I started dyeing yarn early in the Spring of 2006, not too long after Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans upside down on August 29, 2005. I started with some undyed yarns and KoolAid drink mix, following tutorials on YouTube. Such inauspicious beginnings! LOL
While so much of New Orleans was still a mess, I was in the same rental house I’d been in almost 10 years since it only had relatively minor hurricane damage and no flood damage. And I was technically still employed by the State of Louisiana, but my project’s budget had no funds allocated for office rental. Since our building was destroyed I had no official place to work, although many of my co-workers had found rental space over at UNO. I had my own tasks to do, but I was also part of a team project that (pre-Katrina) used to occupy most of my time, or at least it was supposed to. But without a place to work close by, I found myself increasingly left-out of progress on the project, since I had to work from home.
With so much free time, I had opportunity to consider ….
IF I had been left homeless and jobless (as so many around me had), I would have had to be starting over from scratch with nothing.
I still had a place to live, and I still had my income from my state civil service job. So I was basically ahead of the game and far better off than so many New Orleans residents. If I were ever to try working for myself, THIS was likely the only opportunity I would have.
But… WHAT would I do with an opportunity like this? How could I do something to make money on my own?
Some online friends had been knitting, felting, and selling wool clogs/slippers as a little sideline for a while. They’d gotten a bit of a following, and eventually realized they’d be better off buying yarn at wholesale, instead of retail. And since they got a business license to buy at wholesale, they started offering to help their friends buy nice yarns. And, what they heck, if they were doing this for friends, why not just open a yarn shop? So they quit their jobs and opened a yarn shop. And then they moved states and opened a bigger and better yarn shop.
I wasn’t interested in opening a yarn shop, but I’d heard other people were starting to dye their own yarn, and hand-dyed yarn was becoming popular. I liked playing with color, and I like knitting and other crafts. That’s what I would do — I would learn how to dye yarn, and then I could be a famous indie art yarn dyer like those other people were doing! I mean, if other normal people on the knitting list could do it, certainly I could, too. 🙂
I started with commercial undyed yarn and started practicing with KoolAid drink mix and Wilton’s gel colourants and other techniques. My early attempts were … shall we say ‘primitive’? But I learned that there were special dyes available that were actually suited for dyeing wool. And, more importantly, I learned that there were several suppliers of massive amounts of undyed wool yarns in all sorts of weights and a variety of put-ups (individual skeins as well as cones).
I already owned a center-pull ball winder and a swift, and I found an antique fixed-arm skein-winder on ebay. And I was on my way, and it was decided — If Katrina had left me without home and job, I would have started my life over as a yarn dyer. And since I was ahead of the game, this would be my chance to just go ahead and do it. The absolute worst that could happen would be that nobody liked my yarns and I’d have to find a job.
So, I gave my notice, and April 21, 2006 was the last day I ever got paid for working for someone else. I had just enough to live on until my retirement funds paid out (had to wait 90 days for that, small little sum that it was!), and on August 28, 2006 my sons came to New Orleans, packed all my things into a biggest U-Haul we could find, and I left New Orleans one year after Katrina.
I was able to move into the mobile home my son and his daughters had just vacated, making it horribly convenient for me not to have to immediately find a place, and my landlord/lady are the parents of my son-in-law’s best friend since childlhood, so I wasn’t dealing with complete strangers (I had met them at my daughter and son-in-laws wedding in 2001). Nice how it was relatively painless to leave New Orleans and start in Houston, almost like “it was meant to be.”
it took me about a month to get my ducks in a row, file papers and so forth, and on October 1, 2006, Knitivity was ‘officially’ born. It took another month or so to order and acquire all the yarns and dyes I would need for getting started, get the Web page up, and start telling people that I was dyeing yarn … and that I expected people to buy it!
That last part wasn’t so easy. I still had to find customers, but I somehow managed to survive on the dwindling remains of my retirement funds until word got out. But it started picking up, I developed some favorite colorways that I liked and that people seemed to want. I got into custom dyeing as well, so that people could ask for specific colorways and combinations.
Then came Hurricane Ike in 2008, and then my original supplier really screwed things up for me in 2010 when they could not supply my yarn for over 3 months — orders were waiting, I couldn’t get the yarn they wanted, and my bills had to be paid anything. It was a horrible mess all the way around, and my reputation suffered. I learned a lot during that period, and it was not about the dyeing!
