Shoulder Strengtheners and Stabilizers for Indie Dyers

....or anyone! I'll re-shoot a fancier video in the future, but this is a video I made for a client with shoulder issues. I realized instead of writing all of it out for him like he wanted it would be far easier for me to shoot a video. These exercises are fantastic for strengthening and stabilizing the shoulder girdle. 

Disclaimer: These exercises are for educational and entertainment purposes only and are not to be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan, product, or course of action. To reduce the risk of injury, before beginning these exercises, consult with your healthcare provider. 

If you experience pain during these exercises, or it just doesn't feel right for your body, STOP. DO NOT CONTINUE TO DO THEM. 

 

I teach Pilates at the amazing Studio Blue in Northwest Portland. Upper shoulder issues especially those related to tension is my jam. 

Don't Price Yourself Out of Business

A conversation that comes up often in forums is on pricing....and underpricing. So let's talk about it, because there are some universal facts when pricing, but there is latitude in the amount as well, and dyers will have different approaches. 

It goes without saying (although that's questionable at times) that you need to at the very least cover your costs. I'll admit when I first started as a dyer I didn't really think that one through; I would always just look at at least covering the original cost of the yarn without taking other things into consideration. This made a (terrible) difference in my wholesale career, as in not making me any money...or even losing money. 

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For the basics on figuring out your retail prices, the Pricing, Profit, and Wholesale post is a good road map to start with. We covered adding in the costs of the dyes, acid, etc. Some dyers, however, who are more organized and better with numbers than I am, create spreadsheets. 

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One dyer has created a spreadsheet where she plugs in the original wholesale (to her) cost per skein, the shipping, supplies, to first find how much the finished yarn has cost her. From there, she determines her retail price and the profit she makes. Her retail price is around 3 times her cost. She also has her wholesale pricing and profit for each base, making this an incredibly comprehensive spreadsheet to work from. 

Edited to add: I need to make a clarification. The number labeled "profit" in the spread sheet is gross profit. Gross profit is revenue minus cost of goods. It doesn't take any other costs into account such as wages, utilities, and misc. supplies. 

The dyer's net profit is what she ends up with after deducting wages, utilities, supples, etc. The net profit amount per skein is not shown. That number will be much lower than gross profit. 

Other dyers were considerate enough to contribute information about how they price their yarn:

Another says "I calculate cost of base and supplies per skein, add a percentage for overhead and labor, and multiply by 4 for retail price. There are exceptions. Some more expensive bases I don't offer at wholesale, and these might be calculated as x 3 instead of x 4. And the percentage I add is variable, but currently usually at 25%.

Wholesale is 60/40 split if they order dyed to order, 70/30 if they buy from stock on hand. Right now, if they order more than $1000 dyed to order at the 60/40 price, they can get the additional discount to make it 50/50. That discount is going away at the end of the year. 

I expect my shops to sell at the same retail price that I do. Currently, I only wholesale to shops I can drive to and do in person trunk shows. If they were paying shipping, I'd be ok with them adding up to $1 more per skein. But, so far, there is never shipping. They always buy from stock on hand after a trunk show. Trunk show split is 70/30."

Another says: "Material costs x 4. I used to do a different way but this works and puts enough $ in my pocket at the end that I'm perfectly happy and am much more than breaking even. I also decided not to wholesale outside of one local shop so there's no complications or feeling like I'm not well compensated in that area either." 

Additionally, it's a good idea to look around and see what competitors are charging for similar bases. This actually works really well if they're not using custom milled yarn because often you'll know how much that base costs because you are also using that yarn! 

I tend to go more by that, although I should try to be more spread sheet about it. Me and numbers though....not a good combo. Although I will browse Etsy for prices, I don't actually use it much for reference though. I'll often look at dyers such as Hedgehog Fibers and Uncommon Yarns  and even Madelinetosh at times to see what they are pricing their yarns at, and use that information to make my prices. I look at dyers like them because I know their yarns sell, so obviously people are willing to pay the prices they charge. 

 

 

"Denim" mini skein set

"Denim" mini skein set

My mini-skein sets are some of the higher priced ones, at $30 for a total of 240 yards. I'll be raising prices in 2018 most likely, however, as the cost of supplies is always increasing. To figure out this price, I looked at the most expensive mini skeins I could find, which were Koigu's mini skeins for "embroidery" (but the same yarn as KPM). They were $3.75 for eleven yards. I then browsed Etsy, which was helpful in showing me just how many people were underpricing their sets. This was a couple of years ago, and it seems to have improved a little...but there are still some eyebrow raising listings. From there I sought a balance. $30 was the number I could sell and make enough profit. When it comes to mini-skein sets, the biggest factor is the time factor. Dyeing actually takes very little time. It's the breaking down of the skeins, twisting each individual one, then packaging them that is so time consuming. 

Occasionally I have a complaint that they are too expensive, and a couple snafus where the buyer didn't read yards but instead read grams (despite me being very clear about it), then was upset when they got the sets. One customer in particular was rather rude about it-- I believe their words were "very expensive....and very deceiving...". I got a little heated about it in my response, although I'm always pretty polite, pointing out that yards was put not only in the listing title, but in the description as well, exactly how many yards per skein there were, how many skeins to a set, and the total yardage, so how exactly was I deceiving her? 

Another issue that crops up a lot in discussions among dyers is about those that are vastly underpricing their yarn and having endless sales. I'll tackle the sales issue first. 

Don't have too many sales, free shipping offers, etc. Make it a rare occurrence. Otherwise, (and I know this unfortunately by experience) you end up with a situation where customers won't purchase from you unless it is on sale...because they know you have them all the time. It will seriously backfire on you. Unless I'm doing a major unload, like when I was moving, or discontinuing a yarn and just want to get rid of it, my highest discount will be 15%.  

Underpricing or undercutting? That's a good question. There is always a slew of dyers, often fairly new ones, who are underpricing their yarns to an eyebrow raising degree, having constant sales, and generally pissing off other dyers. If they continue down that path, they're not going to be in business very long. It can be hard to tell if it's just sheer ignorance or the idea that if their yarn is cheaper than others it'll sell better. 

My personal opinion on these types of dyers is....shrug. I honestly don't think they're worth getting upset about, and I honestly don't think they are doing much damage to other dyers. My immediate thought about this is: quality. The cream always rises to the top, and from my cursory look, these dyers tend, well, not to have their color and dye sense developed fully yet, to be polite. Our customers buy our yarns because they like the colors, and the majority of our customer base is accustomed to typical indie dyer prices. This wasn't always the case, so it's nice to have that be the current state of things. 

My other thought is that, if they are trying to undercut other dyers, it's going to backfire. I've talked about it before, but there really is a psychological component to the price someone pays for an item. We are pretty well programmed to think that the higher the cost, the better quality something is. Even if your yarn is beautiful, if it's priced way low, a lot of customers won't purchase it because they will unconsciously be convinced there's something wrong with it to be priced that low compared to other yarns. Many times someone will raise prices...and sales will increase. Another thing to consider is that people who buy such low priced yarns often won't want to pay more to begin with, so they probably weren't going to become customers with you anyways. Last, but not least, they're going to put themselves out of business at that pricing. 

I've never worried about those dyers personally, and I think that's probably the most practical thing to do. If you think it's someone who is genuinely clueless, then it's a nice gesture to give them some advice about pricing. If you think it's someone who's trying to undercut everyone else...pity them, because they're not going to last long. 

The spread sheet and the pricing information of other dyers were given to me with full consent and were fully aware that a post would be written using it. 

 

CALL FOR BLOGGERS: I would love to be able to offer some information on doing trunk shows, which seem to have become very popular. I don't have any experience myself with traveling trunk shows, and have done about three in person trunk shows in my entire career. If there is any dyer-- or dyers who would like to contribute a guest post about them, please let me know. It doesn't have to be elaborate; it could be about any aspect of it you want.  Pricing, labeling, contracts...whatever. It could be a good plug for your business, or at least I hope so! 

3 Restorative Foam Roller Releases For Indie Dyers

As some of you may or may not know, besides being a dyer and artist, I'm also a Pilates instructor, teaching at Studio Blue in Portland, Oregon. I am always reading dyers and knitters and spinners complaints of neck and back tension, which is almost inevitable with the posture those activities tend to require of us! One of my most favorite things to teach is exercises to relieve some of that tension, so I've made some videos of three foam roller restorative exercises that will make you feel amazing. They're not polished, but hopefully you can overlook that!

Foam rollers come in many densities and sizes; no matter which density you get, I strongly recommend you purchase a body length roller. There are so many exercises you can do with it, from restorative to strengthening, that are not possible with a shorter roller. 

I hope these help ease some of your neck and shoulder tension! 

