Notebook

business
  • Slow yarn & process

    This art is a waiting game.

    Today, I'm scouring 2 dozen skeins of Texranch WORSTED. Two pots of 6 skeins each will fit on my stove at a time, each spending at least one hour there. (56 more are all queued up for their turn to shine.)

    As I tie the skeins and wet them out, letting them all sink to the bottom of the bucket at their own leisurely pace (this is how to know your yarn is thoroughly wetted, without squeezing and roughing up the fibers), I'm feeling sorta zen -- feeling like I don't mind that this is only the first of at least 8 steps before I can share a finished product. 

    Natural dyeing includes step after step that can't be rushed if you want to be happy with what comes out of the pot. Come to think of it, that's true of cooking, true of raising kids... probably true of most worthwhile endeavors.

    DAY ONE

    1.) Tie skeins and wet through.

    2.) Scour. Cool (read: wait).

    3.) Mordant. Cool.

    DAY TWO

    4.) Create dyebath(s) (boil then cool if using raw materials or mix extracts).

    5.) Dye. Cool.

    6.) Maybe overdye. Cool a bit.

    DAY THREE

    7.) Maybe overdye again. Cool.

    8.) Dry.

    DAY FOUR

    9.) Reskein.

    10.) Label.

    Moving slowly and deliberately through each movement of each step, I am content. 

    It's a labor of love, a slow process that -for me- must be flexible and subject to pause. When I feel impatient at it's slowness, I remind myself that it's this very quality of natural dyeing that allows me to wear so many other hats at the same time. Plus, I know that if I rush it, I'll be really unhappy with the product, unwilling/unable to share it, and uninspired to move forward (at least for a while). 

    I'm always telling myself to slow down (pretty evident looking back at Blue Highway's accomplishments so far). An oft-repeated motto this year, in business and life in general, has been "Just say NO to stress." As in, REFUSE it. Refuse to rush the process, to overly care if we're running late, to feel guilty if my house/office/studio isn't an Instagram dream, or when I drop a ball or three.

    Obviously, achieving this mindset is a constant work in progress, and, once achieved, it's fleeting.

    With so many ideas and inspirations swimming around, new methods to explore, untangling what has worked from what hasn't, coupled with general excitement... sometimes the path forward is unclear. Sometimes it's easier to stand still or debate and make plans rather than actually push forward into new territory. 

    When I'm stuck, I must remember to ask myself, What would you tell [a good friend] in your situation?  

    I'd tell her to slow down and enjoy the getting there. I'd tell her to take a step forward today, no matter how small, and then another and another. And remind her to celebrate all victories. 

    .....

    "You're doing really fine... You should take yourself out to lunch as soon as that yarn comes off the stove."

  • New yarns on the horizon

    New yarns on the horizon

    From the time I started dyeing, Blue Highway has been committed to US production, grown and milled. I do my best to make sure I can trace all wool back to the source. Backroads Worsted and Arcadian Single are both Rambouillet breed wool, grown and milled in Wyoming; Interstate Worsted is a blend of US grown fiber, milled in Michigan. These bases are all fantastic, but as I move my business forward, I will look to source even closer to home. 

    Now, I am excited to begin dyeing these two yarns you see above, which I hope can remain staples. They're grown just a few hours from me in the Texas hill country: heavy laceweight and worsted, both a blend of 48% superfine merino and 52% kid mohair. I have been invited out to visit the ranches, and plan to do so as soon as schedules allow! It's then milled up in PA, at a mill that's been in operation for over 100 years.

    I'm not sure what these bases will be called yet, but I've begun dyeing them with seasonal color ways, and I'm in love.

    Onion skins and fall marigold:

    Golden rod from my parent's place out in East Texas:

    And that brings me to introduce a bit of my color plan, going forward. Seasonal color ways like those pictured above are grown and/or harvested by me or my family -- they will be labeled as "seasonal" and I would encourage orders of them to include all that is needed for a project. Repeatable color ways will be formulated using natural dye extracts -- I order those from Botanical Colors, and Earthues, sourced sustainably from the world at large. Once the reapeatable colors are listed, if you do not see enough for a project you have in mind, please get in touch so that I can see about dying up a batch just for you. 

    Keep an eye on the Etsy store. I hope to have these yarns out for sale within the month, then to set up a regular Etsy update day each month.

    Happy Fall!

    :) Sarah

  • Yarntopia Trunk Show

    Woo-hoo! I'm pretty excited to take part in the yarn maker trunk show at my new LYS, Yarntopia (this Saturday, May 2nd, 10-2). If you're here on my blog thanks to the link in Sheryl's latest newsletter - Welcome! And welcome anyway if you're not!

    Let me introduce myself... I'm Sarah. Native Texan, recently returned after 10 years "abroad" ...that'd be Vermont and Washington, DC. We lived in the Montrose before we left 10 years ago, but with 3 kids (ages 10, 7 and 5) decided to call Katy home upon our return. Much of our family is here, and we are realizing you just can't beat being near family while you raise a family.

