Category Archives: In the Beginning

So What’s Next? Part I

Part I – Yarn

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I’ve been thinking a lot about life. The universe. Everything. Towels. Towels that get you high. Towels that hitch you rides on spaceships. But I digress. I’ve mostly been thinking about what to scribble on this awesome blank page that is my life. Other than curse words and PENIS because, you know, I might still be 12.

I fired up the electronics brain again, and also fired up the dye pots and dyed a metric fuck-ton of yarn for Stitches West. So what’s up? Is it yarn? Is it engineering? For the love of Bob, what is it going to be?!?! As far as I can see it (and some days I can’t even see across my backyard), the plan is this. Yes. Yes is the plan. Doing things that I feel positive about, am excited about, doing things that I’m learning about. Because I’ve figured out that I’m kind of a learning junkie. If I’m not developing some new skill, or challenging my brain in some way, I get really bored and dissatisfied. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some solid repetition of things that I’ve learned to do well. I do! But constant repetition with nothing new kills me. I need variety.

Take yarn. Yarn is squooshy. Yarn is colorful! We make cool, three-dimensional things that we can put on our bodies – and lo! might even be functional! – out of yarn! Yarn is great. But as I was dyeing the metric fuck-ton, I remembered what I didn’t like about yarn. I didn’t like dyeing the same colors over and over. And I found that I tended to gravitate to the same palette again and again -the colors that I knew would sell, the colors that were predictable, the colors that were easy to make, the colors that I knew I wouldn’t screw up. They’re   delightful colors – I love almost every single one of them – but I felt like I was on a treadmill. With natural dyes especially, there are so many things you can try, so many variables. Every time I dyed a batch, I would think of a dozen other questions I had, experiments I wanted to do, things I wanted to explore. What if I used a different acid? What if I used a different reducing agent? What if I used a different species of plant? What if I used more of this and less of that? But the metric fuck-ton and Stitches West wait for no dyer. No time, just makes the pretty colors that you know will turn out well. Even then, there are guaranteed to be surprises that will completely muck with your schedule.


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I also learned something else – it was super fun to share the process of how I dye with people. If you haven’t already read it, I wrote a series of posts in the Stitches West Vendors Thread about each dye I used. The preparation, the boiling, the straining, and the yarn-coloring. The response to my posts, especially in person, was amazing. Far beyond what I had even hoped for in a tiny little corner in the back of my brain. So many of you came up to me and thanked me for sharing, it was just really sweet and completely made all the effort totally worth it. Thank each and every one of you so, so much. (And to the lady who works for Facebook who was interested in putting together a class but didn’t have a business card – info at alpenglowyarn eagerly awaits your email. Dorking out with other engineers about dyeing is totally my idea of a good time.)

I want to do more of these things. More sharing, more exploration. So I’ve made the decision to stop the production dyeing, and morph into something a little different. Clubs. That’s right, CLUBS. The c-word, the thing that has made several people fake their own death on the internet because it was just too much. Clubs. The cool thing is that I’ll have the opportunity to do a different exploration and theme with each one. To maximize the number of colors without making it stupidly expensive, each club would be a series of mini-skeins. So you would get 100 yds of 8 or 12 different colors that would all work together. You’d also get an article with each one, with a detailed account of how each color was made. Maybe sometimes, you’d even get mordanted yarn and some raw dyestuffs so you can try it at home. Sound like fun? Let’s see, which one of these should I do first? Tell me at the end of this post!

  • The Mythical Blue-Red. I managed to create it once and I’ve been trying to do it again for years, ever since it immediately sold out and people were pissed that I didn’t have the same exact red that the display shawl was knit out of. Seriously, I had to take the shawl down because it was causing too much trouble!
  • Madder Red. Related to the above, but different. What is the reddest shade I can coax out of madder, without making the wool harsh? Can I use chalk at all? How about no acid in the mordant bath? How about rubia tinctoria vs rubia cordifolia? Whole roots vs finely ground? Keeping the extraction bath under 160F or boiling the crap out of it?
  • Shades of Blue. How does indigo tinctoria differ from indigo suffruticosa? Does using thiox vs hydros affect the color? What’s the difference between 1-minute dips and 5-minute dips? What’s the difference between 1 dip and 10 dips? The list goes on, I could probably do several clubs with just indigo.
  • Backyard Sunshine. Yellows are the most prevalent natural dye and the easiest to grow. Weld, French marigold, Mexican marigold, chamomile, coreopsis, dyer’s broom, goldenrod. I’ve grown a bunch of this already, it’s just waiting in a dry bin for me to get around to playing with.
  • All Those Other Random Dyes I Have that I Haven’t Gotten Around to Trying. With lightfast tests. This is usually the piece missing from a lot of dye books. Some have this real boner for “dyes” that are hardly more than stains, that fade to brown and grey in under a year or with a few washes. Let’s look at some of these, and put them through their paces. Maybe I should do a half-price one called “Fugitive”, where the entire point is to use dyes that won’t last. Whoa. That would be crazy. Who would buy that?

