Monday, March 31, 2008

Wee Tiny Socks

Late last week I heard about the Wee Tiny Sock Swap in one of the issues of Lime and Violet's Daily Chum. I haven't really gotten involved in any of these swaps or the wars, but something about this one seemed so sweet that I jumped on board.

The first thing I had to do was figure out what yarn to use. Like all knitters, I have more small balls of yarn than you can shake a stick (or needle) at. Rifling through that stash of leftovers felt like a virtual history of both my knitting and my life. Here was a ball from my very first sweater, Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Bulky in Cream. There was a ball of handspun I picked up on a trip to visit my brother in Wyoming. I found yarns still on bobbins from my first attempt at intarsia....before I took a class to learn how to do it properly. The sweater with all the holes had long since been frogged and turned into something else.

Then I found the yarn for this project. It was just a tiny bit of Shepherd Sock yarn in Shadow. This yarn was from the very first Lorna's Laces I every cast on.

Way back in fall of 2002 I flew out to California to visit Lorna Miser and check out the company. I spent two days with her seeing the operation and learning what Lorna's Laces was all about. During the course of the visit I learned that Shepherd Sock was her best-selling yarn. I had never knit a sock but I figured that if I was serious about buying the company, girl should knit at least one pair.

Lorna offered me any color I wanted so I picked up some Shadow. I stopped at the LYS on the way to the airport and bought some size 1 dpn's. Once I got to the the gate, I cast on. It's a four hour flight, so I had plenty of time to get my feet wet with the sock-knitting. I have to admit that it wasn't love at first stitch. I looked at these tiny little needles and this fingering weight yarn and thought to myself that I will persevere and finish these socks, but I don't think there will be any more in my future.

Then I turned my first heel...and I literally squealed. I've had a pair of socks on needles ever since. It was like crack. I couldn't stop. There is just something about socks that feels so right. They are portable, everyone wears them, they aren't a big commitment in time or money, it's rare that you'll finish a pair of socks and realize the silhouette isn't right for your body type or that the color makes you look washed out. Socks are good.

So, I had found the yarn for my Wee Tiny Sock. And had a wonderful trip down memory lane to boot. Look how cute it is.

And even more fun, here it is with that first pair of socks. I still wear them.

Friday, March 28, 2008


So, last week I finally got around to purchasing Clara Parkes: Knitter's Book of Yarn. I'm a little embarrassed to admit I'm just getting around to it, but sadly, it's true. I'd asked for it for Christmas and it wasn't under the tree and then other things just kind of took over and I didn't get around to picking it up.

Enough excuses, I have it now. I pretty much devoured it in one sitting. It's just that kind of book. I was humbled by it. If all goes well in the world, I may someday know half as much about yarn as Clara.

I immediately cast of the Scaruffle in Pinto Bean. It's yarn I picked up at my hair salon. The owners have a herd of alpacas and this yarn was spun from the fiber of one.

This was the third or fourth project that I'd cast on with this yarn. None of them were working. I kept splitting the plies on one so I quickly abandoned it. Another had lots of K3Tog that ended up being troublesome because the alpaca isn't as elastic as wool. I decided that I wasn't going to put up with it being that much of a PITA. Had I read Clara's book beforehand, I would have done a better job matching the yarn to the project and saved myself plenty of time and frustration.

The instant I saw the Scaruffle, I knew it was the project for me and Pinto Bean. Big needles, simple stitch pattern (OK, no real stitch pattern) and small. I love me some instant gratification.
And since we're still getting snow here in Chicago, I'll be able to wear it for several more months.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

So, yesterday as part of the Yarn Market News Conference, most of the attending LYS owners got on a bus for a tour of Lorna's Laces and a yarn shop crawl. We were the first stop. What fun!

Karin Strom, the editor of YMN has told me to expect about 50 people. I was a little anxious about fitting everyone in, but hey, we're all good friends, right?

Keep in mind that Lorna's Laces is run out of a 2400 square foot space. That may seem luxuriously large until you think about everything that has to fit inside that room. It's our warehouse, production facility, offices, creative department, shipping and receiving. You name it, we do it all right here.

It was a really great bunch of people. I gave them a rundown of all the different yarns we dye here and then gave a dye demonstration. My only regret is that we didn't have more time.

It's kind of funny, I gave a presentation to the same group on Tuesday morning at the conference itself. I practiced and practiced ahead of time and was still nervous. I walked away afterward feeling as though I did a respectable job, but that was about all. I certainly didn't shine.

Then, twenty-four hours later, on my own turf, I was completely at ease. I felt like everything went very well and that if there had been more time we could have gone on forever.

