Monday, 31 December 2012

First NDS update of 2013

I was going to write a blog post about our new NDS Cluedo type game, but then I decided to cut and paste our newsletter as I'm feeling very lazy today.
Obviously conserving energy for tonight's marathon pub crawl.
I've decided to drive rather than drink as our final destination is the Rising Sun in Lynmouth at the bottom of the hill.
I don't want to start of 2013 in an ambulance due to climbing 500 feet at 1 am to get back home.
Lynton's taxi driver is having a few day's off over new year and so we have no taxi service in the area until the 5th of January :-)

New Year's Day 2013 Update

Dear All

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all our customer's for tonight.
We hope you have a lovely night with lots of fireworks.
And HAPPY NEW YEAR to all our Customers "down under"
We hope you had a lovely evening :-)

We have done a lot of brainstorming over christmas and come up with some exciting new idea's for 2013.
We have decided to make 2013 a NDS year full of murder and mystery to run along side our "Murder on the Moor Yarn Club".
The first is NDS version of Cluedo, which will run all year.
There will be a prize each month which will be 100gms of mini skeins and one 100 gm skein of our choosing.
There are at least 4 weekly updates each month, you will find the clue in one of the descriptions of the newly updated yarn.
This means you will need to read all the yarn descriptions to find the answer.
The first week in the month will be the name of the murderer, the second week will be the weapon used and the third week will be the location of the murder.
During the fourth update week you will need to place an order with NDS, simply e-mail us with your answer and order number, there is no minimum order amount which means you can enter regardless of whether you buy a pattern or yearly club
The winner will be the first e-mail we receive with the 3 correct answers.

So onto tomorrow's update.
We have the last remaining Great British Wool Club wool, which is British Alpaca/Exmoor Blueface.

Both dyed

And naked

Plus some odds and ends including Withypool Angelus

Don't forget our free postage offer ends tonight.

And you have 24 hours left to sign up for the yearly and quarterly 2013 clubs. Sign ups for the April to June quarter and February's clubs will open tomorrow subject to Phil's hangover :-)

You can find all 2013 clubs HERE

Tomorrow's update preview HERE on Flickr.
There isn't a yarn of the week this coming week, instead of which we will have a mini 30% sale which 
you will be able to find it HERE at 7 pm (uk time) tomorrow.
You will be able to find all the updated wool and the first cluedo clue in our New this Week section.

Happy Knitting and crocheting
Amanda, Phil and Daisy

Friday, 21 December 2012

Some advice to newbie indie dyer's

We frequently have people sending us e-mails asking questions for help in regards to starting their own dyeing businesses, most of the questions are innocent enquiries.
And most of the time I am really flattered that people think I know the answer's and like what I do enough to ask my advice.
Some of the questions asked are unknowingly asking for my trade secrets, the questioner's don't realise how long it has taken us to get NDS to the place it is now and that sharing all our knowledge would be a bad thing for NDS.
Success takes a huge amount of luck, skill, determination and dedication.
After 11 years I'm still learning, I still make mistakes.

So I thought I'd write this blog post to share some of my thoughts and experiences.
I'm writing this post in answer to questions from a mythical newbie indie dyer.

Identity and Customer's
I believe that at the moment the indie dyer market is saturated so you will need a product that is something totally new and exciting to gain customer's attentions.
Look at the indies you think you will be competing with and go out of your way to make sure you don't copy them.
Compare them to each other and see the how different they all are to each other, each dyer has their own distinct image and colour palette.
DO NOT copy their colours of sales techniques, it won't help.
The established dyers have very loyal customer bases, most of their customers will stay with them through thick and thin.
NDS is lucky to have customers who have been with us ever since the very early day's on eBay.
Many of our customer's have become friends and its always lovely to see them at shows
You need to understand that knitters and crocheters are an incredibly loyal and caring bunch of people.
Give the customer's something new and you will build a loyal following of your own.

NDS's very first major show was an embroidery show at the NEC in 2004.
At the time I dyed fabric and embroidery threads plus a little bit of yarn. I did some research and decided my competitors were Steph Francis and Oliver Twist's, so I thought that in theory if I undercut them a little bit I would sell loads and loads.
But I was wrong the show was a disaster. The NEC was expensive, we were completely out of our depth, we didn't have a following. It didn't matter how much under cutting we would of done our product, presentation and marketing weren't in the same league as the big names.
We made a huge loss, but I was too stupid or too stubborn to give up and luckily I had a husband who believed in me (although at that time he didn't believe in NDS - little did he know what his future held....)
so NDS carried on to fight another day.

