Oh, Color Cards...

It's color card making season at Kelbourne Woolens headquarters! 

Do you ever wonder how color cards get made? I'm here to tell you all about it!

In order to fully understand the magnitude of the task of making color cards, let's go a little bit deeper. Twice a year we introduce a new yarn to The Fibre Co line. Yarn development takes about one to one and a half years from initial inception to release to the general public. 

In the fall of 2015 we began working on our new yarn for fall of 2016. In December, we had a sample skein (to be sure we liked the yarn in its final incarnation), and we had settled on the colors in the line. In January we decided on the 6 colors we wanted to use in the collection to accompany the release. In February we received a sample run of 40 skeins of these 6 colors to start knitting the designs for the collection. Finally, in April, we received 40 skeins of the remaining colors. Then it's crunch time! We immediately set to work winding 20 yard mini skeins of every color for our sales reps, and additional windings to take to TNNA with us.

Meanwhile, at the same time, we were revising the existing lines - deciding which colors to discontinue and which new colors to add. This process is also a delicate balancing act based on how well each color sells, how much of it we have left in stock, and what colors may be missing in the line (why is there no "real" purple in Meadow?), and which lines we need to reorder. In the winter, we get color samples from our dyers, just small windings called lab dips, and we pick and choose which ones to add. The colors we like are approved with the dye house, and we order a 20 skein sample to be sure it looks as good in the skein as it does in the lab dip. (Just like cooking, it's easier to make macaroni and cheese from scratch for you and your family, but making it for a crowd of 500 people is a whole different ball game. Sometimes it is amazing in small doses at home, but elsewhere doesn't turn out quite right or is downright awful!) Once we have the 20 sample skeins, and approve those, we also have to make a bunch of mini skeins of those new colors! (Shout out to Nancy's Knit Knacks, manufacturer of our mini skein winding equipment). All of this has to happen on a strict schedule so that we have full skeins of approved colors to knit samples with, can photograph the skeins for the website and newsletter, have enough yarn to make mini skeins for our sales reps, and have full skeins to show at TNNA. And all of this is happening months in advance to have everything ready for the shops and end-user in the fall. 

How does all of this relate to color cards? For every change in a color line up, we have to make all new color cards. Each color card is hand made by our trusted color card maven, Lisa Johnson, who is the owner of a LYS down the hill from our warehouse, Hidden River Yarns.

That's right. One person makes all of our color cards, by hand. Each and every one

We start by taking one skein of every color in the line, removing discontinued ones and adding in the new ones. Kate organizes these into a line up that looks good, and this is the official "order" of the colors. It is how they will be organized on the color cards, the website, and on display at TNNA. She then writes down the line up, puts it into a template, and prints them. (By this point Daphne has also had to come up with names for all the colors, but that is a separate post). Then we cut a skein of each new color into 4-5" long pieces and put those into a ziploc bag labeled with the color name. Each yarn gets it's own tote bag of labeled yarn bits. Then we pack the die cut cards, tiny brads, and color name stickers into the tote and Meghan walks it down the hill to Hidden River. Lisa diligently sets up the whole operation assembly-line style, making upwards of 100 color cards at a time. She stickers the cards first, then adds a strand of each color to all the cards in her pile. Then she moves on to the second color, then the third, and so on. Once they are all the cards are full of yarn, she pokes a hole in the corner with a pin and uses a tiny brad to secure the two cards together. The ends are then neatly trimmed. Then she's on to the next line. 

So, what happens if we discontinue a color and we still have color cards with that color on it? That's a great question. We try to use them up as quickly as possible, until the new colors are "officially" released, but then we have to just throw them away. It is very sad.  

The moral of the story is that color cards are a pain. But they're also wonderful and a great way to see the product in person, so they are totally worth having!

Lisa, we couldn't do it without you. Thank you!

Want to brighten Lisa's day? Leave her a comment below and let her how much you appreciate the color cards she is so diligently making! 

Woolful / Ready, Set, Knit! / Mornings on the Dock

We were lucky enough to be asked on three podcasts this winter, and I thought it would be great to put them all in one place for you to take a look at (or, more appropriately, listen to)!

In mid-February, we were interviewed on the astonishingly popular podcast, Woolful, hosted by Ashely Yousling. You can subscribe to Woolful here and listen to our episode here.

Later the same month, we appeared on Ready, Set, Knit!, the weekly Webs Yarn Store Podcast. You can subscribe to Ready, Set, Knit! here and listen to our episode here.

