Environmental policy October 22 2018, 1 Comment
Following endeavours to find a suitable paper replacement for our plastic mailing bags, I updated our environmental policy last week and put it up on the website. I thought I'd pop it on here too.
Skein Queen has always attempted to minimise the business's environmental footprint wherever possible especially when it comes to the dyeing process and the office environment but appreciate that this can be extended into our packaging.
Water use is kept to a minimum by soaking kilos of yarn in sinks, then topping up and reusing for the soak for a couple of days.
We use food grade citric acid in the soak to ensure the dye adheres to the yarn. This is neutralised with bicarbonate of soda so that only neutralised water is released into the drainage system.
All the dye is absorbed into the yarn so no dye is disposed of into the drainage system.
We recycle as many cardboard boxes that yarn arrives in as possible by resending wholesale orders in them.
General office waste, cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard are all recycled.
We complete an Annual Waste Transfer Note specifying exactly what we dispose into our waste wheelers and are held accountable.
We have now found suitable-for-purpose paper mailing bags which we will gradually transfer over to from the plastic mailing bags (which are 100% recyclable). This will be a slower process than I would want as we'd rather use up existing stock than it go to landfill, so request that you bear with us.
We continue to seek eco-friendly ways of minimising plastic use where possible whilst trying to ensure the yarn arrives in perfect condition and encompass the ethos of you treating yourself to a gift. We'd like to continue using tissue paper, but it makes us really happy if you keep it to re-use.
As an aside, I'm currently looking for a paper alternative to sellotape that can be used in a dispenser. All the washi tape dispensers I've seen get terrible reviews, so if anyone has any workable suggestions, I'm all ears.
If we can find an alternative to packaging wholesale orders in plastic bags, we will. Currently, my main concern is for the yarn to arrive safely and undamaged and looking professional, but I will continue to seek alternative solutions.
Not all these "solutions" are perfect and there's always a trade-off. Paper requires far more resources to manufacture and transport, but I'm looking at the end game - paper is biogradeable, compostable and recyclable.
Yarn also has an impact on the environment, so if you'd like to read about the origin of our yarns, you can find the information here.
Trunk Show at Nest in London May 08 2018, 0 Comments
I'm off on my yarnie travels again. This time to Nest in Crouch End, London on Yarn Shop Day. I love to give local yarn stores as much support as possible.
I'll be there this Saturday 12th May from 10-5pm with lots of yarn for your delectation and can't wait to see the shop - it looks so beautiful with not just yarn, but fabric and haberdashery too!
GDPR and how it affects you as a customer May 04 2018, 1 Comment
It's not yarn, it's not colourful, it's boring. But (a large) part of running a small business is ensuring you comply with red tape and regulations.
If you're in the EU, I'm sure you've had emails from lots of companies asking you to click a box to confirm that you want to carry on receiving their newsletter.
The general idea is good one. It stops unethical businesses misusing your data. But for a small business, it can take years and years to build up that mailing list.
So over the next couple of weeks, I'll be sending out an email with a click box for you to click to confirm that you still want to receive the SQ newsletter. It may be shunted into your Promotions folder, so keep an eye out for it.
For anyone who does not respond, I am obliged to remove you from the mailing list so sadly you will no longer hear all about yarn, shop updates and forthcoming events. We'd be ever so sad to lose you.
Of course, you can re-sign up at any time, using our two-step sign-up process in the bottom right-hand corner of the home page of the website.
In a way, it's a good thing as we'll be talking to the customers who definitely want to hear about our news.
We use your data to send out parcels, for the payment process, to contact you if there's any query with your order, send you order and shipping confirmations and to send you the newsletter if you've signed up specifically for that.
One thing I will add, if you have ever bought from us at a show, we use the iZettle terminal which allows you to choose to have a receipt sent to you via email or text message which iZettle will remember, meaning the next time you buy something from a seller who uses the same system, it will pre-fill your contact details (which is handy, but I feel, also generates some potential privacy issues, so it's as well to be aware of them).
I've taken this from the iZettle site:
iZettle AB, reg. no. 556806-0734, is responsible for this processing of personal data and will only use your email address or mobile number to send receipts to you. iZettle will not use your contact details for any other purpose, and will not share them with anyone else, without obtaining your consent first.
If you want us to rectify, update or remove your contact details, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One last thing, if you pay via iZettle, you are not signing up for the newsletter.
If you place an order via the website, there is an tick box option to sign up for the newsletter if you wish. The only other way to sign up for the newsletter is via the website.
So, hey ho, that's it in a nutshell! Back to the dyepots to bring you some fun stuff... look out for that email!
Colourways on different yarn bases April 25 2018, 0 Comments
The way different yarn bases take the same colourway is a constant source of fascination. I thought I'd share on my perceptions as a dyer to maybe give you some insights while you're knitting or choosing yarn.
Here's Salvage on 6 different bases.
Salvage uses 7 colours of dye and is turned in the pots twice.
Floof : Oasis Grande : Wriggle : Lustrous : Crush : Crush DK
Floof - 72% mohair 28% silk - shows the rich, blended depths of colour with the rusty tones working particularly well. It's hard to get a speckle on this base, so I'm aiming for rich, blended tones.
Oasis Grande - 50% camel 50% silk - this starts out on a camel-coloured base, rather than white, so the colour differences tend to be a bit more subtle. But the smooth, silky nature of the yarn makes it a stunning base to work with.
Wriggle - 100% merino singles - the Queen of absorbing dye in exactly the way the dyer intends. The rusty colour glows and where it meets the dark charcoal - that's where the magic happens.
Lustrous - 50% merino 50% silk - probably the lightest of the yarn types as the the silver shines from the silk giving a whole new dimension to the colourway. Definitely the most glowing.
Crush - 75% merino 25% nylon - like the Wriggle, the dye doesn't stray too far from what you want it to do. Intense rust with proper speckles of charcoal, with all 7 colours put in to creating the colourway visible.
Crush DK - 75% merino 25% nylon - this thicker yarn takes the dye slightly differently again. Colours are more blended but there's a different vibrancy to the other yarn types. The picture below shows a swatch of how the colourway knits up and what it's like crocheted.
Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2018 - in pictures March 22 2018, 0 Comments
What an amazing time we had!
Extra big thanks go to Eliza, Rachel and Jezella for all the yarn prep we did in just a couple of weeks on the back of Unravel, to Alice for jumping in to help at the final hour, to Calvin for sanding the apple crates at the last minute, to Jezella for screen printing the new banner, to Suzanne for her incredible energy and hard work and talking to keep me awake in the van on the way back in the snow. And to Bev aka Boo Knits who made a guest appearance on our stand on the Saturday afternoon.
And a heartfelt thank you to each and every person who stopped by our stand. If you came along, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. And if you didn't, hope you enjoy these few pics. And there will be a small shop update next Wednesday (28th March) at 8pm BST.
One last thanks go to Jo and Mica for organising this extraordinary event which just seems to go from strength to strength every year.
Colourway inspiration March 07 2018, 0 Comments
As many of you will know, it took me ten years of practice to finally come up with range of repeatable colourways. And it gives me great pleasure to add an additional seven colourways to that range.
The one-off Limited Edition colourways will always be my go-to way of dyeing - almost as if each colourway is a little painting for you - but I'm also loving developing these recipes so that you can get your hands on the same colourway more than once.
Having a repeatable colourway range also allows us to show local yarn stores which colourways are available to buy and changing that up to keep it fresh is one of my greatest pleasures. Gradually, new staff are learning how to dye them.
Hope you like the new additions.
Antique Map came about when we had a little dyeing session with the new staff and I was showing them techniques. Was so happy with the result that it has become a permanent addition.
Salvage was the result of walking past industrial shipyards when we were over in Belfast at Christmas.
Snow Fields started off as a Limited Edition colourway which Bev of Booknits acquired for a design to tone in with Bucklebury, Highclere Castle and Inkpen, so I reverse engineered it and wrote down how I'd made it.
Bellini Olive came about as a paler version which should've been launched in the first batch of colourways, but I was never 100% happy with it. It needed a bit of something, so making it darker and imagining an olive in a cocktail glass was the way of getting the result I wanted (although I really don't think you'd have an olive garnishing a peach bellini!)
Rosewater Black was inspired by a club colourway. The range needed something with more red in it. I dye this colourway by leaving white areas, then adding yellow for the centre of the flowers, then purple for the petals. You can't see the "flowers" when it's finished, but that's where the inspiration comes from.
King Penguin emerged when I discovered how a new orange dye split out - just like a penguin's colouring. The inspiration also came from my Seven Swans colourway which I usually do around Christmas time.
And Drunk Bees. What can I say? A series of intense yellows, but they needed something else. I sprinkled on some of the darkest brown in clusters and one of the yellows splits into red, so it looked like the bees had been sipping at beer in a pub garden (I know this is usually the pesky wasps) and had be flying around crashing into each other! I did once have a Drunk Barbie colourway, so the name takes inspiration from this.
Not all of the colourways will always be available on all of the yarn bases, but we'll do our best to dye up as many of them as possible. We'll be bringing a range to Edinburgh Yarn Festival next week and then will dye up more for the shop.
You can see the full range of repeatable colourways here.
Peru fundraising - a huge thank you January 24 2018, 0 Comments
Photo by julian mora
Just wanted to say the biggest thank you to everyone who bought Lily's Peru yarn. It sold out on the night and it's made an enormous contribution to the launch of her fund-raising.
And thanks for all the interest and requests for more!
There will certainly be more, but not for a few months until her GCSE exams are over at the beginning of June. In theory, she's spending every weekend revising (hmmm!). But then she'll have all summer to dye up more and we've even written down the recipes so can repeat the original colourways.
It's been really fun working together and can't wait til she has time to dye up more.
Peru Collection fundraiser January 17 2018, 1 Comment
My 16-year-old daughter, Lily Orr, hopes to travel to Peru in 18 months. In a bid to raise the £4200 needed to get there, she spent New Year's Day dyeing up some colourways inspired by Peru on yarn spun in Peru. Some of the colourways she has named after workers in the mill which spins the yarn.
As I started Skein Queen when she was five, Lily has grown up with dyeing and used to help out sometimes when I dyed from home.
In 2019, I hope to travel to Peru in the summer to spend a month working on rural community building and environmental projects. I also can't wait to visit Lake Titicaca and trek to Machu Picchu - we may be some of the last people allowed to visit as they're closing the site to tourists soon.
In order to raise funds for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, Skein Queen will be releasing a limited edition collection inspired by the diverse cultures and landscapes of Peru. 100% of the profits will be going towards the trip. 36% of those funds will directly be helping Peruvian communities, many of which live below the poverty line.
Lily also decided to dye up some semi-solids and we wanted to link the Linger yarn, which is spun in Peru, to the mill where it's spun.
So I asked the lovely Jeni of Chester Wool Company if she could maybe ask the names of some of the workers on her next visit and she was good enough to video it for us.
We struggled with some of the spellings, but hopefully we've done justice to the women who each have a role in the mill.
We used Linger which is a superwash merino and nylon which comes in at 425m - perfect for making socks for trekking!
The Peru Collection will be available to buy from the online shop from 8pm GMT tonight (January 17th).
The trip is organised by Camps International.
Meet the new SQ team January 11 2018, 0 Comments
This week is Rachel and Jezella's first week working at SQ HQ. Here's to lots of Skein Queenery fun, hard work and more yarn throughout 2018.
Left to right: Rachel, me, Eliza and Jezella. You can find out more about us in the About Us section.
We'll also miss Karin who helped us on a temporary basis and has started a new job in her real life work as a tax consultant.
The Jolly Holly giveaway - now closed December 15 2017, 0 Comments
I've got something very special for you today to say a MASSIVE thank you for all your support, comments and purchases throughout the year.
Win 6 skeins of hand-dyed yarn - two Yaksino in Vintage Red, two Selkino in Frosted Cranberries and two Selkino in Hermitage.
PS Comments left here won't count sadly due to volume.
