August 22nd, 2007

So many great questions! Go pour a coffee, this goes on for some time….

How do you choose the colourways? What inspires you? Do you go through colour phases?

We mix all our colours from 6 basic primaries – blue, turquoise, red, cerise, gold, and black. I used to come up with a colourway, Safari for instance, and then mix the colours to suit it. But that was very time consuming, and we wasted a lot of dye. Plus, we got a bit repetitive. So now, the dyeing is much more freestyle. I make about 30 colours from the primaries, then Tony combines those colours, adding to them as necessary, in as many combinations as he wants. We try to keep a balance of colours, so there’s a little something of everything, and also try to have variety of tone, from pastels to deeps, and variety of dye type, solid, semi-solid, variegated.

Most of the colourways are spur of the moment, and Tony is fabulous at that, but we also plan some in advance. We were driving past some cliffs yesterday, and saw heather growing against the rocks, and Tony said to me, ‘Wouldn’t that make a great colourway, that heathery purple, soft grey, and mossy green?’ So he’ll then go on to recreate that when he dyes next. We also try to let at least some of the colourways reflect the season; you’ll notice that as we go into autumn, there’ll be more warm colourways, rusts, golds, browns.

If you had to choose a colourway you’ve made to reflect yourselves, which would it be and why?

From last week’s selection, Tony would be Sorbet, cheerful, bright and sunny. I would be Lustre, thoughtful, serious, sometimes even a little gloomy, but with flashes of optimism breaking through. And I’m always telling Tony to do less yellow/orange colourways and more purple/blues!

How do you name the colourways?

I love words, so this job is one of my easiest. Once the yarn is organised, I just stare at each colourway until the right name pops into my head. If a colourway doesn’t immediately suggest a name, I might use a favourite word (I have a little notebook where I scribble in fun names whenever I think of them). I’d love to use longer quirky names (‘Their eyes met across the room’) but since I’m always pressed for time when writing labels, I try to keep ’em short and snappy!

How is it possible to dye yarn that doesn’t pool? And if I can make it pool, do I get a prize?

Ah, some things will always remain shrouded in secrecy. And no, you don’t get a prize, but nice try!

What is your favorite yarn/thing to knit?

My favourite yarn is Emily. To knit with, that is. To work with, it would be Eva, because it’s so gorgeous to dye. And my favourite thing to knit…. if I had to choose, then I would say socks. My favourite thing I’ve ever knitted was a pair of Fair Isle mittens, which I designed myself. They were so much fun to make.

Do you freestyle knit?

No, I don’t think I’m that clever/confident/creative!

If I substitute 2ply yarn for 4ply yarn in a shawl, how much smaller will it be?

Ummm, I have no idea, sorry!

If you could bring one thing from the city to where you live, what would it be? And where in the world would you most like to go?

A Starbucks. Preferably in a Borders bookshop. And I would love, love, love to visit Canada.

Do you have a book that you read again and again, and if you could only choose two books to take on holiday, what would they be?

Tony’s choice would be Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Almost Everything, and one of Winston Churchill’s History of Britain books. He’s not a big reader, but when he does, he likes to read big! I have so many favourite books that I read over, and over, that I couldn’t list them all. If I had to choose just two for a holiday (oh, the torture of only two books!) I would have Onions in the Stew by Betty Macdonald, and The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp.

What are your cats names?

Snickers (he’s a Chocolate Point Burmese) and Jaffa (he’s a Red Asian). They have official pedigree names too, but I can’t remember them.

August 21st, 2007

Oh no! After last week’s gabfest, I can feel myself sliding back into uncommunicativeness. I’m sure it’s the quietness of where we live; it’s completely wonderful, and just what I need, but that silence is creeping into my brain. Good for the nervous system, bad for blogging.

So, help me out here – ask me a question, suggest a topic, give me a poke in the ribs. Between us, we’ll try to make tomorrow’s blog a better one than this…..

August 20th, 2007

Oh man, am I loving the new crop of autumn/fall knitting designs……. I want to make the Placed Cable Aran, the Snowflake Socks, and the Composed Mitts from here, the Ingenue Blouse from here, and so many things from here, I won’t even start to list them. Once again, Rowan leaves me distinctly underwhelmed. But that’s just as well really, since if I added more projects to my to-do list, I might not get them all done, whereas as it is……

Ahem. I’m a wishful knitter.

