Gwen, the face behind "Crafts Meow"

This is the second in a new series of indie dyer/ small business owner interviews. All posts will be linked on the Reviews page.

I met Gwen through Ravelry when she put out a call for sample knitters.  I volunteered to knit one of Janel Laidman’s socks, Rivendell, for Gwen,  in time for Sock Summit.

Tell me a little about your company.

Crafts Meow Yarn Studio is operated by me myself and I.

I dye in my kitchen using 4 heavyweight stainless steel stock pots. My tools include candy thermometers, a cup full of measuring spoons, and a lot of cable ties. I put a zip tie around each skein to give me something to hang it from while it’s drying outside. I live in a very windy area and had to learn by trial and error how to keep it from flipping around itself and tangling into a horrible mess as it is hung to dry on my beautiful deck.

One of my biggest ethical things when I started this was trying to be green and not wasting too much water.  The yarn drips over flower pots so I can try to not waste any more water than I already do with the rinsing process. I also reuse the water in the pots. If the dye is completely exhausted and the water is clear, I just add the next color and reuse it. If it was dyeing something that has left it a little bit of yellow, I add the next yellow-based color and reuse it that way.

When I’m heat-setting yarn that has been painted, I put 10-12 skeins in a large roasting pan and heat set it in the oven so I don’t have to keep pushing the button on the microwave.

Why did you start?

I started Crafts Meow Yarn Studio after being laid off from my Payroll Management position in February 2009. I had a nice sum of money in the bank and with the economy in the toilet, no prospects for a job. This was the 3rd layoff for me despite having a Master’s degree and 20+ years in my field and I got very discouraged. I decided to make the vacation pay I had in the bank work for me and learned to dye and got it going.

How?  Is it just you, or do you have employees?

It’s just me. I bought some really cheap yarn on eBay to learn to dye and learned it IS possible to felt superwash! It’s possible the cheap yarn I bought wasn’t really superwash but it did help me to play with the dye and the formulas for different flavors of yarn.

I have a couple of good friends who volunteer to help when I do shows so I don’t have to work booths by myself. Everyone needs a potty break or to run to Starbucks now and then. Even an artisan working a booth.

What are your goals for the company?

At some point I would like the company to be a self-supporting entity so I can give up working for someone else. Fortunately knitters are loyal to the products they enjoy and so far I’ve had zero complaints. I take pride in what I do and I’ve thrown out more than a few skeins that just didn’t make my QA standards after it was all said and done. With increased numbers of designers picking it up, including Chrissy Gardiner in her new book set to be released in July 2011, I have confidence that the name will become more well known and that eventually it will be carried in enough stores that it will become as well known as Lorna’s Laces or Claudia’s Hand Paints.

Witch's Brew

Witch's Brew Baby Socks

What inspires you?

Everything. I can see a dress in Macys and see the different colors and think “wow I wish I’d thought of that” and I make a note of the combination of colors. Other times an idea for a yarn flavor name will pop into my head and I’ll make a note of the name and then later on figure out what color(s) that would be.

I worked in retail fabric management for Hancock Fabrics for many years and one of the biggest jobs is re-merchandising the store each season. I’d stand in the store and think and sometimes just be blank, then I’d wake up in the middle of the night saying “AHA!” and the store would be re-merchandised. I’d get in early the next morning and have it done within a couple of hours.

Witch’s Brew, my signature Halloween flavor, came to me like that. I literally woke up in the middle of the night with purple/black/orange in my head and just knew it was Witch’s Brew. It’s my best seller. Especially in September and October!

What is the easiest aspect for you? Most difficult?

Easiest? Dyeing the yarn.

Hardest? Skeining it! I have an electric skeiner but I’m genuinely pretty lazy so getting the yarn that has been dyed and dried and is ready to be skeined, photographed, tagged, and put up for sale…yawn. In a perfect world I would be able to have one employee who works about 8 hours a week skeining what I’d dyed earlier in the week.

Easiest? I LOVE working yarn shows. Setting up the booth and taking down the booth is not as much fun, but interacting with all of the lovely creative people who come to these shows whether they buy from me or not is just plain FUN!

What do you wish you’d known before you started?

That creating a non-wool alternative would not be as easy as I presumed it would. I personally have sensitivity to wool. That sensitivity has gotten worse since I’ve started being surrounded with it on a daily basis. Zyrtec is a good thing.

