Ten years ago, I was a relatively new knitter who had recently discovered the world of indie-dyed yarn. I had long been a supporter of small artisans and enjoyed (and still enjoy) browsing handmade marketplaces filled with jewelry and clothing at home in New York City and when traveling the world.
My first garter-stitch and ribbed scarves were made with yarn-store staples, but it didn’t take me long to fall down the rabbit hole of Madelinetosh, which started as a small, home-based operation, and other dyers who painted colorful hanks in their kitchens or garages.
I was drawn to the depth of color that these fiber artists created, the fact that two grays could look completely different. I loved how a dyer could be inspired by a landscape, a book, or a movie. And I found it meaningful to forge a small connection with the person who made the string that would be in my hands for hours upon hours, that I would transform into something wearable and cherished.
There were challenges back then for both dyers and yarn collectors. When it came to buying yarn, the competition was fierce, and “cart-jacking”—when you reached an online checkout and discovered that someone had already bought the yarn you thought would be yours—abounded. I remember finding out about an Astral Bath shop update through the forums on Ravelry, then watching as the saturated skeins in their Etsy store sold out in mere minutes. I learned about The Sanguine Gryphon through my Tuesday night knitting group but was only able to get my hands on their vibrant colorways after jostling for space and waiting in line for over an hour in their booth at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival.
Etsy, founded in 2005, was the easiest way for dyers to set up shop, but it became more difficult to stand out as the online marketplace soon became oversaturated with mass-produced goods. Setting up your own e-commerce website could be expensive, and there was no guarantee that crafters would find you when you moved.
Spreading the News
So, in the fall of 2013, I found myself researching logo designers and web developers, and using the reporting and writing skills I’d honed as a newspaper reporter to create on online marketplace for indie yarn dyers. Indie Untangled launched in April 2014 to share the news of shop updates and special collaborations in the yarn world.
Here’s how Indie Untangled works: dyers, accessory makers, and pattern designers fill out an online form with the details of their latest promotion and tell the story behind their brand, paying a small fee for each submission. I review their contribution and then publish it to the Indie Untangled online marketplace, which functions like a blog and displays each post chronologically. Every Friday, I summarize what’s on offer in my weekly newsletter, which currently reaches more than 8,000 subscribers.
In the beginning, I reached out to dozens of dyers that I had learned about on Ravelry, through friends, or at small yarn shows, and encouraged them to post to the Indie Untangled marketplace. In recent years, they have come to me through word of mouth. To date, over 300 craft business owners have found a home on the site, sharing their craft and finding new customers.
Kicking off Rhinebeck Weekend
Also in 2014, I organized the first in-person marketplace on the Friday before the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. I asked a dozen or so dyers and project bag makers who had been marketing their businesses through Indie Untangled, and were already planning to travel to New York, if they wanted to set up product displays in the meeting room of the hotel where I was staying for the weekend.
Some of the Ravelry friends who joined me for the festival were already planning to cram their suitcases full of yarn and bags to sell as people arrived for the weekend. The Indie Untangled show helped many of them offset the costs of travel, lodging, food, and yarn shopping, so they could spend time with “their people.”
I promoted that first show through my newsletter, hung fliers in one of my local yarn shops, and advertised on knitting podcasts and blogs. That first year, over 200 people came through, and since then, as word spread, the show has grown to host over 1,400 attendees. Tickets now sell out months in advance, with entry staggered to avoid overcrowding.
Changing My Connection to Craft
Although you take a gamble when you monetize your hobby, and the challenges of running a business are endless, I can honestly say that Indie Untangled has strengthened my connection to my beloved craft.
Coming up with ideas for Indie Untangled awakens a deeper creativity, and I’m gratified by partnering with other creatives on interesting projects, such as the upcoming Heritage Wool Collective breed-specific yarn subscription, the Knitting Our National Parks series of yarn, or the annual themed New Year countdown box that I coordinate and sell through the Indie Untangled online shop. These products help support my work, too.
As the number of indie dyers has increased over the last 10 years, it’s become even more crucial to help smaller businesses stand out and not get lost among the crowd. It’s been a pleasure to see how my small idea could change the trajectory of some small businesses. One fiber-inspired jewelry maker told me how finding an audience through Indie Untangled, where I shared my genuine enthusiasm for her work, helped her build her business up enough to help pay off her student loans.
I’m not immune to getting caught up in the hype surrounding a new dyer or maker and wanting to get my hands on the latest hot product. But learning about and collaborating with so many talented people helps me to slow down and see the bigger picture—there will always be another beautiful skein of yarn from a talented artisan just around the corner.
Lisa Chamoff is a journalist based in Brooklyn, New York.