Monday, May 23, 2016

Tour Weeks Dye Works and their wonderful world of color!

Grab a cup of coffee or a cold drink and join us on our "private tour" of fabulous Weeks Dye Works and their wonderful family business.

We've got lots of pics, and I think you'll enjoy the whole field trip. There is SO much to share about the WDW wonderful world of color! Heck, I was so excited talking with Miranda and John about their business...and how they do what they do...I didn't even remember to pick up any samples of their gorgeous linen, wool and fibers. Major mistake!!! I was overwhelmed with admiration for the business they have created over the last 20+ years.

We flew to Raleigh/Durham International Airport and made the short scenic drive to Garner, NC. WDW shares a warehouse type building with John's architectural office. Here's Miranda in her "official" office (John's office is in opposite corner of large room), although you can often find her in the WDW "back room" where the color magic happens. I hear someone cleaned her desk for our did look suspiciously vacant.

As WDW has grown, so has their darling family. You can recognize their children's names on WDW thread colors. Here are Morris (Morris Blue) and Sophie (Sophia's Pink) and a couple canine friends. They were the first kids home from school, which means "home" at the office until quitting time.

There's a big table for home work and a kids play area with bunk beds and toys. The entire WDW facility was decorated with kids artwork - you never knew where it would pop up. I should mention that every year at market the WDW kids are the most courteous "yes, ma'am, yes sir" kids as they greet customers and help around their booth.

The younger kids, Michael (Michael's Navy) and Sally (Sally's Sunshine) joined us later. Lots of smiling blonds in this family.

We arrived a lunchtime, so began our tour (appropriately) with some authentic Southern barbecue in downtown Raleigh. Pulled pork and 2 competing sauces, hushpuppies, biscuits, collards, black eyed get the yummy idea. We had the BEST time chatting about the needlework biz and everything else. We have a lot in common...both of us have husbands in a largely female industry, our companies are 20+ years old, and we've both learned a lot as we've created/developed our unique businesses.

But back to our tour. These ladies keep the front office humming, working with customers in the cross stitch, needlepoint and quilting niches. They were so cheerful and it was fun for me to put faces with the charming Southern voices I hear regularly on the phone. 

These ladies don't sit all day - they pull and ship orders! Above are neatly piled orders waiting to be packed and shipped. There's a mix of linen, wool and fibers hiding underneath. 

The front office is where the inventory is neatly organized...and I mean ORGANIZED! First I spied the boxes of numerical WDW overdyed floss....floss heaven! Each box contains one color. Inside that box of floss are large cones of floss, as well as floss in skeins. Skeins are banded in groups of 10 and bagged in groups of 100. As skeins are sold, spools are sent out to the LOL (little old ladies) who neatly put them into skeins. They can tell at a glance how much of any specific color is available, or when it's time to dye.

So much floss, never enough time to use it, but always room in my stash!

I was happy to spot one of my favorite colors, Busy Lizzie. I helped create this color for the Things Unseen Mystery Sampler last year. Other colors that are WDW/L*K collaborations are Oscar and Clockwork...and of course the upcoming SPOOKED! color (more on that later in post).

Nearby are similar boxes of overdyed Perle cottons.

All around the perimeter of front office are tags...tags, tags everywhere! Originally they printed, cut and punched tags themselves. Now their local printer does that unless it's a "thread" emergency. Organizing and inventorying tags for all the WDW products takes up a surprising amount of space.

Beyond the overdyed flosses are shelves full of linens and wools. They are so BEAUTIFUL! Just look and drool. Seeing them altogether was visually stunning. I definitely want to use more in upcoming L*K creations...the textures and colors are positively yummy. 

I could have lingered in the warehouse area all day, but let's move on to the BACK ROOM, where all the dyeing magic happens. The back room looks like a real factory with interesting, complicated, customized equipment. Honestly, I can't remember what happens in area above, but it's impressive...right?

Above is a "formula" for an overdyed thread color. Each WDW color has a specific formula of dye colors that they replicate every time the thread is dyed. That's why WDW maintains amazing color consistency from dye lot to dye lot, over the years.