Anyway, these are the ideas that fly off the keyboard in just a few minutes. I have tons more. You could spend your entire life experimenting with and coming up with processes for natural dyeing. People do!  I could. The fact is, I’m not exactly going to. I’m thinking of only doing 2-3 Alpenglow clubs per year, and 2-3 collaboration clubs with other dyers or businesses. Wait a minute, do you know about Among Friends? It’s an amazing group that I’m thrilled to have recently contributed to (and hope to again!). It’s run by the fantastic women behind Knitted Wit, Sincere Sheep, and Spark!, and the whole idea is to put together themed kits from a few different dyers and designers each time. With awesome, really cool, side-goodies. Go sign up for one now. I promise you will not regret it!

Where was I? Right. Spending less time on yarn. And more time on??? Electronics, duh! I think I’ve already rambled enough for one post, electronics is a whole ‘nuther topic worthy of its own post. And I totally promise that I will not be George RR Martin and make you wait for 5 years for Part II. (TV series coming soon! Now with EVEN MORE BOOBS!)

Never Not Knitting Podcast, Episode 56!

Hey, all! I’m featured in the latest episode of the:

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Podcast, #56! I was thrilled when Alana asked me to be a sponsor, and it’s just plain awesome to be able to share the story of my Small Farm Yarn with everyone.

There’s even a giveaway of an Alpenglow Yarn sampler – enter a comment on her blog here for a chance to win! And let me just say, the comments have totally made my year. I have read each and every one of them (and continue to check and read the new ones!), and I’m incredibly touched and a bit overwhelmed by all the excited and glowing responses. It’s simply amazing and wonderful to have that kind of feedback, and I wish every comment had a love (1) button because I would click them all.

If you’re checking out this blog because of the podcast, you can follow Alpenglow Yarn in a few ways:
Friends of Alpenglow Yarn group on Ravelry
curlie or Alpenglow on Ravelry
Alpenglow Yarn on Facebook
Newsletter signup (I don’t send out many of these, I promise!)

Thank you all so much!

Cogknitive Fiber Retreat 2010

It’s hard to describe how exciting it was to peddle my wares in person for the first time! There was definitely a lot of madness in the couple of weeks leading up to it. I pretty much went straight from finishing the website, to at long-last unpacking and organizing the workshop, to Boonville for the CA Wool and Fiber Festival, to dyeing up a storm! Unfortunately, the worst heat wave I’ve ever seen in SLO decided to hit right when the major dyeing needed to happen. Hello, Murphy! My mom also came up to visit and help, so she was sweating it out as well. We had 110 degree highs for 4 days in a row, and pretty much no one in town has air conditioning. By mid-day the house was a sauna and outside was a furnace, so we started taking “siestas.” We went out for lunch to a place with air conditioning, ordered anything on the menu that was blissfully served cold, then did all the small errands that took us to air conditioned places. Like Staples. And then we stared at the beautiful display of colored pens for a while. And then looked at all the nice paper. And then had a nice conversation with the checker. And then went to Michael’s because, you know, they have different pens. And air conditioning.

Anyway, we both managed to survive the heat, and Mom went back to SoCal for the couple of days right before the retreat, while I got busy reskeining and labeling. Of course, first time around with a batch this big, everything takes twice as long as I think it will, mostly because I’m developing my systems. So reskeining took a full day when I thought it would take half of one, leaving Friday morning to do all the labels, because I had to leave for Tehachapi on Friday afternoon. It started off not so bad – I had templates for several labels already, so I had a good start. My printer decided it likes to jam on card stock, so that was a bit of a pain. My names for things and text gets a little loopy as time goes on and the pressure to finish increases. But I’m two labels away from done! I can see the finish line!

And then I see it. The huge glaring stupid mistake. You see, I already had a label made for the superwash sock yarn, which I took as the template for every other label I created. I had made labels using that text for about 12 different types of yarn, each with 2 or 3 colors. I had been really careful about making sure I updated fiber content, gauge, needle size, country of manufacture for each one. What I missed was care instructions, and every single label said machine wash. And none of it, except that first batch of superwash sock yarn, was machine washable.

