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Let’s Get Down to Business: Tips for Marketing Your Fiber Arts Business

November 14, 2017




I see it all the time, and not just in the fiber arts business. Entrepreneurs so excited to hop into business and they either do their work and flourish; or they skip steps and go out of business just as quickly as they started.

No, there is no magic formula to making a business work, and certainly not in the fiber arts world where there are so many subjective variables that contribute to a successful endeavor. We can, however, work on the things within our control and hope for the best.

As someone with experience at the business end of multiple service-related industries (health care, hospitality, and fiber arts to name a few), I like helping people try to realize their dreams of owning or running a successful business.

In a previous blog post, 7 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting or Growing Your Fiber Arts Business,I talked a little bit about avoiding the mistake of “not sticking to a marketing strategy”. I’d like to expand on that a little and talk about a few of the do’s and don’ts of marketing your fiber arts business.

In further posts, I’ll get into some social media marketing tips, but for now, let’s talk in general. Shall we?




THE DOs OF MARKETING YOUR FIBER ARTS BUSINESS

  • Establish your tribe: This is the latest jargon for find your niche, aka your corner of the market. Determine who you want to be your primary customer base and stick with it. Do some research. How old are they? Are they male or female (I know I’m super simplifying gender here, but if you’re marketing to a specific niche of the gender spectrum, establish that and own it)? Is your tribe more likely to buy from you online or in a physical shop? These are all things you need to define in your business plan, because marketing is a BIG part of what you’ll be doing to keep your business up and running.
  • Show & Tell: Show and tell all the things that make you unique. Make it obvious what your specialty is. OMG Yarn (Balls), from the yarn side, specializes in unique dye techniques that include speckle dyes and combinations of multiple dyeing techniques. I also offer patterns that can be used on my yarn or some of my favorite LYS-caliber yarns that you can find in big box stores. I mean, not everyone can afford $25 a ball to make a sweater, right? Show some of your life behind the scenes, get people interested in what you do and some of how you do it. Share your favorite color ways. Knit/crochet with your yarn or spin with your fiber. Show people why it is the best. Most of all, show your personality. Let people care about you and your business.
  • Expect to spend most of your time marketing your business: This is a big one. You will not be spending all your time knitting or dyeing, you’ll be spending it talking about your business or chatting with other business owners like yourself. I dye yarn once a week right now, but I spend about 20-30 hours a week hanging out with the Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists, MOFA admins, testing my own patterns over and over again (and coordinating testers other than myself), giving away copies of my patterns, planning Instagram posts, working on blog posts and coordinating guest posters, and so much more. The hard work is to paying off too!




THE DON’Ts OF MARKETING YOUR FIBER ARTS BUSINESS

  • Don’t skip your market research: Let me repeat that for those of you in the back: “DO NOT SKIP YOUR MARKET RESEARCH”, it will be your undoing. Why would you put all your money and effort into a business and self-sabotage by not doing your prep work. You wouldn’t knit a $5,000 sweater with the wrong needles or yarn, spending a year knitting it, only to throw it out, would you? Not on purpose.
    • If you’re opening a brick and mortar shop, make sure your market is not saturated. That means, check to see how many yarn shops are within a 5- to 10- mile radius and see what they’re doing. If there’s already at least one, probably not the area for you, even if you THINK you could do better. When I closed our shop, we were doing well, but two yarn shops opened just before then. My business model limited overhead costs and had a lot of what I called side-hustles. It paid for itself and eventually some bills for at home too.
    • If you open up in a market where there’s only $75k or less to be made, you’re taking money out of your own pocket and that of the other shops (aka you’re limiting your market share). Also, do as I mention above and make sure you differentiate yourself from the competition. If they carry a lot of a certain brand, carry a different one. If people are looking for that specific brand, be willing to send them to that store, because guess what, they’ll be more likely to send people to you when they don’t carry something you have.
  • Don’t skip any other part of your business or marketing plan: It doesn’t have to be a 90-page doctoral thesis on the yarn biz, but you do have to plan things. A simple business and marketing plan for your business could be 1-5 pages of bullet points that include your mission (your overarching goal), vision (how you expect to achieve that overarching goal), and the financial piece (how much you will invest and reasonable expectations for income and expenses).
  • Don’t expect to copy exactly what other businesses do and be successful at it: You may not have the certain magic that makes their business plan works. For example, don’t expect to do everything StevenBe does, because YOU ARE NOT STEVENBE, YOU ARE YOU. What makes you magical? That should always be part of your business plan. If you are the brioche master, show it and own it. If you like loud, unique color combos, make that known. Make it your life.

Get it now? Seriously, you’re more than welcome to contact me for questions or more tips in this department. I’ve been doing this for over a decade now (I got my MBA in 2006 and have been in business management in some capacity ever since).

Overall, DO HAVE FUN. If it’s your passion, it won’t feel like work.




