I loved reading the amazing comments on last weeks post about creativity! Thank you all so much for sharing your dreams! I hope you continue to find inspiration and joy in all of your pursuits - whether it is trying out a new knitting technique, making more time and space for your crafts, or taking the leap in building your career around your passions! I hope this space can continue to help motivate all of you in this amazing community and we can be each others cheerleaders in living creative lives!!
I am so thrilled to be able to continue the conversation this week with two amazing women, Rachel Price & Kate Burge, who have turned their dreams into a thriving business that provides the rest of us with stunning, American - sourced yarns! These two hard working mamas are such an inspiration to me and I've loved learning more about their story and Spincycle Yarns - I think you will love it, too!
Could you tell us a little bit about what brought you two together and to owning your own yarn company?
We met in 2004, when we were both working at the local co-op. I - Rachel here, doing the storytelling - had just landed in Bellingham rather accidentally, when my then-boyfriend and I ran out of money after spending a couple of years traveling around the US and England. Among the few possessions I owned was an Ashford Kiwi spinning wheel and a huge bag of mohair locks. How Kate wound up living in Bellingham is an equally roundabout and accidental story, but the short version is that, having grown up in Ohio but spending one very lovely summer on Salt Spring Island in BC, she knew that the PNW was for her.
We started hanging out as soon as we discovered each other's love of spinning, dyeing and knitting. Kate had had a booth at our local farmers' market the year before I moved here and she was reluctant to sign on for another year solo, so she invited me to join. Thus was Spincycle Yarns born.
Congratulations on your success! It had to have been a big move to go from spinning your yarns to finding a mill to help boost production. Can you tell us more about that and the amazing mother-daughter team you found?
Yes! It was huge! When I think back on the timing of the whole thing, the shift that really reinvented our business, I'm still surprised at how it all came together. The early years of Spincycle, when we were exclusively a hand-spinnery, corresponded nicely with our young, free and (mostly) single years. We lived with lots of housemates, paid a pittance for rent, and somehow had loads of free time while still making enough handspun yarn to support ourselves. But there is a very finite number of skeins that can be made by hand every week, and we hit that wall hard when we had our kids, back to back. (Hank is my son, and he's ten months older than Kate's daughter, Iona. They're five and four now.) The business plateaued, then took a dive. We were at a crossroads. I was looking for other work. It was grim.
Then one day, I was in our local yarn shop and a woman came in to drop off some flyers for the mill she was opening on Camano Island. Her plan was to spin yarn from her beautiful alpacas and to take in custom work to work the mill at capacity. Kate and I had a light bulb moment.
After a few visits and conversations with Cheryl, the mill boss and the most patient person we know, we began to bring her our dyelots. We changed absolutely nothing about our dye process except the size of our dye pots - we went from 3 gallons to 16 - so that our yarns would maintain the look that our customers associated with a Spincycle yarn. But those spinning frames - holy crap! - surely do make handspinning look slow by comparison. Our mill, though still small by some spinning factory standards - can crank out in a day what would have taken Kate and me two weeks to spin together!
We did have a few growing pains along the way. Working with a new mill and bringing them a variety of wool fibers with instructions like "make it look just like this handspun" can be challenging for all parties. We knew nothing about the equipment; they knew nothing about handspinning. Trying to find the equivalent terminology to talk about something like a drafting triangle with people who are essentially machinists... Well, we all had to take a lot of deep breaths. Then Cheryl brought in her daughter, Audrey, to run the machinery. Audrey is the most detail-oriented, hard-working and troubleshooting person we know. Finally we all found our groove.
Do you still spin any of the yarns you sell?
We still ply each skein of Knit Fast, Die Young by hand. The mill makes the singles, but their equipment can't handle the thickness of it once plied. So we ply it old school. That's why our turnaround time on that line is so slow. (Sorry, stockists! We love y'all! We're spinning as fast as we can!) We also have a line called Feral, which we handspin 100% and which we are almost never stocked in. It's so time consuming to make and sells out immediately.
Can you tell us more about "dyeing in the wool" and why you chose to go this route?
A "dyed in the wool" yarn is named after its dyeing process. Quite simply, it means that the fiber is dyed before it is spun. It differs quite a bit from the other, more common, hand dyeing methods of "painting" or "dip dyeing" in which a skein is dyed after being spun. Our method could also be called the "pain in the ass" method, which is probably how our mill refers to it behind our backs. We dye many, MANY pounds of fiber in each lot, and it's quite a challenge to keep the colorways consistent throughout. We're up against temperature variations in the kettle as it gets fuller and fuller, as well as having to remix our dye blends halfway through if we miscalculate volume. And then our mill has to deal with the insanity, making sure that the yarns end up as consistent as possible and that any knots in the skeins don't cause a sudden break in the color transition!
