Above and Below the Bottom Line

The parties on either side of my pocketbook are at cross purposes, me wanting to get the most value for what leaves my wallet and companies on the other side trying to extract as much as possible while protecting their bottom line. I get over a hundred emails a day with last chance, today only, buy now, hurry, hurry, hurry last chance big savings; I attempt to press delete-delete-delete faster than my eye can register and consider any of the alluring offers. There is a reason for all those emails appearing in my in-box, I can get lured in when my eyes are faster than my deleting fingers and must be on every list from here to Katmandu.

The conclusion of these impulse transactions can end happily for both parties, or they can end with the oft repeated you-get-what-you-pay for lesson. Beyond the value of saving money is the value of establishing a trusting relationship with a company. This week when I had mixed customer service experiences, it got me to thinking about the good will that I carry forward from a positive experience and how important that good will is for encouraging future transactions. It is surprising how little it can take to engender that good will. I am naming names, but only the names I want to remember not the names I want to forget.

I am a repeat customer with Loopy Ewe and Miss Babs. Loopy Ewe calls the people in their shipping department “elves” and it is indeed like a mini-Christmas morning when a package arrives. They, like many other merchants, have tried to save shipping costs by using plastic shipping sleeves, but the inside the purchased is securely wrapped in tissue paper and enclosed in an internal plastic bag. If peeling back the tissue does not make you feel special enough, they also enclose a little packet with red swizzled paper and Tootsie Rolls. I do not eat Tootsie Rolls but it is such a–pardon the pun–sweet touch. Miss Babs also encloses packages in tissue paper inside an internal plastic bag, including a card with a very nice stitch marker attached and sometimes some other little goodies, like a baby skein of yarn to sample. Such little things show respect for their product, care in their packaging, and a little thank you to their customers.

Another well known yarn vendor recently sent a skein of sock yarn tossed unwrapped into a shipping sleeve. The bag arrived torn and the yarn subjected to the grit and grime of the shipping journey. I could have, and perhaps should have, asked for a prepaid shipping label and an exchange, but it is time and trouble for me to drive 10 miles to a UPS facility and an expense for them to process a return and new shipment. I examined the yarn and it seemed okay, but I did write to their customer service to report the problem and to suggest that they do more to protect their products for the journey. I got an email back saying they would let their shipping department know and, in fairness, did say to contact them if I discovered that the yarn was wonky when I started using it. A few weeks later I ordered from them again, white silk merino lace weight. It too was tossed into the shipping bag unwrapped and unprotected. Do I write them again or just not shop with them in future? Their customers probably should not be asking themselves these kind of questions.

I purchased a few Signature Needle Arts fixed circulars when they first came out, and loved them, but the early cords were inflexible and stiff in comparison to their later models. When adding to my collection, someone contacted me to say I already had a cord in that size. I wrote back to thank her–having forgotten that cord was on a time-out project–and while I was at it asked about the possibility of replacing the old cords on my early adopted needles. She sent me a pre-paid shipping label and instructions for me to return them. They did not replace the cord on the old needles but completely replaced the needles and cords with the latest interchangeable option, arriving in lovely tissue wrapped storage sleeves. I loved my Stilettos before this, now I have the highest regard for the company too.

Craftsy offers classes, kits, and supplies in all levels of splurge to budget options, with many sales to boot. They have recently added their own line of yarn, Cloudborn Fibers, which I was curious to try as a low cost alternative to some of the finer and more costly fibers from name brand companies. One of the specials was a on-sale-now sweater Kit using their Highland DK yarn and I thought, why not? I have satisfactorily purchased other Cloudborn yarns that were quite nice so it was with little contemplation that I hit the buy button. When it arrived, the yarn felt harsh to my hands and, worse, my hands felt a bit itchy as I handled it. The thought of knitting an entire sweater with a yarn that felt uncomfortable was too much to consider, sale price or no. Thinking I would have a hefty restocking charge, I initiated a return request. Not only did I get a nice personal note in response but a prepaid return shipping label as well. It was such a feel-good moment that I knew I would have no hesitation to shop with them in the future. What a relief, when expecting the worst, it was no problem whatsoever. This came on the heels of a less positive experience with an online shoe vender that publicized free shipping and exchanges but failed to mention that they charged for returns. To get the “free” exchange I was required to purchase an exchange item at the current day’s no-longer-on-sale price and would not receive credit for the original purchase until they received and processed the returned item. One return they will never receive is me as a customer.

