Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hear that squealing noise? Those were my brakes.

This past week, I've been going through some major changes. I have to stop dyeing the way I have been.

For the time being, I can't use the Ciba dyes inside my house. I'm too concerned about traces of the dye getting into my system and into my family's system. I mix the powders in the little laundry nook in my bedroom (wearing gloves and a respirator), but I have some concern about the powders spreading out into the sleeping space. I mix the dye stocks in the laundry room too, which involves opening and closing a lot of jars, all of which have dried dye on the edge, which can spread more powder.

I handpaint the fibers in my kitchen. I put down a big shower curtain with a towel on top of it, but still, splashes occur, and since I'm still opening and closing plastic tubs with dried dye around the edge, there's probably some powder spreading. In the cooking area.

Step 1: No dye in the house. It's on my covered front porch now, in a big wooden bin.

Step 2: Figure out how to colour fiber without going back on Step 1.

So this is where I am. I see two options: use new dye, or dye outside the house.

The new dye possibility is Wilton's. Wilton's is an icing dye, available for purchase at Michael's Craft Store. It's expensive, but it's a cost I don't mind eating if it makes a difference. The reports on Wilton's aren't great, though. It's very difficult to manage (some of the colours -- several of the colours, in fact -- split like crazy, making predictable results hard to achieve), and it's not as light- and colour-fast as the professional grade dyes. I know of one Etsy seller who is very successful using it, but I'm skeptical. And my early experiments have not gone well. I'd post a picture of the bad, bad colours, but it's just embarrassing. Also, there isn't a decent black with Wilton's.

i just got tipped off about a "Green" dye with no heavy metals in it. I have contacted the company about their MSDS sheet and am waiting to hear. We'll see.

The other option is to dye outside my house. This would involve having someone else mix my dye stocks (I'm sure I can find a teenager who will do it for the right price), and having me retreat to my covered front porch to mix my colours and paint the wool. I would dye using a crock pot and maybe this cooker I found at Canadian Tire. I hear Felicia of Sweet Georgia uses an outdoor turkey roaster, and I'll be emailing her about that. The downside of this option is that a) it's cold and damp out there for most of the next 6 months, and b) it's a bit expensive, what with cooking outside and all the heat waste that implies.

Whichever of these options I choose, it still means that I'm pretty much only making enough fiber for my own spinning purposes. I can't see doing production dyeing with these methods. I might be able to do some fiber sales in the form of carded batts, and I'm willing to try to expand that, but so far my batts haven't been big sellers.

No fiber sales, that hurts. Fiber sales is 80% of my business right now, and for the past few months I've sold close to $1000 worth each month. Putting a total stop to that will hurt my bottom line, and I'm not doing this business as a hobby. It's a valuable part of my household budget.

The bright side is that, if ever there was a time to really push my yarn sales, the beginning of autumn is it. And I have 5 knitting classes starting in a few weeks; hopefully that will become a more significant source of income. And teaching? Completely non-toxic. I can do lots of that, and no protective equipment is necessary.

So that's where I'm at -- going out of my tree, more or less. Any attempt at helpful information or friendly hand-holding will be appreciated.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Coming Events

Just briefly, here are some places you can find me in the upcoming weeks.

Farmer's Market dates: August 24, September 14, October 5, October 26

Classes at Black Sheep Yarns: Sock Knitting, Project Support, Foundation Skills, Beginner Knitting.
Classes at the Port Moody Arts Centre: Freeform Knitting, Sweaters without a Pattern.

And of course I'll be spending an absurd amount of time at Black Sheep Yarns just hanging out, because there is now a yarn store within blocks of my house and I can.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summer Hiatus, apparently

I didn't mean to take a hiatus, but it seems to have happened. It was an accident though. I have the time to work and I want to work, but it seems that I've been ordering such a high volume of supplies that I've been cleaning my supplier out, and then getting caught in her supply dip when I want to reorder. It has happened twice this summer. Once, I had a forced break of only a week, and that was fine, I just devoted myself to spinning, but this last break lasted three weeks. I had no supplies, I had a rapidly dwindling stock, and I could do nothing whatsoever about it.

I do not mean to criticize my supplier -- I have nothing but love for her service, her attention to quality, and her prices. I'm just growing is all. I am working out a deal for a standing order with her, and that should help. She's growing too -- namely, she's growing some storage space so she can keep more in stock, herself -- and the timing is perfect for that. With any luck, this won't happen again.

I did get my first box of supplies on Tuesday: 5 lbs of Corrie, 22 lbs of BFL, 1 lb of Wensleydale just to try, and another pound of wool/soysilk which is oh so pretty. I have attempted to work. My mom is visiting though, so you really can't blame me for taking Tuesday afternoon off to go see Brideshead Revisited instead. And yesterday, I apparently pissed off the gods of electronics. I had Internet connectivity troubles all day (this is unrelated to the dyeing), and my electronic scale went on the fritz. If I can't weigh the wool, I can't dye the wool.

As a result, although I got supplies on Tuesday, this is all I have managed to achieve:

That's 4 lbs of BFL. 4. On a decent single day, I can do 7, and that's if they're all handpainted colourways. If I mix up some semi-solids in my workload, on a day when I'm burning through the wool I can do 12. So 4 -- not so impressive. But as I keep reminding myself, there is NO SUCH THING as a wool emergency, so I try not to fret. But still, I'm feeling less than impressed with my output.

Something I am impressed by, though, is this:

For those of you playing the home game, that's tweedy yarn, spun from those mixed batts that were cluttering up my desk a few entries back. I am so beyond thrilled with this yarn I can hardly tell you. I'm spinning it long draw, so it's a little uneven, which is perfect; I'm going for a look that's really sort of arty. I plan to use this yarn in my next Sweaters Without a Pattern class that I'll be teaching at the Port Moody Arts Centre this fall. I always like to have a personal project to do so that I can demo the various techniques on a real project.

In other news, Black Sheep Yarns is days away from opening. I'm so delighted by this development. For one, Port Moody is ready for an upscale yarn store. The local knitters are numerous and artistic, and are apparently tired of driving to Maple Ridge or Vancouver for good yarn. Now me, I spent a decade living in a very boring town that was 2 hours from any really good yarn stores, so driving 35 minutes to Main Street to visit Three Bags Full was always just fine with me, but that's me. Living away from a decent city for so long, I relish the chance to go a mere half hour away to be in the midst of the interesting people, the cool shops, and the swank little coffee shops with wireless access.

However, a local yarn store -- really local -- is fantastic. And it's excellent for me, because I finally have a teaching home. I've been given more or less carte blanche to offer whatever classes i want, at whatever schedule I want. I'll still teach a couple classes at the Arts Centre (Freeform Knitting and Sweaters, this fall), but most of my teaching will happen at Black Sheep. I absolutely love teaching knitting, love to share my passion and my skill, so I have great hopes that I'll get to do a lot more of it now than I could at the Arts Centre.

The expected opening day for the new store is August 19, and the first knit night will be held the night before.

Lastly, here is a picture of cute children with a sheep. I took my daughter to Maplewood Farm the other week, and she loved it. She fed bunnies who were stuffed but tried to be polite and take a few nibbles of the profferred apple wedges, frowned at goats who were trying to nibble her shoelaces, and petted the sheep. I petted the sheep too. Or rather, I crouched down and poked at their fleece, gauging it for staple length, texture, and crimp. As the sheep looked back at me with an unmistakable "What *are* you doing?!" look on its face, I thought, most people probably don't do this.