5 Social Media Marketing Podcasts and Books

Everybody's response to the "To Be or Not to Be a Hypocrite" has been overwhelmingly positive, for which I'm thrilled. I'm working on a follow up article, but won't be able to talk to the Chargeurs guy until he gets back from his work trip on the 25th, and other articles are taking time as well, so I thought I'd do a post about the books and podcasts I've found inspirational and educational when it comes to social media marketing. 

Podcasts: I listen to a lot of podcasts, but there are a few that I *consistently* listen to:

  1. Social Media Marketing with Michael Stelzner. This one is always excellent. socialmediaexaminer.com is an incredible resource on its own, with experts writing on a variety of social media platforms. 
  2. Social Media Marketing Talk Show is a weekly one-hour Facebook Live show, but they're now also issuing an audio podcast of it after. This one is a must because it's all about what happened in social media that week, and god only knows things in social media change almost daily! 
  3. The Gary Vee Audio Experience is one of my favorites, but people don't always love him on first listen. He's loud, he's brash, he curses worse than a sailor, and he doesn't put up with bullshit. While the first two podcasts will give you information, this one will give you inspiration.
  4. Manly Pinterest Tips Podcasts with Jeff Sieh has a silly name but tons of great information. Pinterest is something I need to look into more; I was on a roll for a while on my art one but then life stepped in. Not all episodes are about Pinterest; there are quite a few on other platforms. Jeff Sieh also contributes to Social Media Examiner and is part of that team, so you know his content is good.
  5. The Science of Social Media podcast is from Buffer, and has episodes on a ton of different topics, all relating to social media. As they're a social media management platform, they are a great source to learn of tactics and tools that can help you! 
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Although I don't read books as much as I used to, there are some pretty amazing books I've read in this past year that I recommend highly. (BTW, I am not an Amazon affiliate...but maybe I should look into that!)

  1. They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan is a must read. It, and him, were the influence to write the Yarn Bases article. It takes content marketing to a whole new level, by answering one simple question: What do customers want? "Simply put, the greatest companies and modern day rule makers are obsessed with consumer fear, and they allow that fear to dictate their entire business model. And they do this because they know if they are able to eliminate all fears and negative emotions from the buying process, the only emotion left to feel is trust."
  2. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk. It's a very visual book; he provides real life examples of social media advertising by companies that have both hit the nail on the head...and fallen down flat. "Jabs are the value you provide your customers with: the content you put out, the good things you do to convey your appreciation. And the right hook is the ask: it's when you go in for the sale, ask for a subscribe, ask for a donation."
  3. Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer. If there was one book I would recommend for an indie dyer (or anybody that sells anything, for that matter), this would be it. It's not just about customer service, it's about modern customer service. "....a colossal change in customer [service] expectations is occurring RIGHT NOW, as customers move from private communications with companies to public communications in social media, review sites, and discussion boards. Now, customer service is a spectator sport. Are you prepared?" Customer service seems to be the first thing to go when an indie dyer starts imploding, which is exactly when it should be given attention-- LOTS of attention.

Those are a few of my favorite podcasts and books; what are yours?

 

Looking for writers! If you are a dyer or in a related business, and have an idea or advice or information to give readers, not to mention get your business exposure, contact me at krista@pigeonroofstudios.com! 

To Be or Not To Be a Hypocrite: American Superwash Wool

Superwash is something I have come to have very strong feelings about. American superwash, that is. I'm well aware that I may not win any popularity contests from this post.

Superwash yarns have become a hot button topic over the last few years, with many "lifestyle" blogs and podcasts talking about the evils of it and its toxicity and that if only people knew what the process was they wouldn't buy it. There's just one problem. If you are an American who cares about bringing back the American wool industry, of growing it, of having more yarns grown in the US, sheep farmers getting good prices for their wool to stay in business, talks about wanting transparency of supply chains and buying clothing and such where one knows the entire path from beginning to end....and says that superwash is evil and that people should shun it, you're a hypocrite. The American wool industry has been revitalized because of the superwash process. 

Say whaaat?

Say whaaat?

This isn't something one hears. In fact, that information seems to be deliberately overlooked-- or simply not looked into at all-- in lieu of eco-conscious sounding sound bites. 

America has super washing facilities on American soil. Before that, all wool tops had to be sent to the UK and China for superwash processing. Carbon footprint aside, it also added cost to US wool and made it impossible to offer products entirely made in the US. If one wanted to manufacture wool socks, for instance, American wool top would have to be shipped to China (7,227 miles), then to England (5,070 miles) then to South Carolina (4,094 miles). 

We have the facilities on American soil because of the U.S. military. In 2011 Congress passed an extension to the Berry Amendment, which mandated that all American military apparel be made in the U.S. From the thread to the buttons, every single component has to be American sourced or made. The Sheep Venture Co in association with the American Sheep Industry Association, spent $800,000 to bring super washing equipment to Chargeurs Wool USA in Jamestown, South Carolina in 2011. Chargeurs is the only remaining top making facility in the United States, and one of only two remaining commercial scouring facilities. 

The argument that it doesn't take that much extra time to hand wash and care for one's wool items? Somehow I don't think a soldier in Afghanistan or anywhere else, for that matter, is going to be able to have hand washing his or her socks a priority.  

The military purchases 20% of the American wool clip. Let me repeat that. The military purchases twenty percent of the American wool clip. That is a large percentage. That is a lot of sheep farmers who are benefitting from just this 20%. However, they are able to do so now because wool can be super washed. It makes wool viable for combat clothing in almost every application, including jackets, pants, underwear, headwear, gloves, and socks. 

Wool is inherently flame resistant, making it an ideal base for fabrics that will be made into uniforms soldiers will wear. They are working on a light wool-based fire-resistant fabric to improve combat uniforms, which is composed of 50% wool, 42pc Nomex, 5pc Kevlar, and 2pc P140 anti-static fiber. The decision to start looking at wool was due to improvised IED issues in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2017 the military bought 60 different items made from wool, from Army berets to Navy pea coats, to Air Force dress uniforms. The wool that goes into those is processed at Chargeurs. The super washing process availability is important enough that one military leader wrote in an Army newsletter that it had "revitalized wool manufacturing in this country." In fact, wool production in the US has been stable over the past five years, with some 50-60% of the American wool clip being utilized within the U.S., whereas it had dropped in the decade before. 

The reintroduction of the superwash process and the Buy American movement has increased the interest and commitment of the American wool-sock industry to buying American wool. Commercial textile and knitting firms in the US buy U.S. top and wool because they can buy domestic wool and have the entire process done in America. This as well benefits the Department of Defense as they can purchase all American made products with shorter lead times, reduced freight costs, and can purchase smaller quantities. Diego Paullier, the commercial manager of Chargers Wool USA says, "Superwash has opened new markets and created more demand for American wool." He also estimates that Chargeurs business has grown by 10% since their superwash line was introduced. 

Besides the military, there are several wool companies leading the trend of American sourced wool, such as Duckworth, a Montana based wool company. Robert Bernthal, the founder, wanted every stage of the process of production, from raising the sheep to processing the wool to sewing the apparel, to take place in the U.S. Before the superwash process was reintroduced to the U.S., that would have been impossible. 

Now, because of superwash, there is a transparency of the wool supply chain, connecting consumers with the ranchers. Roberts Ranch in Wyoming produces the wool that is used by the hosiery company Farm to Feet; Lehfeldt Ranch in Montana produces the wool for base layer knitter Ibex, and Helle Rambouillet in Montana partners with Duckworth. According to Graham Stewart, the founder of Duckworth, American Merino has "more crimp, loft, and natural stretch than wool grown in other parts of the world." Additionally, American sheep are non-mulesed. 

In February of 2017, Clara Parkes of Knitters Review wrote about the American Sheep Industry Association's annual conference. As she writes, "It's important to note that any completely made-in-America, machine washable wool clothing or yarn was not a possibility until 2011...From this simple act sprung several new companies featuring all-domestic machine washable items." She writes about Nester Hosiery, who produce the line Farm to Feet, and how, launching the line in 2013, was able to get everything, "even the nylon, the paperboard wraps on each pair of socks, the in-store displays, is made in this country...in 2016 alone the business grew by 90%." 

The Slow Fashion movement has been growing in popularity over the last few years, with one of the emphases being on traceable origins. Knowing where your clothing comes from, where the material comes from. And yet, the loudest champions of this movement are also the most vocal about the evils of superwash. That's where my hackles rise. 

If you choose not to purchase superwash yarn because you disagree with the fact that it is a chemical process that super washes the wool, that is totally fine. I will mention, however, that Chargeurs does have their own wastewater facilities. The reason the plant is on 550 acres of land in a rural area is because of that wastewater facility and that wastewater treatment requires lots of space. Chargeurs does save the lanolin it removes from the fleeces during the washing process as well. 

