I’ve been on a cowl design and making kick after spending a couple months working on a Exeter cabled sweater. I can’t stop with the cowls now – they’re quick, easy projects that give me near-instant gratification.
The cowl kick started at the end of the sweater project. For about 2 years now I’ve been trying, somewhat successfully, to knit down my yarn stash. I wanted to find something to do with 3 skeins of Plymouth Earth Ecco Baby Camel that’s been in my stash since 2008. It’s a bulky weight yarn that Mr. Q got for me at With Yarn In Front for my birthday & Mother’s Day. He got it intending for me to make a hat with it, but the hat designs I found for it over the years haven’t wowed me. I wanted something close to the skin for this luxury fiber, a reversible fabric, and a cowl that could be finished as a loop or a möbuis. (Möbiuses are so cool! Two sides become one! What’s not to like?) After swatching, ripping out, and more swatching – thinking with yarn is what I call that process – I came up with the Infinite Wave Cowl. It’s a relatively quick knit, I can finish one in about 12 hours, and fun. It’s easy enough for TV knitting, but the cables keep it interesting.
I wrote the pattern up and decided to make it available for free for a limited time to get it out there in the knitting world. I’ve published 4 other patterns (Owl Honeycomb Blanket, Pasithea baby blanket, Double Rainbow Scarf, and Feathermoss stole) with limited success – under 10 people have bought them (some less than 5) and no one else has actually made any of them, just me. And so with the Infinite Wave Cowl, I’ve made 5 so far; 4 are available in The Yarn Office and I sold one to a friend. Although no one else has cast on yet, over 400 people have downloaded the pattern when it was free on Ravelry & Craftsy. I even briefly made it onto the first page of Ravelry’s hot right now patterns! Hooray!
So all those cowls I made are also now available in The Yarn Office. I’ve had some people exclaim that the price is relatively high, so I wanted to explain how I arrived at the prices. After some research, I’m charging 20 cents/yard + the cost of materials. So, for example, the Infinite Wave Cowl uses 220ish yards of yarn; 220 x .2 is $44. If a scarf takes me 12 hours to knit, that means I’m earning slightly less than $3.67/hour. Not only did I knit the cowl, but I also spent time designing it using skills I’ve built up over time, none of which are factored into the price. From my perspective, $3.67/hour is a bargain for you; minimum wage in my state is $7.25/hour, so I could/should be charging a base price of $87. Or could/should I charge closer to my hourly rate in my chosen profession as a technical writer, which requires some of the same skills, at $45+/hour? These finished cowls are a bargain.
Now let’s talk about materials. 220 yards of bulky/chunky weight yarn doesn’t seem like much. I should just be able to pop over to JoAnn’s and Michael’s for something cheap, right? The least expensive suitable yarn available at JoAnn’s is Big Twist Collection Chunky Yarn at $4.49 for 195 yards of 100% acrylic yarn. Aside from the fact that I don’t find knitting with or wearing acrylic enjoyable, I would need 2 balls of this yarn to complete a cowl – $8.98. So the total for even the least expensive cowl would be $44 + $8.98 = $52.98. That’s certainly less expensive than the baby camel cowl I made the pattern for – materials for that cost $54, but it’s baby camel! Try to find that in a store! Or the alpaca scarfs I have available – materials for them cost me $31 each and I priced the cowls at $75 – can you even find a 100% alpaca scarf in a store? So yes, I can make them for less money but at the same time, yarn isn’t free and neither is my time.
Could the knitting be outsourced to hand-knitters in other countries and made for less? Sure, that happens, but most of those hand-knitters still aren’t receiving a fair wage in their economy. Could these be made on a machine in a factory (probably in China) in large quantities for less? You bet, but I don’t have (or want) those resources. Offering these handknits for sale on etsy clearly isn’t about making money for me or providing you with a cheap, disposable consumer good: this is more personal than all of that.