It is by no means a single vendor, made up of so many retailers and crafts people, but for the most part I have had wonderful experiences on Etsy. Particularly for handmade items, I have found the crafts people to really be proud of their handmade stitch markers, hand-dyed and/or spun yarns, knitting bags, needle cases, quilts, and such. They generally seem to be so happy that someone shows their appreciation of their crafts enough to purchase from them and email exchanges are often warm and friendly. Although I rely on ratings as a guideline, I have had far more really positive experiences than indifferent ones on Etsy.

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Bag from FrontRangeBags, stitch markers from WineMakersSister, and needle case from Quincepie on Etsy

 

It is a leap of faith to buy a product unseen, save for a picture on a monitor, from a shop I have never visited and whose staff I have never met. But it occurred to me how little things can make me feel valued and give me confidence that care is given to their products. Although it would be easy to write a very l…o…n…g post about the bad experiences I have had with various companies, I wanted to take a moment to be thankful for the those that, by dong just a little, make it a positive experience for both sides of the equation.

Frankenskeins: The Skein Experiments 

In an earlier post, Looks Like a Shower Scene from Psycho, I discussed color bleed, which is when a color from one yarn bleeds into and changes the color of another, turning a beautiful creation into a bleeding monstrosity. After reading differing opinions and approaches on Ravelry threads, I decided to do some experiments and form my own opinions.

Disclaimer. Experiments were not controlled using the same yarn; I used multiple skeins, not a single yarn in the same colorway, on the same base, and from the same dyelot. What I did use were two different sets of mini-skeins that I had purchased for projects. If someone wants to fund my yarn purchases–um, I mean my research–I would be willing to run my experiments with identical yarn. It would also be possible to cut a single skein into many pieces, but I would have to insist on a lab assistant to weave in all my ends.

Materials used: Yarn skeins, lace weight scrap yarn for tying skeins, Amish yarn swift, scissors, glass bowl, Kookabura Wool Wash, vinegar, Dawn dishwashing detergent, warm (not hot) water, and bath towels.

Yarn: One set of hand-dyed mini-skeins from Leading Men Fiber Arts and one set of mini-skeins from Miss Babs. Both sets contained skeins with reddish and purple tones, colors said to be the most problematic for color bleed.

I may have mentioned before that I want to just sit down and start knitting, all this pre-knitting stuff just delays take-off. Winding skeins of yarn into cakes is another one of those pre-knitting things that cannot be avoided. If everything goes well, the yarn is skeined without snags and tangles, the winder runs smoothly, and the ball comes off the winder cleanly, then I usually do not mind it very much, but it is not my favorite thing. It was certainly not something I wanted to un-do as I had to for one set of these skeins that I had already wound last week. But for the sake of science; if pre-washing is going to save my finished project from looking like Tammy Faye’s streaking mascara after a good cry then one must do what one must do.

The first experiment was with the brightest, fuschia color mini-skein from Leading Men Fiber Arts. I re-skeined it from the ball onto the swift and, using some scrap yarn, tied it in 4 places using a figure eight type method. I used lace weight, but string or any contrasting yarn should work. My little YouTube video shows how I tied the skeins.

How to Tie a Skein

I used a glass bowl to observe the amount of color-bleed. One of the things I read was that wool wash made things worse. It may be so because it bled the most and I did not repeat this method. When I first put it into the warm water, the water remained clear but when I checked it 20 minutes later there was a lot of color in the water. I rinsed it several times, not letting the running water touch the yarn so as to be as gentle as possible, and rinse after rinse color kept coming out. I soaked for another 20 minutes in plain water and did more rinses, still color was coming out. I changed the water to a warm water and vinegar solution and set the timer for 10 minutes, which turned into 40 minutes because my daughter called and I found I was more interested in what she had to say than playing Dr. Frankenstein. Call ended and water drained, I rinsed several more times and still some color drained out and leeched onto the towel. Speaking of towels, I threw it in and hoped I had done enough to not ruin my finished product. Looks like I will be relying on crossed fingers and the color capture sheets for this skein.