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How to Dye Yarn with Kool-Aid

October 3, 2017




Way back when, in 2011, I had just become a stay at home mom and I needed to find some ways to pass the time. I opted to hone my fiber arts craft and spent the days knitting and crocheting.

One day, my mother mentioned to me that I should try dyeing yarn with Kool-Aid. And I did! I was a long process. I didn’t know about putting yarn into hanks yet, so I ended up with a ton of yarn barf.

Of course, over the years I taught myself a few different dyeing techniques and learned ways to make dyeing easier for myself. Recently, I was looking for something to do with my 8-year-old and 3-year-old sons toward the end of the summer break and I decided to go back to basics.

Since speckle dyeing is the trend right now, I wanted to teach the boys that technique, but without using the professional powdered yarn dyes I use. I thought, let’s dye yarn with Kool Aid!

Even better, why not make something for them that they could show off out of that yarn that they made. The idea was instantly a hit with the kids; they always love watching mom dye yarn, looking like a mad scientist in the process.

Here we go!




What You’ll Need:

  • White vinegar
  • A Liquid Measuring Cup
  • One hank of an animal based fiber yarn (we used my OMG Liberty yarn base; a worsted weight 100% Superwash Merino Wool) – cotton and acrylic yarn will not work for this technique
  • One Large Pot (at least 4 QT)
  • Water
  • Stove
  • Kool Aid packets of any flavor without sugar added
  • Ice Cube Trays, at least 2
  • Freezer
  • Sink
  • Dish Soap
  • Laundry Rack or Hanger

Instructions:

Prep Work – Make Kool Aid Ice Cubes

  1. Using hot water, mix approximately 6 ounces (3/4 cup) of water with one Kool Aid packet until the powder is completely dissolved. Use as many different colors as you like, but remember that the colors may mix, so remember your art classes from school. Purples and greens together will end up brown or other weird colors.
  2. Pour mixture into ice cube tray. If you are using multiple colors, use multiple trays. My mixtures of each color created about 6 to 8 ice cubes.
  3. Place trays in freezer and let freeze.

 Prep work – Soak Yarn

  1. Fill sink with luke warm water and add 1 cup of white vinegar.
  2. Place desired amount of yarn in water and soak it for 20 minutes.

 On to Dyeing Your Yarn

  1. Place presoaked yarn in a large pot. It does not have to be in there in any specific way, but make sure the entire bottom of the pot is covered and your yarn lays flat.
  2. Add about one cup of warm water evenly to the yarn in the pot. This is so that the yarn does not burn when heated on the stove. Make sure that there is not too much water in there. The yarn shouldn’t float and there should not be enough water for the colors to distribute through the water.
  3. Place ice cubes randomly on the surface of your yarn.
  4. Put pot on stove and heat yarn on medium heat for 20-30 minutes. Make sure that the yarn does not burn. If your water boils off, add more to the pot.
  5. Remove pot from heat. Your yarn is hot and so is your pot. Use oven mitts to carry the pot and dump yarn in the sink.
  6. Let yarn cool for 10 minutes in sink.
  7. Wash yarn with a little bit of dish soap and cold water until the water runs clear from the yarn.
  8. Hang yarn to dry.




That’s it! You have a skein of yarn dyed and ready to craft with.

3-year-old Sharky chose Grape, Pink Lemonade, and Cherry for his flavors/colors.

 

8-year-old Peanut chose Blue Raspberry, Pink Lemonade, and Cherry for his Kool-Aid flavors/colors.

 

Of course, I started knitting these hats right away.

Want to learn how to make the kids’ cute cabled hat that I made with their yarn?

Kool Aid Hat Preview

How cute are Sharky and Peanut?!

You will need the following knitting skills to complete this project:

  • Knit
  • Purl
  • Knitting in the Round
  • Purl two together
  • Knit two together

The gauge is approximately 5 stitches per inch in the cable pattern.

The pattern is written for use with OMG Liberty (my worsted weight yarn) or Lion Brand Wool Ease (worsted weight). Sizes range from baby (about 12 months) to adult.

Lion Brand’s Wool-Ease is just a little bit different than OMG Liberty, so instructions include the different needle sizes needed.

Tip: I’ve made several of these hats to test the pattern. If you find yourself playing yarn chicken with OMG Liberty in the adult size, use the smaller cast on for stitches, but follow the rest of the pattern as is, it’ll fit adult size too.

Click here to buy the pattern.




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Let’s Do a Yarn Study: Alternatives to Wool Blends for Crochet Shawls

August 28, 2017



Oh my goodness! Why would I even do a write up about yarn that isn’t mine?!

Well, I’m a small-ish independent dyer, designer, and fiber arts business owner and I certainly am not at the point where I have all my bases covered yet (see what I did there?). That means I have friends and family that may not be able to use my yarn due to wool allergies, cost, etc.

It doesn’t mean that these people cannot get the most out of my patterns or even patterns that I highly recommend for my yarn or a good alternative.

