Designers and Dyers

Purlish Mitts by Bonnie Sennot of Blue Peninsula, using Pigeonroof Studios mini-skein sets.

Purlish Mitts by Bonnie Sennot of Blue Peninsula, using Pigeonroof Studios mini-skein sets.

The question of a lot of newer dyers I see asked sometimes, is “How do I get designers to work with my yarn?” Along with that comes the question-- how does compensation for the dyer work? Both are excellent questions! 

One way I think is simply getting your yarn seen by as many people as possible, via social media, blogs, and Ravelry. The more exposure your yarn gets, the more likely it is for a designer to see it and want to work with it. It’s been a long time, but I think one of the first connections for me was with an online yarn shop who made these great sock pattern kits, all around a chosen theme, and would come with additional goodies like pens and stitch markers and notepads. Woolgirl was the name, and they reached out to me. This was in 2010. I sold them the yarn at wholesale rates, since it was being distributed rather than just being used for one design.

Often it has been the designer purchasing my yarns without a project in mind, or at least not one that I was aware of. I asked Veera Valimaki, who’s worked with my yarns, and asked her how she chose the yarns she works with. “I’ve always just chosen whatever yarn I really love...not really planning or anything!” I think that’s something a lot of designers do; just like everyone else, they see pretty yarn and want to buy it! Many knitters in general (including me) have amassed their large stashes because of that!

Many designers will purchase yarns without mentioning designing. Bonnie Sennott of Blue Peninsula Knits says, “Most of the time when I purchase the yarn I don’t even mention that it is for a design…..another reason I prefer to purchase yarn is that there are no strings attached. I am free to use it for a design or not. I might end up using it for another purpose-- maybe a KAL prize. I might use it for a personal project rather than a design.”

I would recognize the name when a designer would purchase with me, and be excited about that (because who wouldn’t?) but not have any expectations that they would use it in a design. Amy Christoffers of Savory Knitting echoed Veera when she said, “As an indie designer, I always tried to knit with the yarn I wanted, the yarn that inspired me. I’m a yarn driven designer and my approach has usually been ‘what design is best for this yarn’ rather than the other way around.”

If the yarn purchased by a designer is used in a design, most experienced designers will give the dyer a heads up before publishing the pattern so that the dyer can plan ahead to have that yarn in stock. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case with newer dyers. Carrie Sundra of Alpenglow Yarns said, “what happens with somewhat alarming frequency is a new designer buys some yarn from me, doesn’t communicate with me at all about their plans to design something, and then surprise releases a pattern… does a dyer zero good if a pattern comes out in a yarn or color they can’t support, or don’t have in stock. This actually leads to more customer support headaches than good.”

Something similar happened to me, but it was neither the designer’s nor my fault. Alana Dakos of Never Not Knitting designed the Gnarled Oak Cardigan in Coastal Knits in my yarn, in the color Juniper. Juniper was the most amazing was just the best color. Unfortunately, what I couldn’t have known, is that the newly released Twilight Grey dye from Dharma Trading, wasn’t supposed to do the marvellous breaking it did, and Dharma recalibrated the recipe. The colorway needed that breaking. (BTW, if anybody has any Twilight Grey from that recipe, where it broke, I will totally pay good money for it!) The timing couldn’t have been worse, as the book had just been published and was being marketed. I mourn losing the colorway Juniper to this day.

Another way of getting designers to see your yarn is to, well, send them some. One thing I have done is, when a designer has purchased yarn from me, in the package I have included more yarn. Sometimes it’s been a mini skein set, sometimes a skein or two of fingering weight yarn, sometimes a sweater quantity. I never have had any expectations of it being used in a design, though. Bonnie Sennott says, “Sometimes, after I have purchased yarn from a dyer for the first time, and have published a pattern with it, they have contacted me to offer more yarn for future projects. This is incredibly generous and I am always grateful for it.”

“Cold calling” is another option. Occasionally I have contacted a designer whose designs I loved and offered to send them yarn. This can actually work out well sometimes; Amy Christoffers says, “....there have been times I’ve been offered yarn support and ended up with yarns I maybe wouldn’t have bought myself but that turned into some of my most successful designs, and I think that has been mutually beneficial for both me and the yarn companies because those relationships continue.” That said, make sure you aren’t doing it with expectations. Your yarn just may not be a good match with the designers’ work at the time. Bonnie says about dyers who have contacted her out of the blue, offering yarn, “I accept if I feel their yarn is right for my designs. After I get the yarn, I do try to work with it fairly soon. That isn’t always possible, but I try! If I end up not using it, I mail it back with a nice thank-you note. I do feel bad about not using their yarn, but I only have so much time and not all yarns are appropriate for my designs.”

What started me on this article was seeing another dyer talk about how they were approached by a designer who, according to them, wanted free yarn and said they couldn’t afford yarn for their designs.  Every so often I’ve been contacted by someone wanting free yarn, and always I’ve politely declined, because what they can offer me in terms of advertising and exposure is not worth it. Amy says, “I’ve never approached any company and asked them to give me product unless they reached out to me first and offered it.

Purlish Mitts

Purlish Mitts

If someone does reach out asking for free yarn, it’s at least worth considering whether the exposure would be worth it-- how popular is said designer? How many followers do they have on Instagram? Bonnie says, “I don’t feel dyers owe designers free  yarn…..and there’s no way for them to know in advance if there will be any return on this investment. Some designs just aren’t popular. Some designs end up being extremely popular but knitters substitute other yarns.” I’ve experienced this. Magazines have reached out to me for yarn support, and to me, that exposure is worth providing free yarn, but it’s a gamble. Many times the garment or accessory has been beautiful, but just never really takes off.

Where it has been successful, it’s been the kits I’ve done with Knitscene, and other kits. As the Find Your Fade pattern and its subsequent sisters has shown, kits can be serious revenue generators.. Amy says, “If a designer or a yarn producer/dyer sees someone on the other side that they really want to work with and think that it could be a great partnership they should speak up and see whether there is an arrangement that would work well for both, because it can be SO good for everyone when everyone is feeling inspired.” Collaborations between designers and dyers can work really well, and it’s worth reaching out to a designer whose designs you feel like your yarn would work well for to see if they will collaborate with you.

What I think is nice to keep in mind is that there are just as many new designers all the time as there are dyers, so the possibility of successful collaborations is endless!

Bonnie Sennott, Blue Peninsula Knits

Amy Christoffers, Savory Knitting

Veera Valimaki, Rain Knitwear

Carrie Sundra, Alpenglow Yarn