The competition is now closed and the winner announced. Congratulations to brixtonpurl! And thank you to each and every person who entered and shared and got excited about the giveaway - there were over 1000 entries.
Unfortunately, it was a one-off collection although we'll put together more varieties of yarn bundles for you next year.
We are working in the studio and posting out until midday on the 21st December. The shop will remain open over the festive period but parcels won't be posted out until 4th January.
A very Merry Christmas to one and all.
What we have been doing this week... December 01 2017, 2 Comments
This whole wall of yarn is in transit to TitiTyy in Finland as we speak.
There's yummy Crush, Selkino and we've started wholesaling Crush DK too, so lots for Tiina's lovely customers to choose from.
The wholesale shelving is looking a little empty and colourless now, but it'll soon fill up after Christmas again with the orders we have for January all get dyed up. Colour for January, can't wait!
I've also got some new colourways for wholesale in development to add to the collections.
Do you have a favourite square?
Skein Queen is recruiting! November 17 2017, 0 Comments
Electra shawl by Truly Myrtle in Selkino October 18 2017, 0 Comments
A few months ago, Libby of Truly Myrtle and myself put our heads together to bring you something fun and I'm blown away by what she's come up with. This is her Electra Shawl.
"Electra has oodles of style. She’s zingy, super fun and just enough wild to make you feel amazing.
Wear her draped around your shoulders and hanging long for extra pizazz, or snuggle her up for a pop of colour at your neck."
"Knitted from end to end, Electra is a long, slim, arrow-shaped wrap, with a funky tail at one end and a lace point at the other. You’ll begin at the tail with gutsy lace, move to slipped stitches that knit into a delicious honeycomb, and then relax into an easy rhythm of lace and honeycomb and back again."
Libby chose three colours of Selkino for her shawl design - Greenham Common, Lady Philomere and Highclere Castle but there are so many options.
"Electra is the perfect chance to try your hand at combining colours. Try mixing a dark, light and bright to create a real statement or create calm elegance with three tonal shades. The options are endless, and exciting!"
Royal Ascot, Lady Philomere and Woodspeen
Biscuit Town, Woodspeen and Highclere Castle.
Tonight, I plan to cast mine on in Brick Kiln, Biscuit Town and Highclere Castle - cannot wait! My needles are itching to get going.
Electra has just been released on Ravelry and Libby is offering a generous discount until Sunday 22nd October.
A very special project involving Lancashire Lonk wool and some amazing women October 13 2017, 0 Comments
Susan Crawford is a legend in the knitting world. She specialises in interpreting ideas from vintage patterns for today and lectures in fashion history. Not only is she a knitwear designer and author, but also a shepherdess. Her small flock of sheep includes Shetlands, Herdwicks, Zwartbles and Lonks
12 months ago, Susan was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive breast cancer and was given poor odds for survival. An intensive period of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy culminated a year later with Susan cancer free. She was, and continues to be, supported by the amazing local charity CancerCare, who provide complementary treatments and professional advice to cancer patients and their carers at no cost to the user.
Susan also became part of Phoenix, CancerCare's online group and formed friendships with many other women going through the same experiences. A short time after joining a project began photographing members of Phoenix sharing their scars, both physical and mental. These 'Scarletts' as they became known wanted to share their personal experiences of how cancer, and particularly, breast cancer, attempts to strip women of their physicality, their visual identity.
Through the portraits they wanted to take back ownership of their bodies, and to be proud of who they had become. These portraits have been turned into the 'Knocker Jotter' which is being sold to raise funds for CancerCare.
To help support this campaign and to put two fingers up at the horror that is cancer, Susan created the 'fubc' shawl kit. The kit includes two skeins of Susan's exclusive 100% Lonk wool, Ghyll, one undyed and one dyed, enough to make one of two shawl patterns included in the kit both inspired by the shape and structure of Lonk horns. In addition a copy of the 'Knocker Jotter' is included in every kit.
What makes these kits even more special is the dyeing. Susan reached out to four hand dyers, Old Maiden Aunt, Countess Ablaze, Skein Queen and Knitting Goddess, each of whom instantly agreed to provide an exclusive colourway inspired by one of the portraits in the journal.
My inspiration photo was of a Scarlett called Karen who wore a beautiful three-layered chiffon skirt in peach, gold and pink with a purple belt with the moody blue sky behind. It's a strong but feminine image as she draws back the string on a bow, ready to face her critics and her new journey ahead.
Each dyer dyed approximately 100 skeins. No two are identical and the four colourways are very different, each reflecting the approach of the dyer. There are fewer than 400 kits available. Susan's 2016 limited edition Ghyll yarn is available only in the fubc kits with a percentage of monies from each kit sale being donated to CancerCare.
Ghyll is 100% British wool all from a single breed of sheep – the Lonk. Only the best shearling fleeces have been used, from just one flock living on the Lancashire moors overlooking the Lune valley directly across from Susan’s own farm. Using only the best fleeces ensures the highest quality of yarn.
Ghyll is worsted spun, meaning it is combed before spinning to create a smoother, stronger and less scratchy yarn. It is comprised of 3 plys which are spun together with quite a high twist creating a firm but bouncy yarn, suitable for all sorts of knitting projects but particularly textured patterns, lace knitting and even socks.
Yesterday marked the last injection of Susan's treatment and it is so good to welcome her back into the knitting world.
The kits are available now to order exclusively from www.susancrawfordvintage.com
Now stocking Laine magazine October 10 2017, 1 Comment
Blog post by Eliza.
We're proud to say that we are now stockists of the beautiful Laine magazine. This collectible publication is packed full of fascinating articles and each pattern is stunningly photographed and clearly laid out. This issue is brimming with warm, wintery knits.
"Laine is a brand new tri-annual, high-quality Nordic knit and lifestyle magazine for people who cherish natural fibres, slow living, local craftsmanship and beautiful, simple things in life. It includes patterns by the leading designers, insightful stories from the world of wool, exciting travel articles, seasonal recipes and strong, visual storytelling."
"Laine was set up in 2016 by Jonna Hietala and Sini Ellen. This duo packed by years and years of experience with journalism and publishing, social media, and wool wanted to create an aesthetic, informative and inspiring magazine for people sharing the same interests."