I’ve decided that, since I am a former yarn shop owner, and like to be inclusive of everyone, even people who aren’t using my yarn for whatever reason, I want to pass on my recommendations. I do it for the love of yarn.




What do I mean by a yarn study?

Sometimes you see stitch samplers for crochet, knit, cross-stitch, which are basically studies on different techniques.

In this case, I’m working the same project in different yarns and comparing the qualities of each yarn in the hopes to better understand different fiber content, stitched fabrics, and thus inspiring new designs in various yarns.

For this yarn study I chose the Swagger Shawl by Barb Mastre Stanford because it’s a quick crochet project and with less experience designing for crochet, I felt that this would be the perfect opportunity to play with different yarns for crochet projects. And she so graciously designed it for OMG’s expansion back in 2014.

The yarns I chose are:

  • Caron Cotton Cakes
  • Lion Brand’s 24/7 Cotton
  • Knit Picks’ Shine Worsted

The yarns I chose are good Worsted weight cotton alternatives to OMG Liberty, which is what the Swagger Shawl calls for.

Cotton Yarn: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Cotton yarns that are wallet-friendly are notoriously rough and not always the first choice for a shawl that you would wear next to your skin.

When you are lucky to find a good cotton yarn that is soft AND relatively inexpensive, you notice that it has a wonderful drape, but can lack “memory”, meaning it doesn’t always bounce back from stretching.

It is because of its drape that cotton yarns can be good for shawls and other accessories including home décor items.

So here we go!




OMG Liberty (Pictured at the top)
Fiber content: 100% Superwash Merino Wool
Put up: 220 yards per 100 gram skein

  • Pros: OMG Liberty is fluffy, takes up dye very well, and has excellent stitch definition. When crocheted for the Swagger Shawl it maintained its springiness and drape.
  • Cons: As I mentioned in my introduction, price for larger projects with OMG Liberty might make this yarn cost prohibitive for some. That’s exactly why I did the yarn study. It’s $22 per skein, so you’re talking 66 bucks to make this shawl, plus the cost of the pattern.

Here are my recommended alternatives if you absolutely have to make this shawl (or any other project that might call for OMG Liberty).




Caron Cotton Cakes
Fiber content: 60% Cotton, 40% Acrylic
Put up: 211 yards per 100 gram ball

Added on at the last minute after discovering this new yarn at my local Michael’s store, I included Caron Cotton Cakes, because I thought that Swagger would look pretty awesome using this new yarn.

  • Pros: Pricewise, you’re only talking $4.99 a ball at Michael’s (or less since we’re nearing the end of cotton yarn season in the US). This yarn feels like chenille or microfiber fabric, so it is amazingly soft. I also like cotton/acrylic blends because it adds a little bit of memory to your stitches without losing any of the drape from cotton and this yarn certainly lives up to that. The self-striping aspect of the yarn made the shawl itself look unique compared to the other samples I crocheted.
  • Cons: The only issue I saw with this yarn was one ball had a knot in it like it had been cut and tied to complete the ball. This is something that occasionally happens with all yarn companies, so not necessarily a con per se.




Lion Brand’s 24/7 Cotton
Fiber content: 100% Mercerized Cotton
Put up: 186 yards per 100 gram ball

  • Pros: Pricewise, you’re only talking $5.49 a ball at JoAnn Frabrics (or less since we’re nearing the end of cotton yarn season in the US). I like mercerized cotton yarns for baby items, so this Lion Brand equivalent was screaming my name. It has a beautiful shine and drape in the finished shawl. I am loving wearing it around too.
  • Cons: It’s a little rough to touch, but it is hard wearing. With blocking, the yarn softens up a bit.





Knit Picks’ Shine Worsted
Fiber content: 60% Pima Cotton, 40% Modal
Put up: 75 yards per 50 gram ball

  • Pros: At $2.99 a ball, this yarn is at a great price point as well, but you will need 6 balls of this to make the Swagger Shawl. It is soft, shiny, and the drape is magnificent. This is the softest cotton blend I’ve found so far, and I’m happy that I tried it out! The yarn blocks well and even held up to me ironing it.
  • Cons: With a 50 gram put up, it means more ends to weave in. Other than that, I experienced one knot, but as I said earlier, I know that’s normal so it’s not a con for me.

Since gift season is quickly approaching, I’m sure you’ll want to use some of these good alternatives on your Swagger Shawl.

Here’s a link to the pattern: Swagger Shawl by Barb Mastre Stanford

Let me know how you like the pattern and feel free to tag OMG Yarn on FB or Instagram when you make yours!




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Guest Post: Art, Cultural Appropriation, and Inspiration an Essay by John Ziv

August 2, 2017




Uh oh, look out, another controversial post about a topic that affects artists everywhere. This time it is cultural appropriation.

It is a topic that comes up quite often in social media. With the sociopolitical climate being what it is, “call-out culture” has reshaped what it means to be an active participant online, even within the fiber arts community.

