Slowing Down to Gear Up!

Kathleen & Annie On The Road

When Kathleen and I are on the road, we’re ON THE ROAD.  For the first few years we travelled, I liked to pretend that I’d actually get work done, taking my computer and knit projects with me wherever we went.

It became pretty obvious, though, that time on road meant ROAD TIME, and although I’d squeeze out the odd new design, or blog post, the energy required to be present in classes and in the booth meant that our non-show hours were usually just recharging our batteries.

The unknown knitter!

This isn’t a bad thing, although at first I thought it was.  Learning to accept that I have limited time and energy forces me to focus more intently on exactly WHAT is the most important thing for me to do.  These past two weeks, the most important thing I needed to do was REST.

Physically I was shattered – perhaps a bit mentally, too – and as I told Gerry this morning, “Sitting and resting is the hardest work I’ve ever done!”

Kathleen, Layla, Annie, Becca.

Tomorrow I go back into the dye studio, although my assistant will be handling just about EVERY physical aspect of the work.  I’m still a mass of pain, my chest burns with the Costochondritis and walking is still a bit painful from the accompanying sciatica.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to use Layla (my assistant) to help me bridge the place from not being able to do ANYTHING to doing EVERYTHING myself.

Asking for help is hard.  Almost as hard as resting. I have to get better at doing both if I intend to do this rather physical job of yarn dyeing for the long haul!

And – for what it’s worth – I HAVE been working on a new design idea or two during my self-imposed sitting time.  Idle hands, and all that.  And if I continue to recover as I have been, I’m hoping to be back on my bike sometime this week, just for a mile or so, just to get my muscles used to the feeling of riding.

And I REALLY need some of that riding joy right about now!

Our next show isn’t until August 17, so I have plenty of time to move slowly.  It’s the wonderful Michigan Fiber Festival, one of our favorites and it’s in Allegan, MI.  Please do come by and say, “Hi!” if you’re in the area — you won’t regret it, it’s a LOVELY show!

Learning Curve

ModeKnit Yarn is in it’s 5th year, which kind of blows Kathleen and me away.  And every day we learn new things.

The Slippy Cowl, Our First Pattern!

We started this with $2,000 and an agreement on who would do what (which was pretty fluid, but for the most part I do the dyeing, and Kathleen does all of the less-sexy-but-more-important stuff like insurance, taxes, booking us into fiber shows, etc.)

Kathleen is also the booth maven.

It’s her world, I just hang out and tell bad jokes.

When we first started it took us 4+ hours to set up our booth, and almost as long to take it down.

Our First Year At Yarn Over in Minneapolis

So much blood, sweat, tears and toil…

Now we can get the booth up in 2+ hours (depending on helpers…) and our breakdown time runs from 1-2 hours (depending on how difficult it is to get to our trailer from the show floor.)

We’ve recently streamlined our yarn display, now we use pants hangers so we can display an entire range of colors on one hanger, and make it easier for folks to pull out yarn and compare it with other colors (or carry it to the doorway to see it in daylight, etc.) 

New Yarn Display at Shepherd’s Harvest, 2018

As a side benefit, it also REALLY cuts down on our setup and breakdown time, and allows us to organize our yarn by color much easier.

For a few years now we’ve displayed our yarn in long, un-twisted skeins, but now we’ve been able to cut out a great deal of grid wall and those metal arms!

Layla & Her Beautiful FLOW

All of this has taken time, and we’ve had ‘bright ideas’ that were anything BUT bright when we actually implemented them.

But that’s how we learn!

Another learning curve was making our FLOW yarn.  It’s a pretty labor-intensive product, it takes time to knit the fabric, dye the fabric, then UNKNIT the fabric into balls so the color change is visible from the top of the ball.

When I think of my first experiments in trying to create a slow-color change gradient yarn, I could both laugh and cry.

WORKING Machine!

Now we have a pretty streamlined method, and the best part is we’ve been able to teach our employees (Becca, Layla, sometimes Andy) how to create relatively consistent colorways, which has always been our goal.

But in the time since we started, I’ve become an expert at taking apart and repairing Silver Reed 150 knitting machines, and have discovered resources for some of those pesky, easy-to-break parts.  The things we learn…

Broken Machine…

I’ve also become a dab hand at taking apart and cleaning our electric ball winder and swift.  Because I love the glamour.