However, it is absolutely ok to make the decision that you are not going to work with superwash yarn. It is an individual decision. If you feel that it's the most environmentally friendly decision for you, that's great. 

What is not ok with me is to be prosthelytized to about the evils of superwash at the same time one is lamenting the demise of the wool industry in America, and talking about how to support American farmers and support the American wool industry. Granted, there are marvellous yarn lines like Brooklyn Tweed and Quince & Co yarn, that are non-superwash, but, in the grand scheme of things, knitting yarn companies are a drop in the bucket. 

It absolutely boggles my mind how all of what I've just written about above doesn't get talked about. Or, on the rare occasions it's mentioned, it's like, "oh, yeah, there are superwash facilities in the U.S....but superwash is awful and everyone should make better choices of non superwash wool." 

Superwash has literally been a game changer for the American wool industry. It's time to acknowledge that. 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Bookkeeping for Indie Dyers

Hi! I’m Lauren, the dyer behind Old Rusted Chair. I’m taking over Krista’s blog to talk a little about a concept that scares most small business owners: Bookkeeping! I have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and more than 10 years worth of experience ranging from handling accounts payable at a grocery store to being controller at a tea company. In between I’ve done bookkeeping for my old LYS and helped a startup in the natural food industry build their accounting department.

Before we dive in, all of this is assuming your business is up and running within your state andcity guidelines. If you’re not sure, go to your state government website and find out what you need to do to operate a business there. States may have different requirements for different types of businesses. My business is a sole proprietorship, which means, in Tennessee, I had to register at my county clerk office. I also had to register with my state revenue department so I can pay forward any sales taxes I collect. Tennessee does not have a state income tax, but I do have to pay a business tax to the state and city.

On average, I spend about an hour a month on my bookkeeping work. I break down my tasks into weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks to keep things manageable. First, you need to choose your preferred method of record keeping. I currently use QuickBooks Self-Employed (QB). It’s simple to set up and use, and makes it easy for people who aren’t accountants to keep track of their accounting. It can link to your bank, PayPal, Etsy, Stripe, and other accounts to keep track of all of your income streams. The ability to include all of these income sources made it very easy for me to transition from Etsy to Squarespace Commerce. It does have its downsides, but in my case the downsides aren’t worth the expense or effort of having a different software. For example, the expense accounts listed in QuickBooks are preset; you cannot change them or add new ones. I think this is a big misstep, because I’d love to have the flexibility to add a few new accounts so I can break out my expenses in more detail. Overall, for the price and convenience, I’m sticking with it for now. There are other options out there, such as Xero, Freshbooks, Excel, and even Google Sheets. Do some research and find out what works best for you.

Let’s move on to my workflow. Breaking tasks up makes it easy to fit them in my schedule, and sets good habits for staying on top of the work. I prefer to do my bookkeeping first thing in the morning with a fresh cup of a coffee. Then I can spend the rest of my week focusing on the creative part of my job and not have these small admin tasks lingering over my week.

Weekly: I categorize transactions in QB. This takes me about 10-15 minutes depending on how busy my week was. The majority of my transactions are sales and transaction fees, but I also purchase supplies and make donations. Recording and categorizing these weekly means everything is fresh in my mind (and easy to find in my email) so I can quickly move through transactions. It’s much easier to find what that $21 charge from Amazon was when the transaction was last week and not four months ago. Additionally, I add any mileage for trips to the post office or other business-related car trips. This is also a great time to place orders for any supplies you need.

Monthly: Pull sales numbers from Squarespace. I have a general idea of what colors and bases sell best, but I like seeing the numbers. I make a monthly donation to Planned Parenthood based on sales of one of my colorways, Rebel Girl, and this report lets me know how many skeins sold so I can make my donation accordingly. If you’re selling off of Squarespace you can find this information under Commerce > Orders > Export (in the upper right corner). Etsy users can find this under Shop Manager > Orders, then scroll to the bottom to download a CSV file. I also spend a few minutes looking through my supplies and seeing if I’m running low on any dyes or other materials that I don’t order as frequently. I also pull a profit and loss statement from Quickbooks.

Quarterly: Tax time! Most people I talk to wait until April to deal with this, which usually isn’t the best decision. You should be making quarterly tax payments if you expect to owe more than $1,000 for the year, according to the IRS . The IRS wants their money and could penalize you for not paying quarterly. Think back to the days when you received a paycheck from an employer. All of those tax deductions from your paycheck were forwarded by your employer to the IRS on your behalf. Now that you’re your own employer you are responsible for paying the IRS. There are a few ways to go about doing this. You can either pay directly to the IRS online or by sending a payment in the mail. It’s also worth checking to see if you can pay through your accounting software. Either way, you will need to register on the IRS website. QB estimates my quarterly taxes based on my net income (total sales minus total expenses) and my current tax bracket. I file a joint return with my husband, so I include his information for a more accurate number. After a quick set up I am now able to pay the IRS directly through Quickbooks by clicking a few buttons.

Another tax you need think about is sales tax. When I ship or sell to a direct customer in Tennessee I am required to collect 7% state sales tax. If my customer is in Davidson County I need to collect an additional 2.25%. Your sales platform should have the ability to enter in your state and city sales tax information so your customer will be charged automatically. If you are sending wholesale orders to a LYS in your state the rules are different. I drop off shipments to my LYS, but do not charge them sales tax. This is because they will be collecting sales tax from their customers and paying it to the state. If you’re selling to a LYS in your state you can ask them for a copy of their resale certificate (if applicable in your state). I forward sales tax payments to the state quarterly, using sales tax information from the monthly sales report mentioned above.

Finally, I need to pay business taxes to the state and city. I won’t go into details on this particular tax because your mileage will vary greatly based on what state you’re in. It’s best to check with your state revenue department to figure out what, if anything, you owe and when you owe it.

Bookkeeping doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. By breaking tasks down into workable pieces you’ll find a good rhythm quickly. If you’re starting from scratch I recommend that you stay current on your new transactions and spend an hour at a time working backwards. You don’t need to get the backlog of transactions done in one sitting. Breaking it up over a few days or weeks will help your sanity in the long run.

Thank you, Lauren, for this amazingly informative post! 

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Interview: Alanna Wilcox

Several years ago, Alanna Wilcox contacted me to ask if she could use my fiber for a book she was writing. Of course, I said yes! That book has finally come out, A New Spin On Color, and it's incredible; I haven't seen anyone go as thoroughly and as methodically into spinning differently dyed fiber and how to spin the differently dyed fiber to get what you want. From her website:

"Have you ever tried spinning painted top or rovings only to be disappointed with the color outcomes in your yarns or finished projects? Alanna Wilcox will clearly and artfully walk you through understanding color theory making it less intimidating for both novice and expert spinners alike. Never before has a book presented the same dyed top worked up into 20+ different approaches accompanied by easy to follow directions so you can see how the techniques look in both a skein and a knitted swatch."

I spoke to Alanna recently about her fiber arts journey and how it all began. In fact, I got so much awesome information that I think I'll need to do a second post to cover all of it! I asked her how she got into spinning to begin with, especially since she said she had started with wanting to spin her cat's fur! 

"I took an English class in college and the professor had brought in an American crazy quilt and I was just floored by all of the embroidery stitches. It made me want to make my own crazy quilts, so I started to go hunting in different shops and would buy yarns and threads wherever I went.  Wherever I traveled instead of bringing a souvenir shot glass home or something like that, I would get threads and different things to put on the quilt, and would incorporate all of these things that were going on in my life into the quilt.

"I have a cat and he has super soft fur so I thought hey, I wonder if there's a way I could turn his fur into an embroidery thread, because if shops have fuzzy mohair yarn, maybe I can have a fuzzy embroidery thread made from my cat's fur. I was taking a dyeing class at a local museum and I knew that the instructor was pretty knowledgeable in weaving and the fiber arts, and so I asked her, "Do you know if there's a way to get my cat’s fur off of him and turn it into a yarn that I can embroider with?"

The instructor pointed her the way of the Rochester weaver's guild, which had a learning center called The Weaving and Fiber Arts Center. They taught spinning classes there, so that's where she took her first drop spindle class, telling the instructor about her wish to spin her cat's fur.

"I was like, ‘Hey, I want to spin my cat's fur into yarn, is that possible?’, and they said, 'Whoa, start with wool first and work your way up to that.' I did try to drop spindle with his fur by brushing him, which is probably the best way to get cat fur, but since I was so excited to get more off of him faster I took him-- he is a seal point lynx rag doll -- to a dog groomer and said, 'Shave him!'.  He was happy afterwards because it was hot in the summer but while getting buzzed he was making this grumpy face like, 'really, is this what's needed to make yarn from my fur?'

In 2007, Alanna started the OHS Spinning Certificate Program, completing it in 2014, earning a Spinning Certificate with Distinction. I asked her what prompted her to take on that project.

