Hand-Dyed Yarns From Alchemy Yarns
|Hand-dyed yarns are difficult to sell on a large scale because they require so much time and energy to produce. Sell hand-dyed yarns wholesale and you're looking at even more effort and less income per skein, the assumption being you'll make it up in volume.
That's why the market has many small-scale festival- or eBay-only retailers but far fewer who can guarantee consistent, timely, and cost-effective product delivery to stores.
Update on the Hand-Dyed Industry
One of the oldest hand-dyed yarn players is Colinette, whose static styles and muted colors have begun to tire many. Koigu, the artistic darling and anchor of the hand-dyed community, is notoriously difficult to order and keep in stock (I heard one major retailer at TNNA ask enviously, "Why is Koigu here taking more orders when they haven't filled mine yet?").
Lorna's Laces is thriving under new ownership and artistic direction, and Interlacements is steadily growing with the expert logistical help of owner Judy Ditmore's son, Clay.
Introducing Alchemy Yarns
And now we have another upstart, Alchemy Yarns, the child of husband-wife team Gina and Austin Wilde. Based in Sebastopol, California, Alchemy Yarns offers a mind-boggling number of colors in 15 different yarn types, ranging from sleek alpaca and traditional wool to plump mohair boucle, crisp silk chenille, and a smooth and firm bamboo.
As the logo conveys, Alchemy Yarns reflect the bold simplicity you'd expect in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Bold, deeply saturated colors remain true even at the subtle shift points between one color and another—a sign of a gifted and patient person.
The setting for Alchemy Yarns couldn't be more bucolic. Gina's studio looks out over a pasture where their miniature donkeys and Arabian horse graze freely.
Inside the studio, she has more company from studio assistants, two dogs, a tiny potbelly pig, and occasional visits from her Siamese cat. "All of our animals," she notes proudly, "have the most gracious manners around yarn."
Harmony at Home
Mixing work and family can be tricky, and I was curious to find out how Gina and Austin manage to make it work. "It's a wonderful though sometimes delicate balance," she admits.
"I try always to treat Austin like a revered business associate as well as a treasured friend. Being life partners for more than 20 years helps, as well as being best friends. We try to practice forgiveness and maintain a sense of humor."
After a length pause, she added, "Oh yes—maybe the biggest challenge is not to talk business 24 hours a day!"
The Dye Process
All Alchemy yarns are triple mordanted first, which ensures optimal dye absorption. Gina—the daughter of a painter, and a lifelong artist herself—has spent years perfecting her 100% natural mordanting technique, the specifics of which remain a company secret.
A combination of natural and acid dyes are then applied by hand using traditional watercolor techniques following one of four dye methods: elements, saturations, migrations, and repetitions. Each method refers to the way in which colors are applied and blended.
Elements are semi-solids with subtle variations in color intensity; saturations begin with a base color that is subtly augmented by the addition of several other harmonious hues; migrations flow from one color to the next in totally random intervals; and repetitions offer a more traditional repetitive color pattern.
Finally, skeins are washed by hand twice, hung to dry on bamboo poles (outdoors, whenever possible, to take advantage of the Pacific breeze that blows over the farm), twisted into skeins, and tagged for resale.
A Costly Proposition
These yarns don't come cheap, but with so many steps and such a high level of human involvement in each skein, this is only to be expected. (The bamboo yarn takes a minimum of 48 hours to dye, from start to finish.)
Depending on which of the 15 yarns you choose, skeins tend to fall in the $21 to $30 range. The amazing nylon novelty yarn shown here—Flora—comes in 175-yard skeins for $30.
Although prohibitive for some projects, the cost needn't stop you from having fun. You can do very well with just one skein as an accent for a larger project—the cuff of a mitten, the rim of a hat, occasional stripes or fringe in a scarf, the neck of a sweater, the rim of a purse, you name it.
Think of it as a valuable spice you can use sparingly for subtle one-of-a-kind effects.
The Next Colinette?
Gina is a painter by training, and her gift for colors is evident with every skein she touches.
Is she the next Colinette Sansbury? If she can consistently meet her wholesale commitments, provide compelling pattern support, and continue to innovate with her colors, my answer is yes—in time, and only if this is what she and Austin want.
A distributor agreement would free Gina and Austin to focus exclusively on creative development and production, but handing this crucial function to the wrong distributor could spell disaster, especially this early in the game. With 150 wholesale accounts in North America, they're doing fine on their own for now.
As for pattern support, Gina is well aware of this gap and—at the time of this writing—was hard at work documenting all the new designs that use her yarns. If they're nearly as bold and unexpected as her yarns, we'll be in for a treat.
Where to Buy: See the Alchemy Yarns list of retailers for details.
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