We’re still growing, we’re still working on breaking that ‘more going back into the biz than in our pockets’ threshold, but we’re both very lucky that we love what we do, and love spending time together and meeting so many lovely fiber folks at the various festivals where we vend.

2015 Our First 5×8 Trailer

One thing we’ve learned THIS year is that we are NOT superwomen.  This Spring Kathleen seemed to go from one cold to another, with sinus infections along the way.

When bronchitis reared it’s ugly head last week, we made an executive decision to opt out of one of our favorite fairs, The Kentucky Sheep & Fiber Fest, and stayed home so that BOTH of us could rest.

2018 Our NEW 5×10 Trailer!

It was perhaps the best decision we made all year, and taught us what we both already knew; you can’t run on empty and expect to go very far!

We hope to see you at one of the shows we WILL be able to attend, just coming up in the next weeks are The Great Lakes Fiber Show; Estes Park Wool Market; Iowa Sheep & Wool Fest and Houston Fiber Fest.

So, yeah, I guess it IS good that we took this week “off”!

And now, for your visual enjoyment, here’s some of what Layla and I worked up this week.!

FLOW Yarn Drying, May 2018

Year Three – Finding Our Groove

Jasper with a mess o'fingering weight
Jasper with a mess o’fingering weight

This Fall marks the third year of ModeKnit Yarn’s existence. Shocking.

In some ways it feels like we just started last month, in other ways it feels as though we’ve been doing this for five or ten years.

We have some new ideas coming down the pike (new ball sizes, new NO SPOILER colorways, new patterns & classes), while we continue to tend to existing projects (mini skeins sets, FLOW, yarn clubs) and handle increasing wholesale orders (so good to hear that shops love our yarn!)  It’s been a very good year!

MKY Studio and 400 Skeins of Mercury
MKY Studio and 400 Skeins of Mercury

The new dye studio is insanely helpful in this portion of our growth, we lucked into an incredibly usable space at just the right time. Kathleen and I have both made major investments into the biz this year in terms of personal purchases which we will be using for the biz (an SUV for Kathleen, a house for me!) We’re not yet a large enough company to buy our own fleet of cars or build a workspace, but we’re getting there – slowly and surely.

I spent the weekend sick – I called it a cold – but it just felt like pure exhaustion. I have been pushing myself pretty hard for the past few weeks, finishing a HUGE order and getting the dye studio set up when I wasn’t actively dyeing.  Apparently the cold turned into stomach flu, but it feels as if it’s on the wane, and one of the great things about working at ‘home’ is that when I’m feeling good for a few hours, I can scoot out and get a bit done.  And there’s always computer work to do, too!

mercury_worsted_pileIt doesn’t do me any good to ignore the fact that I have a chronic condition (Fibromyalgia) so I try to be intelligent in my work habits, take time to care for me (bike rides, physical therapy, acupuncture, rest, etc.) so that my body has the strength to do the work that I love.

I realized on Sat that 250 skeins I’d dyed had dried lighter and less intensely than I liked, and will want to re-dip them (not a HUGE undertaking) but the pain of lifting and carrying so much wet yarn to wring out, etc., is the hardest part of my job. Re dyeing – overdyeing – is sometimes necessary.

The color we’re going for with these skeins is so deeply saturated that I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes two dips to get it, it’s just something I need to accept and move on. So we make our way – slowly sometimes – and create the colors in the yarn that make us (and hopefully our customers) happy!

As with any job, if you don’t find the parts that make your soul sing, you won’t be able to stick with it for long. I love what I do, and in addition to constantly trying to improve our colors and selection of products, my biggest hurdle is trying to improve my own ability to create those products.

Becca, hard at work and loving it.
Becca, hard at work and loving it.

Weeks like this, with a HUGE dye job in front of me, I’m so grateful to have an assistant like Becca. She makes this whole thing possible on several levels. So after resting (sleeping!) for most of the weekend, I embark on a new week of dyeing and thinking up new colors, coming up with ideas for new designs and continuing on the never ending task of organizing our new dye space. And I’m so happy and proud to be able to do it with Becca by my side.

Another new thing we’ve added in this, our third year, is our Podcast.  We’re still finding our feet, putting out episodes in an erratic manner but moving toward a more serious schedule.  We do what we can do, but I hope that you’ll find some of the conversations Kathleen and I have been having with knit folks interesting and inspiring!  Here’s to more – and more regular – episodes in year FOUR of ModeKnit Yarn!