This photo is a mock up of the NEC stand taken in 2004

So I went back to the drawing board and started dyeing wool instead of embroidery threads.
At that time there weren't many indie yarn dyers, the only hand dyer I knew was Colinette and I knew there was no way I was ever going to be them.

Understand your product
Do not be too eager to jump into the market place and start trying to sell.
Work on your identity and your craft, make sure your confident in your product and able to answer any questions that might be asked.
In the very early day's I unknowingly gave the wrong answer to a question, I thought I knew enough to wing it and I was wrong.
Also I didn't fully understood customer service, so rather than offer a full refund I tried to negotiate - bad move!
Since then I have tried to fall over backwards to make all my customers 100% happy, occasionally I don't, but at least I've tried.

If you are dyeing you need to know your yarn and dyes, will they fade, are they safe to wash etc etc
I don't know anything about chemical dyeing, so can only comment on natural dyes.
My dyes are very complex, each one has a character, it takes many months to understand a new dye we are testing.
For example we moved to Exmoor in May and we are still re-learning about the dyes we used in Suffolk.
A lot of newbie natural dyers use hedgerow dyes, which are fine for hobby dyeing.
But if you want to turn your dyeing into a business you need to use consistent and reliable dyes.
For example dandelions, onions, eucalyptus etc etc are great fun to experiment with, but can you guarantee the yarn will be the same colour in a year or even next month?
I recommend you do a lot of research into the dyes and the mordants you use, there are plenty of really good books and the Internet is full of information.
I spent several years experimenting and reading before I started dyeing yarn.
You have a responsibility to your customer's, if they are giving you their hard earned money you need to give them a product that you know intimately and have confidence in.

There is nothing worse than a half built website, it looks really unprofessional.
If you don't have time or money to build a site, open an Etsy or Folksy shop.
My very first site in 1999 was very amateurish, but it had all the essential pages.
I've spent the last 13 years refining my site, and researching what makes a good user friendly site, search engine optimisation, social networking etc etc
I've also spent that time learning and improving my photography, good photographs are essential to any Internet business.
Buy a good camera, I'm afraid point and click camera's just aren't professional enough, I believe you need to invest in a good quality SLR.
We have only had ours for a couple of years, but it makes a enormous difference
Make photo shop your best friend, remember the colours need to be as true as possible or you will end up with disappointed customers.

The  photo's below show my development, they were all dyed with madder

Don't run before you walk
Take it slowly, let your business grow organically, remember we are still in a recession and its just not sensible to invest lots of money in something you might not make work.
Wait until you are established before making major financial decisions, such as renting business premises.
You will need to dye and sell a minimum of 15 to 20 kgs a week just to pay the bills.
If you want a business like NDS you will need to dedicate your whole life to it, that means money and every waking minute.

And finally love it and have fun, if you don't love it and don't enjoy it, its time to move on and find something you do love.
Life is just too short.....

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Blast from the past - Deer 2002

Or rather I should say art from the past.

If you have been following me on my old blog, Twitter, Facebook Ravelry etc etc you will know we have moved home several times in the last 2 years, some of them traumatic, none of them permenant until (fingers crossed) now.

We've just come back to Exmoor from a christmas visit to our family in Suffolk and have brought a van load of boxes back with us, I haven't seen the contents for nearly 2 years.
So as you can imagine its really exciting unpacking them.
The boxes we brought this time are nearly all boxes of books, my poor long suffering Dad still has boxes of treasure filling up his spare bedroom back in Suffolk.
I keep finding embroidery and quilt books, which has made me reminise about my past life.
Back in the day's when NDS was just beginning I used to be a textile artist, I started dyeing fabric for my embroideries and quilts, at the beginning most of it was brown or yellow and dyed with whatever I could find in the hedgerows or in my garden.
I thought it might be nice to add a record of my art work and early dyeing attempts to my blog as they no longer have a website of their own, that disappeared when NDS took over my life.

