Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Too big to fail, or too big to succeed?

For the first time in the seven years since I started working at Stitchcraft Marketing, I didn't go to the TNNA Trade show this past weekend, which is the annual buying show for yarn shops (and hence, where a lot of my clients exhibit). It's kind of nice to have the year off, because while trade shows are fun, they are also quite tiring. I spent a very relaxing weekend at home crafting and watching the Royals get swept by the reigning world champs. So it goes.

I'm not one to suffer from FOMO, but I am curious to hear what everyone thought about the new venue in Cleveland. I'm especially interested to hear who was - and wasn't - there in the wake of last weeks' surprising announcement that Classic Elite Yarns is closing. It seems like this news has made the rounds of social media, but they aren't the only yarn-related business to recently announce that they are closing their doors: Lantern Moon posted about a "closeout sale" earlier this month on Facebook, and in the comments they state that the owners are "moving on to new adventures in life." Similarly, the owner of Mango Moon Yarns, distributor of Be Sweet and Dale Garn Yarns in North America, has decided to retire and is closing out all remaining stock. Local Yarn Stores (LYSes) continue to close at a steady rate - it seems like I hear about at least one every month or so.

Running a small business in our industry - in any industry, really! - is tough, and I am sure that companies like Classic Elite must look "big" compared to a one-person hobby hand-dyer on Etsy. And I mean no disrespect to either - both make amazing contributions to the world of yarn and knitting. But aside from some of those big box store brands that probably ARE huge faceless corporations (hey, look! Now I'm making assumptions!), most yarns you will find at your LYS are made by companies that are smaller than you realize. They are run by real people who have families, some of whom might even work for them. They might be their own accountant, marketing department, graphic designer, and in-house designer, in addition to everything that goes into the "fun" stuff of running a yarn business (which I assume is designing a line of yarns and/or picking out the color palettes - I could be wrong, though!).

So what makes some brands seem "big" while others are perceived as small (and, apparently, more worthy of our support)?

If it's putting out beautifully produced collections of patterns for years or even decades as Classic Elite has, doesn't that mean that Brooklyn Tweed is "big" by the same reasoning? Is any yarn company that doesn't dye by hand "big" as well? Interestingly, when I was a hand dyer for Lorna's Laces, plenty of people thought that we were "big," but the truth was that we had less than 10 employees, many of which were part time (at the time I worked there, mind you, which was many moons ago. I can't speak for now!).

Te average yarn consumer probably doesn't spend hours researching every single yarn purchase (well, some of you might?!). We only know what we have see in front of us, or have perhaps encountered on social media - so if a company isn't sharing this aspect of their business effectively, it's easy to make a snap judgement in either direction, big or small. Some companies may even be shooting themselves in the foot by using too much business-y jargon in their zeal to appear like a legitimate company, not realizing that in some knitter's minds, this is a turn-off.

In the case of Classic Elite,  they've been around for years and had crazy amounts of both name recognition and street cred. We've all seen their ads on the back cover of Interweave magazines over the years, and I don't think you could throw a skein of yarn too far without finding a knitter who has either used their yarn in at least one project or has a skein or two lurking in their stash.

But with such a wide range of yarn lines, pattern collections released consistently, and heavy print advertising campaigns, most of up apparently made the following conclusion: this is a well-run, profitable BIG company with lots of money in the bank, and that has always been around and will always BE around. A reasonable conclusion to come to, but unfortunately not true.
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Pop quiz: which of these yarns is dyed by hand?
What do you think?
I'm curious to hear what makes people perceive a yarn brand as "big" or "small," and even some of those brands that you think fall into either category. The nerd in me is already brainstorming new theories and ways to solve this problem of perception with my own clients, but I realize that drawing solely on my own experiences and opinions is not very scientific, so reader opinions are very much appreciated. Also, I think this is a conversation that needs to happen, or else we are risk losing even more well-loved brands, perhaps sooner than we think.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Weaving Wednesday: Project Planning Hits & Misses (PLUS: Cats!!)