"After learning how to use the drop spindle I went to my local spinning guild meetings, and there was a spinner there, Carolyn Rivello, she’s actually teaching at Rhinebeck this fall. She was so excited about spinning yarn, and she was also enrolled in the spinning certificate program. She would come to the guild meetings and she would bring these binders and in the binders would be her homework assignments from the program.

"I really didn't know much about spinning prior to this curiosity of wanting to turn my cat's fur into yarn, but I always loved thread and embroidery and sewing and fabric and knitting, and just, you know, things that were textile based. So the fact that not only could I go and take these classes at this center that was near me, but that one could actually go and study this with instructors, was a pretty intense exciting thing. Carolyn would share her homework assignments and experiences with the guild and it made me want to sign up. I did a little more research into the program, and basically every three years they start a level one course.  

"It's a six year course that you go to over the summer for nine days and you receive instruction from anywhere from four to five instructors on a range of topics and each year you learn new information and it covers everything from picking the wool, grading it, everything about different sheep, micron counts and all that. Wool spinning, natural dyeing, acid dyeing, dyeing with indigo, combing versus carding...it's intense, right? And then you have a year just dedicated to exotic fiber so then they go into all the exotics like angora, alpaca, all of that soft expensive fiber and then a different year it's all cellulose fibers and another year it's synthetics, like acrylic and bamboo. It's really the full gamut of everything-- you try different wheels, like you try a flyer led wheel, a bobbin led wheel, a kick wheel-- it's crazy intensive, and it was just so exciting to me that there was a way that you could really learn from people that were masters. So I got super excited and said okay, this is what I really want to do, but it's a very big time investment because, like I said, you go away for the nine days and then you come home and every year you have I would say between two to three hundred hours worth of homework assignments. I love spinning and that was awesome, but then there was writing up what you did and the documentation—there were so many things aside from the actual act of spinning that went into it, that it becomes work and so you know there are people that start off, and I think in my group there were about forty people that started, and then the graduating class had maybe twenty people left. And that's just the six years, right, and life has challenges, it'll just throw things your way, so, you know, some people just after year three were like forget this, this is too much for me. The people in the program were super cool with me though because I had my son along the way and that presented its own challenges.

 "I had my son during the program but before that though I had also lost a child and so I had to take a year off because it was a complicated pregnancy, but they were super cool and let me continue because it's consecutive so you can't just do year one and then year four, you have to do it consecutively so they let me come back and finish it. And then after the six years, it gets even harder, kind of like if spinning had something similar to the American Ninja Warrior show. So it's similar to where you do everything for the six years and then it's like okay, you've just made it past the tryouts. And then if you're really crazy there's the master spinner certificate. It's basically self-directed so you pick your topic and you have anywhere from like three to four years to complete it and submit it and then it gets graded by a panel of judges anonymously. I didn’t know who the judges were which for me was very difficult because I'm a question asker so while there were guidelines the process was difficult because I like to have feedback throughout a project not just at the end but I did it and I just completed it this year. My study was accepted by the jurors and so the book that I wrote  “A New Spin On Color”, is based on my thesis or what's called the in-depth study, so basically the whole thing to be a Master Spinner from start to finish took me ten years.

Photography by Jessica LK Photography. 

Photography by Jessica LK Photography. 

The book, A New Spin on Color, is really a masterpiece. How it came about:

"So when you go through this program the one thing they constantly are hammering and trying to drive home with you is the intention and spinning for an end use. They want you to constantly think about what is it you're spinning for. I know a lot of people love to spin for fun, which is great and that's pretty much how most people get started but for me I got so frustrated that I would make yarns and they were beautiful, and I would go to use them and I wasn't really a knitter in the sense that I would work from patterns. I would just kind of make things up as I went and so I didn't understand how my hand spun yarns might fall apart if they didn’t have enough twist in them so I would make these beautiful expensive Merino yarns and then I would knit them and then they would be pilling, I would be so frustrated because I spent so much time on analyzing the color but my spinning choices influenced how the yarn behaved and in the end it wouldn't work out.

"One year I went to Rhinebeck in New York, and I saw this gorgeous dyed fiber. The color is called Cattywampus, and that's one of the colors in the book and that's why I talk about this scarf sampler in the book, because as I said I love the colors in this dyed fiber, but I never like to wear the colors that I like to work with as an artist. I like to wear neutrals, grays and blacks, I don't like bright rainbows but I saw this fiber, and it appealed to me, and so I said okay, I'm not going to wear this, so what the heck can I do with this? I said to myself, you know what, I've been taking all these different workshops, and learning all these different things, I'm going to sit down and I'm going try to think of every single way that I can think of or that I've read about to spin and I'm going to try to do that with the same painted top and I'm going to see what color outcomes can be produced with that exploration. I was so intrigued that maybe one modification in plying, or just a different directionality of how I'm holding those fibers going on the bobbin could alter the way the colors appeared in the yarns. I could really see the colors change so much, but because I was kind of sacrificing this painted top to experimentation, I also tried different knitting stitches and this just really got me so excited and every time I shared the project with friends or other spinners, they were also excited about it too. I later got the idea of teaching it so I developed a workshop out of it and I started teaching it and the workshop would always be sold out and so it became this awesome experience to share this approach to working with color. 

 

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"So in the final year of the spinning course you had an option to design a workshop and I'm said “Hey, I've got this great workshop so let me use it! Perfect!” So I started plugging all my approaches into my final homework assignment and it was well received by the instructors. When it came time to present an idea for my Master certificate I said, you know what, I've done twelve or so ways and the guidelines or the criteria for the Masters is that you have to have 20 samples that are both handspun skeins and swatches. So I sat down in earnest and really tried to think how many ways can I do this, and the more I thought about it, the more ideas I had. I was coming up with like 30 to 40 different ways that you can approach the same painted top and get these different color outcomes. I tried to narrow them down into ones that maybe most people use or go to. In the book I refer to approaching a painted top with the specific directionality, so if it's painted from one end to another blue, red, yellow, green, I'm saying that if the blue end is A and the green end is C and if we're going to take that directionality into consideration, what can we do with that? How can we sequence the wool to get different outcomes?

"So I was able to turn that into my thesis, but having it already been a successful workshop and having it as my scarf sampler, I already had so many samples and so I thought that this would be a really great book that when I'm done I can share with people that maybe aren't able to come to my workshops or as a way of kind of getting my foot in the door to teach other workshops. "

Me: "I love how you're showing how to approach differently dyed tops because they're all going to be so different; for instance, the way I dye my fiber is totally different than, say Hello Yarn."

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"I took a workshop with Lynn Vogel and she's an amazing artist, with the Twisted Sisters Sock book and Sweater book. I remember holding her book and being so inspired because it had the dyeing component, the spinning component, and the knitting component. I thought this is somebody that was really thinking about how each step of the process is going to have an influence on the final product. I was just so inspired by her and with the colors in there; it just was very an inspirational book for me.  I took a workshop with her one year at Rhinebeck, and seeing the pieces she brought in, they were also very inspirational, and so literally right after taking the workshop with her I walked over to a friend of mine that was selling fiber and I bought different dyed tops that became the gold - purple gradation sweater in the book and I spun that and I made it. 

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"The more that I was spinning I realized that the fiber I was using most frequently was dyed top, the same as the fiber for the scarf sampler, but for the other things I tended to spin more solid colors, and that's actually when I realized I want to try to see what happens when I go with a more speckle dyed fiber which is when I bought your fiber and I made that green sweater.

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"I guess that when someone starts spinning they might tend to start with solids and not really speckled fiber; I think most people will spin natural colored fiber, if they're a shepherd or if they get raw fiber or they'll get a solid color fiber easily prepared just to start with afraid they might ruin “the pretty ones”, so it was kind of a natural progression for me. Then I moved on to the multi colored tops and I wanted to see how the speckles went but in using those different styles of dyed fiber I was noticing, obviously, that the yarns those fibers were producing also created different looking fabric. Simultaneously in that six year time period of going for the spinning certificate I remember I purchased some speckle dyed yarn because of it’s pretty colors but really I'm a spinner who knits, rather than a knitter who spins, and so I bought this speckled yarn and I'm like, ‘Oh this is awesome!’ and then when I went to knit it I was so disappointed with the way that the colors pooled. Then I said to myself ‘Okay, now I know that it's not just me as a spinner that gets disappointed with my yarns but that if I don't think about how the color is applied to the yarn then I'm going to get unhappy looking yarn and fabric.’ And again, simultaneously I also I took a weaving class and I picked colors that I loved but then when it was on the loom after spending so much time dressing the loom and learning how to measure the warp, learning all the vocabulary words of weaving, all of that stuff, and I get the first two inches in to the weaving and I thought to myself ‘I don't like the way this looks at all’. So in knitting and crocheting and weaving and trying all these different methods I realized this: the way that you plan for a project shouldn't be in the beginning with the fiber; you need to really think about what you want your end product to be and work backwards from that. One of the reasons I love Ravelry is that you can go on there and you can search and see all the different finished projects and patterns and the different yarns that people choose to make them, and I started to notice that I didn't like yarn that had short specks of color on it. I could see how the projects I liked were more of a solid nature.