So there I was, exhausted from working my ass off, brains melted from the heat wave, about to leave in an hour for my first show, and all my labels have an incredibly stupid mistake on them. I seriously considered crawling into a hole and dying at that point. I know, most people would have just crossed it out, or printed out a sticker that said “hand” to cover “machine.” But what if the sticker fell off? It’s small text, it would look like crap, it would be broadcasting to the world that I’m an idiot (hey, it’s different when I blog about it and call myself an idiot)… I reprinted them all. On a printer that was jamming on card stock 1 out of every 3 sheets.

I managed to crank it out and leave only a few hours behind schedule. But I still needed to name a few colorways and actually put the labels on the skeins. Mom had called earlier to see how it was going, and I told her the story of the labels. She expressed her condolences and quickly got off the phone, sensing that there was really nothing she could do. But in fact, she told my sad story and marshaled an army of volunteer label-put’er-on’ers in Tehachapi. We all sat in the common room (what would the next day be the marketplace), I drank a much-needed beer, and cut labels while others taped them on and stuck the price stickers to them. It was really great to meet such a friendly and helpful group of fiber folks, and I finally started to relax a little.

The next day was really the jewel. It was really cool to have all my yarn and fiber on display, to be able to show the results of all the hard work I’ve been doing. And it’s great to chat with knitters about yarn, I just love it! What was also great is that Tom and Mette of Ranch of the Oaks were selling their own alpaca yarn right next to me, and whenever I was talking to someone about the Small Farm Yarn line, I could say “I buy the fleeces directly from farmers and those people right over there make it into yarn for me.” Super-cool. Here are a few pix of my booth!

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What is she doing with that spindle? Plying? Crazy!

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The other side of the yarn display!

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The fiber!

It was nice that this first outing was short and pretty chill – seriously, I had enough going on and was stressed out enough as it was that it was really nice to have a relaxed group of shoppers, other cool and friendly vendors, and very awesome organizers. I met a lot of fun knitters, and it was great to finally meet Laurs of BeeMiceElf, and get a chance to chat a little with Elf of Redfish Dyeworks (whose work I’ve been admiring for a few years now), get some soap from Dawn of Wolfe Farms, plus meet StashyMama in person, and Nicole of Freckleface Fibers, and meet new people like Michelle of Fickleknitter patterns and Laura of Slipped Stitch Studios. It was also really nice to meet Nathan, chat a little with Dr. Gemma, and I also finally got the chance to say more than “Hello/Goodbye!” to the Knitmore Girls. Very fun and definitely inspiring, the whole thing!

I have a lot of display ideas for Stitches, just got a sweet credit-card swiper that plugs into my iPhone (it’s hip to be Square), and am checking the boxes, one by one. I can’t wait!

Hello World-Wide-Web!

I was going to eat breakfast first, then write this, but Rascal is being very cute and snuggled up beside me while I was reading email. So of course, I can’t move and disturb the kitteh…..

Big news! My website is finally UP! Yay! I now feel deserving of those celebratory martinis we had on Wednesday night. Here’s a quick screenshot….nice, no?

I feel like David who has conquered Goliath with a slingshot. Seriously, it started to become one of Those Things that would never be done…and the closer it got to being done, the more life got in the way, and the more I felt it would never be done! Today is like a shiny new day – I feel relaxed, productive, and confident. I can finally concentrate on dyeing more colorful yarn! I haven’t even unpacked the workshop since moving, and I can’t wait to start that on Monday. And I can’t wait to see Dan this weekend – it’s been a month!

So…now that I can finally start moving ahead, what’s up with Alpenglow Yarn in the next few months? Well, nothing but dyeing from now until October 2nd, which is the Cogknitive Fiber Retreat in Tehachapi and my very first vending event! I’m so excited about this – meeting new people and selling yarn face-to-face for the first time! I really can’t wait, I think it’s going to be awesome. And I couldn’t ask for a more perfect first venue – one day, 50 fiberlicious people. It’s the perfect foot-wetter! Gemma was so nice to find space for me – she asked if the hallway was OK, and I was like, “Hell, yeah!” My goal is to have a colorful display of 200 skeins of yarn. Plus some natural-color yarn and roving. And maybe some of that washed ultra-fine merino fleece that I just got back from Shari….

And then…deep breath….there’s Stitches West. Yep, Ranch of the Oaks and I are going to be booth-mates! I’m excited but also completely terrified. I’m really happy that there will be a whole local SLO contingent since NordicMart is also representing! It will definitely be nice to have a bunch of familiar faces around, and people to share the whole crazy experience with.

What, kitteh? My typing was disturbing you? Ok, that’s my cue to actually make some breakfast. Thank you everyone (yeah, that’s YOU!) for all the encouragement. Couldn’t have done it alone!

My Yarns…at the Adobe!

Well, what have I been doing all this time I’ve been lamely silent? A lot!

