Friday, June 6, 2014

An Interview with ... Yvonne Leduc of Yvieknits Yarns

Yvieknits Yarns Silk Hankies

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Yvonne's yarn and fibre here. She is here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration for your colourways?
I find my inspiration for my colourways in a variety of ways. Sometimes the inspiration comes when I see something, usually on a walk, and I think I like that colour combination. Some colourways come about due to suggestions/requests from friends. For example: Lulu's Folly colourway is inspired by the colourful streaks a friend had added to her dark brown hair. Sometimes I create a colourway with a specific person in mind when I am planning to knit them a gift. An example of this is that I created the Orange Julius colourway with my best friend's youngest daughter in mind as she really loves orange. Other colourways are inspired by the results of over-dyeing a skein like The Witching Hour. My most common method, though, is that I pick one colour to start with, add it to the yarn to see how it looks and then decide where to go from there. I've learned to trust my first instincts and to just go for it. If I don't like the results, I can always over-dye the skein.

Lulu's Folly

What is your favourite dyeing technique? 
My favourite dyeing technique is hand-painting, and to be honest, it is the only method that I have tried. It is the slowest method but it is the one that gives you the most control over the final results. I love that it is easy to create short bursts of colour and that I can create subtle variations within each colour from the differing pressure of my brush on the yarn. I can see the whole skein at all times as I work so I have a good sense of what the final result is going to look like.

How do you choose the fibers that you work with?
I choose yarns that contain the types of natural fibres that I enjoy knitting with the most, like merino and bfl (blue-faced leicester), wool, silk, alpaca and cashmere. Luckily, my supplier has a large selection of yarns to choose from. I enjoy dyeing a variety of different yarns as each yarn takes the dye differently.

How did you determine what weights of yarn you stock?
I initially went with the two weights that I most prefer to knit with: fingering and laceweight. I think that these two weights provide the best value for hand-dyed yarns due to the number of metres available in one skein.  I have expanded my range of weights as I now stock a sportweight yarn and a DK yarn.

How do you come up with names for your yarn?
For the name for each yarn base, I went with a simple name that in general tells you the content of the yarn and its weight. Names like Merino Sport, Merino/Silk Fingering, for example.

For the colourway names, I generally pick a name of something that the colourway reminds of. For example: the different shades of blue and greens in my Caribbean Waters colourways reminds me of the changing colours of the sea in the Caribbean. If I create a colourway as a result of suggestion/request from a friend, I usually ask that person to choose the name. When I have trouble deciding on a name for a new colourway, I have some knitting friends who I go to for help. My friend, Sarah, in particular, is very good at coming up with colourway names.

Morning on a Rocky Beach

Could you give us an idea of how long the process is to dye a batch of yarn and prepare it for sale?
My dye batches are quite small in size and generally range from 1 to 4 skeins. My most common dye batch size is 2 skeins. The total time for the complete process from adding more ties to the skeins before soaking them to adding the labels to the skeins at the end is usually about 2 days. There is quite a bit of hands-off time while the yarn is soaking, cooling down, or drying so I usually only spend about 1 1/2 to 2 hours working on/handling the skeins directly throughout this process.

Are you a knitter as well?
Yes! I've been a knitter pretty much all my life as I don't really remember being taught by a friend's grandmother when I was little. I got serious about knitting in grade 9 when I knit myself a Lopi style sweater in my Family Living class. I have always had a few knitting projects on the go since then.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, but I have tracked my numbers from the beginning and I always know where my business stands financially.

Merino Single Ply Fingering - Marmalade

Do you have a mentor?
I have been lucky enough to have a few mentors along the way. Genevieve of Turtlepurl Yarns (she used to live in the Ottawa [Ontario, Canada] area and we were both members of the Ottawa knitting guild back then) really helped me get started as I approached her for advice after I sold my first few trial skeins. Gen generously answered my questions and then she sold me small amounts of her undyed yarn stock a few times until I felt ready to commit to buying my first big batch of undyed yarn. My main mentor is my friend, Nelly, who created and hosts my website and has taught me how to maintain/change it myself. She provided me with lots of invaluable digital marketing advice using social media and other methods to sell my products online. She still kindly provides me with occasional support with the website and advice when I need it despite her busy schedule as she is now the co-founder of  Reachology, a digital marketing agency in Ottawa. The person I go for advice on the business side of things is my friend, Barb, who is an accountant and who answers any business or tax questions that I have. I have met a few other dyers at events in the last couple of years, like Kathryn of Riverside Studios, who I talk with occasionally about our business in general.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The internet has had a big impact and the growth of my business is largely due to my online presence with my website and in Ravelry. While most of my sales do not come through my website, it provides me with a place where I can show what my products are to yarn stores and to the organizers of various shows that I apply to be a vendor at. I get a lot of traffic to my website from different events' websites just before an event takes place, as people often check out what the various vendors have to offer. Ravelry really helps indie dyers like myself become more well-known by allowing registered yarnies to create a yarn page and to add our yarns to the Ravelry yarn database. I know that a few of the sales through my website have came as a result of someone who saw a specific project knit in my yarn in Ravelry.

Yvonne's shawl is knit in Merino Single Ply

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I love working from home but it can be a challenge to maintain a good life/work balance as my work hours can be quite irregular and sometimes long. Due to my ability to have flexible work hours, I make getting together with friends and family a priority. I also make attending my Thursday night knit group a priority to guarantee that I get out of the house and socialize with friends on a regular basis.

How do you deal with criticism?
I'm lucky in that I haven't run into any real criticism yet, except for the odd complaint about the prices of the yarn. I do want people to happy with their purchase though and if there is a problem, I will do my best to solve it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I'm not quite there yet but my business is growing at a nice steady pace and I hope to get there soon.

Sparkly Sock - The Witching Hour

Could you tell us a little about your collaboration with Natalie Servant and Francine Hebert?
The three of us actually met and became friends about seven years ago at the knit group at Yarn Forward before we started up our individual small businesses. I was the last one of the three of us to start up my business. From the beginning though, the three of us have done our best to promote and support each other's business. After my website was launched in February, 2012, I came up with the idea of creating the shawl kits as a way for the three of us to work together. Francine and I then shared a booth at the first Twist Fibre Festival in August, 2012 and that was the beginning of our partnership of being vendors together. Natalie allows us to sell her patterns on her behalf at various events that we are vendors at. Our combined products have proven to work well together and enable us to create a cohesive look to our table/booths at shows. I have knit samples of several of Natalie's patterns with my yarns to display at shows, usually on mannequins and using one of Francine's shawl pins. Our "Create your custom shawl kit" option is proving to be quite popular at shows. As Francine often says - "Yvonne's the dyer (points at me), our friend Natalie is the designer and I make the shawl pins". 

Editors note: You can read Natalie's interview here and Francine's interview is here.

Lavender Fields Kit with yarn, pattern, and shawl pin

Another way that we work together is that I offer yarn stores the opportunity to buy from the three of us through Yvieknits Yarns so that our items can be shipped together to save on shipping fees.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dyeing yarns?
Start small and experiment with your colourways to find your style and what sells best for you. It is very important to track your numbers to make sure that your business is making a profit and to know which yarns and colourways are your best sellers. I would also recommend attending local events as a vendor as it is a good way to build your customer base and get good feedback from a wider audience. It is also a good way to meet other people in the business.

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