This year, I missed the trip, but eagerly awaited Suzanne’s report. She told me that the big hit this year was Alisha Goes Around, a one-woman hand-painted-yarn operation right down the road in New Braunfels. Suzanne said lots of knitting rock stars gathered to check out Alisha’s amazing color work-- with Cookie A leading the charge. As it turns out, Alisha is a HCW customer and, soon enough, we’ll be carrying her yarn. I’ll be sure to post when the order arrives. Meanwhile, Alisha took time out of her crazy dyeing schedule to tell me a bit about what she does—and what she does she does so well that, understandably, shops and knitters are going gaga for her work. To read even more, you can check out her blog.
HCW: Will you tell us about your process?
AGA: Before I dye the yarn, I bundle 5-10 skeins together, soak the yarn until it is saturated with water, and ready the pots. Then I dye it - yarn + heat + dye + time = colored yarn. Cooling, then rinsing comes next. I wait for it to dry, twist the skeins, and label them. If everything goes right, it is about a week from start to finish. I still do everything else myself, too, from designing the logo, making up web and print ads, working on the website, to taking photographs. I learned Adobe Illustrator because I couldn't afford a graphic designer for the logo, and that turned out okay, but I am very excited about soon hiring a photographer and web designer. Photographs and website work are the two things that cause me the most stress - I'm just not good enough at either and I haven't had the time to develop those skills.
HCW: Suzanne was telling me about your booth at TNNA, how the knitting rock stars rushed you. Was that your first time to have a booth?
AGA: This was my first time at TNNA. I started my business two years ago with $500 and I am still a small company, so TNNA was a huge gamble. My mom came with me - we drove her truck from New Braunfels to Long Beach, California. My mom doesn't knit, doesn't crochet, doesn't weave, but she is awesome, so I wanted her there.
Even with months of planning, nothing at the show went as I'd expected. I was "the girl with the pole" because there was a 4 foot by 4 foot concrete support column and firemen's hookup in the middle of my 10 by 10 booth, so all the layout planning and plotting on graph paper went right out the window. I brought way too much yarn to Sample It!, the one-hour event the night before the market opens where you can sell individual items instead of taking orders. And I really didn't expect Romi Hill and Cookie A to check out my booth the night before, then decide they had to come back with twenty other amazing designer friends the next day.
Once the show opened, it was a whirlwind. Suzanne came by the first day with one of her friends when there were about half-dozen designers hanging out and Cookie A discussing the pros and cons of buffalo down v. cashmere v. silk in sock yarns. Later on, Ysolda was recruited to help another LYS pick out colors. Lisa Shroyer, the editor of Knitscene, came by when I had just taken my lunch out from under the table, where I'd hidden it 2 hours earlier, and I greeted her with a mouthful of lettuce. The salad went back under the table for another 2 hours. Every time I left the booth, my mom would call to get me back - usually for customers or designers, but the last day it was for a "Bob-sitting" situation, which really confused my non-knitter mother, as in, "Jess, I don't know what a Bob-sitter is, but you look tired. Come sit down and Alisha will be back in a minute to show you what yarn might be good for a Bob-sitter." Even after I told her that Bob was a dog and the mascot of Ravelry, I think Mom was still confounded (The question, "How was I supposed to know Bob was her dog?" may have been asked more than once. Last week it was, "So, did the Bob-Sitter like her yarn? Bob-sitter. Heh.") But she wasn't completely out of her element - my mom seriously bonded with Stephen Be over his leather pants with laces and his shoes. Looking at the two of them, you'd think they were related and that they shopped at the same stores. It might be the beginning of a beautiful, blond, leather-and-sparkle-clad friendship.
Overall, it was better than I expected -- I'd hoped, but not expected, that some of my favorite designers would stop by the booth. When most of them showed up the first day, I was thrilled. I mostly managed to keep my cool, I think, but I may have gone a little nuts when Janel Laidman came in while the booth was already packed with my favorite designers. Janel's socks are my aspirational knitting, and I think by walking in at or around the same time as Julie Weisenberger, Cookie, Ysolda, Laura Chau, Anne Hanson, Romi Hill, Anne Kuo Lukito, Anne Dempsey, Sheryl Thies, Miriam Felton, Lorna Misner, and many others, my brain may have exploded a little bit. Oh, and I sold a lot of yarn.
