Best Foot Forward

Just as most of my in-person customers are used to me occasionally redesigning the layout of the retail store, so too are many of ThreadBear’s long-term mail order customers used to the idea that occasionally the website gets a nice little nip and tuck. Well, if you hadn’t already noticed, there’s been a little nipping and tucking going on behind the scenes for a while, now. The PATTERNS area was updated a month or so ago, for instance, and as of the latest book from Colinette, Parisienne Luxury Mohair, the way that I’m presenting pattern books has changed… hopefully for the better.

The last week, though, has mostly been dedicated to updating the look and feel of the front page of the site. Much of the information remains the same, and of course, there are likely to be any number of tweaks over the next few weeks, but for now, it’s done, and it’s up! Happy Shopping!

New front page, ThreadBear Fiber Arts Studio.

Color Conundrum

God knows retail is fickle, and only fashion is moreso. Is it just me, though, or has Pantone® gone seriously soft this year? I hadn’t really noticed until Rob‘s newsletter went out this week and I started looking at Fall as a here-and-now kind of thing, but their Fall Forecast for 2006 is kind of weak. Now, I won’t presume to know better than these forecasters where color is going—I just don’t have to like it.

Pantone Fall Color Forecasts for 2005 and 2006

First of all, is it just me, or is there an inordinate number of colors that were barely tweeked from this time last year? I know this isn’t necessarily their fault. They’re "predicting" what we’re all going to be wearing. But they do have enormous influence on what’s being dyed, what’s being spun, and what is eventually being offered to the end consumer. Is this what we have to look forward to? More of the same, and less emphatic color?

I thought that I’d noticed that most of the colors had been washed out or darkened a bit from last year, but I was very surprised to see that there were three more very drab neutrals versus what was a somewhat traditional green and orange autumn from last year.

I know. I’m the last person on Earth most people would expect to be complaining about more neutrals. I love neutrals. I’m just surprised that there is not a single overtly green shade anywhere in the fall palette this year.

The colors that Pantone has selected are gorgeous. I can’t argue that. And frankly, I really do love the neutrals that they’ve selected. But if you look at the rest of the palette, only the Purple Magic is brighter than its counterpart from last year. Every other shade is either darker or less intense than it was last year.

Is it the war? Are we just less happy? Are we getting close to some upheaval as our President is getting ready to leave office? Did dye get more expensive the way gasoline has? What happened? I, for one, could use more color. If there is anyone out there who can guide me to information that will help me understand this, I’d genuinely appreciate the heads-up.



kristi and otis write on 07/17/2006 10:32pm
Looks great! I’m on bedrest for a couple days and am in search of new scenary – those sofas look like they could do the trick!

matt writes:
Good lord, woman! Get to the shop immediately before those animals smother you in your sleep for taking up so much of the bed… and I have dogs, so I know they will. Let us know what you need (e.g. assistance, water, to be left alone), and we’ll set you up a somewhat less crowded place to put your feet up. And by the way, that front sofa is a dream to stretch out on.

Susie writes on 07/17/2006 11:49pm
…You are an organizing genius…

Can’t wait to see it in person. We’re having a bi-state (at least I *think* it’s only bi…may actually be multi-state) meetup on the 24th. But you already knew that, didn’t you…

matt writes:
Why, thank you, but it really is trial and error. Fortunately, I’m able to visualize well enough that much of the trial can happen in my head before everything starts moving around in the shop. It makes it look like the first attempt is correct. In actuality, that’s just the first visible attempt. And to be truly fair, I have to admit that this last major move was actually the third attempt at the move that started before last fall. I got as far as I could on the prior two, and left it for "good enough" until I could figure out a better solution.

That said, I’m going to follow my own advice to numerous friends for equally numerous reasons and accept your compliment a bit more graciously. Thank you very much for your kind words. I do what I can.