Sometimes, when you plan a project, it goes horribly wrong. For example, I was really excited to weave with some yarn I've been given at the Creativation trade show at the start of this year; my plan was to make a soft and squishy bath mat using some recycled organic cotton yarn as the warp and t-shirt yarn as the weft. However, my plans quickly fell apart when I started warping my loom and discovered that I had completely miscalculated the amount of yardage I would need for this project. I ran out of yarn pretty quickly, and discovered that it was nearly impossible to purchase this yarn online, either from a yarn store OR via someone's destash on Ravelry.

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It would have been such an awesome project...
The problem with running out of yarn mid-warp is that you can't really take it off the loom and re-use it for something else. Once it's on, it's on, because it's such a pain to get off that you're better off just cutting your losses, quite literally. The thought of wasting such a lovely yarn that had been gifted to me was something I didn't think I could live with, so I left everything intact on my loom for several weeks while I racked my brain for something else it could be used for. There it sat, mocking me every time I glanced over at my loom (which is quite frequently because it's in the same room as my office!). And I absolutely could NOT think of another project that would be suitable for it.

I was just about ready to give up and cut it off of my loom when I spotted something on Instagram  that inspired me to try making it into a wall hanging. One Saturday afternoon, I grabbed a bunch of different leftover bits of yarn and some pieces of fiber and spent a few hours weaving away randomly, with no plan whatsoever....which is probably evident when you look at it!

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Reclaimed Wall Hanging

For a first attempt, it's not bad, and I think it looks nice in our living room. Robin seems to like it, and curiously neither of the cats have discovered how fun it is to play with the fringe.....yet.

After making this project, I have a new appreciation for what goes into those trendy wall hangings I keep seeing everywhere - they look like they would be SO easy to do, right? I can tell you, there is a lot of skill involved and planning involved to create a truly great composition. Flying by the seat of my pants wasn't the best approach; I would definitely be more methodical and perhaps sketch something out ahead of time if I ever attempted another wall hanging project.

However, the real objective in finding a use for this warp was to get it off the loom so that I could start a new project that I had very much been planning: a version of the Color-Play Plaid Scarf from Liz Gipson's Weaving Made Easy using 3 skeins of Organic Rambouillet/Mohair single ply yarn from Shepherd's Lamb. I made a few modifications for the amount of yardage I had on hand and my preference to make the blue color dominant; I also wove a longer scarf, because I like to be able to wrap it around my neck a few times.

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This project wove up really quickly, I think it took about 2 weeks from start to finish. The draft pattern was easy to memorize, and it made the weaving process fun and engaging. I could add 2 weft sequence in less than 10 minutes!

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Shepherd's Plaid Scarf

I love how this scarf turned out, and although I am not really a plaid-wearing person, I definitely enjoyed the weaving process and am looking forward to playing around with more plaid projects soon.

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Since I can't stop making crazy faces....

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...Tyler had to take over modeling duties.
Tilly enjoyed laying on it while it was drying (weavers have the same #catladyproblems as knitters!), so I'm sure I can find someone who would love to wear this scarf!

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As soon as the plaid scarf came off the loom, I was rarin' to start another multi-color project. I found two skeins of Lhasa Wilderness in my stash that I think will be fun to stripe with:

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I have worked out my warp sequence, but still need to decide on the weft. I figure I'll play it by ear so that I can see what looks best as I start to weave. I'll be posting progress shots on Instagram if you are interested in following along!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

New Knitting Pattern: Canyon Steps Cowl

I'm so excited to finally share this pattern with you! I've been working on it for a while because I am a Very Slow Knitter these days, plus my design process seems to involve a lot more frogging and reknitting these days. At any rate, it is with great pleasure that I introduce the Canyon Steps Cowl!

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A series of triangular motifs grow larger in this fun-to-knit cowl using one skein of Gobi, a luxurious blend of baby camel and mulberry silk. The cowl begins with a wide rib edging followed by 3 sections using charted and written instructions and finishes with a wide rib edging and a stretchy bind off. If you can knit and purl, you can make this project!

