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Blog / Why We Love

  • Pam Allen - Quince and Co.


    The seedling idea for Quince & Co came from a random phone call. I was at my desk, working as creative director at Classic Elite Yarns, when the phone rang. The voice at the other end was unfamiliar and had a strong Texas twang. The caller was a rancher in Texas who raises angora goats (mohair) that boast extraordinarily fine hair.


    That phone call, well over a year before I launched Quince, was one of those turning points in life. Without that serendipitous ring, Quince & Co and all attached to it might never have happened.


    The rancher was calling because he was hoping to find a yarn company willing to buy his fiber of which he was deservedly proud. The possibility of building a yarn from scratch had never crossed my mind. From my experience in the knitting industry, as far as I knew, yarn was manufactured overseas or in South America and one shopped for it at trade shows in Europe or entertained mill reps in the office at home.


    In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was also talking to a guy who owned a mill in Maine, a mere 20 minutes from my office. This mill, he said, was spinning handknitting yarn. I could hardly stay seated. It was not unlike hearing you'd won the lottery, without having ever bought a ticket. How could anyone be spinning yarn within shouting distance and I not know about it?


    I immediately called the owner of the mill, and that conversation marked the beginning of a life-changing experience for me. At first, I tried to interest the company I worked for in this US-made yarn. But the numbers simply didn't work. There was no way to make a yarn in the US, with all the wage and environmental standards to meet (a good thing), and compete with the yarn coming in from overseas.


    And why was it important to me to make a yarn in the US? For several reasons:


    First, it's impossible to live in the northeast, without feeling at times that one is living in a mill graveyard. Every town near a river has a mill building alongside. And it's sad to see those giant spaces turned into call centers or expensive condominiums. These sturdy buildings once housed vigorous, productive activity. The people that worked in them made goods that sold the world over.


    Further, it may come as a surprise to many, as it did to me, that Texas was once the largest exporter of mohair fiber in the world. And this was true as recently as the 1980s. Not now, however. The ranches that used to spread far and wide in the Texas hill country with roaming angora goats are few at this point. And many have been converted to hunting playgrounds for wealthy gentlemen who bring their rifles to shoot exotic deer and boar from Africa.


    For me, sourcing wool and mohair fiber in the US is a way that I can help to keep animals on the land. And in so doing, in my very, very, very small way, I'm helping to conserve history and open space in this country. And these are things that excite me as much as knitting does.


    A few notes of clarification. Outside of Piper and Ibis, our mohair/wool bend that we source exclusively from Texas, Quince & Co doesn't make artisanal or boutique yarns. What I mean by this is that we don't source our wool from small farms or special breeds. Lovely as that idea is, my goal from the beginning has been to be a big company. Because as a big company, even if we're small relative to most industries, I like to think that we can have an impact, however small, on the things I value.


    As a strong supporter of land conservation and open space, I like to think that by buying wool from a large broker who sources wool from many parts of the country, we're helping to keep a rancher on his land and sheep in the landscape. And given the precariousness of spinning mills that have managed to hold on during the 1990s and early 2000s, I like knowing that small customer that we are, we still contribute to their well-being.


    A final word. I use the word "I" here a lot. But in truth, "we" is apt, as well. Without the help of others, including the talented Carrie Hoge who launched her own business in the past couple of years, and Ryan, my son, who has taken on all the nuts and bolts of operations and numbers, and now the business proper, Quince wouldn't be the company that it is. And I'd be remiss in not mentioning the other dedicated and talented people who contribute their skills and talents on a daily basis: Jerusha, Dawn, Leila, Whitney, Adi, Courtney, Kelly, Jenn, Hodan, and Karin.


    As they say, it takes a village. Even when you're raising a yarn company.



    Pam Allen

    We are so thrilled to have a guest blog post from Pam Allen! We have loved Quince & Co. since its inception and are honored to be a flagship store.

  • Why We Love Quince & Co.

    How do we love Quince & Co., let us count the ways...