Finally, at the end of March, we were interviewed by Elizabeth Duvivier from Squam Art Workshops, for her podcast, Morning on the Dock. You can subscribe to Morning on the Dock here and listen to our episode here.

Thanks so much to Ashley, Steve and Kathy from Webs, end Elizabeth for giving us the time to share our stories! - KGO

Seathwaite Round Up:

The Seathwaite Hat, published last October through our friend Karen at Fringe Association has been a huge hit! I have absolutely loved seeing all of the fabulous versions pop up on Instagram and Ravelry, and especially enjoy hearing when people say it was their first time working cables, charts, or a provisionally cast-on folded brim. I thought it would be fun to put together a few images of knitter's hats that show the lovely diversity of color and yarn.

As expected, there are a lot of wonderful hats knit using the recommended yarn, The Fibre Co. Cumbria.

L / 
Knit by Emily in Cumbria in scaffel pike.
R / Knit by Julia in Cumbria in derwentwater.

L / Knit by Keli in Cumbria in hadrian's wall (brim lined with Woolfolk Tynd).
R / Knit by Katy in Cumbria in catbells.

I also really loved seeing knitters substitute yarns for their hats. It is amazing what a difference is made with the final result!

L / Knit by Karin in Fancy Tiger Craft's Heirloom in Well Water.
R / Knit by Andrea in Bumblebirch Forage in Cranberry.

L / Knit by Gillian in Green Mountain Spinnery Mountain Mohair.
R / Knit by Inês in Retrosaria Beiroa in Natural.

You can see a bunch of other wonderful Seathwaite hats via the Fringe Knitalong hashtag here: #fringehatalong, or via the projects on Ravelry here


Inventory, Supply and Demand, Commodities, and the Trouble with Baby Camels

Behind the scenes of every yarn company, there is a delicate balancing game of inventory management. Just like our retailers, we face many of the same issues: The dreaded order minimums, shipping costs, running out of yarn, and a yarn that has been on the shelf for way too long that no one wants anymore. In our situation, it's just happening on a larger scale. 

Each year we meticulously plan for the upcoming busy season, about the end of July to the first week of April - give or take a week here or there. We comb through sales reports of each yarn by color and compare them with our on hand inventory and figure out how much of each yarn in each color we have to order to maintain inventory for the coming season. Then we compare that number to our order minimums we must meet with our suppliers. When a yarn shop orders yarn from a yarn company, they usually are required to purchase 5 or 10 skeins of yarn at a time, or one "bag." Some yarn companies have a minimum dollar value that they require their retailers to meet when placing an order as well (we don't). The same goes for purchases from the mills we work with, but instead of 10 skeins of yarn we might have to order 40 kilos, or 400 skeins of yarn, per color. And we may not be able to reorder a color if we run out mid-season because, even though we'd happily reorder 400 more skeins, we would also have to meet the spinning minimum for that fiber blend, which might be as high as 500 kilos (5,000 skeins). Once we know how many kilos of which colors of which yarn we need to order, the next part of our planning process is pure guesswork. Say we sold 200 skeins of Canopy Fingering in the color Jacaranda in 2015, do we think we'll sell more or less in 2016? Have we sent that color to a designer recently? Are sales of Canopy Fingering up or down from 2014? Do we think that trend will continue? Is there a new, competing yarn on the market, or did we introduce another purple that is performing better? Is there something out there we don't know about yet that will affect this decision? And what if we make all of our decisions, place all of our orders, and in October we realize we've miscalculated because of something we didn't know about, and we'll be out of one color that was supposed to last 6 month in 6 weeks. 

Add to this mix the sourcing of specialty fibers on a large scale, and you've just entered a world of pain. This is when we have to think about the supply and demand of commodities. Think of it this way: We all love raspberries (the commodity). At least, my son does. It is, honest to goodness, the only fruit he has ever eaten in his entire eight years of existence. It started when he was a toddler, and we'd walk along the Schuylkill River Trail and he'd pick and eat wild raspberries right off the bush. He loved them, and picking and eating them became a beloved summertime tradition. We would happily anticipate the time of the summer when all the plants burst into bloom, knowing that soon he will once again eat something that is not a peanut butter sandwich. A couple of years ago, I decided to surprise him buy purchasing raspberries at the store in the dead of winter. I swallowed my pride and forked over the 5.99, or whatever ridiculous price it was, for a few ounces of the most precious, air freighted, organic berries. He hated them. They didn't taste right. They were too big, they were too cold, they weren't sweet enough. And when summer came again, he wasn't that excited about the raspberries anymore. Because there is a demand for raspberries year-round, the market has found a way to ensure that you can purchase with them whenever you get a whim, even if it's February, but you have to make a sacrifice on the quality of the raspberry (and possibly threaten the likelihood of enjoying raspberries mid-summer, when they're actually in season).