I've fallen in love with the Treysta sweater by Jennifer Steingass (below) and I'm already planning a batch of apple lingonberry sheet cake, both from issue No# 3 available here.
Wriggle Lace and Romance September 13 2017, 0 Comments
Cécile Balladino was inspired to create this beautiful crocheted Romance shawl after purchasing a skein of Summer Houses in Wriggle Lace.
Cécile says "Romance is a triangular shawl in lace yarn that starts at the top.
I designed it especially for the love-at-first-sight hand dyed yarn that we buy and which, very often, we do not know what to do with.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about!
Its regular pattern highlights the subtleties of the yarn while avoiding the messy effect.
The stitch is memorizing very quickly, making it an easy to crochet and not boring work."
The pattern is available here.
It's so beautiful in Summer Houses but imagine one in these colourways too.
Yarnfolk August 14 2017, 0 Comments
Yarnfolk was held on Saturday 5th August in Whitehead in Northern Ireland and organised by Louise of Lighthouse Yarns.
Whitehead was the perfect setting for Northern Ireland's first wool festival - a compact seaside town with several community halls which were just right for hosting vendors from all over Ireland and some of whom had made the journey across the Irish Sea.
Eliza and I had worked hard with our preparations and so had lots of lovely yarn to bring - even more than we had planned!
It was a super easy set up on the morning of the show - with parking right outside the Community Centre.
It was so great to meet the other vendors including Terri of Fine Fish Yarns - who also took a role in organising the event, Lindsay of Dye Candy, Fiona of Green Elephant Yarn, Bernie from Bear in Sheep's Clothing, Tracey of Ewe Momma and Fay of Knit It-Hook It-Craft It who had travelled over by ferry in the morning and was returning after the show!
And, of course, the wonderful yarn lovers who had travelled from all over the country. It was great to meet a long-standing customer from Wicklow and another lady who'd met my father-in-law on the train one day and wondering why he was feeling her knitting! The knitter's handshake! He explained that his daughter-in-law was a dyer and hence, we got to meet her!
The town was buzzing with excited shoppers and attendees of the various workshops on offer from needle felting to making Dorset buttons. There were demos from various guilds including the Guild of Machines Knitters NI and the Ulster Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. And purveyors of everything from hand-dyed yarn to cute accessories were spread across the town's various venues.
The food was amazing -- by local company Maggie's Working Kitchen. Their Fifteens were to die for! And if you don't know what a Fifteen is, you really have to try this Northern Irish traybake - very easy to make (although not sure I'd be able to make them this good!)
I lost count of the number of people who thanked us for coming over but it's us who has to thank everybody for the fantastic welcome. It was Mr O.'s first show and he did a sterling job (although wasn't too keen on me calling him My Glamorous Assistant!)
If you want to get a feel of the atmosphere on the day, check out Vince Polding's vlog here.
Open Studio - the review June 30 2017, 1 Comment
The yarn was ready...
The bunting was up...
The cake was ready...
And then the knitters arrived. There was choosing... and chatting... and knitting.
It was an amazing day, having the place come alive with so many yarn appreciators. We really did enjoy it.
So much so, I got enabled into choosing colours to make the ever-popular Find Your Fade shawl by Andrea Mowry. Having seen knitiam's sample, I'm told you can do it in six skeins rather than the seven called for. I've cast on and loving it!
HUGE THANKS to everyone who came along and looking forward to next year already.
We're having a one-off Singles Special in the shop tonight at 10PM BST to coordinate with a little thing happening in podcastland - there's not masses but you can see a preview here.
And don't worry if you miss out as there'll be more of the Berkshire Collection colourways, Heavenly Midnight and Oyster Bay.
This is Heavenly Midnight - a repeatable colourway and one I'm particularly happy with - sometimes the dye-gods come together and a particular alchemy you've been working towards for months finally happens!
And the 10 year anniversary celebrations continue... June 19 2017, 0 Comments
As the 10th anniversary celebrations continue and we prepare for the Open Studio this Saturday by dyeing much yarn and planning my cake-baking for the end of the week, we're also very, very close to launching the new wholesale ranges and participating in a yet-to-be-revealed project. So exciting times.
If you're thinking of coming by train, let me know what time your train is due in at Thatcham rail station and we'll make sure someone is there to pick you up and bring you back.
And thank you all SO much for participating in the Name the Yarn competition. As a family we went through all the names and after much consideration, the unanimous decision was:
Congratulations, Julienne!! If you'd like to get in touch, we'll get your prize sent off to you as soon as possible.
I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for all the thought that went into your entries - I've thoroughly enjoyed reading every one of them. Some very interesting suggestions and it was hard to pick a winner.
Ten year anniversary June 12 2017, 50 Comments
Skein Queen is 10! It is almost inconceivable that a little notion I had one night lying in bed has turned into a full-time job for both me and Eliza.
But first things first - we're having three little celebrations to mark the occasion. As the graphic says, Name the Colourway - Win the Yarn. That's FOUR skeins of Crush sock yarn. Just leave your suggestion in a comment on the blog and I'll announce the winner next Monday 19th June. The competition will also be running on Instagram and Facebook. One entry per person. I will post worldwide so don't be shy - can't wait to hear your suggestions.
The second celebration is an Open Studio in a couple of weeks when we fling open the doors to the new dyeworks and welcome you in to see where the dyeing takes place, eat cake, drink tea and knit, and of course there will be an opportunity to squidge the yarn in person and purchase if anything takes your fancy.
And thirdly, we are finally launching our new, updated logo designed by the talented graphic designer, Patricia Lewis. You'll see new yarn labels, stickers, thank you cards and a change on the website as the new logo takes hold. I hope you love it as much as we do.
So a little of the history of Skein Queen.
At the end of 2006, the Internet was opening up all sorts of discoveries in the knitting world and it no longer seemed like such a solitary activity. I started talking to other knitters via the social media networks of the time such as Plurk and a knitters' forum, the name of which escapes me. And then... there was a big buzz about a new network for knitters called Ravelry. So I signed up for the beta testing, waited in the queue and was so excited when I got in!
