hand-dyed fiber

  • Field Trip! Kathy of Wynham Farms with gotmygoat Goes to Africa

    I am delighted to share this guest blog post from Kathy Martin of Wynham Farms. Kathy raises Angora goats in Sequim, WA and she recently took a trip of a lifetime! Grab a cup of tea and enjoy a few moments of armchair traveling through Africa, visiting fiber farms, mills and weavers.

    So here I am, a semi-retired fiber farmer and fiber artist, thinking that my travelling days were relegated  to sane, safe stateside trips when Linda Cortright of Wild Fibers Magazine created a tour that could not be ignored: Angora goat farms, a mohair mill, a silk farm, sisal weavers, mohair weavers along with the beauty of the land and wildlife in South Africa and Swaziland. Could I challenge myself to 40+ hours of travel from WA state to another hemisphere? Could I leave my Angora goat farm, Great Danes, spinning wheels, triangle looms and comfort for the relative unknown?

    Swaziland Dancers.

    First, I should explain that Linda Cortright is not just the owner/journalist of a prime periodical, but she is a world traveler who meticulously checks out the potential journeys for Wild Fibers’ tours. Her small groups of 10-12 travelers enjoy safety, adventure, history, other cultures, fine lodgings – all of which she has researched and visited ahead of time. I had joined Linda on her first tour to the Falkland Islands in 2015 so I knew I would be well taken care of.

    This 15-day tour started out in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, close to the very tip of the continent. The group of 11 visited the Nelson Mandela Textile Arts Centre with interesting displays of  African weavings and beadwork.

    95 kg mohair bump

    On to the showroom of Mohair South Africa Ltd which produces ~50% of the world’s mohair, obviously dedicated to the advancement of the mohair industry. I have to interject with a link to a video “Mohair South Africa, Weaving Stories for a Lifetime”.  The video was filmed mostly at Wheatlands, a vast working farm that is steeped in 8 generations of family history which we called home for 2 nights. Prior to Wheatlands we visited Erekroon, a smaller farm of 17,000 acres (!) with about 1,000 Angora goats and 500 Merino sheep. Be still, my heart!

    While in Port Elizabeth we also visited a mohair processing mill. The scouring conveyor belt and the water conservation systems were impressive. There were hundreds of barrels full of freshly carded mohair. It would’ve been hard to sneak out some when the bumps alone weigh 95 kg (210 pounds). The spinning/weaving buildings on site were very high tech with tests being run on the yarns as they were being spun and with onsite laboratories to further test quality. I understood the quality control necessary after hearing that their custom orders were placed by fashion industry’s leaders such as Chanel. Glad they had an outlet with Oddments which I could afford!

    One of Adele's Ladies inspecting yarn.

    I will jump ahead here past the awesome hikes and unique landscapes of the Karoo, formed millions of years ago. Onto the awesomeness of Adele’s Mohair, a designer extraordinaire of knitting yarns. Adele ventured into the industry in 1983, educating and employing the rural women of the Xhosa tribe, and keeping in mind sustainability of the land. Again, be still my heart!

    Our next fiber related visit was at the Piggs Peak Craft Centre in Swaziland where we were welcomed by native dancers. The craft center not only had roadside shelters for smaller entrepreneurs but also housed the showrooms for Coral Stephens Weaving and for Tintsaba, both endeavors aimed at educating and employing local, rural women. We were honored to tour the studios of both art houses.

    Sisal baskets.

    Tintsaba Master Weavers showed us how their amazing baskets, home décor and jewelry are made from Sisal. The agave plants producing Sisal fibers grow wild and are harvested by industrious women who must have fingers of Superwoman strength. After stripping the leaves and drying the fibrous strands, the dyeing is done in rustic wood burning vats. These lovely women shared their trade in a special workshop with the Wild Fibers’ group, teaching us that their skills were not learned overnight. I will not be hired.

    Coral Stephens Weaving Studio uses mohair, raffia, cotton and silk to make outstanding home décor items, drapes, carpets and tapestries. We watched the labor intensive picking and hand carding of the mohair prior to spinning using pieced-together spinning wheels some of which might have been bicycles in their earlier days. The yarn is then dyed in wood burning, huge pots using very scientific measurements so that there are enough skeins of one colorway for their extra large weavings. One room alone must have had over 20 enormous looms, manual not machine driven.

    Coral Stephens curtains.