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Project Kit Contains:
  • 1 skein - Bijou Spun “Gobi" (35/65 Baby Camel /Mulberry Silk) in the color of your choice. 
  • 1 copy of the Canyon Steps Cowl pattern by yours truly
  • 1 3.4 oz bottle of Allure Fine Fiber wash in your choice of fragrance 
  •  1 three pack of custom, hand-made stitch markers from Purrfectly Catchy Designs
Project kits for the Canyon Steps Cowl are available here and include free shipping to US addresses; if you already have a skein of Gobi fingering in your stash, you can purchase individual copies of the pattern here.

We'll be announcing a KAL for this pattern soon over in the Bijou Basin Ranch Fan Club on Ravelry, I hope you will join us!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Enamel Pin Obsession

Over a year after I initially dipped my toe into the enamel pin collecting waters and the obsession has not died down - in fact, I think it has grown stronger! To wit: my most recent acquisition of several cute pins from The Clever Clove which arrived over the holiday weekend:

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This purchase was a direct result of following The Clever Clove on Instagram (and maybe having a few beers that night!), because everything she posts makes me say "I have to have that!"...don't say I didn't warn you.

My pin collection has grown so much that it can no longer be jammed onto one project bag. I'm thinking about grouping them by the above themes to put on my two most-used bags from the rotation (both of my Yarn Pop dandelion bags), and then finding some new canvas bags that are sturdy enough to support the heaviness of enamel pins. It seems like most folks love the Fringe Field Bag for this purpose, and I do have my eye on a grey one, but the $65 price tag is giving me pause. If anyone has a more moderately priced bag that is similar they can recommend, I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

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You can find links to most of the pins in my collection (plus a few more!) here on my Enamel Pin Pinterest board.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

4 Chart Reading Hacks for Knitters

What if there were some easy hacks to make knitting from charts easier, faster and more enjoyable? It's not too good to be true - there are plenty of simple tricks you can use when working from charts. I use each of these tips myself (sometimes all at the time!) and I'm sure that one, some or all will work for you, too.

Hack #1: Blow It Up!
For years, I would struggle through a tiny chart with tiny symbols that made my eyes crossed. Then one day, I realized that I could just MAKE IT BIGGER. Whoa. Mind blown.

Back in the day, this meant a trip to the local copy shop, but now that I have a printer/scanner at home, it is really easy to enlarge charts as needed. Plus, it is a lot easier to adjust the way a PDF will print out, so you can also enlarge the page containing the chart in question, subject to the capabilities of your printer and level of techno-savvy, of course.

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A color-coded cabled chart and highlighter tape!
Hack #2: Color Inside the Lines....and Out Of Them. 
The pattern you are working from doesn't need to be a pristine document worthy of the Smithsonian - so don't be afraid to write on it. Here are some things that I will do to a chart to make it easier to read:
  • Number the rows. Honestly, I don't know why any chart wouldn't have numbered rows, but it's been known to happen. 
  • Draw "reminder" arrows. Most of the projects I make are knit in the round, so when I am working a charted pattern flat, it is very easy to forget that wrong side rows are worked left to right (instead of right to left). So, I will draw a tiny arrow on the left hand side of EACH wrong side row to give me a visual reminder to START THERE!
  • Color coding is your friend. If there are a lot of symbols to keep track of - particularly, a lot of cables - color coding is your friend. Grab markers, highlighters, or colored pencils, and start by filling in the chart key to assign your colors. Then, carefully go through the chart to fill in each symbol with the corresponding color. As you work more and more repeats of the chart, you should be able to move faster because your mind will remember which color belongs to which stitch, eliminating the need to keep referring back to the key! 
Hack #3: Sometimes, you gotta chart the chart.
Unfortunately, not every designer uses the standards created by the Craft Yarn Council, and the result can sometimes be a Very Weird Chart Symbol. You have probably encountered one or two in a pattern: they often appear as strange squiggles that probably indicate a stitch that you are familiar with, but it's just so darn inscrutable and forgettable that it trips you up EVERY TIME. 