My earliest dyeing attempts were in 1998/9, but I can't find any photo's.
The earliest example of my dyeing I can find is the photo below, it was a quilt called "Flower's for Tower's" and was made in response to 9/11 in 2001, I think it ended up in a private collection in America.
The pale pink/beige colour was probably dyed with bracken or tea or maybe even eucalyptus. The gold was onion skins.

The following photo's are of a series of quilted embroideries inspired during a holiday to Scotland.
One evening we came across a huge stag standing in the middle of a road, our local Suffolk deer seemed to disappear in the summer which made me think that maybe our deer went on holiday to Scotland too.
The bottom layer of these embroideries was pieced with my naturally dyed fabric and then I added layers of lovely nylon net to add more colour!
If only I knew what I now know about dyeing things might have been a bit different :-)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The trouble with free patterns

Like a lot of professional designers I have another job to support my designing career, which like many of you probably already know is managing The Natural Dye Studio
NDS dyes and sells yarn, luckily its a successful business as it supports the 3 of us.
Pattern support is an essential part of a yarn company, my designs are designed to help sell wool (and of course, I do love to design!)

A few years ago I decided to offer a couple of free patterns to encourage new customer's to try our yarn.
My most successful free pattern was the Angel scarf

On reviewing it a few weeks ago, I found it has 2657 hearts and 264 projects on Ravelry. It pleased me to see that many people love my designs and are inspired to spend their time making them, however I was a little shocked to find that there's only 1 project out of 264 made with NDS's Angel lace.
So, in these financially tight times I decided to discontinue offering it for free as it wasn't encouraging wool sales.
Since then I have recieved 3 or 4 messages a week asking for the free pattern and am shocked to find a couple of the messages have been quite stroppy, one being down right rude! As you can imagine it has made me a little fustrated being harrased by one or two irate crocheters who have feel it is necessary to demand from me. The pattern was on for two years, I believe that was a generous amount of time to offer a pattern for free and hope that the majority of customers felt satisfied with this.

However I've decided, due to the patterns popularity, to re-offer the pattern for free but only if accompanied with a purchased skein of Angel lace, therefore trying to appease the demand and also help it benefit NDS.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Hobbit hole & moving on

Today is our last day of living in the hobbit hole.
We are moving a couple of doors down the street to a much bigger flat.
I'm sitting here surrounded by boxes, I should be cleaning our new bedroom as it hasn't been used in years.
But I need to drink coffee to wake up, so I thought I'd fill my waking time with a bit of cathartic reliving the past.

The hobbit hole was a new chapter in our chaotic life, the perfect escape from the nightmare we had been living through for the past 3 years.
If you don't know the story you can read all about it HERE on my old blog or you can follow the links below to the individual blog posts.
Its a story of .....
Redundancy and imminent repossesion
Making ourselves homeless
Living illegally part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

The hobbit hole was the place we finally relaxed into and felt safe.
It was behind a big gate, down a little alleyway, hidden behind an old pub and had its own private courtyard.
I still felt really stressed whenever Loki barked at the sound of the gate being opened and still dreaded answering the phone just incase it was someone threatening me with eviction or a court order.
I guess it takes a long time to recover from what we had lived through.

This is the lounge and was taken on the day we moved in, its almost the entire flat,
There are also 2 small bedrooms and a bathroom

We have lived here in Lynton in the hobbit hole for 7 months.
During that time we have been made to feel welcome and accepted into the community. I doubt our new friends will ever know just how grateful we are to them for accepting us with open arms.
The summer was amazing even though it rained constantly, every weekend there was something new to do.
Raft race, dog show, fishing competitions.
But the hole is now cold, dark, damp and cramped as we have shut the french doors.

And its time to move on to better things, into our new hobbit mansion.

The new flat is massive and only 2 doors away so we will still be living in the old part of the village.

This is the first landing and gives some idea of just how huge the flat is.

 Its 2 floors of huge rooms and has a huge kitchen

 and even larger lounge along with a fireplace and shutters.

And a view or rather several views

The only problem is it doesn't have an outside, but we live in a small village cradled in hills, with the sea on one side and the moors on the other. Our outside is only a 2 minute walk away.

I think I've drunk enough coffee am now off to clean some windows and my new bedroom.