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"So that's when I made that peacock shawl in the book and I had a dyer specifically dye fiber for me so that when I went to spin it I knew the colors were going to be in the spots I wanted them to be in, in the final shawl. So if you start with knowing in your mind the way you want your product to end then the process for me kind of becomes more liberating because now I know that when I'm done I'm going to enjoy it a lot more than if I take the random approach. 

"I want to share my ideas with people, but you know, you have brilliant minds out there and brilliant books about dyeing and color and spinning, but I'm a teacher-- my day job is being a teacher, and so one of the things that appeals to me is teaching people about color theory and color and when I read about color theory in most fiber books they tend to break it down into the scientific terms like secondary, tertiary, complementary, analogous and all that jargon and I think for the person that's just curious about color and wants to use it, well those terms may not matter in helping them know how to use them, they don't resonate, but that's not really teaching them how to develop an eye for color, it's teaching them the science of why something has worked. 

"I kind of liken it to cooking. I can have a recipe and tell you, if you follow this recipe you're going to have a great cookie, but I'm not telling you, this is what butter does to the cookie or this is what flour does to the cookie and if you add more in or add less this is what it's going to do. And not only do you have to take the cookie into consideration, but you have to take into consideration the plate that the cookies are served on and the choices that accompany the cookie, are you going to drink milk with it? Or hot chocolate?  So I think that's where the creativity of the artist comes into play.

"Teaching someone how to be an artist can be difficult you know and not even just an artist necessarily but how to teach people how to be creative, and as an art teacher I often get told two things. I often hear “Oh teaching art must be so easy because it's an elective; everyone wants to take it” and that's not always the case. I mean sometimes I have people that come into my class and they just hate art; they don't want to do anything; their self-esteem about making art is way down, but really I think the trick to being a great artist is to encounter failure, and then keep going. Then the second thing I hear is “I can’t ______”. Fill in the blank with draw, paint, etc. So I tell my students a lot of times, look, if you think you can't do something you're not going to do it and that applies to spinning, dyeing whatever. Whatever it is that you say you can’t do, you're basically giving yourself permission to fail. But if you say to yourself you'll try, even if in the end you think it’s a failure, you'll still be amazed at what you can accomplish."If you are a spinner, this book is a must-have. As I said in the intro, I've never seen such a marvelously thorough and original book on spinning from dyed top before; it should be a staple of all spinner's reference libraries. 

Thank you Alanna, for so graciously giving me some of your time! 

Visit Alanna's website here
Alanna also regularly teaches workshops; to find out about upcoming workshops, go here

 


Selfish Saturdays: The Summertime Edit

Although summer is coming to an end, and Fall will soon be ushering cold winds in, it's still a gorgeous summer and I don't want it to end so soon! I'm having a shop update on Wednesday, August 16th, at 6 p.m. PST, and it's a very special one! 

 

I really let myself have fun with this update; there will be lots of superwash merino spinning fiber and some really gorgeous superwash merino singles fingering weight yarn, all dyed in bright colors that I really took myself out of my comfort zone for! The spinning fiber is repeatable colorways, but all the yarns are one-of-a-kind. I let myself have fun and play around with speckles and color. 

See you Wednesday! Shop link here.

Pricing, Profit, And Wholesale

To wholesale or not to wholesale? It's a question I see coming up again and again in forums. 

First, when it comes to wholesale pricing, it can vary. Typically it's been 50% of your retail price, but I'm happy to see that more and more dyers aren't doing that because of the already slim margins. 60/40-- where the store is getting 40% off the retail price seems to becoming more common, and I'm also seeing 70/30, which is what my terms are, and which I think is ideal for indie dyers. 

However, you need to know what your retail price is, what the profit is that you are making from that, and then you can calculate a hypothetical wholesale price and make an educated decision from that. Especially if you are hiring help...otherwise you can end up in the situation that I did at one time, where I was actually losing money with every wholesale order. That was a pretty big shock, although entirely my fault, since I hadn't run the numbers. 

Numbers and math are not my strong suit, to put it mildly, but luckily I have a partner who runs a successful company (Mil-Spec Monkey), one of the most logical and practical persons I've ever met, and helped me figure out calculations for this post. 

We're starting with a hypothetical order of 48 skeins of American Sock. First, we need to figure out the raw material costs. 48 skeins is the number I can get from 4 cones of Tahoe from Ashland Bay. 

I sell my yarn in skeins of 400 yards. Tahoe comes in 3 lb cones, 5040 yards/cone, so I can get about 12 skeins from one cone, and 4 cones is what I need to purchase to get the lowest price per cone.

Price per cone: $69
4 cones: $276
Shipping costs (don't forget this!): $18.62

More than yarn goes into dyeing, though, so we also need to calculate the cost of dye and citric acid and labeling. I use a lot of different dyes, but I decided to use a packet of Cushing's Dyes as a measurement to make things easier. 3 packets of Cushing's Dyes (1/3 oz per packet) will dye a 3  lb cone. 

3 packets plus an estimated $3 shipping: $12.75/cone.
4 cones: $51

I use citric acid, which I buy in bulk of 50 lb bags (I bought my most recent stock from soap goods.com). 
50 lb bag: $64
Shipping: $45.48
Total: $109.48

I estimate that I use about a cup of citric acid for 6 skeins the way I dye, so for a 48 skein order I would use 8 cups, which we'll round to about 8 oz to be on the safe side. 
800 oz (the total bag) divided by 8 oz: 100 cups
This breaks down to $1.10/cup
8 cups at $1.10/cup= $8.80

Labels (I use tags): For 1000 tags I paid, with shipping, $115.75.
$.12/tag is what it breaks down to, so
48 tags: $5.76

So for raw materials cost for a 48 skein order we have:
Yarn: $294.62
Dye: $51
Citric Acid: $8.80
Tags: $5.76
Total raw materials cost: $360.18

Now, let's figure out the time I spend on that order. I'm being a little optimistic here on time, as I'm not including the drying time and time taken to let yarn cool before being rinsed off, and general faffing about time that inevitably we all do a little! That would be something to keep in mind. 

Since I buy my yarn on cones, I need to break those cones down into 400 yard skeins before I can start the order. My skein winder does 3 skeins at a time, and I'm estimating it takes 5 minutes for 3 skeins in that case. 
48 skeins at 5 minute/3 skein set: 80 minutes.

The way I dye multicolor yarn, I can do 8 at a a time, and it takes me about an hour and a half per batch for the actual dyeing. 
48 skeins: 9 hrs total

I used to re-skein, but I'm starting not to, and I know a lot of people don't, so I'm not including that time. If I was to re-skein, I would of course have to add in those costs.

Twisting and labeling  for 48 skeins: 1 hr

Total hours: 11.4, rounding up to 11.5 hours. 

Now, I need to figure out how much I want to pay myself. I want to pay myself $25/hr.
$25 times 11.5 hrs: $287.50

So, adding the raw materials cost, $360.18 with my time, $287.50, gives me a total of
$647.68 for how much a 48 skein order costs me. 

I charge $26 per skein retail, so
$26 times 48= $1248

So, I'll take that number, $1248, subtract how much the order has cost me to make, so
$1248-$647.68= $600.32 profit
$12.50 profit per skein

Not too shabby. However, what if I want to do wholesale, and at what percentage? 

If I did 50% off, the wholesale price per skein would be $13, so for a 48 skein order, I would be making $624. However, the order has cost me $647.68, leaving me with a debit of $-23.68.  

If I did 30% off the retail price, 30% of 1248 equals  $873.60, so my potential wholesale price for 48 skeins would be $873.60, leaving me with an owner profit of $225.92. 

This is with me paying myself $25/hr. If I was fine with paying myself much less, like $12/hr, making my total costs $498.18, then 50% wholesale pricing would give me an owner profit of $125.82. I give that as an example so that if you are thinking that you'd be totally fine with paying yourself less per hour, you still wouldn't end up with much profit at all. 

And, we've actually left out a few numbers that would figure into all of this. Shipping supplies, time spent doing that, for instance. But also very important ones like rent, mortgage, utilities, water, Etsy fees if on Etsy, PayPal or credit card transaction fees, website, advertising. If you're paying someone for help, that would make your margins even less. You can see how one can lose money with wholesale easily. Too easily. 

Then, let's say I want to make $30,000 a year. I would have to make $2500 a month, meaning I would have to sell 200 skeins a month full retail price, also keeping in mind the additional costs that can factor in that we discussed above.