As for the meetup, I had indeed heard a thing or two, and I’m absolutely delighted to have you guys here. Mondays tend to be a bit hectic, so if I’m not here when you get here, I’ll be in shortly.

Trish writes on 07/18/2006 11:19pm
Looks awesome, Matt! I am anxious to come see it in person….TOMORROW! My sister is finally here, and ready to spend the gift certificate I bought her back in March. We plan on doing some Yarntini swatching for you, and hanging out for a while. See you soon!

matt writes:
Hey, Trish!! It was great to see you today, and I’m flattered that you brought your sister by to meet us and see the shop. I’m sorry that we were in a meeting with a sales rep when you were in the shop, but I suspect you’ll be excited to know that (yeah, you’re not gonna believe this…) we bought some really fun yarn. Yeah, I know. Duh! But that’s my fun yarn buying excursion. It just tends to happen here at the shop. Another neat thing, I think, is that the woman we were meeting with is one of our customers from our days in Indiana! Small world. Ain’t it great?

Ok. ‘nuf of that. Now on with our regularly scheduled blog post.

Another day…

Of course, I’m always trying to make another dollar, but I’m also about to be a great uncle for the first time. I’ve got a book to write, as I’ve already mentioned, but my brilliant only niece (daughter of my only sister… or sibling, for that matter) thought it wise to tell me immediately upon learning that she was pregnant with her first child, a boy, that they were strongly considering Matthew as a middle name.

Here is something that you should probably know before I say what I’m about to say. This is a child who learned early on that if she wanted anything at all, she’d better be willing to sweat for it. She’s an incredibly hard worker, and I could not be more proud of her if she were the first female President of the United States.

That said, she’s having her first child a year and nine months (damn near to the day) after her wedding. Hmm… guess the anniversary trip went well, Jason. Good job. Though she was only twenty-one when she married, she’d been with her fiancé for quite a long engagement, and the two of them had been very thorough in planning when and how they’d marry along with what needed to be accomplished prior to their conjoining households. Very, very well planned, I thought, especially for such a young couple.

But to call your doting gay uncle who happens to own a yarn shop and tell him that you’re naming the first child of the generation after him? Tell me. Do you think that boy’s ever gonna want for knitwear? Yeah, me either.

So Carter’s on his way… at least I’m pretty sure we’ve settled on Carter for a first name (though the middle name is likely Jehosaphat, by now). And he’s due on August 15. Today is July 19.

Now, you know I’ve already started a baby gift. Here’s the problem. I’m me. I’ve got about a million and one things that I need to be knitting on including swatches for the book, and I’m knitting a baby playmat.

Baby Playmat from Rebecca Home 7.

Isn’t it gorgeous? Notice that business card tacked to the project? Guess what that means. That is the card that identifies this piece as part of a trunk show. Yeah. That’s not mine.

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My progress.

This one is mine. "But wait!," says you. "Where’s all the white?"

Aha, my attentive friend. It’s not there. All of the white is surface embellishment. This is the Baby Playmat from Rebecca Home 7. It’s knit in GGH Samoa in three pieces: one main central panel and two top and bottom panels that emulate the side borders in the central panel. Once all of the pieces are assembled, white GGH Bali is used to cross stitch the bandana design on the finished blanket. This first time I laid eyes on this piece, I thought how much like my dad’s bandana-style handkerchiefs it was. When I found out that Morgan was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to knit something for the baby, but he was due in August… in Georgia! What do you make for a late summer baby in Georgia that will actually get used? Then Rob asked Kirstin Meunch for a couple of Samoa models to display in the store. Huh… huh-huh-huh… Thanks, Kirstin. You’re a peach.

Seriously, I’m actually loving the knitting of it. I just wish I had time to enjoy it more often, and I’d like, for once, to actually have the piece completed before the baby’s here. *sigh*

My markers.

