I can't know this for certain, but I suspect that being in the right place at the right time is often overlooked or undervalued when we lady bosses are asked to relay the origin story of our companies. Compared to years of dyeing, handspinning, traveling, planning, being broke, learning the hard way, succeeding a little, all the associated blood, sweat and tears... it can seem like such a small thing, just standing near the counter of a yarn shop when someone walks in to drop off flyers announcing an open house for her mill.
Kate and I hit a production ceiling when our kids were born. We just couldn't handspin enough. Life was getting, you know, real. We were 30-somethings. We owned houses. We needed to keep infants alive and fed and happy. We required a little sleep sometimes. The yarn biz was dying of neglect. So when I met the mill owner, Cheryl, purely by chance, and we got to talking, lightbulbs were practically hovering over both of us. We immediately scheduled a visit and a little trial run with some of our dyed fiber. Kate and I were blown away with the resulting yarn. And after spinning only the natural colors of her alpacas, Cheryl was pretty stoked on watching our crazy colors move across her spinning frame.
At Spincycle's dyeing studio.
We had a few growing pains: We were handspinners and knew not one thing about the workings of a pin drafter or a spinning frame. Cheryl was mechanical and had a brain for problem-solving, but she'd never made yarn and didn't understand our style of communicating our needs, which may or may not have relied on a lot of waving handspun skeins around and requesting that the millspun yarns "just look more like this" and peering with confusion into the workings of the spinning frame, searching for the machine's counterpart to a drafting triangle. Long story short, we weren't speaking the same language.
Dyed wool ready for the mill.
When Cheryl hired her daughter Audrey to run the day-to-day operations of the milling equipment, she surprised all of us with her patience, commitment to perfection, frequent communication and innovative suggestions about our processes. The dream team was complete.
Audrey working with the mill machinery.
We were getting it right, and I mean really right. We've never changed one thing about our dyeing process. It's still our Spincycle trade secret, but I will say that the size of our dye house and the pots we dye in had to grow four-fold almost overnight to keep up with the mill! Our dyeing is unique; it's what makes a Spincycle skein what it is, and we wanted to maintain that look without compromise. The slow color shifts that define a dyed in the wool, handspun yarn were absolutely translated into our mill spun yarns. Skein after skein was coming out of the mill, looking more or less exactly like our handspun skeins. But they were coming out faster. So much faster.
Waiting to be spun onto bobbins.
The scale of operations really changed for us, though, when we began to offer our yarns wholesale to shops. As a handspinnery, we would order wool top in 30-ish pound bumps, and a couple of those would last us sometimes a month or more. Suddenly, we needed to order by the half ton every few months!
Bobbins waiting for plying.
We began to think more and more about where our wool was coming from. We were processing literal tons of wool and we wanted to know that the sheep were treated kindly. And then we got to thinking about all of the actual humans who participate in the various processes that take place before we get to unwrap a beautiful scoured and combed bump of wool and lower it into the dye pot. And then we went down another rabbit hole, calculating the distance that some of our fibers traveled to get to us. It was time to reassess. It was time to go domestic.
Finished reels drying in the studio after setting the twist.
An account of the dead end phone calls, the reluctance of some of our distributors to reveal their source mills, and the initially paralyzing thought of buying a TON of wool at one time would make a boring blog post indeed. Suffice it to say that those were some things that kept us up nights. We were easily able to source our American wool blend, the one we use for Independence and Knit Fast, Die Young, from producers in Northern Colorado and Wyoming. Our superwashed American wool was a little harder to track down. We had to reach out to Chargeurs, in South Carolina, the last surviving full service wool mill in the US. With their southern style of communication and their lovely accents, Kate (Ohio born and raised) very kindly put me (a Mississippi girl) in charge of all things Chargeurs. Ten minutes on the phone with them will placate my homesickness for a week.
Now here we are, almost four years into this new way of producing yarns. We couldn't be happier. We've expanded our dream team to include two part-time workers who do bookkeeping and quality control, and a very, very part-time worker who happens to be a friend with excellent handwriting, who pens all the colorway names onto our tags in trade for yarn.
I gotta wax on just a little about how thrilled we are to be part of the larger and ever so supportive community of (mostly lady boss) yarn producers and knitwear designers and yarn shop owners. And I want to brag for just this one sentence about how - in my opinion - our yarns get more refined, our colorways keep evolving and expanding, and our collaborations with other yarn companies and designers just make everyone happy. We're living the dream, and making beautiful things, and having way too much fun with impromptu dance parties at work.
Rachel and Kate when we went to visit them in January.
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