    I loved Vermont though. And I'm not ashamed to admit that, at least weekly, I entertain elaborate daydreams about owning an old farmhouse there, and how I will ultimately make that happen. It is my Soul State for sure. Sigh.

    DC was amazing, too! We were actually in Alexandria, VA. While there, I worked as a doula & childbirth educator, and also as a yarnista+ at my first LYS, fibre space. I miss my wooly community there something fierce and that is the main reason I am So Excited to attend this weekend's show -- Yes, I'd love to sell something, but mainly I just can't wait to get plugged in and meet some Texas yarn people.

    So, that's a bit about me personally.

    Blue Highway is commited to American wool and American milling. I want my little company to be a part of bringing our craft and our textiles home. I enjoy knowing about the ranch where my fiber was raised, and that the folks at my mill are committed to environmentally sound business practices, sheep to skein.

    Blue Highway yarns are artisinal; soft and rustic and (hopefully) reflective of a certain timeless American grace. I dye with natural dyes because that's what appeals to me - experimenting with living, growing, unpredictable, variable color. I also take joy in the seasonal aspect, and though many of my current dye extracts come from commercial suppliers, I plan on growing/harvesting more and more of them myself. I've planted a dye garden out back, and if you see someone alongside Highway 99 clipping black-eyed Susans, stop and say Howdy - it's probably me! kidding not kidding.

    Speaking of plans, I won't reveal them all here, but I will say I don't feel glued to yarn. Long term, I envision Blue Highway Hand Dyes branching out further into the textile arena as I learn more about the trade. 

    But, yes - for now? Yarn! Plenty of yarn. What I will have with me at the trunk show is just what I have dyed since starting out in February. Only 2 months ago! Wow. I can't believe that. It's not a ton, but it's a taste. 

    Here's a little peak: (some of these I've already shared over on Instagram)

    First up, a single-ply, fingering weight yarn. 100% Rambouillet wool, raised on a 4th generation ranch outside of Buffalo, WY. It is 380 yards; semi-slubby, rustic American wool, spun with a gentle twist, slightly energized. Very soft and shows beautifully in open lace-work. (I'll have a sample on to show it off!)

    Next, a pillowy 2-ply, 196 yard worsted weight Rambouillet.

    What is Rambouillet, by the way? It's an incredibly soft breed of sheep that originated from a Spanish Merino stock in the late 1700's that was known for producing some of the finest wool in the world. It does not itch, thanks to a nice, long staple length, and is still very similar to traditional Merino. (In fact, if you wear "merino" wool clothing that was manufactured in the USA, odds are it came from a Rambouillet sheep.)

    These were dyed with logwood, madder, quebracho, chestnut, cutch, osage orange, avocados, onion skins, cochineal, saxon blue, pomegranate, wattle... that's all I can think of at the moment, but there may be more. The yarn comes to me unwashed and untouched by harsh chemical processes. As such, there's the ocasional fleck of vegetable matter to prove it. And a high lanolin content, though I do wash the yarn prior to dyeing, with a gentle eco-friendly cleanser. I mordant with alum to improve wash and light fastness, and discharge the mordant bath into the dye garden. I cold-process mordant when I can to save energy and avoid heating the fiber more than I must.  You can trust that a lot of thought goes into each step of the process. This is Slow Yarn for sure. 

    I can't wait to meet at least some of you on Saturday! If anyone is still reading at this point, and even if you can't make it out on Saturday, I do hope you will follow along here and take part in this fun new journey.

  • By fits and starts

    When I envision business growth and especially when I examine businesses that have been doing what I want to do for a while... I have this fairytale assumption that it happens quickly. Like in a week or two. I know it's silly! Totally naive. But that's the childish, underlying belief that I have to talk myself out of all the time. Businesses (and most things worthwhile, for that matter) take time, and Trial and Error, and fits and starts.

    I haven't dyed as much as I would have liked the last couple of weeks, but I've been examining logos, testing yarns and planning *gulp* budgets. 

    I've also been translating a messy dye notebook into something that'll be a bit easier to revisit and follow:

    I can't find the exact post, but over a year ago I found the idea over on this blog to use blank business cards and plastic card-holder sheets to organize a yarn dye notebook. 

    Like the working names? They may change. Still not sure if George Strait will come after me for naming a colorway after one of his songs. Or Larry McMurtry for that matter. Little known fact: Lonesome Dove is one of my all time favorite books and I've watched the mini-series more times than I'll ever admit.

    So... next steps. It is time to make my first indigo vat. *GASP* Yes, my first. I have dyed with indigo, I've just never cooked up the vat myself.  And as long as I'm being honest here, I will tell you that all I can think of when I see lye is that scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt makes the kiss burn/scar on Ed Norton's hand. Ouch!

    Next-next step: logo. This is happening, and I'm super excited. I've examined round one and I love my options. Just need to provide some feedback.

