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Spincycle Yarns evolves with new mill

Dec 4th, 2017 | Category: Crafty

by Mary Vermillion

Kate Burge and Rachel Price are crafting one of Bellingham’s most colorful businesses, Spincycle Yarns. With the purchase of their own mill, Burge and Price are evolving Spincycle and building a national and international following for their distinctive, hand-dyed yarn.

Rachel Price and Kate Burge at Spincycle's Queen Street studio. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Rachel Price and Kate Burge at Spincycle’s Queen Street studio. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

A fiber artist since she was a child, Burge launched Spincycle in 2004, hand dying and spinning yarn she sold at the Bellingham Farmers Market. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she said. She met Price at the Bellingham Food Coop where they both worked. Their friendship quickly became a business partnership. In 2005, they moved into their first studio, a 400-square-foot space above the Pickford Film Center in downtown Bellingham.

When they started, the spinsters – as Burge and Price call themselves – would dye a pound of fiber in a 3-gallon pot and then hand spin the fiber into yarn, each week. Burge and Price kettle dye their fiber first and then spin it, contrary to most fiber artists. They began selling at craft shows and reinvesting the money in the business. Along the way, each had a child, balancing business demands with maternity leaves.

“We were still hand spinning, but we didn’t have as much time,” Burge recalled. As hand spinners, they could produce a finite amount of yarn, and began to evaluate their small business. That’s when they met a mother-daughter duo with a small mill on Camano Island. “We would never be more than a cute, hobby-jobby business as hand-spinners,” Burge said. “We said to each other: Here’s the deal. This is not a sustainable business. We needed to get serious and make the business a career or stop.” spincycle yarns color

The speed and efficiency of the mill gave new life to Spincycle Yarns. Their yarn yield increased from one dye pot of fiber a week to four pots in one day. Annually, they now manufacture finished yarn from nearly a ton of U.S.-grown fiber graded to a consistent softness by a cleaning and carding mill in South Carolina. Wholesale accounts grew from six to 120 active accounts in the United States, Australia, the U.K, Japan and Canada. The duo also boosts sales by traveling to national and international knitting shows. Their tattooed, rebel ethos has made them rock stars in the fiber arts world.

When the Camano Island mill owners decided in early 2017 they wanted out of the business, buying the mill and moving to the larger 2,000-square-foot Queen Street studio were logical next steps for Burge and Price. To their knowledge, they are one of two female-owned mills in the country.

The eight-head mill, which stands seven feet tall and covers five feet of floor space, is the first thing visitors see when they enter the studio.

Anna Kalahan, who worked with the Camano Island mill owners for a little over two years, signed on to run the mill as a member of Spincycle’s all-women crew. Since neither Burge nor Price knew how to run the equipment, Kalahan has taught them equipment operation. Burge is Kalahan’s mill assistant.

Anna Kalahan working Spincycle Yarn's mill.

Anna Kalahan working Spincycle Yarn’s mill.

“The actual running of the milling equipment is not difficult,” Kalahan said. “It just takes some time and repetition to become nimble at the hands-on tasks with the fiber and at the equipment. The things that are the most challenging, I would say, are tuning in to three or four machines running at the same time, becoming confident in the work, and catching problems before they turn into giant, messy piles and knots of fiber.”

Kalahan, who had never operated a mill before working for the previous owners, added, “Doing things by hand is so very satisfying, but you must be patient, and you end up with a small, precious little item when you’re done that you’ve put so much in to. With the mill it is still so thrilling to me… to see so much yarn produced. With hand-spinning, I might get one beautiful skein of yarn spun, plied and finished in a whole day; on the milling equipment, I might finish 70 or 80 skeins in a day of work!”

Beyond the mill in Spincycle’s Queen Street headquarters is a massive, barn-style door handcrafted by Burge’s brother. Visitors slide it open to enter the heart of the studio where the crew labels, sorts and runs quality control. Nearby, tucked beneath the stairs, is a stand-up desk where Burge manages shipping operations. In a loft space above, Price directs marketing, plies Spincycle’s super bulky yarn, and designs knitwear. There are dedicated dying and drying rooms and a second loft where their children play when at the studio. In the alley, they line pots of fiber soaking in intense dye colors.

Spincycle’s color ways are inspired by nature: fall foliage noticed while biking; wet stones seen on a hike through the woods; a basket of heirloom tomatoes in a pressed paper green basket at the farmers market. They regularly create custom color ways for yarn clubs and shops, including Apple Yarns in Bellingham.

Spincycle’s business growth mirrors the knitting community’s interest in domestic yarn from independent American mills. “Textile arts are like comfort food,” Price says. “People – whether they are conscious of it or not… want to be surrounded not by more stuff but by prettier stuff.”

Spincycle Yarns is located at 2135 Queen Street, Suite B, in Bellingham, and are open by appointment or by chance. Call 360-752-0783 to schedule a visit. Their yarn is available at spincycleyarns.com or at local yarn shops. Follow them on Instagram at spincycle_yarns.

 

Published in Grow Northwest, December 2017

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