Dyes are measured inside this high tech "dye booth" that John built. Miranda says John has a tendency to overbuild stuff. Maybe yes, maybe just what the job calls for. No guess work here. Dye booth is the yellow enclosure on right with clear walls. 

Inside this sealed environment, colors are carefully measured and weighed. I know...who knew? So now when I call and they tell me Miranda will return my call later because she's in the "dye booth" I know where she is and what she's doing! 

Lots of dye containers, sized small to extra large!

But, even with these exacting measurements, colors fluctuate slightly every time they dye. WDW is dyeing natural fabrics...cotton, linen, wool...and it's a bit of an experiment every time. That's why they maintain the formula card (2 pics above) and keep adjusting dye until they get the best color match. I really appreciate that WDW works hard to maintain color consistency. As a designer, this is really helpful to me and I know to all of you stitchers out there in blog land.

Here are rolls of various fabrics awaiting their turn in the dyeing process.

And then the color magic happens to linens and wool in this area. Sorry, no closeup photos of the fabric dyeing process. Let's just say it's wet, colorful and fantastic things happen in this important area at WDW. Check out all the washers and dryers...bunches of them! Laundry happens at work, as well as at home for the McGahey bunch and their employees. Newly dyed fabrics are washed and dried after their colorful baths.


Also nearby were giant bags of salt and soda ash. In the chemistry of dyeing, these aid in treating the water and facilitating the dyeing process. 

After the newly dyed fabrics are dried, ironing is the next step. Check out the oversized ironing board and an employee smiling while she irons a giant piece of linen. 

These talented ladies work in the back room. They're smiling, but they're not telling how they work their color magic. It will remain a MYSTERY!

"What about the overdyed flosses?", you ask. As to the actual overdyeing process for the threads, we can tell you PART of the story. The rest of the story is a "trade secret" and we understand why WDW wants to keep it that way.

We just marveled how WDW has devised processes to perfect overdyeing threads. They have designed and built custom equipment. From machines that wind the threads neatly so they can be immersed and dyed, to the actual overdyeing process, WDW is using original equipment they have designed. I always wondered how you could dye large batches of floss without getting a tangly, mushy mess. Problem: solved! John is a whiz at imagining the right machine for the precise job, and making it a reality. It was so innovative and totally impressive. Definitely a worthy "trade secret"!

Overdyed threads from WDW are actually dyed 2 times! They begin with white thread and dye a solid color for the base. Then this colorful base is overdyed - step 2 - to create the beautiful overdyed threads.

While we were there, they were working on a batch of our exclusive new color for SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler. Sorry, no pictures of the actual overdyeing process, but I can reveal the name:

Marmalade!!!  As in "orange" marmalade. 

Once I talked to Miranda about dyeing me a new color, I gave her several DMC colors for inspiration. I wanted a beautiful yellow-orange that was unlike anything in the WDW current lineup. And I'm thrilled with the results. Above are some of our "test runs" with light, medium and darker variations on our Marmalade theme. 

Look carefully and you can see Marmalade hiding among the other thread colors we're putting in our SPOOKED! thread pack.

Here's one fun story:
While Miranda was working on test batches for the new thread, I was brainstorming color names. I kept emailing her lists of ideas, looking for things that were golden-orange in color, and names that haven't previously been used. No small task! 

Because this thread color reminded me of a strawberry blond hair color, I began thinking of famous redheads. I sent Miranda a list of some redheads I thought might be thread worthy...Lucy, Wilma (Flintstone), Pippy (Longstocking) and my favorite quirky idea - Midge!

If you're of a certain age, you should remember Midge, Barbie's best friend! She was the red-headed part of the Barbie clan and I loved her freckles (probably because I was so freckled). Alas, as we consulted the whole staff at WDW on possible color name selections, we had a divided vote (gasp). Some ladies were firmly in the "Midge" camp, and others thought it made no sense. Perhaps an age thing? I understood this, so suggested the compromise "Marmalade" to unite the golden orange front. And that's the rest of the story, as they say. 