As for the knitting itself, it’s actually quite straightforward. First of all, it’s symmetrical with only the tiniest of exceptions; I’m not sure exactly why but the border is 3 stitches wider on one side than on the other. I’m hoping that I’ll run across the reason eventually, but if not, I’m not going to sweat it. Anyway, there’s a basic horizontal rib border of 8 and 11 stitches on the outer edge. Inside that, there’s a panel of a dozen stitches of stockinette flanked on either side by oppositely twisting 2×2 cables. The rest of the blanket is all seed stitch. That’s it. And I love seed stitch.

Simple disposable row marker.

I have some nice stitch markers that my friend Suann made for me (that we’re also selling at the shop, of course) to mark off the major sections, and I’m using a little trick I learned from Anne Bourgeois of Philosopher’s Wool to keep up with when to turn my cables. The cable is an eight row repeat, so I folded a length of yarn in half and tied eight knots in the folded yarn each approximately a centimeter further from the fold. I put this marker just a few stitches from the edge on the right side of my work. Each time I pass this marker, I move the needle from one section to the next. When I’m done with row 8, I just move back to row 1.

My latest toy.

I also have to sing to the ingenuity of the folks designing technology around us. There’s no secret that I’m a gadget-head, and several folks may know that a couple of years ago, I was dying to get a new laptop. I wound up paying someone fifty dollars for her old clunker machine that needed a new hard drive, then replaced the bad drive with a nice, snazzy new model that cost me more than the machine did. It was worth it, though, and I was getting considerable use out of that machine… until. Well, it’s a laptop. And it traveled a lot. To make a long story short, it… well, it died. So now I have files at the shop and files at home, and I don’t have the synching ability with each machine that I’d had with the laptop. I worried over that for about a month, and then one day, it hit me. I went looking for something I didn’t know existed and, sure enough, there it was. Apparently, when I wasn’t looking, they started making a hard case that fits over a laptop hard drive and gives you the ability to use that drive as an external drive via a basic USB connection. Now, I have all of the files from home and work on the portable hard drive and just back them up regularly to the stationary machines. So I can work anywhere, and I don’t even have to carry around a laptop! God, I’m glad I was born when I was.

Touch Me shawl from Knitter’s Stash.

Finally, I have to show off this one last piece. Again, it’s not mine. The designer, Lisa Daniels, lent us this piece because a customer of ours was interested in the pattern. It’s the very last pattern in Knitter’s Stash, and it’s a multi-colored chevron stole in Muench Touch Me. To touch this thing, you really should be wearing your adult diapers, folks. It’s GORGEOUS! The photograph here and the photograph in the book don’t come close to doing this piece justice. If it makes more sense to you, consider this: you’re looking at 30 balls of Touch Me. I stutter at the sight of it, and I see a lot of beautiful pieces. Congrats, Lisa. It’s a fantastic piece. And thank you very much for lending it to us.

Hogwart’s: Fait Accompli!

I dood it! Yet again, I’ve warped our poor little yarn shop into a mad alter-ego of itself. Ok. It’s not that dramatic. It’s just better—hopefully.

In all seriousness, as stock rolls through, we’re constantly moving bits and pieces of shelves and tables around to accomodate new merchandise or displays. Eventually, we look around and realize that things just aren’t working the way they’re set up anymore. Then some idea for how to improve traffic flow and how to logically organize stock and tasks starts rolling through the old noodle. Then, when everyone least expects it—and seriously, it isn’t planned, it just seems to happen that way—something gels, and the compulsion begins: must move shelves!!

Here are the results:

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New front counter configuration.

The front of the store is where most of the transformation occured. The big issue was that the front counter area was simply too big. It housed Sabrina’s office, a full shipping station, all customer holds, staff holds, and assorted and sundry (and I do mean sundry) items that had not found a place in some other spot in the shop. There was a ton of stuff that didn’t belong there, so I took as much as I could out so that we could all work more effeciently in the space that remained.

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There’s more space in front of the counter for customers waiting to check out.