I think there were probably two factors at work. First, I had home field advantage. And, second, it was a much less formal setting. It's interesting how very small things can make such a big difference, isn't it?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thank goodness it's Spring

Today was one of those heavy wet snows with flakes the size of my fist. Amazing! We were supposed to get 6-9 inches, but it isn't going to be that much. I love snow and am much happier in winter than the heat of the summer, but I have to admit that I'm becoming a little weary of it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Presentation

Next week, Yarn Market News is having a conference here in Chicago. If you aren't in the yarn biz, YMN might not be a publication you're familiar with. It's geared to the trade and has articles related to running a yarn-based business like a LYS or Lorna's Laces. It's beautifully produced and one of the few magazines I read cover to cover every single issue.

The conference looks like it's going to be great! Tons of fantastic information and networking. They've asked me to give a short presentation during one of the sessions. I'm always more than a little surprised when I am asked to do something like this. Even after five years, I never feel like I'm really qualified. I'm always thinking that someone is going to lift the curtain and find out I'm an impostor.

As part of the conference, there is going to be a "Yarn Shop Crawl". We're the first stop on the agenda. I'm really excited about it. I just love showing off the studio. Part of it is because I am so stinkin' proud of what we do around here and part of it is because I like educating people about what hand dyeing is all about. Alot goes into making a skein of Lorna's Laces.

On a completely different topic, I just found out a friend of mine had two small heart attacks over the weekend. The angiogram showed that one of his arteries was 95%blocked! I'm relieved that an angioplasty and stent will have him right as rain but it's always disturbing to get that kind of news.

I'm quite certain that Mark doesn't read this blog or even know it exists, but let's all send good thoughts his way anyhow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Samples and more samples

I think perhaps the hardest thing I do is try and figure out whether to add a new yarn to the line or not. Over the last two days we've received a plethora of yarn samples. There must have been at least 30 of them.

Eliminating some yarns is easy. The dye process we use only works for protein fibers. For the most part protein=animal. Wool, mohair, angora, silk and the like. Soy also fits into that category and for some reason we can do a certain amount with bamboo but it takes the dye a little differently. The other big category is cellulose fibers. Those are the plant based fibers like cotton and linen. So for us, if it's not a protein fiber, we take a pass.

The next thing I take into consideration is whether or not it's too much like something we already have. I'm probably not going to bring in another superwash worsted when our Shepherd Worsted is one of our bestsellers.

Then I look to see if I think it's a "good fit". Lorna's Laces has historically been about classic yarns in fabulous colors. We've never dyed novelty yarns or "fancies". Even if they were the height of fashion right now, I don't think that's the direction I'd go. So anything sparkly is out.

Then there's the "do we like it?" test. Would we want to knit with it, wear it, give it as a gift? Does it feel good? Is the price point reasonable? Is it interesting?

Practicality is another factor. Does it shed? Will it pill? Will it dye nicely?

So now we have a yarn we like. Next we have to decide if what weight we want it in. Will it be best as a worsted or DK? Do we need a nice bulky? What about lace weight?

Of the bunch, there are two or three that look kind of interesting. One is a mulberry silk/angora blend. It is soft as can be. We like soft.

There was also a merino/bamboo blend that might make a nice sock yarn. Good tight twist and I liked the way it took the dye. It dyed a little differently than our regular yarns, but nice. A little heathery. I worry that there are already a zillion sock yarns out there. Does the world need another one from Lorna's Laces?

The last thing that caught my eye was a silk/bamboo blend. It had a fantastic sheen. It seemed like it might want to be lace weight.

Then to add a wrench to the works, I got a note about a half hour ago from another mill that has some organic samples that he sending. I like that idea too!

So, what's a girl to do? I'd look in my crystal ball, but it's all full of wool and I can't see a thing!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tribune article

This article was in today's Chicago Tribune. I LOVE stuff like this.

YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio - No, that's not a hallucination. That pear tree is wearing a sweater.

Wrapped around the trunk is a colorful, crazy-quilt skin made up of panels of yarn knitted individually by residents and visitors alike. Good-luck charms cling to the yarn. Family photos, poems and jokes peek out of knitted pockets.

The art project in this southwest Ohio village, already known for its offbeat art, has become a conversation piece and even a photo op.

"What takes this to a different level is it is a community thing," said Corrine Bayraktaroglu, an artist who helped start the "knitknot tree" project. "People are really, really enjoying it. They're coming from towns to have their photograph taken with the tree. They're adding stuff to the pockets."

Knitters around the U.S. are dressing trees, street signs, benches, door handles and other objects.

Last month, residents of Columbus, Ind., knitted cozies for 33 ornamental pear trees that line the city's main street. One tree, called the People Hugger, has knitted arms.

Knitted coverings are showing up on trees and doorknobs in Charleston, W.Va. In Houston, knitters have dressed up park benches, car antennas, telephone poles and beer bottles.

"It's fascinating what's going on in the knitting world," Bayraktaroglu said. "Graffiti street art is going to a whole different realm. It's gone beyond just painting on sides of buildings."

Artist Carol Hummel is among the pioneers. She crocheted a cozy for a tree in front of City Hall in Cleveland Heights several years ago. It took her 500 hours and the use of a hydraulic lift to dress the upper branches.

