Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seriously, It's Just Yarn

A quick search on Etsy for "sock yarn", and you will find pages upon pages of hand-dyed yarns by aptly labeled "indie" dyers. A little bit of Google-fu for the same search will bring pages and pages more. If you're a sock knitter, you know all about the proliferation of yarnies and their wares. It seems that we are the hottest new ticket in the knitting world, us little guys dyeing out of our kitchens and garages, listing on Etsy and selling to a few local yarn stores.

I have a few thoughts about why it has been so easy for folks like me to get started. My own experience has shown me just how easy it is to find the dye and equipment, to learn the craft quickly, and to find a place to showcase. The yarn, the real starting point, was a total cinch - Louet was an obvious and widely known place to get wholesale-priced yarn. Many others advertise their undyed yarn all over the internet. I was reading blogs a year or more before I started having thoughts of my own about their own dyeing adventures with Louet. If you take a closer look at Etsy, many of those hunderds of sock yarn listings are indeed Louet Gems. It is a fabulous, if omnipresent, place to start. What has been the real challenge is finding base yarns that very few others are working with, and then finding ones that meet my technical expectations. But I will always have Louet to thank for giving me the opportunity to become a small business on minimal start-up capital.

Of course, it certainly helps to have a platform like Etsy - without it I would be nowhere at all. Long before the yarn, I worked with my best friend of nearly twenty years on a jewelry and child-focused goods business out of our homes. We were separated by 3000 miles nearly half the year, so we had to have some place to sell our creations that was easy to maintain and gave us a public face to show retailers. We even went to the trouble of having our artist friend design a logo, and Millie and Duncan was branded. Our first and only online sale went completely ker-blooey, but it taught me quite a few lessons about customers, shipping, and internet traffic. Etsy was still fairly small at this point, but you could feel the momentum building. I grabbed a name for my yarn shop a full four months before actually buying supplies on the off chance someone else might have the same inspiration.

I have had the unfortunate experience of late to notice a small backlash to all the expansion of sock yarn dyeing. An online shop owner, one who has built her business and reputation on carrying an amazing array of indie dyers actually bemoaned the fact that there are so many of us. Other online yarn mavens have suggested that only those who began when the trend was new are really competent and viable. Certainly, there are always going to be dyers out there who don't maintain best practices and the highest quality standards, but surely the market can select out these folks through the mechanics of capitalism. It doesn't seem like a productive discussion to lower the playing field by complaining about your competitors or belittling the works of those who have lots of room to improve. We all started small, either as bloggers, retailers, or dyers, and we can all be made small again.

Long before producing my own yarn seemed like a good idea, my sock yarn stash was gaining control of the bins under my desk. A single skein a week was perfectly doable on our budget, whereas sweater yarn at somewhere between $60 and $100 a project just wasn't. So I exercised my stash building and retail therapy muscles at the same time. In retrospect, I'm not certain how I expected to knit all those pairs of socks in colors I chose mainly for myself. I am quite pleased at the advance of patterns calling for a single skein of, or many skeins in different colors, of sock-weight yarn. Right off the bat, the first two patterns on the Spring '09 Knitty: Shipwreck (a dyers dream-project) and Reverie. Then there's one I'm personally going to be stash-diving for very shortly: Colorflow Wrap - what a fantastic use of small bits of yarn! I love to bits some of the things knitters are doing with all that gorgeous color: Zauberknees, Macchia di Colore, and Punk Rock Chevron. My stash will never look at me the same way again.

So, I say bring it on. It is just yarn after all. I suppose I better mention Sock Summit because it wouldn't be a possibility without us crazy sock knitters - except that I want to throw up every time I contemplate getting ready to go have a both there. I'm sure that just like blogging, and now Twitter, Facebook, and (can you believe crazy high-school students?) sexting, sock yarn dyers and knitters will lose a little bit of their newy sparkle and become just another thing we're doing.

Maybe next time, if I can do it without spitting nails, we'll talk about how dyers can possibly be doing alright while the global economy falls apart.