 

 

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The next four skeins were increasing shades of purple. I  did them, two-at-a time,  in a vinegar and water solution. No bleed, even after sitting 20 minutes. The final mini-skein in the set is black, and as I am mixing it with gray I am going to let myself believe that a little smudge of black on gray will not show, remembering that my color capture sheet will be there for the bright bleeding fuschia skein.

The Miss Babs set had a range of a reddish color to muted purples, the final two colors were close enough to the warm grayish background color so as not to worry about it. Because my fuschia in the other set was the most problematic, I did the reddish yarn by itself in vinegar and water. No bleeding. I did the next two in vinegar and water with the same result. I then changed the solution, putting a few drops of Dawn liquid in the bowl and adding some warm water. There were so many suds that I poured some out and diluted it a bit. I soaked the final two skeins in the Dawn and, once again, did not observe any color bleeding.

I ordered some organic, minimal ingredient hand soap and will try a squirt of that next time I wash skeins. I looked online for organic shampoo for color treated hair but, other than the one I found at $35 for 8 ounces, I was not conformatable with the ingredients lists. One for $17 looked promising, but it just said “safe for color treated hair” and I am not sure it is the same thing.

Conclusions. I think I am sold on the vinegar and water for a pre-soak. I am definitely sold on the concept of pre-soaking when it comes to a multi-color project. At this point, I am not trying to clean the yarn so I do not need a sudsing agent. If the water serves to release loose dye and the vinegar helps set the color, that seems like a reasonable first step.

However, I do like to wash a project after it has been dragged around to knitting groups, dropped on the floor, and pushed aside or shoved into knitting bags. For a project that is all one yarn or a knit with similar hues, my Kookabura is probably just fine. When it comes to a multi-colored project I am going to avoid using wool wash and look to other options. I am interested in trying the minimal ingredient organic hand wash I just ordered, and the Dawn certainly is another option. I think I am okay with missing the bus on the shampoo for color treated hair but if I come across a formula that looks mild enough I might give it a shot. The color capture sheets are definitely going into the bath, no matter what I use as a washing agent.

The yarn still looks saturated in color, I did not observe any noticeable fading. After the yarn dries it will be interesting to see if the yarn feels different after being soaked in wool wash, vinegar, or Dawn.

With my pre-washed yarn and a plan for washing at the end, I am ready to start my project and, as always, hope it is a beautiful creation, not a bleeding monstrosity.

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Looks Like the Shower Scene from Psycho

After the many hours of planning, knitting, and finishing, the last thing I wanted to have pop in my mind when washing my project was, “OMG, it looks like the shower scene from Psycho!”

For those who are too young to remember the 1960 Hitchcock movie, there was a gruesome scene in the Bates Motel involving a woman traveling on her own, a shower, a knife, and a psychopath wielding it. The scene pretty much went from setting the scene with all those components, a shot of the woman screaming, and a cut to a great deal of blood running down the drain. Hitchcock was a master, he did not need to

explicitly show everything to scare the holy heck out of people. It worked, I saw it as a child and that final image from the scene is imprinted in my brain. I would not get into a shower shawl for weeks, opting for a bathtub and a securely locked door. When I finally did brave a shower stall, I had just sudsed up my hair when one of my brothers flipped off the light switch, let out a long howl, and ran into the bathroom with a big Halloweeny blood-coated rubber knife. It was to my mother’s horror when, moments later, I ran screaming through the living room–where she was sitting primly with guests–barely covered in a towel, streaming water and suds in my wake.