Perhaps the pattern you working from is full of them - that can be a real headache! 

This is when having some sort of charting software at your disposal can be really handy, because you can just create your own version of the chart using symbols that you can actually understand and remember. The only downside is that it will take a bit of time and cost some money, since most free versions of charting software are either limited in their scope or for the length of time you can use them - but I assure you, it will be worth it in the end, because you will finish your project faster, with minimal hair-pulling. 

For the price, I really like Intwined Pattern Studio. I have used it for many years and found it reasonably easy to both learn and use. 

I recently purchased Stitch Mastery based on countless recommendations from designers I work with, but I am having a really tough time making friends with it. I am not certain I can wholeheartedly recommend it thus far (but that is probably another topic for another day), and every time I try to use it, I find myself wishing I had tried the free version first before jumping in with both feet. 

I have never tried Chart Minder, but I'm probably going to test it out soon because it's free and it does so much more than just knitting patterns - you can also chart crochet and cross stitch patterns! 

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Knitter's Pride Chart Keepers.
Hack #4: Accessorize
There are a few gadgets that are worth investing in to make working from a chart easier:

Highlighter tape. It's affordable and easy to use - one roll is around $3 and each one I've bought has lasted for a couple of years. The draw of this product is that it is reposition-able, which means that you can reuse the same strip as long as it remains sticky. I find that placing your chart in a plastic sleeve will keep the ink from transferring to the highlighter tape, which not only makes it look gross, but also causes it to lose stickiness faster.

Chart Keeper. I'm sure there are a lot of versions of this type of product, but the ones I have been using for years are by Knitter's Pride and are similar to a notebook that you can stash your pattern in. One of the surfaces is magnetic, allowing you to secure your pattern with smaller magnets, and then keep track of where you are with a long magnetic strip. It can also be propped up on a nearby table for easy reference while you work!

I actually don't use the magnetic strip that came with each of my pattern holders because I have some Adventure Time-themed strips I bought a long time ago from Slipped Stitch Studios. They were designed to clip around a sheep of paper, but I found that the darn things never stayed put, so I cut them in half to be used on the magnetic board of my chart keeper.

Another cool thing you can do is stick things like small scissors, darning needles, and even stitch markers to the super-strong magnet that is holding your pattern in place. As you can imagine, that can be quite handy!

Row Counter. Honestly, I am not opposed to just making tic marks to keep track of where I am in any given pattern. But I know that a lot of people swear by a row counter, and I have found them to be useful in certain situations. The Sirka Row Counter, in particular, is really useful if you are trying to follow several sets of instructions concurrently.

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Oh my glob! Magnetic stripes from Slipped Stitch Studios, in use on my Knitter's Pride chart keeper.

Do you have your own tips and tricks for speedy chart reading that you don't see here? I'd love to hear about them in the comments! 

Like this post? Pin it!
ChartReadingHacksForKnitters

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Things I've Learned About Drum Carding

Drum carding looks so easy: you just toss in some fiber, and out pops a perfect batt, right?


Like anything that's made by hand, it's simple....but not that simple. For me, a lot of my learning curve was due to my tendency to overthink things and try to fix things that didn't need fixing. Once I got over that, I found that any other little hiccups were solved simply by doing. Practice does make perfect, and here are some of the most important lessons I've learned along the way - may they shorten your own learning curve when you give drum carding a try!

1. Prep before you prep. 

Sounds a bit silly, right? But the denser your fleece or fiber is, the harder it will be to process in your drum carder (not to mention, harder on your drum carder). Pretty much everything I've come across cautions against feeding too much fiber into the carder; the instructions that came with my carder (a Strauch Petite) recommend teasing fleece and fiber before processing and feeding a little at a time. In The Spinner's Book of Yarn Designs, Sarah Anderson suggests that the fiber on your tray should be thin enough to read a paper through - a good reference point for us visual folks.