In the meantime, I bought a copy of Knit Now and there was an article by Debbie Tomkies about dyeing yarn with Kool Aid. I don't know why this captured my imagination as I can't remember ever trying anything else from a magazine, but it did so I gave it a go in the kitchen.This was one of my first attempts!
In fact, if you hop on over to DT Crafts's gallery, you can see my first attempts are still there!
I thought it would be a good idea to consolidate the dyeing skills I was learning by attending a dyeing course run by Debbie Tomkies at Eyam Hall in Derbyshire.
There were just the two of us on the course - here's Becky and myself presenting our dyeing attempts. It was good to know that everything I was doing was as it should be. If you ever get a chance to do one of these workshops, I'd highly recommend them.
Over the next three months, I became completely obsessed with tracking down some cashmere/silk. White yarn was much harder to find on the Internet then than it is now, but I finally traced it to a Chinese mill and got in touch with them to buy some. I still use that mill today for some yarns and have a developed a great working relationship with Han over the years. I finally got to meet him at H+H in Cologne a couple of years ago.
By that time, I'd moved onto using fibre reactive dyes and opened an Etsy shop. This was the first skein of yarn I ever sold within 24 hours to a lady in the States - it was called Kew Gardens and the yarn base was called Lavish - 55% silk 45% cashmere.
One of the pivotal moments was when a lady in Reading bought some yarn and realised it had been posted from the post office next to where she worked. Somehow we got chatting online and she ran a knitting group in Reading called the Outcasts. That lady turned out to be Suzanne Stallard, who has been hugely supportive over the years - and is a very special friend who some of you may have met at shows.
I was still working as an Editor, but for two years combined both jobs, dyeing yarn in the kitchen, labelling it with labels from Hobbycraft with matching ribbons in the bedroom. Reinvesting all income back into the business.
By 2009, the shop was regularly selling out, custom orders were plentiful and there seemed to be a demand, so I decided to take the plunge and go full-time with Skein Queen waving goodbye to the world of academic publishing.
We converted the garage into a workshop, so I could have a dedicated work space as working in the kitchen with a busy family and stopping and starting for meals was totally impractical.
And the spare room became my office.
I'd worked from home since 2002 (using the old Tele2 satellite dish!) so discipline came easily.
In 2014, there was wool everywhere in the house and industrial winders on the landing, so it was time to look at expanding.
Eventually I found an attic space not far from my home which turned out to be perfect.
At the time, a friend - Kira Moffat - had been working with me for a couple of months, but she had found herself an engineering job, so I was sad to see her go.
It was time to recruit and I was fortunate to find Eliza - a keen knitter and fibre enthusiast.
Eliza was working three days a week up at the studio, while I was still dyeing from the garage workshop. Then we'd work together after a shop update, taking two days to pack up and send out all the orders. I think we both loved working at the studio - it was a beautiful environment and we had friendly neighbours downstairs running the craft shop.
Finally at the end of last year, the working on split sites was proving too unwieldy, from deliveries to communicating with each other, so after much searching, I found our current premises - 1,500 sq ft of workshop, mezzanine for storage with three offices.
Eliza is now working full-time and together, we are able to produce more yarn for your delectation.
I've been lucky enough to work with some amazing people over the years including Ysolda Teague, Kate Davies, Ella Austin and Tincanknits.
One of the highlights was working with Wallace Sewell on a book cover conceived by Peter Saville for Danish design company, Kvadrat.
And another was being asked to take part in an international art exhibition called Elemental Birds by Inga and Andy Hamilton.
Another incredibly special moment was when I was presented with the most amazing blanket made by lots of customers and friends from around the world and assembled by the Outcasts when my mum died of lung cancer at the age of 71 in 2010. It truly was a touching moment.
I really am so lucky to have such a wonderful, warm community of friends, knitters and customers who make this job so very special.
And I couldn't have done any of it without the help and support of my family, Calvin, Sam and Lily who deserve medals for putting up with damp yarn hanging around the house and too much business talk for so many years.
Here's to the next ten years...
And the winner is.....*insert drumroll* May 15 2017, 0 Comments
And the winner of the two skeins of lovely Moonwalk Exquisite Twist is....
Congratulations, Michelle Ainslie! If you could get in touch, I'll get the yarn posted off to you at the soonest opportunity.
And massive thanks to everyone who participated - we raised over £275 thanks to your enormous generosity, helping the Fizzy Floozies smash their original target by raising almost £3,500 towards breast cancer charities.
We were all overwhelmed by one donation in particular - you know who you are - thank you SO much. And to every one of you who took the time to donate.
I'm super proud of all nine of my friends who completed the 26 miles on Saturday night. What an amazing achievement!
And if you want to read more about where the money raised goes, these are some of the charities that Walk the Walk supports.
MoonWalk your way to winning yarn (without taking a step) April 27 2017, 2 Comments
Want to win two skeins of Exquisite Twist in the specially devised MoonWalk colourway and support this breast cancer charity?
On May 13th, nine of my hero friends will be power walking over 26 miles through the streets of London in an effort to raise money for breast cancer. They've all been training so hard - walking for miles and miles in the evenings and at weekends, when they could have been doing other things, like raising a glass of fizz with their feet up.
I'd love to be able to help them to get to their target of £2000, and they're very nearly there, so I'm offering 2 skeins of merino/cashmere/nylon to tempt you into donating a minimum of £2 to their fund-raising page in order to enter the lucky dip competition.
I will pick the winner at random on May 15th and announce who it is here on the blog so good luck! I'll post it worldwide, so don't be shy to enter.
All you need to do is:
1. Go to the Fizzy Floozies fund-raising page here.
2. Make your donation - please mark it with SQ so that I can tell if you've entered.
Feel free to leave the girls a good luck message to spur them on on the night.
And that's it! Best of luck to you and to Michelle Stevens, Sandra Benton, Karen Neumann, Karen Symes, Katie Lewis, Leanne Holland, Amanda Drane, Clare Stewart and Kate Flitter!
(Comments left on the blog won't count - sorry.)
