Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Can Corriedale Do For Me?

Corriedale is a wonderful mid-grade wool that can do just about anything...that is, if you can find the right Corriedale. "Corriedale" is commonly found (cheaply) at yarn stores and is absolutely fantastic for sweaters, hats, scarves, mittens...just about everything. But Corriedale has a wonderful range of micron counts, if you have the chance to pick a raw fleece. It can range from the low 20s to the low/mid 30s, but generally falls in the 25-29 micron range.  It's a strong, sturdy wool that is extremely greasy--but that shouldn't make you run away, screaming. Where am I going with this? Corriedale has more versatility than one would realize at first.

If you don't know much about Corriedale, you're welcome to watch the video I made recently to catch you up to speed:

Now that I've had the chance to spin Corriedale myself, I now look at commercially prepared Corriedale top and yarns differently. Whenever you use a commercially prepared top of a specific breed, it represents the average qualities of that breed. For breeds like merino, there are many categories of top which you can find available: 23 micron, 21 micron (fine), 18.5 micron (superfine). But there aren't such categories with Corriedale, which is a breed that could use fineness divisions. I'm not looking to change how mills divide up Corriedale--there just isn't the demand nor the significant amounts of Corriedale to justify such a change-- but as spinners, we ought to be aware of the incredible resource we have available to play with.

Remember when I mentioned that I kept more lanolin on my Corriedale than I typically do? It made for smooth spinning and it helped me keep the fly-aways in check as I was spinning a true worsted yarn. But I wasn't sure how I felt about keeping all of that lanolin in the final yarn--it was fine for spinning, but the yarn was stiff (which might be fantastic for weaving yarns!) and felt slightly tacky. Because lanolin has a yellow-ish tint, it will change the color of the yarn, and it'll prevent the effective take-up of dye by the yarn; both things are worth keeping in mind. After spinning up my Corriedale batt into a worsted-ish 2-ply, I decided to go ahead and test it by scouring it. Turns out, you can scour a yarn just like you would scour a raw fleece. The yarn bloomed as expected, but the fly-aways were still reduced than they might have been otherwise. I'm going to scour my true worsted yarn now that I've proven to myself that it can be done, and with great results.

Corriedale has a lot of potential and there is a lot of variety. Between the micron count, easy processing, and smooth spinning, it could be just about anything you want, if you find the right fleece. What's your experience with Corriedale? Post in the comments below!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Review: Spin-Off Spring 2015

My blog always takes a dive during the summer months for some reason. Well, let's get back on track, shall we? :) This particular issue of Spin-Off celebrates the 'stache. Oops, not that one. Stash. Right, that overflowing bin of fibers and colors and so much potential. Sometimes I feel like I'm indulging myself when I look at the giant box which is my stash. Is it too much? Non-spinners would probably think I have a hoarding problem. When I list the breeds in my stash, I realize how little it is: Merino, Polwarth, Montdale, Gotland, Hampshire, Cormo, Bamboo, Silk, Churro, and various crosses. For so many breeds, I only have a teeny bit. As I've mentioned before, there are so many different breeds, sometimes with disparate uses, so keeping a variety of breeds on hand is useful when deciding which fiber to buy for a project.

But what to do with those little bits of this and that? What about all of those bits of dyed wools in your stash after a project? Well, you have lots of choices, and you don't need any blending tools either (but those will help you transform your stash too!). In the "Color Playground" article, the author, Jillian Moreno, talks about combining colors together either in the ply or the draft. This has been mentioned before in previous issues of Spin-Off and isn't a new idea, but it's worth considering when you're looking at your stash and you don't have enough of a colorway to turn into a substantial project, like a scarf or shawl. In the draft, you have even more options for crafting your yarns based on the colors you've chosen--split one colorway into many strips and keep the other colorway whole. Then spin them both together and get a fractal plied look to the single yarn. Ply with itself (2-ply, Navajo-ply), or spin a second/third yarn and ply those together. Keep this tip up your sleeve.

What if you have some bits of leftover handspun? I like to use these for tiny projects and weaving projects, but what if they're too garish to combine into one project? Roll up your sleeves and drag out an old pot--it's dyeing time! You can overdye yarns with any dye you're comfortable using, but the specific article in this issue ("Naturally Beautiful Together") uses natural dyes to unify the colors. When you overdye different yarns in the same dyebath, they all take on that shade of whatever color, giving that batch a common color. It's important to keep in mind how different colors are made so you can achieve the desired results (secondary and tertiary colors), though you can overdye multiple times to deepen the tone of your finished yarns. Each time will darken the colors, so keep that in mind too. There's plenty of quick information to get you started dyeing naturally (with tea!) in this article, so be sure to read it if you're interested!

The last article I want to touch on is "Two Threads Are Better Than One". In the past, I've used a silk single to ply with a wool single to create a fun yarn with the inherent beauty of each type of fiber. So, perhaps think about making a wool/silk (or wool/alpaca, silk/angora) yarn where they aren't blended at all except in the ply. You can still eliminate some of the negatives of different fibers by combining them together in this manner, but without needing to blend them thoroughly before spinning. This article is full of combo tips and project ideas for your finished yarns. I'll definitely keep some of these tips in the back of my mind when I'm considering what to spin next.

