hell out. Husband and boy were still wading slowly out by the time I got back to the towels.

It was kind of ... fun? Did I just say that?

I also managed to finish a shawl--Kleio by Rosemary Hill. Love it, though the knitted-on edging took me as long as the rest of the shawlette. Here it is blocking.

Happy New Year!