The new dyeworks April 02 2017, 5 Comments
If I've been quiet on here lately, it's because I have some very exciting news. We've moved into a new dyeworks at World's End in deepest Berkshire. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll already have seen some sneak peeks, but here it is in its full glory.
Firstly, the wonderfully talented graphic designer, Pat Lewis of Lewis Creative (also an avid knitter and good friend) has redesigned the Skein Queen logo to freshen it up, bring it up-to-date and make it easier for reproducing in print. I think she's done a fabulous job, it was great working with her and we'll gradually be introducing it to the whole range of yarn labels, stickers, thank you cards and bags, but the original one will still be around for a while.
So, when you walk into the new studio, the first area is the main packing area with Eliza's desk. This is where we print out orders, wrap them carefully in tissue and send them out.
On the right, is my office. Really not convinced that the Welsh dresser sits as well in here as it did at the old studio - much too country cottage. If I get a chance, the white paint will be coming out or maybe some Annie Sloan.
But this is where all the admin gets done - bookkeeping, PAYE, organising security, bins, fire safety, health and safety policy, signage, paying bills, plumbers and all the equally dull stuff. But also some nice stuff - writing blogposts, photography and writing the inspiration sheets.
Next to my office is the drying room. The yarn is spun once it has been rinsed, so by the time it gets here, it's almost dry - usually just needs one more night to dry completely. Having a space to do this is invaluable. Previously I used my dining room - so this is one of the biggest improvements that the rest of my family will appreciate the most!
Opposite my office is the kitchen, shower room and loo.
And behind the packing desks is the door to the workshop area, with a handy dandy mezzanine level.
Eliza and I laid a rubber floor last week to protect the concrete floor from the occasional splash. Just got the tricky bits to cut with a Stanley knife but that's a job for next week.
The existing workbench and sockets (with 3-phase power) are ideal for the dye pots and the cupboards above house the dyes.
There was no water or waste source into the warehouse, so I arranged for the plumbers to come and install two double pot wash sinks. Who knew there were so many tap options! You wouldn't believe the toing and froing of emails I had with the "taps expert" but so pleased with the final result.
They brought the water over the mezzanine level, installed a Saniflo pump between the sinks to pump the waste back up to the mezzanine. It works perfectly and is super quiet. I also had them install a hose tap on the water pipe itself, so we can fill more buckets to soak the yarn.
Up on the mezzanine, we built some racking for undyed yarn storage. We'll also use the industrial winders up here to skein up the semi-solid colourways. I invested in a yarn twisting machine from Marcin Lorkowski of Martin's Labs who brought it all the way over from Poland to give to me at Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Can't wait to get it up and running to give it a try (and Eliza's very excited about this too).
We built three industrial tables which have proved invaluable for setting out trays of cooling yarn.
The plan is to create a range of 16-20 staple, reproducible colourways (which you'll know if you've been following Skein Queen for a while, is not something we've done before). Eliza will take responsibility for dyeing some, if not all, of these once we've finalised the recipes in the Big Dye Recipe Book, so she's currently in intensive training to expand her skills into dyeing. Once the range has been developed and finalised, we'll be able to start offering it for wholesale to retail shops on a couple of yarn bases.
I'll still be creating the unique, much loved, different-every-time variegated and semi-solids, so nothing will change there - shop updates may be a little more regular and contain maybe 10 of the same colourway instead of five. There'll still just be the two of us doing all the admin, dyeing, winding, labelling, packing and customer service between us. So although we've moved to a more light industrial setting, we're still very much a tiny indie dyeing company.
One thing that has changed along with this growth is that I've had to register for VAT. This means an accompanying rise in yarn prices - I haven't whacked on the whole 20%, but hand-dyed yarn prices have had to increase. I've kept all other prices the same - so no increase on Koigu, Jamieson's, stitch markers or anything else in the shop for the time being. And if you pre-ordered yarn at EYF for the Traquair set, I will hold it at the pre-VAT prices and cover the VAT for you.
Finally, I thought you might like to see where I've been working these last few years (eight, I think - before that, used the kitchen for a couple of years). This was our converted garage where I had one pot - ONE POT - for variegated colourways! As you can see, these changes were long overdue, but slightly delayed until the children were old enough.
And this was the beloved attic studio over at Lower Henwick Farm. I may have shed a little tear as I locked up for the last time - it looked a little bare and forlorn without all the woolly haven-making paraphernalia. It served us well and I loved going to work there.
But ultimately, it's time to move onwards and upwards and thank you for sharing this journey with us and for making it possible. Here's to MUCH MORE YARN!
Edinburgh Yarn Festival in pictures March 13 2017, 2 Comments
I am so tired I can't speak, so I'm leaving you with some images of the SQ stand at EYF. I had been dyeing since January in preparation, contending with the lack of a studio roof in the height of winter storms and two weeks off with a bad back!
Suffice to say, it was an AMAZING event. Thank you to each and every one of you who stopped by, to the international visitors and to the other vendors and organisers (Jo and Mica) for making it such a fun (and exhausting) event. See if you can notice a difference between the stand at the start of the event and at the end...
If you didn't manage to snag a Selkino/Enchant set for the Traquair hat and mitts in Wool Tribe magazine, we're taking pre-orders. You just have to register your interest by emailing me via the website, and I'll be in touch when they're ready. It might be a few weeks as we're currently in the process of moving premises. I've also come home with some copies of Wool Tribe to go in the shop along with the update on Wednesday.
Eliza looking a bit shell-shocked with just a few hours to go. Thanks to her for all her help over the weekend.
We hope that you enjoyed the event as much as we did.
New arrival - Otto the miniature Dachshund January 10 2017, 1 Comment
This little guy came to live with us a week ago. He's such a good boy and such a character! He plays for hours with our older dog, Cookie, and then sleeps right the way through the night. I'm already totally in love.
To celebrate our new arrival, we're stocking these cute little Colin the Dachshund needle gauge keyrings in Fluoro Pink, Fluoro Yellow, Glitter Gold, Glitter Silver and Fluoro Blue.
This is what Cookie thinks!