Those are things you need to think about. If you're thinking about wholesaling, you need to really think about it. This is why I get worried when I see wholesale being thrown out there as a suggestion when a dyer is having money issues, because it may not be the right decision for that dyer at that time. I've also heard wholesaling being used as a tactic to compete amongst the saturated market, and while I understand wanting to get the word out, I personally don't think it's the best tactic unless you've already got your finances all figured out and are comfortably making a retail profit, enough to live on, already. 

I cut way back on what I was offering for wholesale, and changed my terms to 30% after that horrifying realization that I'd been losing so much money, plus I haven't been seeking it out. However, I'm not taking any wholesale orders on right now, or for the forseeable future, due to the massive -- and really weird--physical issues I've been dealing with, which you can read about if you want here. I've done a couple of collaborations with Knit-Purl here in Portland, but both projects, the yarn and the colorways, were exclusive to the store, so I was able to make sure I made the profit that I wanted.

(disclaimer: that link is to the insane saga of my last three months, but it is on a medical and illness go fund me page. Starting that was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, and I still feel uncomfortable about it, (although there was no other option) so I'm just going to link to it and emphasize that I have no expectations of and am not asking for contributions, especially from anybody who doesn't know me personally. It's an really interesting story, though, as it's something that nobody's seen before. I guess yay for being original?) 

 

Pigeonroof Studios and Knit Purl collaborations

Pigeonroof Studios and Knit Purl collaborations

I think that wholesale is something that as new dyers we think is or should be the next step, and these days I don't think it always is or should be. We're not making a mass produced commodity. We're making a product by hand, that is time and labor intensive, so why wholesale? To get the word out? Because all the cool kids are doing it? When I started, it was before Ravelry, before Instagram, before Twitter, before Facebook got popular, so it was harder to get the word out, making wholesale as an advertising option something to consider. Now, however, with all the social media platforms available to us as well as Ravelry, there are so many advertising options, whether going for native reach or purchasing ads. So ask yourself that question, and be honest with yourself, why do you want to wholesale? 

Sundara, of Sundara Yarn, with the exception of once at the very beginning of her career, has never done wholesale. I'm going to try to get an interview with her at some point to talk to her about that, because I think that's awesome, and shows more common sense than I ever had. In the end, though, you will have to figure out what is right for you. I just don't want you to blindly go into wholesale, like I did, and end up losing money, being stressed, and generally not having a very good time. 

If you read this, however, and think, 'yeah, whatever, I still want to do wholesale', then hey, go for it. Just go slow. Try one small order and see how that goes, before taking on multiple orders. Really make sure all your bases are covered and you feel like you have a steady financial base to work from. 

And if you haven't already, sign up for my newsletter, as well as the option for weekly blog post digests! 

Instagram For Indie Dyers Part Four: Hashtags

If you're using Instagram, you should be using hashtags on every post. What are hashtags? The nerdy definition is:

hash-tag: A word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (#), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search to it.

As a business, you want to make sure your content gets seen by your target audience. If you're an indie dyer, your target audience is most likely knitters, weavers, knitwear designers, knitting magazines, yarn stores...you get the picture. You want your target audience to discover you. Instagram's a vast place-- hashtags are how you stand out; they're the SEO of Instagram.

There are two types of hashtags: Branded hashtags and community hashtags. 

 

A branded hashtag

A branded hashtag

A branded hashtag is a hashtag that's unique to your business. It can be as simple as the name of your business, like the one I use, #pigeonroofstudios. A branded hashtag is a fantastic way to aggregate user related content. Remember how we talked about reposting in the last article? This is how you can find posts that you want to repost on your feed. Branded hashtags are designed to connect themes for you and your audience. 

 

 

Community hashtag

Community hashtag

A community hashtag is one that connects users around a specific subject or topic, like #indiedyer, or #indiedyersofinstagram. 

So how do you figure out what hashtags to use? First, look at other popular posts to see what hashtags other indie dyers are using. 

 

@uschitita, one of the dyers we looked at in the last article, uses the above hashtags. I'm not in Europe, so I would probably use all English hashtags myself, although someone on Facebook did mention that they use a few foreign language ones, which is something I'm going to play around with to see if it expands my reach. The English ones she uses are:

#indiedyerslife
#knitting
#instaknit
#knittersofinstagram
#knittingaddict
#knitstagram
#knitting_inspiration
#knitting
#yarnlove
#yarnporn
#yarnaddict
#yarn
#handdyedyarn
#indiedyer
#yarnstagram
#handdyed
#yarnologist
#yarnlove
#yarnporn
#specklesaresohotrightnow
#findyourfade

She came up top when I typed in the hashtag #indiedyer, so that's why I'm looking at what hashtags she used. I would also go look at other posts that came up and investigate what they're using.

For finding even more hashtags, look at the top of the image. It says Related: and then a bunch of other hashtags that might be relevant. 

Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags, and you can post them either in the caption or in the comments. 

 

When posting in the captions, I like to separate my hashtags from my caption, so that there isn't a big distracting hashtag mess that might take attention away from my words. So I'll use a period and the return key to place the hashtags further down. When someone clicks on my post they'll see them, but when scrolling through their feed, they won't. 

 

If you place them in the comments, they get hidden nicely by the following comments; it's only when clicking to view other comments that they show up. It looks nice and clean. You want to make sure, however, that you comment with your hashtags instantly so your post performs well. 

You also want to make sure you mix up your hashtags. Posting the same hashtags on every post can actually work against you, making you not show up in hashtag searches. That brings me to another issue that you might see around the internet: "Shadowbanning". Is it real? Not really. People will notice that their posts won't be showing up in hashtag searches of those who aren't following them sometimes. It's confusing, but Facebook has admitted that there is a filtering of the content that appears in the hashtag searches. Hashtag searches are personalized, so not the same for each user. High volume or top-performing posts are more likely to appear in a hashtag search. There can be other factors, too....the Instagram algorithms are not always understandable, but it seems like mixing up the hashtags is definitely something that you want to do. 

Jenn's Trends has a fantastic blog post on strategically using hashtags. Basically, first you want to figure out which hashtags are the most relevant for you. Start off with using 4-5 really popular hashtags. When you type in a hashtag in search, it'll show how many posts have that hashtag. 

If I type in #knitting, there are over 7 million posts related to that hashtag. So for your super popular hashtags you want to use ones like #knitting, #yarn, etc. 

 

Next, Jenn advises using 5-7 moderately popular hashtags. Ones related to your content, but are a little more targeted. #handdyedyarn and #indiedyer are an example-- they still have a lot of posts, but are in the hundreds of thousands instead of a million. 

 

Then, she suggests using 2-5 niche-specific hashtags. Since speckle dyed yarn IS hot right now, and let's say I'm posting some, #speckledyarnissohotrightnow and #speckledyedyarn are perfect. 

Finally, use 1-2 branded hashtags; I would use #pigeonroofstudios. 

I like to use all 30 hashtags when possible, so I might also throw in hashtags like #mycreativebiz or #makersgonnamake, hashtags that aren't specifically yarn related but are craft/art related. 

You might be asking yourself, "Do I have to type each individual hashtag every time? That seems like a hassle." I suggest putting together several batches of hashtags and saving them in your Notes (at least it's Notes on an iPhone; I don't know what it's called on Android), so then you can just copy and paste. Just remember to not use all the same hashtags on every post. 

Finally, just experiment, and see what works for you! 

Instagram For Indie Dyers Part Three: Visuals

When it comes to what to post on your Instagram feed, you want to put a little thought into it. Think about it. When you look at someone's profile, you see a whole grid of images. You want to look at your posts and ask, do they all work together? Do they provide value? 

There are several ways to approach the visual aspect of your profile. Of course, you want to showcase your yarn. However, having every post be like "Just listed X in the shop!" can get a little repetitive-- and over sales-y. Yes, you want to promote your yarn and your shop, but trying to sell in almost every post isn't going to make you stand out. 

 

@twistedfinch is a fantastic example of a visually consistent profile. He has a slightly moody atmosphere to every image, which tone down the bright colors but in a seductive way. What is so impressive is how every single image is carefully planned out and staged. Yarns aren't just posted on their own; he takes the time to make flatlays of them, adding props to make the image tell more of a story and to be visually enticing. In the first post image, the third photo, he's actually managed to make the yarn be part of the photo...without being obviously the main focus of the photo. Japanese characters, a coffee cup, foliage, embroidery scissors, old spools of silk thread, and the dark blue cloth are carefully arranged around the yarn, which is set coming in at an angle. That angle draws your eye immediately, and draws your eye down to the props. Notice the color theme-- the dark brown of the coffee and the indigo blue cloth are the perfect complement to the smoky deep purples and blues of the yarn. 