The cozy has survived several winters and even a swarm of cicadas, which left their molted skins clinging to the material.

"There are a lot of copycats now," Hummel said. "A lot of people are getting into putting things on the trees. That's cool."

In Yellow Springs, the first knitted panel — a gold piece with the words "Knitknot Tree" and a smiley face — went up in October. It wasn't until early February that more panels began to be added.

"Then it just took off like crazy," Bayraktaroglu said. "People were coming from out of town and adding their own knitting."

Artist Nancy Mellon said people love to come up and touch the tree, and children like to check out what's in the pockets.

"There was a man — while I was working on the tree — who walked by, and all he said was 'Thank you,'" Mellon said.

Other residents in this village about 15 miles east of Dayton also seem to like the dressed-up tree.

"It looks like Yellow Springs; it's unique, it's colorful, unpredictable," said Lynda Sirk. "It makes me smile. That's what I like."

The tree is vulnerable to the raised legs of passing pooches. Because of that, the panels of yarn don't extend all the way to ground level.

As the panels spread up the trunk, the knitters had to follow, first standing on a chair, then a three-step ladder, a 6-foot ladder and finally an 8-foot ladder. They finally decided they had gone high enough after someone suggested scaffolding and village officials began to worry about someone falling.

"The fear factor has kicked in," Mellon said.

The artists who started the project tentatively plan to remove the knitting on Arbor Day at the end of April and give away the pieces of yarn.

But Bayraktaroglu has some reservations about that.

"People get very attached," she said, "and I think they'll be mad at us if we cut it down."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Back to normal

Well, things are getting back to what passes for normal around here. The challenges with the Green Line took more out of me than I'd realized. If nothing else, it feels good to have the decision made and put behind me. So now we're back to business as usual.

It feels good to dye yarn every day again. I go through phases where running the business end of Lorna's Laces sucks up so much time that I don't dye as much as I like. Sitting at the computer isn't nearly as satisfying as getting my hands dirty. There's something deeply rewarding about being able to look out at a sea of yarn hanging to dry and know I made all of that prettiness.

Today is Kylie's birthday. Becca brought gluten-free peanut butter cookies that rocked. They couldn't be any simpler to make:
1 c peanut butter
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 egg
Bake at 350 for 7 minutes.


Kylie got the greatest gloves for her birthday from a woman who used to work here, Diana Sudyka. Along with doing things like crocheting gorgeous gloves, Diana is an artist who does much of her work in silkscreens. Her stuff is amazing.

Speaking of amazing, the pattern for the gloves comes from etsy. The seller is Handmade Cashmere Treats Adventures of......Jessica Rose. She has some really pretty things.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Green Line Update

Dear Yarn Friends:

I have some news for you that, while not a life threatening occurrence, has completely broken my heart. We have spent the past several weeks diligently working to make natural dyes a part of our new Green Line of organic yarns. I have finally come to the conclusion that we’re going to have to admit defeat.

They had performed wonderfully for us on a small scale, but when it came time to start working in earnest to provide you with yarn, we kept running into more and more complex issues. After one particularly difficult day, we came to the realization that insisting on natural dyes was expending more natural resources than made sense for a product claiming to reduce our environmental footprint. At the risk of getting technical, let me explain.

To dye the Purple Line, we use a single part process that takes about 7 gallons of water to dye 10 pounds of yarn and 2 rinse cycles in a standard washer to get all the dye out. We don’t need an extra step to mordant, in fact we don’t mordant our Shepherd line at all. From start to finish, a dye lot takes about 90 minutes. Forty minutes of that time involves the use of electricity to boil water.

With the Green line, the natural dyes create a three-part process. First we scour, then we mordant and then we dye. Each part takes about 12 gallons of water for a total of 36 gallons. That seemed pretty skewed, but what really shook me up was that we need to rinse once or twice after each of the first two steps and another 5-6 times after the last step! We also were heating water for 8 hours! Things just weren’t adding up environmentally or fiscally.

I had several heart to heart talks with both the conventional and the natural dye companies, and we have had many more discussions in house about what to do. In the end, I came away feeling that it was better for Lorna’s Laces to move away from the natural dyes and return to the conventional dyes and lower impact processes we’ve been using all along. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it seems like the only one that makes sense at this point in time.

We aren’t walking away from the possibility of natural dyes. Our dialog with natural dye companies is open and we’ll continue to work to find a dye process that works for us and the environment. It means a lot to me, personally.

So, where does that leave the Green Line? I believe it is still a good choice. It is beautiful merino spun from IMO certified wool. It’s dyed in the most environmentally friendly process we can find. Is it perfect? Goodness no! But it’s a conscious step in the right direction.

If you have any questions, please feel free drop a line or to call. I am happy to answer questions personally.

Beth Casey
Lorna's Laces Yarn
4229 N Honore St
Chicago, IL 60613
773.935.3803 phone
773.935.3804 fax