Showcase 2016 December 21 2016, 0 Comments
What better way to round off the year than by celebrating some of the projects that SQ yarn purchasers have knitted during 2016. It's been three whole years since the last showcase, so it's certainly time to show off some of your work and creativity. It's always such a pleasure to browse through all your projects and I'm always blown away by your attention to detail and finishing touches, so this year, I'm sharing some of my favourites.
Working with Ysolda December 09 2016, 2 Comments
Just over a year ago, Ysolda Teague, Scottish knitwear designer extraordinaire (as if she needs any introductions) got in touch to see if I wanted to take part as a British dyer for her club.
Sounds like fun, was my answer. So, I thought you'd like to see a bit of the process involved.
We agreed on Ullvärme as the best option - it's 100% Swedish wool and is collected by a company who can't bear to see this beautiful natural material go to waste as a by-product. The wool is gathered from their local farms on the island of Öland and some on the neighbouring mainland and turn it into yarn which can contain a blend of Dorsets, Suffolks, Dalasau and some Friesian milk ewes. Very woolly and perfect for colourwork.
We met up in Edinburgh in Ysolda's studio and I brought along some colour samples - not that they'd be easy to reproduce - but just as a starting point for a conversation.
Ysolda knew that she wanted a colourwork project using two colours and was drawn to a dark purple-brown and a lighter taupe silver - organically, we came to think of it as the Silver Birch yarn combination.
So I ordered in the yarn from my lovely supplier and a whole pallet arrived - eleven sacks of it.
I'd pick out about 120 skeins a day and soak them in the workshop, ready for dyeing.
Each of the paler colour had to be double dyed.
Each of the darker colour had to be triple dyed to build up the richness I wanted.
The dyeing took place back in April and we got some lovely sunny days for drying.
Once the batch of yarn was dry, I counted it out on our dining room table and batched them in tens.
I then transported it over to the studio, ready for winding.
Eliza, my studio assistant, works for me three days a week and I was winding on the other two days and sometimes before and after she left.
It took us both a good three weeks to get to this stage.
It then had to be all labelled and carefully packed in boxes - we ran out of the yarn protector bags usually used when boxing up yarn.
Six big boxes awaiting the courier pick-up.
I'll not tell you about the hairy few hours when we couldn't locate the boxes, involving phone calls to the Edinburgh Royal Mail depot, but it finally turned up and all was well.
This is what each of Ysolda's club members received - one skein of Hornbeam, one skein of Silver Birch.
And these are the beautiful Ornäs mitts and hat that Ysolda created.
We were so excited to see what she would come up with and I love that she was inspired by the textures and shapes of birch trees. The Ornäsbjork is a type of silver birch that’s the national tree of Sweden.
This pattern was designed for the 2016 Ysolda Club and will be exclusive to the club until May 2017, so keep an eye out for that release.
Sign ups for this year’s Ysolda Club are closed but to be the first to find out about future clubs sign up for her newsletter.
(The last two photos courtesy of Ysolda).
A show in Germany and a word on yarn prices September 09 2016, 3 Comments
Back in October 2015, out of the blue, an email from Betta (the lovely lady pictured above) landed in my inbox wondering if I'd be interested in exhibiting at the second Wollfest in Hamburg. So of course I said yes!
I had a vague idea about the logistics of getting many kilos of hand-dyed yarn from the UK to Hamburg - over 1000km away. However, a lot changes in a year, and my son had acquired my big mumsmobile and I knew I wasn't going to fit a stand's worth of yarn into my Fiat 500! So he drove down from Lincoln to let his mum borrow back his old car and having arranged special insurance (never borrow someone else's car if you want to drive in Europe - it gets super complicated!), myself and Eliza found ourselves in the Eurotunnel with a car-full of yarn.
I know this little map says 11 hours and 47 minutes, but in reality, with stops factored in, the journey took us about 14 hours with me as the driver, and Eliza as the navigator. We passed through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, finally arriving in Germany.
When we arrived, we met up with Suzanne (alabamawhirly) and her husband who'd had a little holiday in Berlin and had made their way up to Hamburg by train. The night we arrived, we headed straight out to see the sights of the city, and indulged in a few local specialities at the biggest food festival in Europe.
The next day, we arrived at Staatliche Jugendmusikschule and set up the stand in an airy, light room.
Here's Eliza, me and Suzanne just before the start of the show, looking just a little nervous. Although we'd practiced some German on Duolingo, it was coming up with sayings such as "The cat is giving a skirt to a woman" which really didn't come in handy at all!
Suzanne was the best at German, although we were all decidedly ropey, but we managed with her help and were so impressed by many customers' fluency in English. Put us to shame!
These new hexagons which I custom ordered from FaodailWoodworks looked rather splendid filled with colourful skeins.
It was a busy show! By the end of day two, the yarn pile had dwindled to one level meaning we brought back very little.
Both the customers and the other vendors were so friendly. We felt so very welcomed and really enjoyed every minute as the yarn was appreciated with much ooing and ahhing - which is pretty similar whatever the language!
You may have spotted my new Holyrood shawl - pattern by Justnya Lorkowska - hanging in the booth.
I chose crazy summery colours as I really wanted to combine all my bright pinks and turquoises into something fun and the different textures of this design work well for frequent colour changes. It's a combination of Little Wrigglers with some Entwine, but you could really use any 4 ply fingering weight yarn.
For a more elegant look, the pattern works so well with two or three colours.
We did get a few hours to get out and about and see a bit of Hamburg. We walked many kilometres and I stumbled across... yarn! I discovered a massive hobby shop called idee and got a little overwhelmed by all the crafting supplies! Look at all that wool, and that was only about half of what was on offer.
And there are some quite tall people in Hamburg...
It really is a wonderful city and Wollfest was a small, friendly show with very high quality vendors and teachers. It happens every two years, and I would thoroughly recommend a visit should you get the opportunity. Massive thanks to Suzanne and Eliza for being brave enough to accompany me on our little German adventure.
And now to the not so nice bit - yarn prices.
As you may be aware, following Brexit in June, sterling took a plunge against the US dollar and other currencies. I'm sure if you're UK based and been lucky enough to have had a summer holiday abroad this year, you'll have experienced directly the lack of purchasing power of the pound.