There are some things worth waiting for. In fact, there are still some commodities that cannot be tamed by the whims of the free market, because they are confined by the limitations of their own production.

Road to China Light is a blend of baby alpaca, baby camel, cashmere, and mulberry silk. It is truly a delight to knit with. It has also been a top selling yarn since Kate and I started Kelbourne Woolens in 2008. No matter what other amazing yarns and patterns we release, this yarn cannot be stopped. And, every year we reel from the amount of yarn we project that we'll need for the following year, and every year you, you wonderful people who knit beautiful things, best our predictions. 

Camel fiber comes from the two-humped Bactrian camel, which live in the colder regions of China and Mongolia. The camel has a coarse outer coat, and a delightfully soft, warm, and lightweight undercoat that begins to shed in early spring. This thick undercoat is shed in large clumps, and a new undercoat is grown each year in the fall. This undercoat fiber is softer (micron count 17-19) in a younger animal, and more highly prized. After a 13 month gestation period, most baby camels are born between late winter and mid-spring. There are only so many baby camels born each year, and they only shed a finite amount of fiber (a camel is considered mature at age 3-4 years), and only in the spring. There are no other camels producing fiber in other parts of the world that can match the infrastructure and distribution channels that are already in place where the camels are naturally.

I think that our warehouse manager, Meghan, loves nothing more than telling shop owners that we are back ordered on Road to China Light because we are waiting for the baby camels to be born. This news is always met with joy, rather than frustration. Sometimes, being out of stock of a product is just Mother Nature's way of reminding us that everything in this world has it's time. Sometimes we just have to wait for the baby camels to be ready. 

And so, each winter we anticipate our annual sales of Road to China Light for the upcoming year, and send our projections off to the man who sources our baby camel fiber. We eagerly await the arrival of longer days, signalling the start of the calving season, so those adorable babies can start to grow and shed their delightful fiber. We wait for our year supply of baby camel to be collected, and shipped to our mill so we can spin the next batch of Road to China Light. We are now anxiously counting down the days until our 2016 delivery of Road to China Light, which is due to leave the mill on May 13th.

Read more about baby camels, and their amazing fiber in the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, as well as the Knitter's Book of Yarn, and my personal favorite source for interesting fiber facts, Wild Fibers Magazine. - CK

twist collective spring/summer 2016: Haden by Courtney Kelley

The new twist collective is up! 

Haden by Courtney Kelley

Courtney has a lovely summery tank in the issue designed using The Fibre Co. Canopy Fingering in the color mango. 

Haden is worked in pieces from the bottom up. The button plackets are picked up on the right and left side of the front neck and worked in 1x1 rib, then sewn together and sewn to the base of the front neck.

 Bust: 35 (38 ½, 42, 46, 49 ½, 53)” / 89 (98, 106.5, 117, 125.5, 134.5) cm. Shown in size 35” / 89 cm and intended to be worn with 0–1” / 0–2.5 cm ease.
Yarn: The Fibre Co. Canopy Fingering in Mango, 4 (4, 5, 6, 6, 7) skeins.
Needles: Size 3 US / 2.75 mm, Size 1 US / 2.25 mm, Size 1 US / 2.25 mm needles in preferred style for small circumference knitting in the round for armhole bands. 
Notions: Stitch markers, stitch holder, sewing needle and thread to match yarn color, tapestry needle, 7 buttons ¼” / 6.5 mm diameter
Gauge: 26 sts and 35 rows = 4” / 10 cm in Diagonal Garter Rib on larger needles. 29 sts and 43 rows = 4” / 10 cm in 1x1 Rib on smaller needles

From Courtney: 

I have been searching forever for the perfect summer tank pattern, and I finally found the time this winter to sit down and design one. This pattern is a great advanced beginner project, with just enough patterning to keep you on your toes, and some next-level finishing techniques to test your mettle. I love any excuse to use lots of tiny buttons, but the buttonholes could be easily altered if you wanted to use a more standard size and spacing. I’m planning to knit one of these for myself, with about 4” of positive ease, using our yarn Meadow... Once I tackle some of these lingering UFO’s!

Let us know what you're planning on knitting for yourself this summer!