AGA: My grandmother taught me to knit when I was little, but I started knitting again after I became a mother. I needed something that could be done at home or while waiting at a doctor's appointment and something to occupy my hands and mind. My sister bought me a crochet book that Christmas, then I discovered real yarn stores, then Joelle Hoverson's Chevron Scarf hit the craft blogs. I taught myself to knit with a Stitch n Bitch book, dyed two skeins of wool with food coloring, and knit that scarf in 6 days.
I've been dyeing for five years - I started with dyeing mohair for Blythe dolls, then once I started crocheting and knitting, I started dyeing my own yarn. New Braunfels doesn't seem that far away from San Antonio and Austin, and it really isn't, but when you're a new mom, getting to the corner store can be an epic journey. An hour in the car each way plus shopping time -- I may as well have tried to get to the top of Mount Everest. I didn't have time to get to the LYSs that I wanted to go to, but I could order natural yarn from Dharma Trading and ruin a few of my husband's pots on the stove. I thought about selling yarn every once in a while, but I figured the world didn't need another hand dyer, so I dyed for personal use.
Two years ago I decided to meet other knitters, to learn to spin, and to dye more of my own yarn. I spent my birthday present money from my parents on a big box of wool, dyes, and renting a spinning wheel, then I joined two knitting groups. At the first group I went to, someone wanted to buy the yarn I'd dyed. A few months later, a store wanted to buy yarn from me, then a few more stores, and then I called my husband and said, "I think I started a business." I didn't have a name, labels, or anything other than a big pot, 20 pounds of wool, and some acid dyes, but that's how it began. When my father heard that I was starting a hand dyed yarn business, his response was, "There Alisha goes, around the bend again." The whole thing was - and continues to be - a shock to all the non-crafty people around me, but my knitting group says they knew it all along.
HCW: What's your yarn best for (or what do you like to use it for)?
AGA: I've done a lot with my yarn -- I wove a 6 by 6 blanket from sock yarn and handspun, I've got a stack of sweaters that only get broken out for a few weeks a year, and both my father and child request socks on a regular basis. The majority of what I knit is for myself, and since it is so hot here for so many months, I do a lot of small projects like socks and shawls. I hate sitting underneath a 6-skein wool sweater anytime after April and before September, and my hands get too sore to use cotton or other cellulose fibers. Last year I started knitting socks, and the sock bug bit hard. I usually have at least one easier project for social knitting and another that requires concentration. And a half- dozen things in time out. I knit 10 peacocks in a month, plus another 8 bird heads and 20 hummingbirds, so now I've got bird burn out.
I try to produce about 500 skeins per week, which is normally a realistic goal, but the weather hasn't been helping lately. I'm still dyeing out of my kitchen, but the hunt is on for real, actual workspace outside of my home. My goal from here is to grow slowly. I want to continue to dye every skein myself, not just come up with colorways. I don't want to be in a hundred shops right now or even a few years from now. I told shop owners at TNNA that if I'm not at the next show, it isn't because I'm out of business, it is because I'm working at capacity. A number of really fantastic shops picked up my yarn at the show, and although I can take more orders now, I want to make sure that my work is in balance and that I can give everyone the service and product that they deserve. I'm picky about yarn, and I expect my customers to be the same way.
Since TNNA, my Bison/Superwash sock yarn (Tracks of Bison Fingering) went to Vogue Knitting Live, my Silk/Superwash yarns (Bevy of Swans, Fingering and DK) are going to be included in an article in a very awesome magazine, I've gotten yarn requests from a few other magazines, my yarn was picked for a wonderful sock club, and a lot of designer-bloggers have mentioned my yarn in posts. I think a lot of designs using my yarn will come out in the next few months, but I can't be sure about that until it happens. Just today a shop in the Midwest asked me to come up to give a presentation and hold a class. That was another first!