And the discussion always gets heated.

No one, not even members within disparaged culture/group in question, can agree on the subject, and because the Internet is what it is, people get offensive, defensive, or just plain bold. Maybe it’s an effort to not look a certain way, BUT feelings ALWAYS get hurt.

When the lovely John Ziv of Working Wood Production approached me with an essay on this topic to post in Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists, a LARGE Facebook group that I help admin, I sat back and read it. It provoked thought, and I immediately envisioned the s**t storm that would ensue within the group.

This is a message that must be shared as food for thought, but as I mentioned, feelings ALWAYS get hurt. So in an effort to be more about community rather than competition – in this case, the cliche competition of “who’s the most woke” comes to mind – I am posting this essay with comments turned off.

That does not mean approach me or other admins from the group, or John about the topic with name-calling or assumptions about our intent. The intent is to start discussion outside of this arena, because really, OMG Yarn (Balls) is about appreciation of the fiber arts and provoking thought for you to do with what you will, as long as any negative energy is not being flung at others.

Anyway, I love the group members, readers and customers I work with on a daily basis, but right now, this is the world we live in. So, just food for thought, don’t shoot the messenger, and any other overused saying…shenanigans won’t be tolerated.

Without further ado…




Art, Cultural Appropriation, and Inspiration by John Ziv

This is a topic that has been coming up a lot lately, and unfortunately, I think a great many people don’t actually understand 1) what the terms mean, and 2) that generally, it is none of their business.

—–

First off, what is Art?

Art is in its simplest form, expression. It can be stacking two rocks on top of each other in a way that pleases or satisfies the person doing the stacking. It can be someone banging those two rocks together. It can be someone taking strands of grass and wrapping those rocks in them. Does that mean that it has to please or satisfy anyone else, or evoke an emotion or expression? Absolutely not.

Art is personal. It has nothing whatsoever to do with other people, unless the artist themselves decides to make it for other people. Even then, their opinion of said art, unless they are buying it, displaying it, or helping put it together, is their opinion, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the expression of the artist.

—–

Cultural Appropriation?

That is the “theft” of cultural icons by another culture. This can be anything from clothing patterns, to music, and even to linguistic idioms. Most commonly it is done by a dominant culture to a minority culture.

The biggest problem with cultural appropriation is that it often distorts, and eventually leads to the loss of meaning in regards to the elements of the culture that have been stolen. This can lead to severe misunderstandings and prejudices, as well as damage to both cultures.

However, one thing to note is that cultural assimilation is an ongoing process, and will happen no matter how protective of ones culture a community may be. For instance, we have historic evidence of the Nordic Seafarers(aka the Vikings) having adopted elements all the way from Russia to Africa, and even some from India and the Far East.

Some exchanges are good, in that they have been exchanges of knowledge. Better methods of construction, medicine, textiles, even cooking. Others have been extremely harmful, such as the Opium Epidemic in the far east, the Abrahmic religions(which are based on an amalgamation of several religions dating back to at least as early as 2000BC), and the forced loss of culture by slave owners and conquerors of various countries/indigenous peoples.

—–

Inspiration is just that, whatever happens to inspire you to do something. Sometimes it is something that happens to be part of your personal mainstream culture. Other times it is something that is part and parcel of another culture entirely, but happens to call you to create.

—–

Obviously, these three things can and do come into conflict when people are more concerned about protecting something that is effectively immaterial, rather than appreciating that the thought process is different for each person.

What inspires one person, and what that person takes from another culture, and then creates in expression, will not, cannot, be properly judged by anyone else, because it is a personal expression of what they think, feel, and wish to create.

That doesn’t mean that you have to like it. In fact you are free to dislike it, dislike what it stands for, dislike the person creating it, and otherwise just despise the entirety. I certainly have some artists who I can’t stand them, their work, their inspiration, or the fact that they pull it from a culture that they know nothing about.

What it does mean is that you should stop, and really think about why something bothers you, and if there truly is a theft, then speak out. If it is someone simply crafting for the beauty of it, appreciate it, ask about their inspiration, and discuss it and politely note that it bothers you slightly. If it is something that is simply a cheapening of your culture, laugh at them, and walk away. If it is outright theft, go at them hammer and tongs.

Most of all, don’t get on a high horse about the work of someone else, when you know nothing about their culture, or their inspiration. Rushing to judge is not good for you, or the artist.

—–

My personal thoughts.

I see artistic culture as an ever evolving ecosystem. Some species never really change much, waxing and waning, but always there. Other species flare up, grow enormously for a short while, and then die off suddenly. And some species are born from a mixture of other species, and find their niche in the ecosystem that allows them to grow, thrive, and be a productive part of that particular biosphere.

I do not approve of outright cultural theft. Do not go and claim your art is the real thing, when you have not immersed yourself into that culture and really learned what it means.