    The last of our fiber tours was taken at the African Silk Farm after spending several days on game drives. The farm grows its own mulberry leaves to feed the worms and macadamia nuts to feed its visitors. There were several outbuildings with windows for our viewing pleasures: moths into eggs into caterpillars into cocoons. I was pleased to see how easy they made it seem to gently cut the cocoon, releasing the live larvae to continue its life, and then winding the silk strands before spinning. What lovely garments and bedding tempted us!

    The 15 days sped by in a whirlwind of fibers and African wild animals seen without cages or moats. A truly Wild Fiber adventure which I consider my Trip of a Lifetime.

    I learned so much and am so thankful to Kathy for sharing her adventure with us. Africa is not a destination that I immediately associate with fiber! If you want to get some mohair of your own, or explore Kathy's shop full of locks and handspun yarn, you can find  Wynham Farms with gotmygoat on FiberCrafty!

  • When you own a business, you are in sales.

    Do you consider yourself to be in sales? You might say no but if you are a small business owner, the reality is that you ARE in sales! You are also in customer service, marketing, product design, and a host of other roles but today let’s talk about wearing that sales hat.

    I know what you are thinking. Salespeople have an undesirable reputation. Some salespeople are definitely less ethical but that isn’t the norm. When you boil down the basics of sales it is helping to connect people, based on their wants or needs, with the right products or services. That’s not such a bad thing!

    I have to put myself out there, too! This is me! Hi!

    I spent over 20 years in a successful professional sales role before I started my business, fibercrafty.com. I learned a lot selling software and while software is completely different from hand-dyed yarn and fiber, the basics of selling are the same. In this post, I’m sharing two of the most important rules to consider and practice in the sales efforts of your business. These are relatively common sense but often hard to remember to do.

    Rule #1. Be yourself. First and foremost, if you are a single business owner, you ARE your business. You are what sets your business apart from other people. You bring a unique perspective to whatever your product or offering is and you need to let that shine when talking to customers or prospects. Tell your story! Why should people buy from you? What makes your shop special? People buy from who they know and trust. If you have a hard time with this, ask a close friend or family member to help you. Or maybe even a wonderful customer that you have an established relationship with. Ask then what about your business stands out, what makes them buy from you.

    Rule #2. Make it easy for someone to buy from you. This, my friends, is where the rubber

    From a shop on FiberCrafty.

    hits the road. When selling online, people can’t handle your products or see them in person so you need to help them make a decision while online. And you want it to be an easy decision. To make this even more challenging, you have only a matter of seconds to capture and keep their attention. Research is showing that the amount of time you have is gradually getting shorter. In the year 2000, you had 12 seconds. Now, you have 8 seconds. The more steps the customer has to take before buying, the less likely they are to buy. For example, if you didn’t include some information in your listings, such as the size of your bag, a shopper might have to send an email to ask. That is an extra step you don’t want them to take. The good news is, you can anticipate and answer most questions before they are asked.

    We are going to dive into this idea in more detail with the next few posts but for now consider:

    • Are all the details of my product included? Are the attributes complete?
    • Are the pictures clear? Are there pictures showing multiple angles? Are there pictures showing an item to scale?
    • Does my item have variations - if so, can they be selected with a menu choice or do they have to contact me separately? In some cases they will need to contact you, but if there is a way around it - make it easy! (FiberCrafty is adding an internal messaging system in the update to help with this.)
    • Did you proofread your listing for spelling? This can affect products showing up in searches.
    • Did you check your listing for accuracy? (especially if you have copied an existing listing)

    Take a look at your listings and your shop through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know you. Maybe you have a friend who can help you by reviewing it. Are there unanswered questions? Are there ANY barriers that would make clicking “add to cart” a step away? This is truly a situation where over-providing some information can be helpful.

    From a shop on FiberCrafty.

    How does it feel to explore your shop? Does it feel well curated? Are the photos of products on similar backdrops? Or does it feel like a disarray. Think about walking through a brick and mortar shop. Some shops are a delight to browse and walk through. And there are others that feel cluttered and disorganized. Online shops can create these same feelings.

    Working to create a shop that feels curated and like it was built with care will make it far more likely for shoppers to browse. Well written listings with anticipated questions answered, will make it far more likely for shoppers to click Add to Cart and Checkout, which is the ultimate goal.

    If you are not a FiberCrafty shop owner and you want to continue to learn how to curate your online shop for the fiber community, let me know! Not all posts in this series will be posted publicly on the blog. 

    What advice would you give someone about how to help their customers say yes? Comment below and share! In the yarn and fiber industry, we are fortunate to all benefit when we put community above competition.

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