In the second post, he's got a lighter palette, but it still manages to fit in with the images as a whole. Notice the geometric staging of this post-- the angled tray set just in line with the wood planks of the table, the yarn horizontal coming in on the right, and the perfect amount of grey green foliage for visual balance. Yarn bits, snips, and baby's breath give the yarn some context. 

The Pomfest post is really the only post that doesn't seem to fit in, however...

 

The Archive Feature

The Archive Feature

Instagram now has a handy little archive feature. Rather than deleting unwanted posts, you can archive them. If you put any back, they'll appear in their original chronological location. 

This is huge. I've just gone through and archived several posts that didn't visually fit to me. Having this ability to edit your feed without having to delete posts makes things a whole lot easier!

 

@uschititia doesn't have quite as much balance, but she consistently uses a light background for her yarn, which, although brightly colored, have a touch of quiet moodiness so that no one color is jarringly brighter than the rest, and there is a delicate feminine touch. She also has all her yarn placed in a visually captivating way in the posts. On the first post above, she also places her skeins at a diagonal coming up from the lower right corner. The touch of flora breaks up the space just enough to balance it.

The last post is my absolute favorite, though; I hope she does more photographs like these. It could almost be the cover of a book. I love how the yarn takes up only a third of the screen, and all are horizontal. I'm also partial to those colors, so that might bias me a bit! The props echo the colors in the yarn. Even though the yarn takes up less space than in other photos, it's such a well balanced and styled photo that it actually makes the yarn stand out. I'm going to be making a note of that for myself! 

 

 

Those were two very carefully curated feeds, with every photo being carefully staged. What if that just doesn't suit your style or that idea sounds more like a hassle than a strategy to you? Not everyone has the discipline-- or the desire to create such feeds. 

So let's look at a completely different profile, the one of Indie Untangled. It's not so visually "perfect"; each post has its own thing going on. That, however makes total sense here, as Indie Untangled is an advertising platform to connect buyers and indie dyers. One of the things that Indie Untangled does so well is using user-generated content, as you can see above in the re-post posts. It's a great way to give a nod to the dyer or knitter themselves, but also to show off what the yarns that Indie Untangled sells is used for, as well as pattern and color combination suggestions. Reposting is a great way to show off what customers have knit or spun from your product

There are several third-party apps that re-post-- it's not available yet natively to Instagram. I use Repost for Instagram, which is available for both iOS and Android. It automatically inserts a watermark on the image with the original creator's name, so they're always credited. It's a good policy to ask before you re-gram someone else's post; aside from being polite, it makes sure you avoid any possible legal hassle by someone getting upset you've reposted something of theirs. Plus it makes them feel very flattered! Be aware, however, that you won't be able to repost if the original poster has their account set to private. 

 

Last but not least, we have the Instagram account of Sweet Georgia Yarns. Their slogan is passionate + relentless + unapologetic color, and their account clearly shows that off. It's not as painstakingly repetitively styled as the first two profiles we looked at, or use a lot of user-generated content, but that's because it just wouldn't suit them. Their feed is cheerful and happy...and colorful! It completely shows what Sweet Georgia Yarns is all about. 

The Creative Color Vignette post is ingenious for pairing the swatches with the most perfect foodie flatly. As one commenter said, it's a clever way to introduce new color combinations. It's a very graphic-design approach, which I personally love. 

Do you remember the color wheel image that Purl Soho used to have in their ads? The rainbow of mini-skeins is such a good use of color and presentation-- the mini skeins forming the spokes of the wheel of the bamboo plate they're on. It stands out to me as being one of the best posts; the circular image is one that I don't see very often, as most yarns tend to be displayed in a more horizontal or vertical way. Almost every post has some amazing pop of color, although as a whole nothing looks garish or out of place. To me, it gives off a very nurturing sensibility; one can't help but feel happier when looking at the feed. 

You'll notice there aren't too many, if any, posts of kids or pets. Giving a peek into your world is great, but really start to look at your posts with a critical eye. As I believe I said in the first part of the series, you can have more than one Instagram account, so you could easily keep one account carefully curated, in whatever way fits your style the most, and a second one that would be a more personal one, where you do post pictures of your kids or your pets or your plants. Or, an alternative is to post those photos when you feel the need but archive them a couple days later. Or not-- do what feels best to you. 

I think that to me, the most important takeaway that I want you to get from this post is that it doesn't always have to be Sell, Sell, Sell...at least overtly. Of course, if you're excited about something you just listed, and want to post it, then do so! Just consider creating variety with your posts so that you're telling the story of your brand...however that may manifest itself. 

Above all, be true to yourself. I love looking at the perfectly styled feeds, but that just wouldn't suit my personality or my product. I have become far more selective, though on what I post, to keep the balance.  

Instagram for Indie Dyers Part Two: Applying Analytics

Now that you have a business profile and access to analytics, what do you do with them? 

First, you need to be aware of the Instagram Algorithm. Much to the chagrin of pretty much everyone, Instagram is no longer chronological. The algorithm works to show only the best content to the most people. That means good content is key. Gone are the days of posting five times a day to reach people. Less has become more when it comes to posting.

Instagram displays posts "based on the likelihood you'll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting, and the timeliness of the post." So the algorithm determines which posts it thinks you will be interested in seeing based on your activity. It's similar to Facebook in that way...which isn't surprising, seeing as Facebook owns Instagram. 

When you post on Instagram, IG will serve that post up to a small amount of your followers. How they respond will determine how high the post ranks in other followers' feeds. If someone you follow has engaged with the post, it will also rank higher. No matter how popular, however, IG takes into consideration how relevant they think the content of the post will be to the user. The algorithm knows what genres users have interacted with in the past. Instagram also combines that with hashtags to figure out what to show users as well. Hashtags will help you reach users that aren't following you yet. 

Is your head spinning yet? 

This is where analytics come in. 

So here are my posts sorted by Engagement. Unfortunately, because of my stupid attempt to deal with what I imagined was "shadow banning" by switching back to a personal account temporarily, when I switched back to a business account, I'd lost all my previous analytics. Obviously the more data one has the better. 

Engagement is the combined likes and comments on your post. Since we want high engagement, we not only want likes, but comments, and one way to do that is, in your caption, always ask a question. 

 

The post with the highest engagement.

The post with the highest engagement.

As you can see, I had a good dialogue going on, asking my followers to suggest colorways to me. Make sure you respond to every comment-- besides being good manners, it helps the engagement-- you are literally engaging with your viewers. 

 

 

The post with the second highest engagement.

The post with the second highest engagement.

On the post with the second highest engagement, I also have asked a question, this time asking my followers what they are planning to buy in my update, as many have been buying from me or at least seeing my fiber and yarn for years. That familiarity is a great advantage for me, because there is so much history to mine. 

 

The post with the third highest engagement rate.

The post with the third highest engagement rate.

On this post, that has the third highest engagement rate, I don't ask a question, but I tell a story. Think of your IG posts as mini blog posts, and tell stories. Maybe the history of the color way, maybe some musings on knitting or spinning or some story of your life. There are a million options, but try to have more than "Just put these up in the shop!" 

Also, really look at the photography. The top three posts have vivid colors and interesting perspectives and angles. Piles of yarn are always fun to look at. You want your posts to be eye-catching, because remember how Instagram first shows your posts to a small selection of your followers to see how it does?

Why people engage with your posts will vary, but really try to reach out to your audience. These top three photos weren't top three engagement because they were just pretty pictures. They were the top three because I reached out to my audience and I know who my audience is. 

 

Posts sorted by reach.

Posts sorted by reach.

So let's go to reach now. Reach is the number of unique viewers who saw your posts. Unsurprisingly, the two posts that had the highest engagement also had the largest reach. However, reach isn't just from likes and comments; it's also based on how your hashtags perform.

 

Hashtags will be the next blog post, but you can see what hashtags I used. Since these posts had high engagement, the likelihood of them showing up in hashtag searches increased. Notice how I switched up the hashtags between the two images. You can use up to 30. There's debate about whether or not hashtags in the comments will affect the reach, but I split the two. I don't really know if this helps or not, but it doesn't seem to hurt. I decided to try it after someone said it seemed to work out for her on The Manly Pinterest Tips Podcast.  (Listen to it. It's good.) I do the dot dot dot so that there isn't a glut of hashtags immediately after my caption. 

 

 

The third highest reach post...video. 

The third highest reach post...video. 

Here's where it gets a little interesting. The post that got the third highest reach is not the post that had the third highest engagement rate. Why? The answer is video. Video appears to be the most powerful form one can use in social media these days. There are actually 7 key factors in the Instagram algorithm. They are:

  1. Engagement
  2. Relevancy
  3. Relationships
  4. Timeliness
  5. Profile Searches
  6. Direct Shares
  7. Time Spent. 