I have five to six suppliers of white yarn and many more other suppliers from mailing bags to tissue paper to dyes. Some of these suppliers I pay directly in $US and others pay their suppliers in $US or euros. Those not dealing in the dollar have still put up their prices as they have other supplies to pay for which may not originate in the UK.
So it is with great regret and having held off as long as I can, I've now had to make the decision to put up most of my yarn prices in order to continue to provide the highest quality yarn bases that I know you've come to expect. You can find a full price list here.
Please be assured that I highly respect each and every purchase made with your hard-earned cash and strive to provide you with an excellent product that you'll hopefully get a lot of satisfaction from.
Thank you for your understanding.
On a brighter note, I'm currently dyeing up the last installment of the Summer Club ready to be sent out at the end of next week and simultaneously signing up existing members and the waiting list to the Winter Club.
Depending on uptake, there will likely be more club places available at the end of next week, so keep your eyes peeled on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook if you fancy joining.
A fine time was had by all - the Open Studio in pictures July 11 2016, 3 Comments
A HUGE thank you to everyone who came along and made the day a great success. We do hope you enjoyed it.
And the winner is... June 15 2016, 0 Comments
Having selected a winner at random from nearly 400 entries across Facebook, Instagram and the blog, I can say a Huge Congratulations to raychball!
Thank you all so much for taking part and for all the touching and humorous comments. And thank you for all the support over the last nine years xxx
Help celebrate Skein Queen's 9th birthday June 07 2016, 149 Comments
Nine years old today! And an incredible nine years it has been.
To thank you all for all your amazing support over the years and to help celebrate, we're giving away a £50 gift voucher which can be spent on anything in the Skein Queen online shop within the next year.
To enter, just leave a comment below. Make sure you enter your email address (it won't display publicly as long as you don't put it in the comment field) as well as your name so that I can contact the lucky winner.
We will draw a winner at random on 15th June and make the announcement here on the blog. The draw will also run across Instagram and Facebook, and the names will be pooled. One entry per person.
Open Studio! May 28 2016, 1 Comment
Our Edinburgh Yarn Festival adventure March 27 2016, 3 Comments
After three weeks solid of dyeing by me and winding by Eliza, and labelling and pricing by us both well into the evening of Tuesday, we had a studio full of yarn that we had to get from deepest Berkshire to my home city of Edinburgh for the event of the year, Edinburgh Yarn Festival.
Bright and early on Wednesday morning, somehow (and I'm still not sure how) myself and Suzanne (alabamawhirly) managed to get the whole lot into my little car and we set off from the farm.
Having bumped into John and Juliet Arbon at Westmorland services (my favourite and the best), they were a little envious of our planned overnight stop in a shepherd's hut. I must say, I was a little skeptical staying in the middle of the woods in March, but... I was proved wrong.
We had a very comfortable stay and were more than toasty as the hut has its own woodburner. Opposite was a wooden cabin with a kitchen and bathroom and in another wooden building, the self-composting toilet!
Suzanne's friend, Tabi, owns the farm. Her job for the weekend was dosing 1000 pregnant ewes! I didn't envy her that little task. To get a glimpse inside the shepherd's hut, check out her Scales Plantation website here.
There was knitting in the evening with cocktails and the woodburner. I say knitting - mine was more like detangling after this - but the beautiful brioche is Suzanne's Askews Me shawl by Stephen West.
The next day, we set out on the road again in brilliant sunshine, through the rolling Pentlands, until we reached Edinburgh in the fog.
Unloading was straightforward, but I'd accidentally ordered a teeny tiny stall, so you remember all the yarn in the studio in the first picture? We had to somehow squeeze it all into a 2m x 2m space.
We used every available inch, but there was still half as much again under the table. But no need to worry - everything was out by the end of Day One and it was nice to be in the position of being able to replenish stock.
Little Wrigglers and gradient Little Squashes - new 20g minis - were particularly popular and there will be more...
These next few photos were taken in a quieter moment.
I wanted to convey and remember the atmosphere of the event.
The excitement of newly discovered yarns.
And the meeting of friends and designers.
We were situated opposite Kate Davies Designs, so were witness to some of the knitting glitterati (knitterati if you will) meeting and greeting and hugging and photographing as they caught up with each other.
We had a wonderful, overwhelming couple of days - so good to meet so many customers from all over the world. I'm only sorry if I didn't recognise anyone - you know what would be great? Badges with your real name and Ravelry name. That would mean an end to secretly checking out someone's name on their debit card! That's it - I've given away my trick! I do wish I had a better visual memory for faces.
It was also great to meet the whole team from Wollfest - the next event we're attending in Hamburg. I met many German knitters in Edinburgh and looking forward to meeting you in your home country in September. As I don't speak a word of German, I've been attempting to learn some using the fantastic Duolingo app. Any useful phrases very much appreciated in the comments below!
Kudos to Mica and Jo for organising such a smooth, enjoyable event. There's not a single thing I would change.
One of the best things was waking up to this view - not dissimilar to the view I used to wake up to growing up between Morningside and Marchmont. And catching up with old school friends and my aunt. It was also lovely to spend a bit of time with Vero (thatCanadiangirl) of Along the Lanes podcast fame and her mum who was over from Canada.
Edinburgh - I miss you.
Lemony-Butterscotch-Chocolate Exploration Station March 01 2016, 2 Comments
This was the first Stephen West pattern I'd knitted and I loved how he kept my interest throughout this rather sizeable shawl. Also loved the neat icord edging which prevents any rolling.
Selkino in Butterscotch
Selkino in Citrus
Enchant in Lemon Drop
Lustrous in Truffles
Having successfully managed the Bountiful Brioche section, I messed up on the Nothing but Knit section. So decided to make it a bit slimmer, with fewer rows.
Now it's hard to look at yarn without choosing the next colour combination for another one!
How to knit two-at-a-time top down socks January 31 2016, 0 Comments
I made a little video of how I do this technique.
Watch to the end to see a cheeky little outtake.
Hope it's helpful in some small way.
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