Be inspired by whatever you come across. If you happen to be inspired by music, dance, painting, textiles, language, or whatever, that is A-OK. Let it influence your world view, learn about it, interpret it, keep your mind open to other thoughts and ways of doing things. And be respectful while you do it.

If it weren’t for the good parts of cultural appropriation, we would not have music such as R&B, Rock, or regional Folk Music. We would not have such amazing spices for cooking such as Ginger, Nutmeg, and Cinnamon. We would not have Chocolate or Coffee! We would not have Arabic mathematical symbols and calculating methods. We would not have advanced medicine. We simply would not have much of what most of us appreciate on a day to day basis.

Sharing pieces of a culture does not take from that culture. The culture itself is still intact, unless it is being repressed. If you want to preserve your culture intact, make the effort to do so, but be glad that people outside your culture find parts or even most of it, something that inspires them and is appreciated by them, however misguided they may be.

Basically, don’t be an ass.

—–

As always, my Essays, Rants, Jokes, and Philosophical Maunderings are free to share. On topic discussion is welcome. Trolls and off topic discussion will be removed with an industrial blender and a hose fertilizer attachment.




Gritty Photography, Free Spirits and The Oversized Sleeveless Tunic

June 28, 2017




 I like photography that stands out. I also like yarn that stands out and speaks for itself. When paired with the perfect project, photography and yarn can certainly make indie dyed yarn into a work of art.

The idea behind the Oversized Sleeveless Tunic design was to have a simple, oversized top that I could wear anywhere AND show off my yarn in a way that doesn’t take away from the speckled colorways I have been dyeing lately.

With the photography, I got adventurous in every way.

iPhone Photography

I use my iPhone for photography these days. Gone are the days where I had the time to grab my camera, take photos, download photos, edit photos, and then choose the best to go into patterns.

I take photos and edit them right in Instagram, send them to myself, and they get done in a much more streamlined manner (if that’s not another blog post, I don’t know what is…haha). The results are more unique photos and way less time is spent fighting with computer software to do what I want it to do.

The photos from the Oversized Sleeveless Tunic were purposefully grittier. They’re a throwback to when photography was new and a bit more of a raw art.

They’re also an homage to my favorite cinema director Tony Scott who experimented with older hand cranked cameras in the movie Man on Fire. The raw cinematography contributed to the die hard emotions of the film and was a way to draw the audience in to the wild spirt that comes alive when avenging the apparent death of a loved one.

I got a little adventurous and took the short walk to our lakefront in order to get a unique backdrop from the Lake Michigan shore. The free spirit in me has always loved looking out onto the lake and seeing nothing but endless skies and, of course, endless possibilities.

Showing off what gorgeous fabric that OMG Rushmore and the new color Newsprint is Dead can do, I created the Oversized Sleeveless Tunic.




Newsprint is Dead

The colorway wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for my three-year-old. I was playing with an idea (I’ve been looking for black speckled yarn that looked like newspaper EVERYWHERE) and layered grey and black together. My toddler snuck up behind me and asked, “What you doing?” half-jokingly, because he knew what I was doing.

I asked if I should add another color to the yarn and he said, “Yes! Pink!”

The result: A page of newspaper that looked a little bloody before the dye set. It almost looked like a murder scene. Perfect.

Oversized Sleeveless Tunic

As the pattern description says, as a mom of three young kiddos that are always on the go, I need to wear comfortable, loose clothing that allows me to keep up with all the fun. One of my go-to clothing items is a tank top or sleeveless shirt that I can layer under a cardigan or over a t-shirt.

The Oversized Sleeveless Tunic is designed to be a go-to knit that you can actually wear, be comfortable, and stylish at the same time. Pair this with solid color yoga pants, layer with your favorite tank tops and/or cardigans and knit it with your favorite sport weight, hand dyed yarn.

This design is beginner-friendly and perfect to show off a speckled, variegated, or even solid colored yarn. There’s six inches of ease, so your top will have a gorgeous drape to accentuate almost any figure shape.

It is constructed from the bottom up and in the round. The front and back are worked flat and there is a faux seam on the side that tapers to the under arm.

The day that I photographed this, I walked down to the lakefront and back, and it was just so comfortable that I left it on ALL DAY. I ran to pick up my boys from their dad’s house, I took all three kiddos shopping at Target, and then came home to rest. Mom clothing needs to feel un-impeding of the process of caring for kiddos and this did just that.

It also will go perfectly with a black cardigan I just bought, so it’ll likely get put into the rotation of my mom wardrobe aka the mom uniform.

The pattern is available for purchase in my Ravelry store and my Etsy shop as well. See links below.

Limited time only: The pattern is free in my Ravelry store until July 4, 2017, no coupon code necessary.




