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!


  1. What a wonderful adventure you had and shared here with us! Your energy balls look yummy. Grilled lemonade??!?!?!? The festival sounded like a good time.

  2. I love PTP! Marilyn and her staff are awesome. Marilyn has gone out of her way more than once to assist me when I visit the shop. My son/DIL live in Manhattan, KS and I live in Surprise, AZ. On our annual trips to see them we always go up to PTP to buy fabric. The book shop upstairs in awesome too. My husband and son browse up there while my DIL and I search the fabrics downstairs. Thank you for taking time to feature Marilyn and her staff. Their product is terrific and their customer service is second to none!

  3. Thank you for this very informative tour of PTP. I lOVE their fabric. And they are very quick to send us our orders too. I really, really appreciate the serged & packaged fabric that they supply for your mystery samplers! Oh that saves so much time! A true blessing! Looking forward to sending out all the Spooked! supplies to my customers. Thanks! Cyndi @ Beach Cottage Stitchers

  4. Wow! Thank you for the "tour" of the company! I can't wait to get my kit! Pre-ordered mine from the wonderful Strawberry Sampler in PA!

  5. How interesting it would be to be able to visit their location and watch all their hard work turn into beautiful fabrics. Thanks so much for taking us all along on your journey.

  6. Beautiful fabrics and fancy soda fountain drinks, I'm a little bit jealous actually. Thank you so much for sharing this behind the scenes tour, so cool to see some of the process and the place where it's all brought together :)

  7. I was born a Kansanian in Salina and lived in nearby Solomon, visiting Abilene a lot of times too. I miss old Abilene town(a tourist attraction of a western town complete with saloon and stagecoach but no longer there), but I got the pleasure to visit PTP a few years ago when we went on a "Home" trip on the way to the Black Hills. Loved the tour!