Friday, March 2, 2012

An Interview with...Gail Callahan

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

You can find Gail here.

Where do you find inspiration for your colourways?
I think seasonal changes influence my moods and observations of the world around me. There is no simple answer to this, many years of studying all of my surroundings.

What is your favourite dyeing technique?
I like to place the yarn on my stainless steel table and pour the dye stock. I use my favorite tri-cornered beakers from Prochemical Company. I have more control pouring the dye, than using a squeeze bottle, and it does not hurt my hands.

How do you choose the fibers that you work with?
I select according to the way they behave, they are like people; they have different traits. Some like to absorb the dye quickly and easily, others are stubborn and need more attention. My current favorite base is 50% silk, 50% merino I purchase from Wool2Dye4.

How did you determine what weights of yarn you stock?
Demand drives what we stock here in my home-based studio. For my own web site I dye in small batches, a pound of a color at a time; 4 skeins in a pound. Most customers are knitting small projects, like socks, shawls and scarves. It would be prohibitive to dye large quantities for sweaters and have them sit idle in our inventory.

For Webs ( I dye in much larger batches. Because we are busy in the store and on the Internet, the colors sell quickly. I dye a lace weight, 2/14 Alpaca Silk, two fingering/sock weight; Franklin; super wash wool and nylon, Charlemont; merino, silk and polymide, and Northfield, merino, alpaca and silk blend in a dk weight.

Could you tell us a little about the colour selection tool that you have developed?
In the process of writing my book Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece by Storey Publishing in 2010, I came up with a way to explain the way to choose and use color. The idea is in the book, more or less as a game. After the book was published, many people told me that they never thought about color that way, and that our tool made them finally understands how to work with color. The genius is the template that Mary Velgos developed. I am indebted to her! It is available on my web site and some retail stores. It is called Gail Callahan’s Original Color Grid.

How do you come up with names for your yarn?
At Webs in Northampton Ma., and at I place the new yarns on a table in the kitchen and employees put their selection for a name, then I get the final say on the names. I would never have thought of the name: Frog in a Party Dress but Malea, our office manager (and a potter,) named this favorite. On our website,, my husband photographs all of the yarns and names them and does a great job.

Could you give us an idea of how long the process is to dye a batch of yarn and prepare it for sale?
A dye lot of 1 pound of yarn, 4 skeins takes 45 minutes; plus the 40 years of experience to make it all happen.

Do you look at other dyers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their yarns?
I was first drawn to dyeing when I saw a yarn from Fiesta called LaBhoeme, a rayon and mohair hand dyed skein. I had never seen anything more beautiful in my fiber life. This yarn served as an inspiration to create on a higher level. Obviously, I did see many dyers work, working at Webs, and it served to educate me as to what people like, but once I started my own business, I wanted my work to not look like other work already out in the market place.

Are you a knitter as well?
I knit, purl increase and decrease, period! I appreciate fine knitting, though.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, I did not, but am now working on one. I think it will focus me on my goals.

Do you have a mentor?
Many! Just to mention a few; For the yarn business; Kathy and Steve Elkins. For the publishing aspect; Pam Art and Gwen Steege from Storey Publishing.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I wish I had time to go to business school. It fascinates me.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
It would not exist without it. I do two fiber fairs a drive from my home studio.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I am working on this. Having a home studio is tricky.

How do you deal with criticism?
The only criticism I take seriously, is if my product is ever inferior in quality. To date that has not been an issue, but know sometimes the dyes will continue to bleed, even with a good rinsing. Taste is personal, I am sure there are many who dislike my colors, but there are many who do.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I could not pay the mortgage with the income from dyeing, yet.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dyeing yarns?
Be realistic about the number of hand dyers. Look at ETSY, and the number of indie dyers there. It is a great place to put your toe in the water.

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