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Choosing the Right Yarn Continued: How I Picked Out Yarn for Dyeing

May 26, 2017




Just about 3 years ago now, I launched an Indiegogo campaign to grow OMG Yarn and convert my yarn shop space into a studio. At the time, I was only using one yarn base – a fingering weight, 2-ply yarn that was pretty awesome to work with – and I wanted to expand the line so that I could focus more on yarn dyeing and the aspects of being a yarnie that I loved the most.

Well, being a yarn shop owner turned yarn dyer, I was a bit of a yarn snob in the sense that I only liked working with yarns that had certain characteristics, but mainly I liked yarns that were great for both knitting and crochet AND a variety of project types.

What should you look for in a yarn to dye?

  1. Fiber content. Yes, I know the industry is saturated with 100% Superwash Merino yarns, but that was the first one I looked at. It’s easy for beginning dyers to work with and you don’t have to worry about the yarn felting while you figure out which dye techniques work best for you.If you want to focus on a specific target market (your tribe) do some research on what that group prefers. The average die hard sock knitter likes to see some nylon or other durable fiber content in their yarn, so a wool/nylon blend or a cotton blend might work best for you to start with.Want to focus on knitters and crocheters who drop big bucks on luxury fibers? Mohair, angora, cashmere, alpaca and the like may be what you want to go for. If you have no experience dyeing yarn, I’d suggest not working with these expensive fibers while you experiment.
  2. How the yarn takes up dye. Once you’ve found a good source/supplier, figured out a good dye technique, and found a type of dye you like, try a few different yarn bases of similar fiber content to see how they take up the dye.Believe it or not, the two different fingering weight yarn SW Merino bases I’ve worked with took dye differently. Sometimes it has to do with how many plies the yarn has, how tightly spun the yarn is, what dye you’re using, etc. There are so many variables that effect the dye process.




    After playing around with samples from my supplier, I actually dropped the original fingering weight yarn base I used and went all in on a more energetically spun 4-ply yarn that was SUPER soft, yet durable enough for socks. Why? The depth at which the yarn took dye compared to others was absolutely spectacular.
  3. Cost. I am a big fan of maximum quality for the lowest cost. Why spend $20 a ball for ok yarn that doesn’t do what you want it to when you can spend $10 a ball for a more luxurious feeling yarn? Why work with expensive dyes that require costly mordants or extra supplies to protect the environment you’re dyeing in, etc.Having a multi-income stream (diversified) business, I needed to get the most bang for my buck, as I essentially owned two businesses: the yarn dyeing side and the brick and mortar yarn shop side. I also paid cash for EVERYTHING, so managing cash flow was high on the priority list. Can you tell I put my MBA to good use?I was fortunate that my yarn supplier had a bajillion different yarn bases at varying costs, weights, and fiber content, so I had plenty of options to choose from. When you buy more, the bigger discount you get too! My supplier also offers free shipping on everything, and what’s not to love about that? I don’t even want to know what shipping would cost on 100 pounds of yarn (although, with my most recent collaboration for yarn dyeing, I’m about to find out…haha).
  4. The manufacturer/supplier. Yes, this is important too. Can you rely on your supplier to properly skein and protect your yarn from damage or dirt from the shipping and dye process?With over half a decade of yarn dyeing experience and yarn shop ownership at this point, I’ve definitely hit some speed bumps dealing with manufacturers. I’ve had a mill throw white yarn into a dirty box, then ship it with no bag to protect the yarn from the Wisconsin winter weather once it arrived on the shop doorstep. I was livid.And when I went to dye the yarn, I found out the hard way that the skeins were not properly tied, so I ended up with some really expensive yarn barf that I couldn’t even sell. When I called to complain, NO ONE returned my calls or addressed my concerns. I was DONE (with a capital ‘D’ DONE).No, you can’t possibly prepare for all of the what ifs, but you can significantly cut down on your disappointment or potential loss of income by choosing reputable suppliers (ask around the inter-webs…some dyers may not offer up any secrets, others, like me, are happy to offer some advice).

Check out my other post about how to choose the right yarn for a project, because that’s also a good guide for choosing yarn to dye.

In the end, it’s up to you what yarns you settle on to dye, but I wish all new yarn dyers good luck in their endeavors. It’s not easy, but it is soooooooo much fun. I mean, how else can you mix a little mad scientist work – that’s how I feel when dyeing yarn – with artistry and end up with something that will be beautiful for a lifetime (as long as you take good care of it)?




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How to Choose the RIGHT Yarn for Your Next Project

April 5, 2017




Having good results with any knit or crochet project depends a LOT on the yarn you choose to work with. It can make or break a design and it can determine how much you (or a lucky recipient of your hard work) love to wear the completed item.

As a yarn shop owner, I always enjoyed helping customers pick out yarn for all kinds of patterns: sweaters, shawls, afghans, mittens, you name it. I know some shops like to make the sale, but I liked happy customers, and nothing made customers happier than getting the right yarn every time (or most of the time…). My quaint little yarn shop depended on repeat customers who depended on what I’d picked out for them. Let’s just say that I had a couple repeat customers who had such amazing taste in yarn, I couldn’t wait for their next visit to sit down and page through my catalogs and samples to find just the right yarn that I had available through suppliers (Dear Skacel, your yarn catalog was my favorite to page through and fawn over).