Over the last week or so, I’ve been super-busy. My knitting friends have been encouraging me for a long time (trust me: for at least a year) to start a shop, if not a brick-and-mortar yarn shop, then a shop on etsy, or really, someplace online. A brick-and-mortar yarn shop seems like a pretty high risk endeavor right now; several local-ish yarn shops have disappeared over the last few years: Capital Yarns and With Yarn in Front both in Chantilly I think, Eleganza in Frederick, MD, and at least 2 others (I’m too lazy to go dig up the thread on Ravelry). I can’t tell you how many people, not just in Loudoun Needleworkers, have longed for a local-er yarn shop. If FibreSpace in old town Alexandria ever decides to open a satellite store, my knitting group dearly hopes it will be all the way out here in Loudoun.
Not being such an entrepreneur type and being rather skittish about things like accounting, I have been procrastinating since June, when I vowed to make this yarn/fiber/artsy thing work. At Shenandoah Fiber Festival, Lisa, one of my LNW friends who’s been encouraging me for a while now, was as excited as I was about the fleeces I bought and told me she couldn’t wait to see what I did with them. Of course, a month passed before I even blogged about SVFF or did more with the fleece than move them out of my way. Last Wednesday, at our regular mid-week meet-up, Lisa told me about the project she had in mind for a batt from me. She had a project. She needed wool. She wanted to buy wool from me! What more could she do except come to my house, force money on me, and make off with wool? So, I started an etsy shop called The Yarn Office, what Ethan, my middle son, called the living room after I took it over with my spinning wheel, knitting books, etc.
So far, I don’t have much in the shop, just some batts that I made last spring, when another knitting friend, Jenni, let me borrow her drum carder to make a few batts. A week or two later, I made a few batts using my own carder, which Mr. Q surprised me with on Mother’s Day or my birthday (both in early May). I did finish the batts for Lisa, she’s purchased them, and I have those two initial sales to someone that I know & like and who will be able to give me feedback (or leeway) if something is wrong with the batts! And if something *is* wrong, I’ll be able to fix it super-quick without having to deal with the dreaded Post Office (of doom). I hate the PO, though of course I’ll be doing some desensitizing therapy in the form of shipping any orders I get by going to the actual building. (Yes, it’s silly that I have a Post Office thing, but there it is.)
I am cleaning fleece like a crazy lady. Well, really, just a lady with a purpose. I’ve used two methods so far on the cormo fleece, which is pretty greasy (but cormo! so worth it!). The first, the lock-by-lock method that Beth Smith of the Spinning Loft showed Jenni and I at the 2010 Spinning Loft Spring Retreat. It involves washing each lock individually using a bar of Fels Naptha (no, it doesn’t contain naptha – they should possibly consider renaming the product). This method was excellent for getting some of the super dirty locks clean, except the water I was using wasn’t hot enough to remove the lanolin and the batt I made from that wool was a little greasier than what I’d like.
The second method is the tulle roll technique also mentioned/shown/described during the Spinning Loft Retreat and detailed by Beth in Knitty’s Winter 2008 issue. Yesterday afternoon (Halloween!) I made rolls just like Beth’s but instead of using tulle, I used some more flexible white netting from some curtains I got a while ago (the curtain story is a post all by itself). Today, I washed the rolls. I filled up two buckets with really hot water, one with some non-enzyme-containing detergent (Ecos Liquid Laundry Detergent, which I bought at Costco while feeling guilty about my carbon footprint but not guilty enough to apply the elbow grease required to get it to work as well as Tide), the other with clean water. And away I washed. It went reasonably well, except that a few of the rectangles used to make the rolls were more like uneven parallelograms and some of the locks escaped. It could have been worse – most of them were still attached by a few fibers to their neighbors and I was able to keep everything together until it was time to dry them. I think for my next washing session, I’m going to use hot water, rubber gloves (with lotion on, killing 2 birds with one stone), and the Fels Naptha.