Anyone still have their Midge doll? I still have Chatty Kathy on my closet shelf, and her custom clothes my Aunt Connie sewed for her. But Midge, Barbie and Skipper disappeared somewhere. Wish I still had that Barbie dream car!

Thanks for joining us on the fabulous WDW "magical mystery tour". I can't tell you how fun it was to finally see the entire production facility and have an opportunity to spend hours with Miranda and John. Usually it's a quick "Hi" in the hallway at market. And now I have an even greater appreciation for the lovely WDW products. 

P.S.We did have an unfortunate quirk in air travel (hate it when that happens) on our way to NC and long story short...spent the night in the St. Louis airport due to mechanical problems. During the long, extremely NOISY night of airport camping I had a number of "deep" revelations I feel I should share:

* Muzak gets louder after midnight (due to lack of people in terminal)
* Listening to CNN all night with Hillary, Bernie and Donald isn't entertaining (also very loud)
* The "Zamboni" machine they use to clean tile floors makes 1000+ passes down the corridor
* The cleaning crews materialize out of nowhere and kinda freak you out
* Security staff was never seen - also a little creepy
* Those seats are NOT made for sleeping - big ridges that don't promote sleeping
* It's COLD at night....brrrrrrrrrr...I raided my suitcase for my raincoat
* I'm TOO OLD for this!!!!

But thanks, and shout out to gate agent "John S" who went beyond the call of duty and did more than offer his apologies. He spontaneously brought us a pile of blankets, 2 Sprites, and the remaining stash of pretzels and peanuts from a plane over-nighting at the gate (see sack on bottom left)! Kindness happens.

COMMENTS? Questions? We've love to hear from you about the WDW magical color tour.

Don't forget...Part 1 of our SPOOKED Mystery Sampler ships to shops everywhere on Wed., June 15. If you're not on the pre-order list and need some mystery in your life this summer, let your favorite shop know NOW! The countdown is ON!!!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Field trip to Picture This Plus

On a beautiful Friday afternoon, we hit the road to travel 1.5 hours to Abilene, Kansas and the home of Picture This Plus. Marilyn and her staff are busy dyeing fabric for our upcoming SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler and we wanted to show you what's happening.

What's happening is so top's underground! Just kidding....sort of. Everything at Picture This Plus is underground because they're located in the basement of an historic building in downtown Abilene. Marilyn has a fabulous bookstore called Rivendell Book Store on the main floor. Her fabric dyeing happens below ground, along with her cozy cross stitch shop. The friendly ghosts live in the unoccupied second floor...or is it unoccupied??? Marilyn claims to hear footsteps overhead when she's working below ground, and it's not uncommon to find books that have "randomly" fallen from the shelves. SPOOKED!

Here are some of PTP's beautiful fabrics in convenient pre-packs (above). They dye a rainbow of colors. Speaking of beautiful colors, Marilyn showed us some prospective new colors in the works (below). We had fun debating the pros and cons of these candidates for the PTP line. She'll keep "playing with color", eventually choose 4 and add to their line in 2017.

Marilyn and the ladies made us right at home when we arrived with some "Sailor sundaes" from the nearby drug store. Yes, the drug store still has an old-fashioned soda fountain. For the uninitiated, a Sailor sundae is chocolate ice cream with marshmallow topping - yum!

Here's how the process begins. PTP has a giant wall of fabric ready for dyeing. These bolts each have 50 yards of fabric and are special ordered WITHOUT sizing from the mills. That makes the fabric more receptive to the dye and gets better overdyed effects. PTP dyes 19 different types of fabric...whoa.

Fabric is cut and serged before dyeing. Above are some racks with various types and sizes of fabric ready for a dye bath. Our L*K fabric is cut to a specific size before dyeing to make the precuts (which happen after dyeing) turn out the right size. Shrinkage happens.

Here are shelves of dye containers and clear containers underneath. These shelves are overflowing with a rainbow of colors, and these are the dyes Marilyn usually uses.

And these are the dye containers Marilyn is using for our giant order of Ale linen and Aida. Yep, she bought the jumbo size for our SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler project. They occupy their own "special" place on the floor.

