Sunday, May 31, 2009

Road Trip: Lorna's Laces Tour

I was fortunate enough to get hooked up with a group of women going to Chicago to get a tour of Lorna's Laces. We left early Saturday morning and arrived in plenty of time. Beth and her husband showed up with their big (I mean huge) dog, Pearl.

Beth started the tour with an explanation of how she got into the business. She was working a sales job (text books) and complaining about it every day. Her husband finally said to her, "You have a choice. Either you can call your boss today and resign or I can call your boss and resign for you."

She listened to his advice, but then spent quite a bit of time bouncing around doing no particular thing. Until she read a tiny ad in the back of a major knitting magazine offering a dyeing business for sale, able to relocate, and an email address. She wrote and within about 9 months owned Lorna's Laces. And voila, no complaining ever since!

She then talked about all the different yarns they dyed there and had samples for us to fondle, I mean handle. Wools, super wash wools, wool/silk blends, angora blends, silk bamboo blends (drool drool). Lace weights, bulkies, thick and thins, worsted, and sock weight. They have it all.

And through it all, we tried to listen and ignore the yarn on the table in front of us. But it was so tempting!

Beth gets the yarn from her suppliers already wound into hanks for her. She bundles a bunch together for dyeing. Depending on the weight of the yarn, she can dye 40 to 80 skeins at a time. (That would be a dye lot.) Being done all at the same time, they would theoretically match. Since it's a hand process, the best you can usually say is that they pretty much match. (But these days that's a "feature" not a problem.)

The powder dyes are mixed into jugs with tap water and some soap added as a surfactant. (It makes it easier to wet the wool.) Apparently they got some hate mail when they switched from Dawn to the current brand because the wool smelled different. (Find something worth complaining about, people.)

With the skeins laying side by side, Beth pours the dye over part of the pile in a formula, whatever that colourway dictates. In the above pic, she's about half way through Gold Hill. The thing you really have to watch for is that the dye penetrates all the way through and saturates the wool.
Here's she just finishing the last stripe of dye.

Then the skeins get popped into steamers. (Just like the ones they keep food hot in.) This pic shows a different colourway which had been dyed earlier. If you look closely you may also see that there are two different weights in the pan. Beth had died a bulky and sock weight at the same time.

After the steaming is done, they rinse the hanks in a washing machine. Beth did a very credible impersonation of a washing machine agitator, and I'm sorry I didn't get it captured on a pic. They use the washing machines to rinse the wool only; there is no actual agitation. When the water comes off clear, it's time to hang them up to dry:

The hanks hung off of large PVC pipes mounted in several spots in the workshop. They were so tempting; you just wanted to snag them all!

Toward the end of the tour, just before we were released to shop the mill ends, I was taking this pic
and suddenly heard Beth cry, "Don't take any pictures of the formulas" in a very...strident...voice. I stopped, and turned, and I think I even had my hands up like a cop had yelled, "Freeze!" I tried to explain that I thought they were just dye pots, and was certainly not trying to take pictures of her formulas. After she said again that I should not take pictures of the formulas because they had cost her a lot and were not to be shared, she said the dye was fine, but not the formulas.

I really had no idea what she was talking about. I hadn't even noticed that there were papers hanging on the wall near the dye pots. I guess when I held my camera over the dye pots to get a shot from a different perspective she thought I was talking a picture of the wall. I was not.

Very awkward. And can I say that every other woman in the room was thinking, "Glad that's her and not me!"

The funny part (sort of) is that when I looked through the pictures I had taken of her showing us the process, the formulae showed up several times. I think they were too out of focus to read (I have no desire to even try!), but you can see that I blocked them out of the above pictures just in case. I didn't dare say it to her, but I think perhaps for the next tour she may be well-advised to take the formulae off the wall first. It would keep things simpler. And maybe a touch...nicer.

A bit of whimsy was the flying pig sculpture hanging above one of the tables with all the mill ends.

Shopping was fun. The ends (or seconds) were about half of retail price. I got a few (ok, 4) worsted weights for the Christmas surprise I'm starting. And some sock yarn for my sister. The colours were all nice and I have yet to notice why they were considered seconds.

Despite a couple of tense moments, it was a great tour and it is very generous of Beth and her husband to come in on a Saturday to accommodate us. Thanks!

Up next: we visited three yarn shops and a button and trim shop. My impression and review of each...stay tuned!


  1. Yikes! I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to be so strident. I feel just awful that that my snafu left such a strong impression that you included it in your post about your visit here. I sure hope it didn't ruin your trip. Please accpet my apology.

  2. No problem, Beth. Really. I don't blame you for being worried about your business. It was just a surprise when I was blithely taking what I thought were harmless pics. (And which were...) And of course, we all feel embarrassed when called out in front of a group!

    I really really enjoyed the tour and do appreciate your taking the time to do it. I hope my comments were not offensive to you.


  3. Glad you enjoyed the visit. Hope the rest of your time in Chicago was wonderful too!


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