    I'm also pretty pumped about a custom mill in the works. Though I will most likely continue dyeing my current worsted base as well because it's lovely. Just this morning, I ordered up a single-ply fingering to play with, and I'm going to experiment with liquid dyes and saxon blue from Botanical Colors. I've been enjoying watching Pigeonroof Studios' instagram feed; her experiments with liquid saxon blue are what piqued my interest there.

    Wish me luck! and focus! I'll keep you updated on my progress ;)

    Here's one final pic of my latest (almost finished!) color & wear test/sample:

    Progess pic from instagram. Pattern is Artichoke French by Laura Nelkin, in logwood purple, aka "Purple, plain and tall."

  • Experimenting with color

    From the left (above), that's pomegranate, cutch, cutch over pom's exhaust bath, 3 red's exhaust bath with a little cutch, 3 reds (madder, cochineal and quebracho red), and logwood purple exhaust bath (bottom two skeins were twisted).

    You can see some color/strand variation in the cutch, and it's present elsewhere, too. I don't think I mind it. Aside from color, one of the things I'm experimenting with is how not to pull a hot, tangled mess from my dyepots -- twisting some skeins, very loosely twisting others then un-twisting mid-simmer; not twisting them at all then being extremely careful in how I move them around during their dye time. We'll see what finally proves out. I may try plastic shower curtain rings next (and hope they hold up to boiling water!). That's a trick I saw several other much much more experienced kettle-dyers using on Instagram. Thankful for that.

    The deep red by far has elicited the most excitement. Reds are exciting! I'm not going to list these for sale just yet, though. I feel the need to knit something up in this red especially, and see if/how the color bleeds and wears. It was tough to rinse clear after it's dye bath, with lots of color running, so I'm hesitant to embrace it as a permanant addition to the line-up. We shall see if it passes the tests. I like the pink that resulted from it's exhaust bath, though. 

    The gray that came from an old logwood purple exhaust may be a keeper. Just the solid gray up top; The gray/whites that resulted from twisted skeins will get a dip or two in the indigo vat. Just to see what happens. A deep slightly variegated blue, maybe? At least two of the pale yellows will also get indigo dips, in hopes of a pleasant green.

    Part of me really wants to tag these and list them on my Etsy shop (it's not live yet, but when it is there will be a shop link to it here on this site). I'm happy with them! However, this testing phase is important, I want to feel completely confident in my product.

    So this week was a heavy dye week, and aside from possibly getting an indigo vat going, next week will be more of a "business" week. I need to solidify goals and vision for color offerings. Need to decide whether to continue with my current worsted base or possibly commission a custom mill/spin (right now it's a two-ply worsted, and I'm thinking of a tighter 4-ply; still American wool of course).  I need to make plans for packaging/shipping Etsy orders, and transfer my many notebook dye notes, recipes and scribblings to a more organized catalogue/recipe book. Business-y stuff... Wish me luck with that! Dyeing is more fun.

  • You've gotta start somewhere

    You've gotta start somewhere

    Right? My husband, Josh and I were both fans of the show Breaking Bad. I know, a real and horrible subject matter. Excellent writing, though. I didn't want to like it, but I did.

    Anyway, this was the scene a few nights ago as I gave a few osage-dyed skeins a final dip in another color. I sighed. "I can dye about 3 skeins a week like this." I was tired and exaggerating, as one does. 

    "I need a workshop. A real studio. Do you want to buy me a backyard shed?" He is my prime investor, after all. 

    "Listen," he said. "This is your broken down RV in the desert.

    Hmm?

    "You're perfecting your recipe. You're making it your very own. And one day Gus will come along and set you up with all the latest equipment in the basement of his industrial laundry."

    Okaaay.

    But he's sorta right. I have had my hands (and my head) stuck on fiber for several years, but I'm new to running a fiber business. It's got to be a slow and steady start, where I find time amid running a happy house with 3 young kids and taking care of myself to experiment, make mistakes, start again and build a hand dyed yarn company I am proud of. (Not a meth empire...)

  • Gettin' in gear for 2015

    Happy New Year!

    This is the one.

    I feel as if the stars have finally aligned for Blue Highway Hand Dyes. I thought it was gonna be 2014, but that year saw a 2000 mile move for me and my family of 5, from Alexandria, VA back home to Texas -- a happy thing! But alas, not a thing that allowed me to launch my biz and have fun doing it.

    I'm not in a rush, and I want to do this right. Research and development has been underway for some time, but nothing I'm ready to list for sale... yet.

    Soon.

    I've got my hands on 48 skeins of soft and lovely, lighter-than-air 2-ply targhee/rambouillet worsted. I like this yarn a lot. It's light and fluffy and knits like a dream into a dense, plush, elastic fabric that blocks out wonderfully and holds beautiful stitch definition. It comes from 4th & 5th generation American ranchers; spun in a US mill with a demonstrated and awarded commitment to environmental stewardship.

    I'm currently playing around with osage, madder, quebracho red, logwood purple, cutch and indigo; and looking forward to a spring and early summer spent harvesting, growing and sourcing my own natural dye materials along wherever the road may take me.

    Come along, won't you? 

    I can't wait!