August 16th, 2007

Well, I knew it was bound to happen one of these days. Thanks to all my encouragement, my noble pointing out of his talents, and your own abundant compliments, Mr P has had an ego explosion. For one thing, he has demanded a name change, like a certain little popster (although at least you can pronounce his). From now on, he will be known as Tony, rather than Mr P. Really, it’s just a matter of time before the launch of a solo career, followed promptly by a public nervous breakdown, brief stay in rehab, then a Vogue Knitting cover.

But as long as his demands don’t get too outrageous (I’m not supplying him with Evian for his dyeing, for a start) I’ll have to humour them. Especially now, when he has discovered a way of double dyeing in a single dyeing stage, which produces incredibly intense colourways that will NOT pool whatever you do with them. After all, when someone can produce yarn as beautiful as this:

And this:

Not to mention this:

And this:

Well, you do whatever you can to keep on their good side, don’t you? Now do excuse me, I must go out and buy one hundred white lilies and a crate of Dom Perignon for his workshop.

Home Work………

Thanks for all the lovely comments. I agonised all day about the pictures being on there, and almost pulled the post several times. Now I’m going to write a nice long post that will push them well down the page where they can’t catch my critical eye.

I get asked quite regularly about how we get on with running our own business and working from home, and what advice we can give to other new businesses. Well, darlings, you know me, modest and unassuming and ever so ‘umble. But here’s my two pennorth (cents) worth on the subject:

First of all, running your own business is heaven and hell all rolled up into one. I think it’s a lot like marriage: there are ups and downs, the first year is pretty appalling, then things settle down to a soothing routine, with the occasional moment of bliss, and the equally occasional moment of ‘get me the hell out of here’. All of which, if weathered patiently, yield rich rewards. A feeling of security, of confidence, of satisfaction in what you have built, despite the difficulties and challenges.

Agreed, it’s not for everyone. If you have trouble motivating yourself, if you work at your best with lots of others around you, if you have a careless attitude to life, don’t give up the day job. If you get easily stressed, you may find it extremely difficult – I spent the first 12 months of our business howling practically every day because I was so stressed, and when we went through that patch where the software kept failing on sale night, well just be glad you weren’t within shrieking distance. But eventually things settled into a routine, and even an angst ridden brain like mine can’t keep up stress levels forever, so you do get through it. You might find yourself just as stressed working for someone else – I know I did. I’d rather answer to me, thank you very much.

To succeed, you are going to need grit, a good idea, high standards, and a huge dollop of motivation. And by that, I don’t mean motivation to get up out of bed on a Monday morning and start work (although that helps) but the clear sight of why you are doing what you are doing, and what you hope to achieve from it.

My goal was always to have Tony & myself working together, doing something that we both enjoyed, preferably from home. That goal kept me going through all the ups and downs, and I clung onto it like a lifebelt during the critical stage when Tony transferred from his own business to joining me in this one. Now our goal is to do just enough yarn to keep everyone happy, but not too much that we have to work long hours and lose our playfullness in dyeing. That sounds a little pretentious, but I hope you know what I’m getting at. Your goals will shift as your business develops, but without a goal, you will just drift.

Never let yourself become more important than the customer. Go the extra mile to keep them happy. Listen to them. But also remember that you can’t please all of the people, all of the time. Make sure that your communication skills are impeccable, let customers know exactly what is happening, every step of the way, and NEVER BE RUDE, under even the worst of provocation. Keep your standards high, and your ethics higher. It’ll only come back on you if you don’t.

Above all, be patient. It takes a long time to become established, and you cannot rush that whatever you do. We are just now settling down into a nice steady routine of business; we know our niche, we know our customers, we know our roles and responsibilities. But this has taken 18 months. To begin with, you will feel like you are threading a needle with a rope in pitch blackness, and you will feel ignorant and inadequate and on the brink of daily disaster. Believe it or not, this is good. It will make you try harder, keep you stretching out. And you’ll reap the rewards, in due time.

One brief footnote on working from home. People who haven’t done it themselves just don’t get it, so don’t expect them to. If getting visitors, lengthy phone calls, etc is going to bother you, then make that clear to begin with. Tell friends and family that you are off limits during work hours, and that just as they wouldn’t drop in for coffee & a gossip, or ask you to babysit while they go shopping, if you were working at an actual office, they can’t do that at your home during work hours either. Because that IS your office. And you ARE working. Even if you are in your pyjamas.

And here endeth the lesson.