In January of 2006 I found a distributer of mill ends from Brown Sheep Yarn Company. These mill ends were loose fiber left over from their carding process. I remembered that Brown Sheep Yarn Company had produced a roving call the “Beast” made from carding mill ends and spinners, including myself, really liked it. They called it the “beast” because it was carded on an old big card called the beast.
Eventually Brown Sheep stopped making Beast roving. I think it had something to do with a breakdown of the card and age of the card master. So they started selling the carding mill ends.
My goal was to play with these mill ends on my big card and see what I could do with them. The fiber was very nice, a mix of wool and mohair in a huge variety of colors. Since my source provided the mill ends unsorted, I never knew what colors I would get. The term Potluck came from this uncertainty of colors, similar to a Potluck party- you never know what you will get.
Some of my first colors.
As I continued to produce this early Potluck Roving™ by blending various colors on my card I started to get a growing customer base and felt that I needed a more consistent color and fiber source. After a long search I found a wool broker who would supply me with white wool combed top which was USA grown, very soft and of consistent quality. However, I had to purchase large quantities of this wool with each order. A bit scary to lay out all the money in the hopes I could make a product and sell it on a large scale!
more early colors.
One of the things I’ve learned with starting a business is that risks are a necessary part of growth. What I don’t do is jump blindly. Lots of research and discussions with my business savvy husband precede new products. But, it’s still scary.
Combed Top- this is fiber that has been washed, carded and combed into a long rope like preparations which has all the vegetation and short fibers removed. The combing process also straightens out the crimp of the wool fibers and makes them all parallel and smooth. My dying process restores the crimp (waviness) of the wool and the re-carding results in a more random arrangement of the wool fibers, a fuzzy roving. Carded roving is much easier to spin since it is not so slippery so it is great for beginning spinners. As far as I know I am the only processor to reverse process combed top back into carded roving.
I started dying fiber and developing color combinations. This was fun. There were lots of muddy combinations, but also some wonderful surprises with color combos that I thought would be horrible together and came out fantastic. The challenge was to break out of my color comfort zone and use colors I am not fond of.
Then I had to market this new product. Cold calls to spinning shops were necessary and although not fun at first, I got used to it. (This calling experience came in handy later on as I coordinated a charity auction for the Ferndale Marching Band and had to request donations from many, many, many people and companies. By then I had no fear of cold calls.)
As I write this I have 16 colorways in Potluck Roving™ and it is selling in five states.
Purple Haze and Party Time- 2 popular colors