Shipping still remains a smaller, more efficient area on the back side of the counter facing into the shop (and of course, we’ll be using that more as a customer service area on busier days), and the main cash register is further back giving anyone waiting a little more room to move around.

I also moved the books and patterns away from the main entrance. On busier days, browsers, folks entering the store, and customers waiting to check out at the counter created a gridlock in the front of the store that made everyone uncomfortable. I’m hoping that the beautiful yarns that remain near the entrance will still garner traffic without getting the kind of constant "stand/sit and look" population that is actually what we want around patterns and books.

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Front seating area and Her Highness’ throne.

The books, patterns, and notions now live along the walls around the front seating area. I pulled the café tables over into this area to allow for more seating, and lined the walls beneath the windows with the pattern drawers. I was shocked at how concisely all of these pieces fit together. This arrangement actually saved me considerable room that I was able to translate into more open floor, which oddly enough translates visually into a fuller, more well-stocked appearance. Who knew? I’ve only learned that by trial and error. More stock does not mean a more full look; if things are so packed in that people can’t step back and see what’s on the shelves, they actually think there really is less there. Go reason with the human brain. Oh, and obviously Her Highness hasn’t budged yet. With failing eyesight, I hate to move her around too much. She’s an old girl, so we do try to make things easy for her. For those of you who don’t know, that’s Connor, and she’ll be ten this September.

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Connor & Chachaland.

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Tate in Cottonland.

Speaking of our local canine royalty, here’s His Royal Highness Potatomus Maximus—better known as Tate to his myriad admirers. He’s on his way back to his little hidey-hole behind the counter. He’s on the shy side, so he always has to have a place to get away… else his delicate constitution creates issues for his subjects. ‘Nuf said on that topic. Anyway, he’s shown here strolling through Cottonland from the front seating area back toward the black tables.

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Sabrina teaching at the black tables.

I won’t intrude too far, but here’s our store manager, Sabrina, teaching a Beginning Knitting class. She’s awesome, and behind the big wall of Mission Falls 1824 Wool and Cotton in the middle of the picture is her new office away from the front counter. By the way, those are needles from an order of notions that just came in waiting to be stickered on the nearer table for anyone waiting for needles to arrive. Betsy got called away, but she’ll be back momentarily. 😉

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Koigu Rumba, Blue Heron, Twisted Sisters,
Great Adirondack, and Colinette.

Sliding down the wall to my left, we see Handpaint Corner. For those of you who’ve not been in the shop, Rob has a tendency to name the areas of the shop to give people directions as they’re walking through looking for something. For example, Babyland is past the black tables and to the right through Sockland.

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Sockland and Mohair Valley.

This actually hasn’t changed very much, but this is an aerial view of Mohair Valley to the right and Sockland on the left. To the left of Sockland is Babyland, though Babyland is just out of frame. Actually, perpendicular to Mohair Valley is Alpaca Alley, but that’s mostly obscured by the Lamb’s Pride shelves in the foreground.

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Lamb’s Pride Worsted and Cascade 220 Superwash

Back on ground level, we’re nearing the back of the store. You can still see the corner of Mohair Valley poking out with the Koigu Rumba there on the end (that’s just left of center) and Blue Heron back behind that. That’s Lamb’s Pride Worsted on the left, and behind the sofa is Cascade 220 Superwash. The Lamb’s Pride Bulky is on the far side of that display facing the Cascade 220 all along the blue wall on the far right.

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And turning to face the back of the store, this is the rear seating area. That’s Louet Gems Merino on the spinner, and Cascade Magnum and Brown Sheep Burly Spun to the right of the fireplace. The Einstein coat that’s hanging from the ceiling on the far right is made in Zitron Unikat, the throw on the chair is from Donna Kooler’s Crocheted Afghans in Cascade 220, and the sofa throw is Madeira from Colinette’s Toast and Marmalade book.

