As anyone who reads this blog knows, my daughter Meg is the dyer for (and founder of) Twisted Fiber Art. She has specialized for some years in self-striping yarns and over the last couple of years has added what she calls Evolutions to her product line (they produce what I think is commonly called a gradient effect.) Today I’m going to show you some of the behind-the-scenes thinking that goes into listing such yarns for sale.
From the very beginning, Meg has felt that in order to sell her yarns, she needed to have knit samples of them. In the skein, her self-striping yarns look just like variegated yarns, but they knit up very differently. Since a large amount of her sales are of sock yarns, the sample she has chosen for the self-striping yarns is what she calls a tube – like a sock leg but with a border on each end to prevent (or at least reduce) curling. I have knit most of her samples over the years. There was a relatively brief period, however, when she involved a group of test knitters, and one of them had the brilliant notion of knitting the tube with one stockinette side, which is the primary side used in her listings, and one side with a pattern on it. I immediately adopted this custom because I find knitting in stockinette only incredibly boring. Over the years, I have sampled some great pattern stitches on these tubes, several of which grew up to be sock patterns.
Here is a sample tube (modeled by a water bottle).
In the past, Meg has photographed these swatches in various conformations. One of my favorite styles is this one:
Here, the knitted swatch is fit in with skeins of some of her yarn bases and braids of some of her rovings. Her site uses the colorway as the primary path into the listings and this is the header of the page holding listings of the various individual items. This is now the old style of listing, though many are still shown that way.
Lately, Meg has developed a new style of listing which allows her to combine multiple products into the same listing. For these, she has decided that she also needs a small Evolution swatch. Those are a lot faster than tubes to knit, as they are only a fairly small rectangle – about four inches across – and may be knit in any yarn, so sometimes they’re in nice fat yarns. Here is an early example of an Evolution swatch.
For the first couple of years selling yarns, Meg used Etsy and loved it. Etsy was pretty new when she started, back in December of 2005 (gosh, I can’t really take in that it’s been that long!) and suited her needs perfectly at that stage. After a couple of years, though, Meg’s volume of sales was high enough that it made sense to set up her own web site. So since May of 2008, she’s been selling through twistedfiberart.com.
Setting up the site initially and maintaining it since has been a challenge for all of us. Meg’s husband Jeff is a computer professional and he did much of the reviewing of software for her and they ended up picking Volusion as the best fit for her needs. They have quite powerful software that allows a large variety of styles of shop to be maintained using it. From the beginning, we have agonized about listing styles. Since repeatable colorways are very important to Meg, they were set up as the central access of the site. But there has always been tension between combining and separating – should each yarn base / colorway combination have its own listing? How about rovings? Should things be dyed only to order or should items be dyed and then listed? Meg is now moving to a style where her yarns offerings are grouped into sock yarns, evolutions on finer yarns and evolutions on heavier yarns. This has the advantage from her end of requiring fewer photographs (though they are tricky ones) and from the customer’s end of providing more direct comparisons.
Here is a photo of the Evolutions on Heavier Yarns for one of her new colorways – launched in October, named Haunting:
Once again, the swatch is present to give a general idea of how the evolution will play out in this colorway. It is a less directly relevant swatch than the tube, since the tube is knit from a standard self-striping yarn, just a smaller bit than usual, whereas the sample evolutions for the swatches are produced very specifically and I don’t think the proportions are exactly the same. (Anyhow, though, Meg can and does make the proportions vary for specific purposes.) But you can see the colors with their neighbors and it does give a useful feel for the yarn. The little skeinlets of the different bases show something of what the base looks like and, more importantly for this purpose, how the dye hits each base for this particular colorway.
Currently, Meg is trying to convert her older listings to this style (it offends her to have them mixed as they currently are) so I have lots of swatches to knit. I just knit half a dozen evolution swatches and have three more to go, and I have three tubes to knit – currently working on the first. So that’s where a lot of my knitting time is going lately. I love being part of Meg’s business in this way and I really enjoy the opportunity to get to know colorways and bases a bit earlier than other folk do. I’ll try to get photos of my current group of swatches (not the half dozen evolution swatches finished – Meg already has those) and post them soon.