I knit a cross-over shawl, by that I mean something between a shawl, a cowl, and a poncho: looks like a shawl in knitting style but drops over your head as something larger than a cowl but smaller than a poncho. The yarn was a gradient in reds, the month December, and the project still too short when the skein was nearly gone. I happened to have some white yarn in the same base and, well why not add a little white border with some sparkly beads?  It was adorable, putting it on made me want to get in touch with my inner Marilyn Monroe and dance about lip syncing Santa Baby. Then I washed it. Evoking images of the shower scene was the last thing I wanted when soaking my project for blocking. But there it was, the basin filled with red, rinse after rinse after rinse. The border went from snowy white to peppermint pink. I really, really tried to like my pink peppermint trim, but I think I have worn that thing once or twice and, rather than Santa Baby, all I could think of was Sugar, Sugar. I hate that song.

Yes, a certain amount of preparation and planning is necessary before starting a project, but I just want to knit not prepare to knit. I know it is important to read the pattern carefully, a quick scanning before picking up the needles will seldom do. Do not ask how many times it took for me to learn that lesson. It takes all my strength of character to stop and swatch, and only then when I think gauge is going to matter in the finished product. Sometimes even then I fudge it by dropping down 2 needle sizes and hoping for the best. Like with a hat; I figure if I am charity knitting that–no matter what size the hat comes out–someone will have a head big or small enough to fit it. Getting gauge for a test knit is painful. Clearly I am just a loose woman because I have to keep going down, down, down in needle sizes to get anywhere near the designer’s stated gauge, knitting many a swatch along the way. For a shawl, what is the worst thing that can happen, other than knitting something too big or too small or running out of yarn? OK, I admit, the answer could be a peppermint pink border. This is all to say, I really do not want to add even more extra steps to my pre-knitting.

My imagination was captured by Melanie Berg’s On the Spice Market shawl and I started following the KAL thread on Ravelry. Someone brought up, horrors, color-bleed. There was some discussion on the thread, but the most useful comment was a link to the Miss Babs thread where color bleed was discussed in great gory detail. In particular, Miss Bab’s post number 19 provides a detailed explanation for why some yarns bleed and what her recommendations are for preventing it.

Miss Babs Color Bleed Thread

There were many  warnings, hints, and recommendations in the thread and, as usual, there were things that one person swears by that another would never do. But the basic takeaway was this: if you are going to mix colors, pre-wash your yarn. Especially yarns that are red or purple, and especially if those reds and purples are going to be mixed with lighter colors. Some people swore by Dawn liquid. I think I will take a pass on that one, when we had to quickly make up a DIY skunk wash for the dog at 6:30 one morning, the recipe we found called for hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn. Not generic dishwashing liquid, Dawn. Anything that is strong enough seek and destroy skunk stench might be a bit much for my fluffy little knits. Others swore by shampoo for color treated hair. Some people warned against using wool wash. Still others recommended soaking in vinegar and water. Miss Babs said she used a mild hand soap and that she recommends pre washing her yarns, particularly if colors are mixed in a project.

So this is all interesting to me because three of my projects–one about to start, one in its infancy, and one nearly done–all involve light backgrounds with darker contrast colors. It is too late for the one that is nearly finished, the one with deep dark magenta highlights on a white/multi background. All I can do is hope the verigated pattern disguises magenta escaping its borders into the white. But for the others, sigh, looks like there will be a knitting delay to pre wash the contrast colors.

From reading and sorting through the thread, here is my game plan. First, make sure the yarn is made ready for a bath by using a contrasting yarn and tying the skein in at least 4 places. I am inclined to stick with my tried and true Kookabura wash in spite of what some people said, but I am going to use color capture sheets to be on the safe side. I will soak it for about 20 minutes, rinse, and repeat until the water runs clear (no Psycho shower scenes), wrap it in a towel, spin it inside the towel in my top loading washing machine, and hang it on a wooden dowel rack to dry.

I can read my patterns carefully while my yarn dries, but I will not be taking more time to swatch when it finally does. Besides–if I miscalculate and run short–I know how to make sicky sweet peppermint pink yarn. That goes with everything, right?