    We love the American Wool collection from Quince & Co.! The collection features lovely (and economical!) American-made yarn that is wonderful to knit with and has beautiful stitch definition. Look for Finch, Chickadee, Lark, Osprey and Puffin in the American Wool collection. We love Owl and Owl Tweet, this soft heathered 50/50 wool with alpaca yarn is a big favorite at Tolt. Tern with its subtle sheen from Tussah silk. Piper and Ibis, made with Texas mohair. Sparrow and Kestrel, gorgeous organic linen. Willet, cleaner cotton and Pheobe, 100% US merino wool. 

    We love Quince & Co.'s story: that Pam Allen wanted to create yarns from the ground up. We love the careful sourcing of their fibers, how they source and promote domestic wool and other fibers, creating a smaller footprint. When domestic isn't available, sourcing thoughtfully from the most ethical producers; organic linen bases from Europe and cruelty free Tussah silk.

    We love the simple, wearable aesthetic of the patterns that Quince releases. 

     We love Quince's Books.

    And books inspired by Quince & Co.'s yarn… (Hannah Fettig's Knitbot books and Home and Away, Carrie Bostick Hoge's Madder Anthologies 1 & 2 and Swoon, Maine, Jane Richmond and Shannon Cook's Journey.)


    We will be highlighting Quince & Co. on our blog and in our shop for the whole month of June.  We are hosting a trunk show featuring a few Quince favorites, come by and see the projects in person, if you live near our brick and mortar store.

    Watch for further posts in the upcoming weeks.



  • Why We Love YOTH

    We love YOTH yarns for so many reasons - the colors, the bases, the pattern support, our beloved friend Veronika, her brother Danny and her amazing family.

     Photo by Kathy Cadigan

    Veronika has created lovely color palettes, beginning with her Raw Palette, 12 perfect neutrals. Then last Spring came the Fresh Palette, 12 gorgeous greens and blues, and just in time for the holiday season of 2015 she released the Juicy Palette, vibrant yellows, oranges, a little green and gold to brown. We can't wait to see the next palette to release!


    Our fixture full of YOTH.


    The Fresh Palette in Father

    Veronika and Danny started out with an MCN (merino, cashmere, nylon) base in DK (Big Sister) and fingering weight (Little Brother)  Veronika's beautiful colors in this luscious base became a quick favorite with customers and staff. They followed up with a 100% US wool base to create Father (worsted) and Mother (lace).  We featured Father along with Veronika and Danny in our book Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool.

    Field Wrap featured in Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool

    photo by Kathy Cadigan

    Veronika creates classic, yet modern designs that are very wearable. For the past two years we have featured YOTH with designs by Veronika during our Local Yarn Shop Tour (LYS Tour). The first year it was Rutherford in Big Sister and the second year Blanche in Little Brother





     You can see more of Veronika's designs on Ravelry.

    Veronika at Saco River Dyehouse last summer.

    Follow along this month as we post more about YOTH.  On Mother's Day we will feature YOTH Mother at 10% off in honor of all mothers. 


  • Spincycle Yarn - Rachel Price


    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.



     Rachel Price and Kate Burge, the Spinsters.

    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.



  • Why We Love Spincycle Yarns

    Anna first saw Spincycle Yarns at the Farmer's Market in Bellingham, WA, years ago when visiting family. Spincycle has been in our shop from day one, it was one of the first yarns chosen to be in our collection at Tolt Yarn and Wool. 


    Rachel, in the window at our first Maker's Market (December 2013)

    Rachel and Kate create something unlike anything else we've seen and all of Spincycle Yarns are US Made from Sheep to Skein. We love the "Spinsters" sense of color and the creative way they make their yarn.

    We've been able to watch them as their business has grown and have admired the way they have kept to their principles and their aesthetic as they had to move some of their production from handspun to millspun. 

    We love that we are relatively close to their studio in Bellingham, so we get to have them visit our shop...

    Rachel and Kate Spring 2014

    for trunk shows… 

    Rachel and Kate July 2015

    ...Maker's Markets... 

    Rachel and Kate January 2016

    ...and we have, as a group, been to visit the Spinsters in their studio.

    Label board, January 2016

    Spincycle Studio, January 2016

    We carry Dyed In The Wool, a 2 ply fingering weight, Independence, a worsted weight dyed-in-the-wool single ply, and Knit Fast Die Young a hand plied bulky weight.

    Watch for next week's article about the collaboration between the Spinsters and the local mill they work with.




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