To be honest, I’ve even walked through my local JoAnn’s and helped people select good yarn for a project there – I mean, that’s the kind of yarn I had access to before I was introduced to yarn shops. When you don’t have someone to help you look through yarn or who is pushing the sale of yarn you don’t need or want (yes, there’s such a thing), you need to know what you should consider when picking the right yarn for your next project. So let’s take a look, shall we?

The Project

Of course, the first question I asked was, “What are you making?” Is it a sweater/jumper? Is it a shawl or scarf? Is it meant to be worn next to the skin? Is it meant to be worn over or under something? All of these are important questions. I mean, would you want to wear a scarf next to your neck that has itchy or tough fibers that poke at your skin? Probably not.

Budget

Believe me, I know budgets can be tight too. If you don’t have a big box store nearby, your local yarn shop is the answer, however, those boutique level yarns can get pricey. Not everyone can make a sweater or afghan out of yarn that costs $20 for each 100g ball. Remember, though, you get what you pay for with “economy” yarns.

The small print to read here though is: even expensive yarn can have poor manufacturing, so make sure you read reviews if you can before you buy. I won’t blast any yarn companies in particular, but nothing peeved me more than yarns from manufacturers with poor quality control. Self-striping yarns at $15-$25 per ball with knots in them, abrupt color changes, or out of sequence color changes can totally throw off your project’s aura in a heartbeat.




Yarn Composition and Characteristics

The same yarn may behave differently for different knitters/crocheters AND can behave one way for a knitter but another way for a crocheter.

Ahem, BIG CHUNKY FURRY EYELASH YARN IS NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO CROCHET WITH! Well, at least for me anyway. The fur hides the stitches and they’re sooooooooo difficult to keep track of. I always ended up with weirdly shaped scarves.

If your project needs some drape to it, like for a scarf, shawl, skirt, or dress, you will want to choose a yarn that will do that. Plant or non-animal based fibers are always good for those types of projects (think cotton, bamboo, silk, tencel, etc.).

If your project needs to insulate or keep someone rather warm, choose animal-based fiber blends. Alpaca fibers, in particular, are hollow and thus insulate really well, so you’ll notice that projects made from this luxury fiber will keep you warmer. You might want to avoid alpaca for summery shawls or accessories.

Yarn “Memory”

Projects that require some bounce-back or memory – think projects with ribbing like socks or sweaters – you want to use fibers/yarns that will meet that challenge. Most cotton fibers will create loose, drapey fabrics, so they will lose their shape with wear or added moisture from sweat. As a result, I don’t usually suggest cotton for socks or sweaters.

Notions and Tools Needed

You also need to consider whether or not you’ll be able to use that yarn with all the notions and tools you’ll use to complete the project. If your project needs buttons or zippers, avoid single plies or lofty fibers that will get caught or tangled.

The Wearer

As a mom of three, I LOVE to make little sweaters and things for my kiddos. When you need to knit or crochet for babies and kids, you have to remember that they will fidget, cry, or rip off any clothes that are not comfortable. That’s why I don’t like to use wool for their projects. If I do need to use wool or that’s my absolute only choice, I pick merino wool, which is the softest to work with.




You will also need to consider if the person you are making the project for has any allergies. If they have allergies to specific dyes, like from hand dyed yarn, or to wool, you will need to use alternative fibers that are a good substitute for what you cannot use. Cannot use wool, but need something with memory to it? I am a big fan of Kraemer Yarn’s Tatamy yarn – a cotton/acrylic blend that comes in worsted or DK and is soft, hard wearing, and not quite as memory-free as most cottons.

The Case of Hand Dyed and other Novelty Yarns

Big shocker, I’m going to add a special section about hand dyed yarn. When working with hand dyed yarns or intricate novelty yarns, you want the yarn to speak for itself in the project. So if you’re looking at these kinds of yarn without a project in mind, pick the project to show off the yarn. Most simple, beginner-friendly projects, are GREAT for these kinds of yarns. Single stitch scarves, mostly stockinette stitch sweaters, non-lacy items, those would be the best to choose. If you have a beautifully mosaic dyed sock yarn, vanilla socks are the way to go.

I hope this helps the next time you’re stuck on what yarn to use for your next fiber arts endeavor. Let me know how it goes!




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Healing with Fiber Arts: Why I’ll Never Put Down My Yarn

March 24, 2017

I have always been intrigued by music and art therapy. In fact, as a former classical musician, my mother suggested that I become a music therapist and incorporate my talent into helping others. I never chose that career path, however, it wasn’t too far off from what drives me to be a part of the fiber arts industry now. Rather than just tell you a bunch of facts about how the fiber arts heals the mind, body, and soul, I thought I’d add a little personal touch and incorporate a little bit about how the fiber arts have helped me personally.