I’ve worked hard to keep my reputation. I hardly do any custom dyeing any more, unless one of my regular customers makes a special request. Early on, I would have “accidents, extras, and experimental dye jobs”, something extra I could post onto the blog occasionally as they came available, and I could offer them at a slight discount specially for those who came to read the blog…. hence the name, Blog Reader Specials.
Over the course of time, custom jobs dwindled and I spent most of my time dyeing whatever struck my fancy, and pretty soon Blog Reader Specials were my primary source of income. At one point I asked customers if I should maybe call them something else since they were no long just occasional extras. The overwhelming response was “No! We know what Blog Reader Specials are — always one-of-a-kind offerings we won’t find anywhere else. Keep calling them Blog Reader Specials.” So, that’s that!
I have a small selection of base yarns that I like to work with — Primo Lace (80/20 Merino/Silk), and Phydlbitz Sock (75/25 Superwash Corriedale/Nylon), and I try to add some additional sock yarns and other yarns when I can. But Primo and Phydlbitz are my two primary bases.
I mentioned I had trouble with my original supplier in 2010. I became rather depressed, stressed and overwhelmed in the interim, losing my inspiration and motivation and got waaaayyyyy behind on rent and other necessaries. (Had my landlords not been family friends, I would have been out on my ear!) It wasn’t until almost a year later that I was able to get a wholesale account with another supplier — one who actually responds and can provide what I need.
I got the base for sock yarn and named it Phydlbitz for a reason – it stands for
And it started me on the road back into business and it’s all I used for a while, and then I added some lace, fingering, sport, and other yarns. But Phydlbitz is still my flagship yarn, AND it is better than the sock yarn I’d been using from my previous supplier.
And now, 10 years after I started, I am still here and still struggling, although this past year has been better. In fact, each year since 2011 has been slightly better than the year before.
Summertime has always been the hardest — sales go down and utility bills go way up. Any advances I make in the winter and spring toward paying down past due rents seem to disappear by the time summer is over. I still owe many thousands in back rent. I’m usually able to pay current rent now, just not paying down the old debts, and that has always bothered me.
In fact, while I do have a few cones already on order (arriving a week from this coming Monday!), today I am without yarn in-house to dye and without extra money to buy still more yarn. So I face my 10-year anniversary wondering if this will be the year I actually get ahead and can start living again.
Several friends have helped along the way, for which I am very grateful, but I don’t like begging for cash. I much rather prefer be giving something when I get something — such as the Knitter’s Dozen program, where you buy a dozen yarns at full price over time, save the tags, and then get the 13th skein free!
That’s why I started the Buy-a-Cone for Knitivity concept a few years ago. Undyed yarn comes on 3 or 4 pound cones, and because of my pricing structure, 3 skeins of my Knitivity yarn (plus shipping) is roughly the same as a cone of undyed yarn from my supplier. So, if someone buys a cone for me, they get 3 skeins of it for themselves for about the same amount of money! (And because the supplier changed how some of the yarns come and increased the price of a cone, both Primo and Phydlbitz cones mean the customer gets 4 skeins on those!). It’s approximately the same amount of money for the customer but the difference is that when they buy a cone to get 3 (or 4) skeins for themselves, the money goes straight to the supplier to buy more yarn rather than into my regular bill-paying pocket.
The customer then has 3 (or 4) skeins that they can:
- request to be custom dyed right away; or
- set aside to be decided how to dye later on; or
- use as pre-paid credit for some Blog Reader Special yarn if they see one they really like; or
- give their skein credits to someone else as a gift (holiday time is coming soon!); or
- any combination of these options!
Plus, when prices go up in November, any skeins you get credit on early will already be paid for so no price increase on those, no matter how long you choose to keep them set aside, AND the shipping is also prepaid on those as well.
And after I set the customer’s yarns aside per their instructions, I have the rest of the cone to dye up to become more Blog Reader Specials and keep the income flow going. Doing this in the Fall means I will be ahead of things through the winter and can keep ordering more yarns as I sell. Ideally I will get a dozen or more cones of Primo and Phydlbitz, as well as whatever else anyone wants, but whatever is requested I will order.
The Buy-a-Cone option is always available, of course, but I’ve moved it up to the Blog for this weekend, as I have an order begun that I can add to over this weekend; I asked them to hold off on the order I just sent so that I could add more and they will ship it all on Monday together to save a bit on shipping charges. I would love to start off my 11th year with a large set of cones.
If you’d like to purchase a cone and have your skeins set aside, you can use this order form here.
I will have more to say over the weekend about how the industry and the market has changed over the last ten years, as well as things I would like to see and do in the future.