Whenever I talk about yarn production and what’s involved the reaction I get is “oh wow, I didn’t know”. So I thought I would pop it up here on the blog for you all to have a read, and I hope you find it interesting and insightful. It will also help explain why we don’t have all the yarn all of the time!
Anyone who’s been involved in stock management will know how complicated it can be, trying to re-order with a long enough lead time for the item to be produced and shipped to you without losing the momentum of sales you’ve worked hard to build up.
This is very much the same for yarn.
There are several processes involved in producing yarn, which provides several opportunities for it to get held up, which it usually does. Firstly there’s the spinning - this includes fibre preparation, combing, and blending in any other fibres. For example with our Milburn ranges we have 15% silk blended in at this stage, which means it’s really well and consistently combed in with the wool. We are always told to allow three months for this process, but what we’ve found is that we have to time it really carefully as the mill closes for a month over Christmas AND a month over summer, and if they get to our order right before then they’ll just leave it until after their break. So we have to bear that in mind when we’re planning ahead - we have to try and judge what might sell fastest and that sort of thing, it’s really hard to judge! Add to that the shipping time - it goes in containers on ships with it being a huge quantity; the minimum spin just now is around 350kg (as you might imagine, the mill needs it to be worth their time). So that’s another few weeks. In total we give it about five months for spinning. We’ve tried quite a number of spinners at this point, and it’s always been at least this slow, and the guys we use (it’s a family-owned mill) are my favourites; I love the quality of their spinning. That’s the only reason we don’t use a British spinning mill - and I believe that my choice in this is the right choice for our yarn.
Anyway, so once it’s in the UK, the rest of the processes are done in Yorkshire, which is rather pleasing seeing as we’re in Yorkshire too. At this point the yarn is on cones, and it’s off to the dyer first. We have found that the dyers we’ve tried (again, more than one and all in Yorkshire) can be anything from super-fast to frustratingly slow. Once they have my colours correct they can dye them really quickly, but any hiccup and it can hugely delay the process. For example in 2017 we were due to release five new shades of Milburn 4ply at Yarndale in September. We had the yarn shipped and ready to dye in the first week of September, giving the dyer two weeks to complete them and send them to the balling/labelling mill - he assured us this was plenty of time (we’d booked it in in with him in February); we knew it was tight but doable. To cut a long story short, his boiler broke down and because he hadn’t dyed the yarns in the order that we specified (we prioritised the ones that were sold out and got every level of assurance this would be followed) we didn’t have any of the new colours until late December, and the sold out older ones remained sold out until then, too.
Following that incident, we decided to get Milburn DK dyed with a different dyer, in order that we could keep things ticking along more effectively - one dyer for 4ply and one for DK. Whilst I still believe that was the right thing to do, it was also a massive headache. Again, we were meant to have Milburn DK ready for release in October, and it’s now February and we’re just getting the first balls of it through. This is because the second dyer just took so much longer over the dyeing than he’d initially said. The thing with both though is that again the quality of their work is outstanding - I can’t believe how well they match my colours, because when I send pastels off for them to match I expect horrible insipid versions back, and it’s just not happened - they match my weird colours exactly how I want them to. So that’s why we stick with them!
The final stage of production is balling and labelling. We could get the yarn in skeins but I prefer balls because they are neater for 50g of yarn, and have the benefit of being able to cast on straight away!
Most of the time this process is so quick that we don’t know it’s even happening. We only get held up if the printer who printed the yarn labels didn’t do enough or messed up our order. That’s another thing we have to coordinate - we have to make sure the labels are ordered far enough in advance that they don’t hold up the labelling process, but obviously they don’t want to be sat on a massive stack of our labels so we can’t have them holding them permanently, plus we obviously get the dyelot printed on, too, so we’ve got to coincide each batch of labels with each dyelot. It can cause problems, but they do rather pale into insignificance compared to the spinning and dyeing hold-ups we’ve experienced!
So there we go - it’s a huge effort to be doing this constantly, as we are doing, and we’ve found we need to be working six to 12 months ahead of ourselves, which we’re getting used to but it is really hard to judge!
This is just for our mill-dyed yarn, Milburn 4ply and DK - we also have this ongoing with the undyed yarns, it’s just that they don’t have any further production after being spun and shipped. However we can easily end up with no stock of a base if we sell more than we anticipate then we’re still waiting for more to be produced. It can cause a lot of stress, no matter how much you get used to it!