Anyway, as I was developing my line I kept thinking how great it would be to start doing the same flavors in non-wool base yarns so I can wear it too! That’s not so easy. Dyeing cotton is a totally different process than dyeing wool and the couple of times I’ve tried re-creating on cotton using the different dyes needed resulted in a pretty ugly mess.

What else would you like to tell my readers?

I call my yarn “dessert-inspired” and I am asked on a regular basis why. I was making a pair of socks using DIC Smooshy in a color called Petal Shower. As I was knitting, I kept looking at the fabric and it reminded me of spilled strawberry and chocolate on vanilla…Neapolitan!

Then I started wondering how hard it would be to do. I checked out every book on dyeing at my local library, bought a whole bunch of cheap yarn that I could ruin as I learned, and the whole time I was playing with the process I kept thinking of Neapolitan ice cream because of that one pair of socks. Then it just seemed natural that the yarns would be named different desserts and the colors would become flavors. They have evolved with time too. I did a stripe-y Neapolitan and then a mosaic-type Neapolitan. I tell people in the listing if it’s the stripe-y or mosaic version so they aren’t surprised.

Tricky Treat Shawl

I personally love solids and semi-solids. I don’t want multi-colored or striped socks every day. Some days I just want brown. I do a lot of semi-solids and I do a lot of tonals. Shades of pink, shades of brown, etc. with just a wee bit of white left in.

My most popular semi-solid is Blueberry Sorbet, which knits up like your favorite denim jeans. Blackberry Tea is the hottest variegated, it’s a lovely yarn that stripes brown/blue so it’s very cowboy boots/jeans in appearance.

I’ve developed a nice line of holiday flavors. For Halloween the original Witch’s Brew is still number one, its companion Tricky Treat adds green and it’s other companion, Candy Corn, takes out the black. Some people order all 3 and I know what their favorite holiday is! Xmas Sprinkles has arrived and is soon to be accompanied by an original pattern I wrote – just waiting to see the knitted prototype before publishing.

Something that sets me apart from other indie dyers is that I invest in sample knits.

I remember going to Stitches West one year and picking up a couple of skeins of hand-dyed yarn that looked pretty and asked “how does it knit up?” and the dyers said “I don’t know.” I thought that was stupid – how could you not know? So I have testers knit sample socks for me to display and while it is impossible to have a sample in every single flavor I’ve developed, I know the length of the runs and I can show someone a sock knitted in BubbleMallow and tell them that the same pseudo-stripe effect is going to happen with Strawberry Shortcake because I know I used the same technique and same run lengths.

I also remind people that stitch count and gauge is critical. They can’t look at one of my sample socks and expect the same exact outcome simply because each skein IS unique, and stitch count and gauge is going to change it up. I did a pair of socks once out of a Lorna’s Laces sock yarn and I hated the foot of the sock. I’d wanted the yarn to flash and pool and it just didn’t. Every project I’d seen pictures of this yarn had the coolest flashes and pooling and I just wasn’t getting it. When I got to the turn-down cuff on the sock, I added stitches and suddenly I had amazing flashes/pooling. That was a very valuable lesson. Try adding a stitch or two, or taking away a stitch or two, and the change in the effect can be dramatic.

Caramel Appletini

Finally, I am almost loving designing more than dyeing. I’ve got more designs in my head than I can possibly ever get onto the sticks. One by one I’m having prototypes done, but for now the two published patterns are free Ravelry downloads. Look up Paw Tracks and Mini Dessert Sock.

I guess the last thing I want your readers to know is where to find me!! or

My yarns:

  • Ice Cream Sundae: superwash merino wool/nylon
  • Soft Serve: 100% superwash merino wool
  • Banana Split: superwash merino wool/bamboo
  • Gelato: superwash merino wool/tencel (slight shine and total softness)
  • Decadence: superwash merino wool/cashmere/nylon (purely decadent)
  • Mousse: superwash merino wool/silk (pure and simple super yum)

I sell my yarns in 100g 400 yard skeins, and in 25g 100 yard mini skeins I call Kiddie Scoops. I don’t plan to carry heavier or lighter yarns as part of my regular inventory, but I will custom dye to match any of my sock yarn by request.  I also do team and school colors by request. Caramel Appletini, for example, was done for a student at Arizona State. I do Dallas Cowboys, Ohio State Buckeyes, and more.

I welcome designers who are inspired to create something unique featuring my yarn and we’ll both benefit. I’ll sell your pattern and you give my yarn some lovely face time.

Thanks, Gwen!