More soon (Thursday, if I’m with-it) on dying with mushrooms, pokeberries, bittersweet, and indigo. (I used indigo on the freshly-washed locks today, but indigo requires a post of its’ own.)
For once I have too much to write about: SVFF, natural dye projects, the sweater I’m knitting out of my own handspun yarn, roller derby, and probably some other things I’m forgetting about. I’m planning on posting more about all of this stuff, particularly the natural dying (madder, mushrooms, pokeberry & bittersweet), but I’ve been remiss in blogging (or blah-ging, as the case may be) and feel like I have to catch up first.
Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival (SVFF) happens the last weekend in September just over The Mountains (the Blue Ridge Mountains, that is) at the Clarke County Fairgrounds in Berryville, VA. This was my second year helping out with the juried fleece sale and the Loudoun Needleworkers (LNW) booth, which were happily in the same building this year thanks to Alana, who did so much organizing I’m surprised she didn’t keel over in exhaustion before SVFF even started. I love driving out to Berryville for this festival; I would love to live farther out, in the country proper instead of suburban Leesburg. The 3 days I spent at SVFF were worth it for the drive alone, but it is a bonus that I carpooled with Steph and Alana.
Friday we got to the fairgrounds around 10 in the morning to set up the LNW booth, which we use to let the community know we exist and welcome new members, and to get ready to skirt and comment on sheep & alpaca fleece brought in for the juried fleece sale. We were a little bit too early; booth set-up went by in a flash so we sat knitting and chatting for most of the morning. From 1pm, when the fleece sale started, until about 4:30 we were in constant motion dealing with over 100 fleece. Although this year we were supposed to be on our own, we had help from some of the jurists from last year and without it, we would’ve been sunk. This is what the fleece sale table looked like when we left Friday evening:
Saturday morning we got there by 9, if I remember correctly, and were off and running with fleece sales. We did the bulk of the selling on Saturday, with several on Sunday. Many people stopped to watch us spin, ask us about spindles and Alana’s Ladybug. An older gentleman from Texas stopped by looking for the woman who’d brought in cashmere from her goats; he had judged the goat competition earlier in the day and explained that there’s more cashmere out there than sheep fleece, but it’s expensive because it has to be de-haired by hand.
As she did last year, Alana got delicious wine from Fabbioli to share with all of the volunteers and we stayed after SVFF closed Saturday & took our time cleaning up on Sunday. Sunday we also made our annual group trip to Sonic in Winchester. Cherry Limeade! Cheese fries! Cherry Limeade! Thankfully, the weekend of SVFF Alise moved to Winchester and though we missed her at SVFF, we’re all very glad that she lives so close to Sonic; we’re half-joking that she needs to take our orders before coming to Sunday meet-ups. I’m sure we’d all chip in for some insulated bags to keep hot Sonic hot and Cherry Limeades cold.
I came away from SVFF with 4 fleeces and some other stuff:
- 4.5 lbs coated Romney X (3/8 Romney, 1/4 Tunis, 1/16 Leicester, 1/4 mixed, 1/16 Corriedale) from Hickory Hill Farm in Gore, VA
- 2.5lbs of multicolored alpaca (white with dark brown) from a farm that didn’t include a business card or info sheet with the fleece
- 10.5lbs coated Merino from Black Sheep Farm in Leesburg, VA (you can see the crimp in that fiber even in this picture taken with my phone!)
- 7.5lbs of coated Cormo from Lavender Hills Farm in Lineboro, MD
- Packets of alkanet, safflower, red sandalwood, sumac from … ah … uhm, a vendor who’s receipt I should’ve saved.
The whole weekend made me miss Vermont and wonder why I left, why I never got interested in farming/horticulture (I’m guessing that like religion, it was forced on my parents & they wanted to give my brother and I the choice), and how old one has to be to do 4-H. Maybe I just need a farm and a mentor.