But the results are worth all the trouble! The colors shift and transition slowly, sunsetting into one another in unpredictable ways. Each skein is unique. They look like handspun skeins, which is just exactly, precisely what we are going for!
Can you tell us about a few of the the different yarns you carry? Do you have a favorite?
Well, Dyed In The Wool, our first mill-spun line, is probably the one that we tend to favor. It's so perfect for garment knitting. I bet I have no less than a dozen sweaters alone knit with DITW, not to mention my obsession for cowls. It shows off that slow color progression the best, and I just cannot stop using it for fair isle projects. And stripes. Dyed In The Wool plus a solid color for a striped cardigan? Forget about it. It's insanely beautiful.
I have to say, though, that I'm knitting my first sweater project from our heavy worsted weight line, Independence. I've used it a lot for accessories, but then I got kind of obsessed with the Arrowhead Cardigan, a pattern released by and featuring Imperial Yarn. I paired their Columbia 2-ply in a gorgeous chocolate with a colorway of ours called Grumpy Birds. I'm dying to finish. It's gonna be a stunner.
We also have a tonal lace weight, Debauchery, which I'm just getting into. Because, you know, lace knitting. It is slow. On the other end of the spectrum is Knit Fast, Die Young, our super bulky 2-ply. All of our yarns, incidentally, are dyed in the wool.
Where can we find your yarn?
All over! We have an ever-expanding list of stockists, which you can find on our website, www.spincycleyarns.com, or you can come shop it up in person at Stitches West every February, the TNNA summer show (for shops only), and a number of craft fairs and trunk shows in the Pacific Northwest. Oh, and we will be at the Indie Pop-Up that will be taking place at The Knot House in Frederick, Maryland, during Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in May!
I love that you keep your yarns US made from sheep to skein. What prompted you to go that route, and has it been challenging?
Initially, sourcing the wool was difficult. The decision was easy; it just felt right and we called it. Then we had to seek out a source that could provide us with a consistent blend and at the tons per year that we require. It was challenging and a little scary! Instead of buying a couple hundred pounds per month of, say, our superwash American wool, we had to agree to buy over a thousand pounds at one time. Suddenly, we were using freight shipping and had to figure out what a bill of lading was and how to rent a pallet lifter for a day! It was a different scene from the old days!
What advice would you give to people out there wanting to follow their creative dreams?
Hmmmm, I really love to tell people what to knit and in what colors... But business and dream-following advice? I will say this: There are a lot of ways to start living your dream. We definitely turn a little greenish with envy when we see companies who have just gone all in and have the most beautiful websites and top notch marketing and travel to every retail and trade show. But we had a very humble beginning and have grown slowly. Sweat equity has been our friend. We've paid for everything outright and never gone into any business debt. It's been slow, but it's always felt safe. Our energies go into yarn development and relationships with designers and collaborations with other yarn companies, rather than losing sleep over paying our bills.
One other thing: Love your product. Live in your product. Put your personality into your marketing and social media. Be your tattooed, rap-music-listening, weirdo self at shows when you meet your customers. (Ok, that's sort of specifically us, but you get it.)
What are your spirit animals?
Besides sheep?! I guess maybe I am the possum. I get a lot of work done in the middle of the night and have been known to play dead when stressed. Kate - and I'm speaking for her now, so she may object - is the rabbit. She's all over the place. She talks really fast, never sits down, is a non-stop fountain of ideas.
What are your favorite noises?
Kate can't really focus unless she's listening to the Notorious B.I.G. Me, I am really, really into this app on my phone called Extreme Rain Pouring. I cannot sleep unless I'm blasting it.
I was lucky enough to get to meet Kate & Rachel at their booth at Stitches West this past February. Their Independence yarn in the colorway Greed immediately drew me in, and I've already got a new pattern planned out for it! It is the perfect tones of yellow, which I have been obsessing over lately!
Lucky for all of us, I was just over - ahem, shopping - at the Spincycle Yarns Online Shop, and they recently did an update, so there is plenty of yarn for us all! They are also so generously giving away a knit kit to one lucky winner!! Just leave a comment below (with your email address!) telling us how you would use these beautifully unique yarns!! I will pick a winner next weekend ;)
Don't forget our Range Shawl KAL starts in a week!! We will be casting on May 1 - so you still have plenty of time to get your yarn!! Head over to Ravelry for all of the info! Congratulations to Ryan - the winner of last week's giveaway!! I've emailed you about your prize! And don't forget to tag your Instagram pictures with #rangekal so we can watch your progress!