**Fun fact...before Marilyn learned to dye fabric, she worked in a medical lab for 20 years. She has an extensive background in chemistry. She also worked with the textiles professors at nearby Kansas State University (our alma mater) when she was learning dyeing techniques. Go Wildcats! In her "spare time", Marilyn is a busy farm wife and commutes 25 miles each way to work. Her husband and son run a "typical" Kansas farm, raising wheat, corn, soybeans, milo, etc. and cattle. Such an interesting and talented lady. But I digress...

Marilyn does her messy magic in the sinks above. These sinks both remind me of old farm sinks. I remember my in-laws "back porch" or "mud room" on their farm with a similar sink.

After the dyeing process, Marilyn moves the fabric to the nearby industrial washing machines. PTP invested in industrial machines after the usual home machines couldn't handle the constant colorful traffic.

The damp fabric then moves to the drying racks. Marilyn had a few colors on the racks when we visited, but beautiful Ale was taking up most of the space.

I forgot to get a picture, but a lot of ironing happens at PTP. You know how wrinkled linen and cotton can be right out of the wash. Yes, the PTP ladies get paid to iron....and iron they do!

Near the ironing boards is a cutting table where our SPOOKED! fabric is cut to the proper size. Forgot to photo this. I think we were busy eating sundaes on the cutting table...oops.

Then it's off for a second visit to the industrial serger. You guessed it...a "normal" home serger couldn't handle the constant action at PTP. Here are Susie and Sara doing their thing at the serger at warp speed - these ladies are fast! ****Why isn't Marilyn pictured? She has a strict "no personal photo" policy and we complied!

The only thing that remains is for the linen and Aida precuts to be folded, labelled and individually packaged. You won't believe what a convenient BONUS this is for shops and for us!

In order to offer the best customer service to our needlework shops, L*K makes all the SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler components available direct from us. We send fabric precuts, thread packs, embellishment packs and the chartpaks to our needlework shop customers. This way, they don't have to use multiple sources to pull the mystery together. If Marilyn and the ladies didn't do the precuts for us, we could never manage to cut and package this much fabric, especially as beautifully as they do. They're fabric professionals!

DISCLAIMER: If this blog post makes dyeing fabric sound like an easy job, I have failed. It's a physically demanding, working with tricky/sometimes unpredictable fabrics and dyes, long hours, difficult job. Some employees have quit when they can't handle the long standing hours, countless stairs, and quality time with the iron. Sure, you can try over-dyeing some fabric at home for "fun". But imagine doing thousands of heavy, wet yards of the stuff and maintaining quality and color consistency. You know how heavy/awkward those wet clothes are when you move them to the dryer?! And did I mention the fuzz? They literally fill trash bags with the linty fuzz that comes off the fabrics. Just saying...these talented ladies are rock stars...even when they're below ground in their fabric kingdom.

I think I owe the hardworking PTP staff more Sailor sundaes! I did take them some "Energy Bites" to help them through the long afternoons. I've made a bunch of different energy bite recipes, but this is definitely my favorite. And I add an extra ingredient...chocolate chips (naturally). If these things are in my fridge, I make frequent trips to the kitchen. It's that sweet/salty addictive thing. I just finished off the last one to make sure I had my daily allotment of oatmeal.

After we sat down and had a long fun talk about the needlework biz with Marilyn, we hit the road to return to Ta-town (Wichita). I was enjoying looking out the window, seeing the beautiful fields of ripening wheat and prairie grass, when a truck sped past us. When I saw what he had on his trailer, I grabbed my phone for a pic. Alas, I got a picture of a large metal buffalo rear end. We had a good laugh about..."you never know what you'll see on the highway in Kansas", and "wonder where in the world a giant buffalo is headed in such a hurry?".

Fast forward to the following day when we journeyed to nearby Winfield, Kansas to attend a Kansas Sampler event. We're putzing around the fair-like festival, sampling the food truck fair (loved the grilled lemonade!), checking out homemade goods from all over the state, when what should we see but....literally BUTT...our large buffalo!