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Front Counter

It should be amazing to those of you who saw the place a week ago, but you can now stand at the front register and see straight back into the middle of the store. If you look very closely, you can see a bit of Sabrina’s red top while she teaches class, and if you look even closer, you can see Waldo in there somewhere. I found him. Can you?

Seriously, we’re still getting the area behind the counter straightened out, but you can see the shipping computer facing the opposite direction and some lucky customer’s packages sitting on top of the holds/shipping area ready to be shipped.

Well, that’s about it for now. Have a wonderful evening, and do stop in to check things out if you get a chance. With any luck, nothing else will be moving for a week or so… I hope.

Recreating the wheel

After I mentioned Mercury being in retrograde recently, a particularly astrologically informed friend forwarded a bit of potential upcoming celestial prediction.

Mercury retrograde periods are notoriously well-known for communication snafus as well as difficulty and/or lapses in decision-making. Yet with Jupiter also turning direct, no time will be better for looping back to old contacts, reviewing ideas and rethinking ways of optimizing your schedule.

Now, I wasn’t really aware that ol’ Jupiter had been in retrograde, but since it was brought to my attention, I can honestly say that the caveat seems apt. Things have been afoot for Rob and me, and much of our renewed enthusiasm for our personal well-being is translating into renewed interest in raising the bar at ThreadBear.

Certainly, things are going well at the shop, but when we moved into the "new" space two years ago, we were moving so hard and so fast that just getting through was the only way to go. It was, in my oh-so-less-than-humble opinion, like trying to direct the course of a tsunami. There was tremendous momentum behind the business, the community here in Lansing, and the fiber industry at large, and that kind of momentum makes steering somewhat moot.

Thankfully, the ocean’s still with us, and the tides seem more predictable at this point. The moon’s doing her job, the dolphins are out there jumping in the surf, and if you’re particularly lucky, you might even get a decent view of some hot surfers. Hey! It’s my analogy; roll with it.

My point, I suppose, is that we’ve actually had an opportunity to take a step back and look at how the business operates. It’s a lot like the house, actually. Nice and beautiful, but somewhat obviously unplanned. I’m not keen on that. So now, we regroup.

We’ve actually done quite a bit of talking with our good friend Rachel (some of you may recall the awesome Rambling Rows Afghan she made in Cascade Sierra several years ago) from our days in Bloomington, Indiana. Having recently gone through a few life changes of her own, she jumped on the bandwagon with us, and she’ll be moving to Lansing later this month to come to work for ThreadBear. We’re very excited to have her energy and psychoses here with us again. She’s very organized… not to put too fine a point on it, and she’ll be bringing some of that organizational skill to bear on her favorite bears. God help her.

Rachel’s Rambling Rows Afghan in Cascade Sierra.

There’s also a major physical shift in the store on its way. Many of our in-person clientele have come to regard my occasional shifts in the arrangement of the stairs as the "Hogwart’s Effect." Apparently, they’re here one day and know where everything is and come in the next, and everything has just moved! Oddly enough, there actually is both logic and effort that goes into those transformations, and this one is intended to open up the counter area and make more traffic space in and out of the front of the store. The last major shift was just prior to the 2006 holiday season, and that got a whole lot of like with like in inventory. We got most of the wools into the back of the store, the bulk of the hand-paints into one area, cottons with cottons, and eyelashes and other novelties basically into their own little kingdom. We’ll be maintaining and refining that, but we’re also making room for more accessories and notions that have crowded their way into the counter area and made both shopping for those items and checking out somewhat cumbersome.

Aesthetically, we’re also moving toward a more serene look for the store in general. Since we moved into the Waverly Road building, we’ve flown primarily by the seat of our pants with pretty much every business function happening at the front counter. Since the latest "Hogwart’s Shift," our store manager, Sabrina, has had an office behind the counter, and anyone who’s been in the shop knows that Rob lives at the front register. We’re moving Sabrina’s office away from the counter, and Rob will have a dedicated office space in the non-public area of the building. Of course, he won’t be chained to his desk (yet), but with everyone else crowding in around him at the front counter while he’s trying to work, I’m hoping that having a private space of his own will help him feel a bit less pressure when he’s working on a deadline.