Notice that last one. Time Spent. What is going to capture a viewer's time? Video is going to trump still image every time. Try to give some value with your video. This video is a how-to on braiding spinning fiber. It's simple, and just shot with my iPad, but I'm giving value by showing my technique. A how-to video is likely to get repeat views by someone. The above factors, by the way, are from the Buffer blog post on the Instagram Algorithm, and I highly recommend checking it out. 

 

Let's get into the Followers information. The more posts you have analytics of, the more insight you will have, which is why I'm kicking myself for that brief switch to a personal profile. Above on the left, it's showing me the days my followers are the most active on, which is Thursday and Saturday. However, keep in mind that this may change as I get insights on more posts. Another reason these analytics are so valuable! 

On the left, it's showing me the time of day my followers are the most active each day. 

We'll take one of the most popular days, Thursday. According to the bar graph, on Thursdays my followers are the most active at 1 p.m. That means I should make sure that on Thursdays, I post at around 1 p.m. Remember, how your post performs in the short time after you post it is going to decide the amount of reach it will have. 

See why analytics are so important? They give me important feedback about my posts, so that I can have a better sense of what content performs the best and when. If we go back to the 7 key factors, number four, timeliness is how recent the posts are. That's why you want to schedule your posts strategically. 

There are third party apps you can use for analytics, like Iconosquare, but, although I actually use Iconosquare myself, I still like to be able to easily see throughout the day how my posts are doing.  Hopefully this post helps you up your Instagram game! 

Instagram For Indie Dyers Part One: Business Profile

Indie dyers are competing in an over-saturated market. That's just the truth. So how do you make yourself stand out? 

We're lucky in the sense that there are so many more marketing channels today than ever, and one channel we have that many other industries do not, is Ravelry. Advertising on Ravelry is affordable, and everybody is doing it. 

What very few indie dyers are taking advantage of is Instagram. It's not that indie dyers don't have IG accounts, it's that many of them aren't using them as strategically as they could. This will be a multi-part series, because there is just so much to say!

 First, if you're using a personal account to post about your business, switch to a business account. It takes only a second. Simply click on the little gear symbol up at the top next to Edit Profile, and click, under Business Settings, "Switch to a business account". 

Why? Multiple reasons, but the most important: Analytics and ads (ads will be another post). Analytics provide invaluable insight. To access them, tap on the little bar chart icon in the top right corner. 

 

With analytics, you can learn about your followers, what your top posts are, when your followers are on Instagram, website clicks, and much more. 

 

What you see when you click on the bar graph

What you see when you click on the bar graph

When you click on the bar graph, it takes you to the above screen. You can see your total impressions, reach, profile view, and website clicks, not to mention your top posts and stats for your Instagram Stories. All you have to do is to swipe right up at the top. 

 

Post insights

Post insights

Here I can see my top posts from the last 30 days. I can click on the blue links at the top of the screen for more filters, like arranging posts by engagement or comments. With this, I can analyze the posts and try to see what made some posts more popular than the others. 

 

Follower insights.

Follower insights.

I can see the actions of my followers in Insights as well. The graph shows me how many of my followers are online at times of the day. I can also see what days they're most on. These insights help me figure out when is the best time for me to post. 

 

More follower insights. 

More follower insights. 

I can also see the gender percentage and age percentages of my followers. Unsurprisingly, 92% of my followers are women. If I tap any of the blue bars, it will show me the percentage numbers. 

This is all valuable information! You want each post to do as best as it possibly can, and analytics will help you plan out future posts. If you have a personal profile, you don't have access to these. I briefly switched back to a personal profile when I was stressing about "shadow banning", and it was such a stupid move, because I lost all the analytics I had, and my amount of information now is relatively minuscule to what it was. 

There's also the fact that a business profile just looks professional. If you are going to be serious about being an indie dyer, then you need a business profile. You can have more than one accounts; you can have your business account, and you can also have a personal account.

 

 

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See that Email bar? You want that. The more ways people have to be able to contact you, the better. Yes, people can direct message you, but not everyone wants to or feels comfortable doing so. 

And if you don't like the business profile? You can always switch back to a personal account.

Yarn Bases I Dye: Sources

I have to preface this post with a nod to the source that really kicked me in the pants to write it-- Marcus Sheridan. Watch this video and read this book. It just might inspire you as well. 

 

Although there are a lot of places these days around the world to purchase undyed yarn and fiber for dyeing, I've settled down on two suppliers, Wool2dye4 and Ashland Bay. Now that I live in Portland, Ashland Bay is literally a 20 minute drive away from me! I order from them because their quality is consistent, their customer service is excellent, and their prices fair. I also have to admit that I get my Ashland Bay orders really fast now that I live so close, and it was still pretty fast in the Bay Area, so that is a huge bonus. 

For way too long I tried to dye ALL the yarn. Lace, fingering, dk, worsted, with silk, with cashmere...all of it. The reality of it though is that my dye process is extremely time intensive and I even before I had a second career, I couldn't keep all of it stocked, in all of my colorways. If you are running your business on your own, I highly, highly recommend you pick just a few bases and weights and stick to them. Don't try to do it all. It's impossible. 

Both of these suppliers have wholesale minimums, Wool2dye4 per order and Ashland Bay an opening order minimum, which was $250 but may be different now. 

These are the ones that are solid products:

High Twist Sock (Aquatic colorway)

High Twist Sock (Aquatic colorway)

High Twist Sock. Superwash merino. I tend to use this base just for my mini-skein sets because I like how my dye job works on it, I like the gloss, and I like the drape. Although I do the sets in American Sock as well, I'm really heading towards just using this base. Simplicity and efficiently are what enable one to be able to offer multiple colorways and keep them in stock. This yarn is sold from Wool2dye4, and is under the name Sheila's Sock. I purchase it on cones because of the mini skein sets, but they also offer them in skeins

American Sock (Confetti colorway)

American Sock (Confetti colorway)

American Sock. Superwash merino. I actually didn't love this yarn at first, but I love it for multi-colors. The colors are just incredibly vibrant and it is 100% American made, which is super awesome. I also buy it on cones.  Ashland Bay sells this yarn under the name Tahoe

Silky High Twist Sock (Peacock colorway)

Silky High Twist Sock (Peacock colorway)

Silky High Twist Sock. I also purchase this one from Wool2dye4. It has all the properties I like of the High Twist Sock, with the bonus of 20% silk. It doesn't come on cones, but comes in skeins of both 100g and 150g. I only use the 100g skeins. It's sold under the name Diamond Sock

And that's actually it! I do occasionally dye up other bases from Ashland Bay, but I'll write about them in a separate post. (Spinning fiber is easy-- Ashland Bay all the way.) I am so much happier with a pared down list, because as I also teach Pilates and try to do some art when I can, I simply don't have the time to dye more...and still have a semblance of a life. 

Why am I writing this post? Because almost all dyers, including me up until now, won't share sources, and it's stupid. Why? One, because of the internet. With a little patience and digging, you can pretty much find out anything. Two, because of this:

People don't buy your yarn for the yarn. They buy the colors you dye,
which will always be unique to the dyer. 

 

Here's a secret-- there are only a handful of North American suppliers that widely supply popular yarn bases to indie dyers, the 3 big ones being Wool2dye4, Ashland Bay, and Elitespun (Amtex).  They also advertise on Ravelry. We are already using the same yarn! (unless you get yarn custom milled for you, which is a whole other topic that I hope to have a guest post on, because I know nothing about it.) You know that 80/10/10 superwash merino/cashmere/nylon blend that appeared on the scene and everyone was going crazy about it? Elitespun. It was pretty easy to see that the same specs show up on multiple differently named yarns from different dyers. So I find it amusing when I'll see someone on Ravelry complaining about how one dyer's yarn pills and people will then rave about how similar yarns from the dyers they love feel so much better and pill so much less. They are talking about the exact same yarn. 

Look, I get it. It's a saturated competitive market out there and you cling to anything you think will give you the edge. If you read this post and think "yeah, but I still am not going to share my sources", despite my rather harsh criticism above, I totally understand and respect that you think that is the best decision for your business. I do hope that it makes you stress about it a little less and to see that what gives you the competitive edge is your talent. 

(ETA: another large supplier is Henry's Attic. The last time I checked, 2-3 years ago their minimum opening order was $1000 and I found them rather rude. So I'm biased. But they do have nice yarns.) 

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Hot Tips Tuesday: Stability.

"Start from a place of stability if possible. If you go all in and it doesn't work out quickly, it's quickly going to become a train wreck of freaking out. Either have a lot of money saved up, or start it as a hobby, because "I'm going to lose the house if this doesn't work out" is going to cause bad decisions. You'll end up doing whatever it takes to survive one day more, even if it dooms any sort of long term viability." 

 Mil-spec Monkey

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