So what is art therapy?
Art therapy is defined as expressive therapy using the “creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being”.

I didn’t know it when I was younger, but my passion for the arts was keeping me whole. I was a bundle of nerves, insecure, and anxious all the time, but when I played the flute, my troubles just melted away. Playing an instrument was all about breathing control, expressing one’s self through notes scrawled on a page, and becoming one with a piece of music. Nothing else mattered.

How could you not feel powerful when Mozart’s Concerto No. 1 in G left you in control of the orchestra behind you? They backed me up. They slowed down when I slowed down. They paused when I paused. They quieted when I quieted. They flourished when I flourished. I overrode the conductor with every note that escaped my instrument.

I was quietly confident when I was on stage, but only when I was on stage. For the decade or so that I played the flute on a semi-professional basis, that’s all I did was live my life to be on stage where I felt the most comfortable. I went chasing that feeling, but did not think I could find that serenity without a flute in my hands…until I discovered the fiber arts.

What’s so special about the fiber arts, anyway?

Sharky’s Rainbow Blanket is ongoing. He loves rainbows and I love mindlessly crocheting this design of mine.

There are many benefits to the practice of fiber arts. According to the article 6 Unexpected Benefits of Knitting, the repetitive motions of knitting (or crochet) can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. A lot of times, depending on the mental health issue at hand, cognitive behavioral therapists recommend meditation. The act of knitting or crochet mimics this meditation as we count stitches, focus on written instructions, and repeat the same stitches over and over again.

Early last year, The New York Times published an article about the health benefits of knitting. The fiber artist community passed the article around online, thrilled about the positive press that the craft was getting. Knitting was not for grandmas and cat ladies anymore (yea, I know we all hate that stereotype…), it was therapeutic and healing for so many people. In fact, I had a few people encourage me to come and volunteer to teach knitting as a part of addiction recovery therapy at a local shelter, because there were proven benefits to this type of art therapy.





Reaching Nirvana Through Stitches

The different textures of knit and crochet fabrics can stimulate the release of happiness hormones.

I recall my littlest (and favorite) customer, an 8 year old boy who had learned to knit at school and would drag his mother into my shop periodically to buy “the good yarn” for another project. His mother would comment about how it was a brave new world once he had learned to knit. She, herself, didn’t knit or crochet, but something about her son eyes lighting up every time they walked into my studio made the trip worth it. I could see the universe turn into a haze behind him as he focused on each ball of yarn that he ran his fingers across. It was as if the tactile experience brought him to a place of nirvana.

Science explains this phenomena pretty well, too. The happiness we get from playing with yarn or making it releases dopamine, the happiness/feel-good hormone in our bodies. This hormone can keep us fiber artists motivated to begin (and yes, complete) project after project and send us back to our favorite yarn retailers over and over.

Healing One Stitch At a Time

Knit and crochet can also help with motor skills, help prevent arthritis pain and mild cognitive impairment. What hits home the most for me is help with motor skills. A few years back, as the result of malnutrition from a severe illness, I experienced nerve damage in my left hand. For a few weeks, I had intermittent paralysis and pain from constant muscle spasms. I used knitting to retrain my left hand to function, thus eliminating my need for physical therapy in a clinical setting. Yes, yarn saved me money and time and healed me through knitting and crochet.

Fiesta Hat & Cowl

It started with figuring out how to hold a needle in my left hand, because my grip was so weak. Then, I could grip larger needles, and began designing patterns for weights of yarn that I was not used to knitting with. OMG Yarn’s launch would not have been possible without patterns like the Fiesta Hat and Cowl, which was the first pattern design I came up with after experiencing the loss of function in my left hand. Fair isle/intarsia knitting, plus Aran weight yarn and knitting the sample out of yarn I had dyed was a big catalyst to turning life around (someday, I’ll share the rest of that story). That process alone is why I’ll never give up my fiber fanaticism. Occasionally, I take breaks to reflect on life, but I always come back.

Well, I hope this is the start of a good discussion as to why yarn is awesome. You know I’m not just saying that too. I encourage everyone to share this article with anyone interested in art therapy or to help prove why your yarn habit is much more beneficial than having something warm to wear in winter.

References.

Brody, J. E. (2016, January 25). The Health Benefits of Knitting. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/the-health-benefits-of-knitting/?_r=0.

Harper, K. (n.d.). 6 Unexpected Benefits of Knitting. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.lifehack.org/314247/6-unexpected-benefits-knitting.

Locke, R. (n.d.). Science Says Knitting Makes Humans Warmer and Happier Mentally. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.lifehack.org/319404/science-says-knitting-makes-humans-warmer-and-happier-mentally.

What is Art Therapy? (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://www.arttherapyblog.com/what-is-art-therapy/#.WNUwlWMdfVo.