When your significant other/family/friend/stranger looks at your stash and remarks on its size, feel free to respond with the comment that the fibers in your stash are just waiting to be a thousand or more things--a veritable goldmine, if you will.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Look, Facebook, We Need to Talk

You know that I've been with you since 2005, when you were a way to connect with students at a variety American universities. I was there during all of the transitions, big and small. I watched you grow. I watched you expand and begin including non-university students: moms/dads, grandparents, and kid brothers/sisters. I was skeptical about that move, but I allowed it. When businesses started using you as a platform for reaching their audience on the cheap, I approved. In early 2011, I signed up Expertly Dyed for its own page. Until six months ago, at least, when I noticed that things were going less well. (TL;DR - Skip to the end for details about getting Expertly Dyed notifications)

What happened? Well, let's review the insights. As far back as I can go (July 27, 2013), my organic reach was:
  • 338 people served out of 442 Likes
That means, 76% of my audience was reached that day. Not bad, since some people don't go to Facebook everyday. Let's fast forward a bit and take a look at a year ago:
  • 269 people served out of 821 Likes
That means, 33% of my audience was reached that day. Okay, that's a big difference. Let's do this one more time and see what my insights were like as of a few days ago:
  • 95 people served out of 1236 Likes
You almost don't need to see the percentages to know what I'm driving at. Only 0.08% of my audience was reached on this particular day.

Since I began using Facebook, I have done my best to use the platform to my advantage so there is transparency between what I make and what you want. You want to see more red fibers in my shop? Okay, more red is coming. Want a tutorial about X? Well, that goes on the video queue. What do I think of Y book/magazine? It'll be reviewed on the blog. 

So, here are my gripes. Two days ago, I read a post from Hootsuite about how it's really not that hard to reach your Facebook audience. Well, my insights are telling me a different story. First, it says to 'know your audience'. As a spinner/dyer/knitter/so on, I am deeply entrenched within the community, and I'm also a fan of others who have similar businesses as mine. I'm fairly certain that I know my audience. (Don't believe me? Quiz me.) Then it goes on to say that I should capitalize on videos. As a video creator, I can tell you that I do all in my power to bring you all videos of things you really want to see. On my video post about Botched Dyeing, only 112 people were reached. Many of you specifically asked for that video. Let's review so far. It was a video post with relevant material and what you wanted to see. So why wasn't it served to more of my audience? Even if I posted it at a poor time of the day (which it wasn't), why didn't it reach a greater portion of my audience?

Let's keep looking. Okay, 'taking a stand, joining a conversation' is outside the scope of my business. I refuse to delve deeply into politics, religion, human rights, and so forth, especially on the formal face of my business on Facebook. There's a place for those conversations, but on my business page is not where they belong. Over the course of years, many of you have come to understand (or at least make an educated guess about) my position on things in the world. In the chat thread on Ravelry, its informal nature allows me bring my personal views to light. That is the right place for such discussions, in my opinion, where context is easier to establish than on my Facebook business page. Next, please.

"Listen to me," says Facebook. Oh? Every few months, I have to change how I use your platform because you have changed your algorithm. "I wanna see more pictures!" cries Facebook. The vast majority of my posts contain images or links or videos. Of course, by vast majority, I mean statistically overwhelming majority. "Don't be pushy!" whines Facebook. I completely understand that one. I hate it when people and companies shove their sales and wares in my face. I don't want to get my daily dose of 'buy my stuff!' from pages I have liked. So, Facebook cracked down on those posts so they weren't being served. Great. I run sales specifically for my Facebook and Twitter fans, but I don't overly promote those most, I will promote a week-long sale about 3 times in that given week. "You're being needy!" complains Facebook. Good news. My content takes a long time to produce, so I usually only post once a day. Occasionally, twice a day.

Here are a few caveats. When I have posted content which tags other businesses, it has paid off with a far grander reach. But it needs to be relevant, and keeping well-connected in that way on a daily basis is extremely challenging for a one-woman show. The one post which has managed to reach nearly my entire audience was the one where I was trying to figure out why my posts weren't getting to you all. That post reached 1364 people, and only 1253 people like my page. Bonus. But I don't want my rant to get the promotion; I want my relevant content to be seen. Facebook, please don't force me to have to go to these extremes every day so I can get even just 10% of my audience reached daily.

I'm not a professional marketer, but I'm smart. I can read, observe, analyze, implement, and discuss the results. I can see what is working, and what isn't. I'm a scientist at heart, so I research and hypothesize about what I think will work to build a following, reach my fans, and develop and maintain a community. I'm not perfect, and I'm willing to accept the fact that I will misunderstand and be imperfect about how to market a business. Five years on, though, I ought to be getting better at marketing and delivering content my audience wants to see. Instead, Facebook would have me believe that I'm clueless in that regard.

Hootsuite, I know you're trying to be helpful, but for many businesses in my spot, posts like this are condescending and rude. I know for a fact that I'm not the only small business experiencing such troubles from Facebook. Though we try to share with each other how we have managed to overcome the algorithm changes Facebook has brought forth, there is clearly something else that we're doing wrong. So, Facebook, if you're listening, what are you going to do for me? Relationships are meant to be balanced, but I fear that the table is tipping far more in your favor. I don't want to end our long-lasting relationship, but I feel like we may be nearing the point of parting as friends.

Oh, and if you're curious about how you can ensure you'll get updates about Expertly Dyed posts on Facebook, go to your profile and scroll down until you see the "Likes" category on the left-hand side of your Timeline. There, you will see a list of your liked pages. Find "Expertly Dyed" and click on "Follow". In the drop down menu for "Liked", select "Get Notifications". 

Now you will get a notification whenever a page you like posts something. I've been going through my liked pages and doing likewise. There is so much content I have missed myself!