And of course, there’s me. I remain a mystery even to myself. I’ve got my office, and I’ve got tons to do on the business website, but as I’ve also said recently I’ve got a book to get written. Where on God’s green earth is that time supposed to come from? Rob’s fond of telling me that I don’t utilize my time very well. He’s right, of course. And I suppose that’s where my focus needs to be for a while yet: getting me organized. I’m hoping Rachel will have some advice to offer in that regard. Until then, though, wish me luck… and time. 😉 I could use lots of both.

Political Necromancy

If you ever feel like your voice is simply never heard… if you feel like the people running your country are simply out of touch with reality… if you feel like there must be something that you can do to make your federal government hear that our lives and our families are meaningful and real, then take a moment to tell your government that you’re watching.

Follow this link to tell your U. S. Representative that you do not support The Federal Marriage Amendment.

Happy Independence Day, everyone. Enjoy your independence. And fight anyone to the death who tries to tell you that you don’t qualify.

Much love, folks.

Finishing what I (and others) started

Odd timing at ThreadBear. Someone told me recently to be expecting the unexpected since Mercury is in retrograde. I’m not sure if that’s the issue, but things are definitely askew. For one thing, I, the great and true Aries starter, am currently in the process of getting quite a few things finished instead. Sabrina’s on vacation until Wednesday, so we’re working all day today and the half-day tomorrow that we’re open (10am to 3pm for those who are interested) and, I’m tying up loose ends today.

I’m finalizing the pages at ThreadBear for Colinette Parisienne that’s just come out. That’s fun. I’ve come up with what I think is an interesting way to present patterns from a book. Check it out and let me know what you think.

I’m also getting a huge list of Rob’s classes on the actual class schedule that’s available online. We sat and put the classes on the calendar last week, but I’ve just not had a chance to get the schedule updated since then particularly with the Parisienne books coming in. I’ve not put myself back on the schedule, since I’m supposed to be working on the book in my spare time. When someone could show me where that spare time is supposed to come from, I’d be very grateful.

In the midst of everything else going on over the busy holiday weekend, there had to be a little drama. The power supply on our secondary register appears to have gone the way of the dodo, so I’m also trying to get that repaired this evening. I went to look something up for a customer, and the monitor was black. After trying to restart the computer a time or two, I finally figured out that she just wasn’t playing. I can’t complain, though. We’ve had that computer since before there was a ThreadBear. Actually, Rob bought that machine when he was still teaching at Auburn, and we were living in Shorter, Alabama in an 1840’s farmhouse with another couple (also both professors) and our mutual five dogs and a cat or two. Wow. That’s been a while.

Our place in Shorter, Alabama

Speaking of computer components, I’m very excited that I’ve found a good source for parts. I was a computer science major, so I’m a geek of considerable magnitude. Rob made me (or rather bribed me with food and nik-nik) ditch much of my electronic mad scientist’s lab when we moved in together, but we’re starting to acquire a little more room these days, and we’re also getting to a point where we’re not constantly needed at the shop. So then I find MSU’s surplus shop. Mein Gott im Himmel. To stick with the Frankenstein analogy, I found a huge bunch of ready cadavers cheap. Poor Rob. Someone remind him that he loves me, please.

Oh, yes, and of course, I’ve got a Colinette jacket from Simply Beautiful Sweaters to finish for Rob. He’s great at knitting pieces, but more often than not, finishing is my job. In this case, it’s a jacket in stripes of Zanziba and Fandango. -sigh- It’s loverly. I’ll have Rob post pics of the finished garment, but in the meantime, here’s the photo from the book.

All-Time Favorite Jacket. Simply Beautiful Sweaters.

Much love, folks.