In late February, I set a goal for myself to dye 100 skeins of yarn. I had about 2 weeks – in the middle of which I went snowboarding near Tahoe, but when a friend offers a free place to stay and a $33 lift ticket, you just can’t say no. So realistically, I probably had about 8 working days or so. And I did it! Well, 98 skeins plus a bunch of roving, which counts for at least 2. :)

Behold, the fruits of my first production runs:
Corriedale and Rambouillet

Alpaca/Silk, Silk, and Wool/Cotton

Superwash Merino Fingering (SMerF)

Yes, the red is really that bright! It’s my favorite and proudest color yet. I’ve also done a lot of work to make the labels educational and interesting. I know that most people don’t really read labels, and was not expecting much, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by several people saying, “I LOVE your labels!” Yay! People really DO read! I’m glad. I still would have worked hard to make good labels, and I’m happy that the work is being noticed. :)

And all these yarns are available now at Yarns at the Adobe in San Luis Obispo, CA. Anyone who has met Anne Gough, the proprietor, knows that she’s wonderful, but I really do appreciate how supportive and encouraging she’s been to me this past year. She’s given me my first opportunity to publicly sell my yarn, and I’m very grateful.

…and speaking of availability…yes, I am working on my website! For real! No kidding! It’s my main task for when I’m in Australia, visiting Dan. Australia, you say? Yes, the lucky duck got a job there for the spring (well, it’s fall there), so I’m going to visit him. (Pause for a short freak-out — EEEEK! Only 4 days!!! I have so much stuff to do!!!! /End pause.) I mean, I could work on my website here, but I might as well work on it there since I have a free place to stay and free food. And he’s in a small town called Robinvale, which isn’t very close to anything, so I should be distraction-free for a bit.

Though I am planning on meeting up with a friend, who’s been working at a winery near Adelaide,and travelling with her for a little bit. I’m kind of leaning towards backpacking the Great Ocean Walk in my new little hippie shoes, if Shannon’s amenable to that idea….But I’m also up for other stuff! Anyone listening from Down Under? Give me a shout-out! Will trade lodging for naturally hand-dyed yarn! I’ll be there from April 7th thru May 15th!

Look! Rain!

Yes, rain is such an infrequent occurrence in these parts that people are actually compelled to blog about it. And take pictures of the rain and show the world that – Look! It’s RAINING!!!! Water is falling from the sky!!!!

So here are my pictures of this crazy rain thing. A year ago, I could have shown a dramatic picture of Cerro San Luis mountain in the rain, but my sweet neighbors built a giant house in the way. :(

I was skeining and washing yarn yesterday, Corriedale that I recently got back from Ranch of the Oaks. Pretty exciting, it’s my first run of custom yarn! :) I took advantage of a brief break in the weather to dry it a little in the sun:

And this is Bandit. As you can see, she was helping me skein yarn. :)


Probably not a good idea to start a blog at 2AM, but hey, what the heck?

The first question everyone asks is: What made you change from engineering to dyeing?

I think I give out a different answer every time, but I’ll try to sum it all up here. I’ve always itched under the “normal” work routine – get up, work all day, go home, hoard your precious vacation hours so that you can get out and see someplace beautiful for a few days before going back to the grind. It doesn’t help that I have a serious addiction to mountains and climbing, and that I regularly go to places so beautiful that it makes me ache to leave them. Well, last fall the itch turned into a severe rash (think fire coral or poison oak) and I just couldn’t keep going to my gray cubicle with a good attitude. I came to the realization that no amount of money was going to make me happy, and it was just time for a serious lifestyle change. I know the grass is always greener, but time has always been far more valuable than money to me. It’s been two months and I don’t regret a thing.

Enter the yarn addict part. I had been knitting and crocheting for a few years, quickly found out about “real” yarn and “real” yarn stores and had to squoosh the latest beautiful mix of color & fiber ever since. Then I found Ravelry and a harmless hobby became a complete obsession. Enter the ISO & Destashing Forum and the Karma Yarn Swap group, and suddenly I was aware of a whole new world of indie dyers, squooshability, and color that I had only briefly glimpsed before. And did I mention the part about my boyfriend’s grandparents having sheep? Corriedales to be exact, and around the time that the job rash was becoming unbearably itchy, I received the dirty fleece I sent to Morro Fleece Works back in the form of creamy white roving. (Which still sounds a bit dirty….hmmmm…..) And about that same time I met Tom & Mette who have a small mill called Ranch of the Oaks. I realized that I could actually produce my own yarn – born and raised in California.

Once I had a focus for the itch, there was really no looking back. I started to learn everything I could about fiber, fleece, natural dyeing, and running a business. There are more stories – I promise I’ll be back with pictures and more over the next few weeks. But it’s 2AM now and I’m finally getting sleepy again.

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