Here he is from a side view. I didn't want to tell him another vendor was serving buffalo burgers. That would be animal cruelty. So out of respect to my new buffalo friend, and his other animal pals, I ate a salad - in a fried mozzarella bowl - which I think is a fabulous addition to typical fair food.

If you want to join the SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler Club as it begins in mid June, NOW IS THE TIME to let your favorite needlework shop know. As we get preorders we're relaying fabric numbers to Marilyn at PTP and she's trying to keep up. If all the orders come in at the last second, things get tricky for the fabric dyeing biz. We're also communicating weekly with our other suppliers - buttons and threads - to assure we have enough supplies to ship to needlework shops on June 15. We handle all the leaflet publication and sacking ourselves, so we're ready for that part of the mystery.

After 5 previous mystery samplers, we've learned a few tricks. We give shops an order deadline 3 weeks ahead of our ship date on June 15. But, we strongly encourage them to send us numbers early and get a spread sheet going so we can prepare charts, embellishment packs, thread packs, and fabrics gradually. Assembly takes weeks, not days. We'll share MORE about SPOOKED! assembly in the L*K office (and my basement, dining room table, and passenger seat in car!) in a future post...

Here's to a little mystery in your life this summer!

Monday, May 9, 2016

SPOOKED! Collage Sneak Peek Photo

It's here...our "famous" collage SNEAK PEEK photo!  Here's your best to chance to "see" our SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler ahead of time. Have a look and put your sleuthing skills to work and see what you can "discover" about the upcoming SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler. We've packed lots of little clues into one picture.

I spy with my little eye....
* Winnie Witch BONUS standup (check out her "real" stem)
* Beautiful threads including our new custom color, but which one is it (we'll reveal the name soon)
* 2 sided fob BONUS (wonder what the other side looks like?!)
* "Cleverly crumpled" SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler (unframed)
* "Artfully folded" For the Birds BONUS stitchery
* SPOOKED! embellishment pack insert and a spatter of buttons
* My recycled sweater pumpkins - DIY project with my craft buddy/guru, Glenna, last fall
* If you "spot" any other clues, leave me a COMMENT at bottom of post

Speaking of "sleuthing"...did any of you devour Nancy Drew mysteries as a kid like I did? Oh my! Reading Nancy Drew was how I learned the definition of "sleuthing". I remember lazy afternoons at my friend's house (shout out to Connie GW if you are reading!), each of us sprawled on her twin beds, working our way through a Nancy Drew mystery. I also remember afternoons in her kitchen making our famous Chocolate Chip Meringue cookies. Connie's Mom was a dear to let us loose in her kitchen, and I learned how to separate the egg whites and yolks while making some fabulous cookies.

Here's a link to some similar Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies on my favorite food blog, Gimme Some Oven. I may need to whip up of these little pillows of chocolate and meringue now....

Our next behind-the-scenes SPOOKED! post will be a behind-the-scenes visit with Mona, our expert finisher AND our field trip to Picture This Plus to see our beautiful linen and Aida being dyed for SPOOKED! We made the pilgrimage to nearby Abilene, Kansas to visit Marilyn and the PTP gang last Friday. We wanted to confirm that they were really working on Friday afternoon...and those hard-working ladies were still there...and eating ice cream.

Everyone is invited to join our SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler Club! If you need to order, let your fave needlework supplier know and have them pre-order NOW. We needs pre-orders to insure we have enough supplies from OUR suppliers. 

We'll ship Part One of SPOOKED! to shops around the world on June 15. The first shipment will include:

* Part One leaflet with thread key, instructions, and the first 1/3 of SPOOKED!
* BONUS 2 sided fob chart and instructions
* SPOOKED! thread pack with 13 skeins of Weeks Dye Works, including our mystery custom color
* SPOOKED! fabric precuts, available in 28 and 32 ct. linen, and 14 and 16 ct. Aida
* SPOOKED! embellishment packs with goodies for Mystery Sampler and 3 BONUS projects

We're getting psyched for a summer of stitching mystery and can't wait to begin the journey together in June.

Mysteriously yours,