While I haven't attempted to process a raw fleece (yet), that also has an important bit of prep involved before reaching the carding phase. Apparently, any lanolin or grease on your fleece can wreak havoc on your drum carder in a number of ways. First, if the fleece is very clumpy due to lanolin, it may damage your carder if you try to force it through. Not to mention, that lanolin will also coat the card cloth and can transfer to other fibers that you card later on. So, make sure that any fibers you plan to card are squeaky clean.

Last but not least, the carding process isn't meant to remove those bits of the outside world that you sometimes find in a fleece (known as vegetable matter, or VM for short). Sometimes, VM will fall out on its own as you card, but you should consider that a bonus.

The bottom line: Make sure your fiber is washed (if needed), and flick or tease it to open the fibers and remove VM.

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I've been flicking on a hand carder to open compressed fibers before feeding into my drum carder.
2. Slow is the way to go. 

As a beginner, you will have the overwhelming urge to crank the handle on your drum carder and let the fiber fly!

Resist that urge.

Believe me, I know how hard it is - learning to slow down has never been easy for me, either. But the slower you go, the better your end results. I promise!

On one particularly stressful day after I'd finished doing my taxes (groan), I decided to break out the drum carder, and made an awesome discovery: the more I slowed down, the easier it was to fill my drum and create beautiful batts. As an added bonus, I felt way less stressed afterwards, so if anyone is suffering from anxiety or stress, I highly recommend an afternoon of slow drum carding.

Channel your inner sloth when processing fiber.


3. Don't be afraid to experiment.

I'm not sure if anyone else has this paranoia, but I'm always worried that I'm "doing it wrong." In knitting, in spinning, in life....I fully expect someone to pop out from behind the curtain in my living room to announce that whatever I'm doing is incorrect.

However, impostor syndrome can be a huge barrier to making some pretty cool discoveries, so sometimes it's good to ignore that irrational little voice. Somewhat ironically, in my zeal to discover the "right" way to drum card, I came across a suggestion that sounded absolutely wrong - feeding the fiber in sideways - but ended up giving it a try.....but not after first thinking "that's ludicrous - every single book I own tells me to feed the fiber in lengthwise, and so does the operating manual for my drum carder!"

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Slowly feeding that fiber in sideways...

Thankfully, curiosity got the better of me, and one afternoon I used a variety of dyed tops that I flicked on a hand carder before feeding into my drum carder sideways, and the resulting batts were lovely! I'm not sure if it was because I was using a shorter stapled fiber (merino), but it seemed to pick up and transfer the fibers a little easier with this method.

There are compelling reasons to use both methods of feeding fibers into my drum carder, and I plan to use both going forward. Should anyone interrupt to tell that I'm doing it wrong, I'll be sure to have a few choice words for them!

Got any helpful fiber prep tips to share? I'd love to read them in the comments. And if you liked this post, be sure to pin the graphic below to save it for later!


Things I've Learned About Drum Carding

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Half Birthday Sale: A Gift for You!

Fun fact: my husband and I are almost exactly 6 months apart in age (my half birthday is the day before his actual birthday later this month). I thought it would be fun to celebrate both with a little sale on Ravelry and Etsy!

Ravelry Pattern Sale

Enter HALFBDAY at checkout to get 50% off all of my patterns on Ravelry - including the Conversation Socks ebook! - now through May 18.

Half Birthday Sale (1)
Click here to visit my Ravelry pattern store!

Etsy Shop Sale

On Etsy, you can choose your discount below, good towards any of my current listings for mini skeins, hand dyed yarns, and handspun yarns. Plus, all US orders (still) ship FREE!

Spend $10, get 10% off when you enter SPEND10 at checkout.

Spend $20, get 20% off when you enter SPEND20 at checkout.

Spend $30, get 30% off when you enter SPEND30 at checkout.

All offers expire at Midnight MDT on Friday, May 18.

Half Birthday Sale (2)
Click here to visit my Etsy Shop!