10 Tips for Starting a Custom Spinning Business

In the Spring 2013 issue of Spin Off, master spinner and former spinning business owner Kaye Collins shared her advice for setting up shop.

I began spinning for hire in the mid-1980s when I was approached by several llama and dog raisers to spin yarn and make garments from the soft undercoats of their pets. This launched my spinning business.

I found that to make a profit using my passion for spinning, I needed to handle it in a businesslike fashion. Through decades of custom work, I have developed a few tips for those wanting to start a spinning business.

spinning business

A few items that Kaye spun as samples for her business, including a knitted llama pillow, a woven vest using wool yarn as the warp and dog down for the weft, and a retirement afghan that started as a small shawl or lap robe using leftover alpaca fleeces. Photo by Joe Coca

Tip 1: Start Your Business
Organize your spinning business: Create a name and register it (if that is required in your state). Make a logo, business cards, brochures, and flyers. Get a tax resale license or permit. Although services are generally not taxable, you may also be selling products. Use a computer for contracts, communication, accounting, and client folders, and consider setting up a website or blog.

Advertise: Use the Internet and social networking sites such as Facebook, Ravelry, Twitter, Pinterest, and Etsy to get the word out. Advertise in local guild newsletters and notify yarn shop owners. Attend fiber arts festivals to network and to compare your pricing and quality with other handspun projects. Volunteer at spinning demonstrations—it’s a good way to connect with people and share your business card. Advertise in specialty magazines, especially if you want to specialize in a specific fiber, such as dog down, alpaca, etc. Know that when you do quality work, word of mouth will be your best advertising. Truly, there are few custom spinners, so you may find that you receive more work than you can finish.

Tip 2: Begin Your Work Professionally
Tell your customer what services you can provide and what can be contracted elsewhere. Maybe you only want to do the spinning and have someone else do the knitting, crocheting, or weaving.

To make a project more affordable, I often recommend that the customer ask a friend or family member to knit or crochet the handspun yarn. Next give your customer an idea of your fees. This information may end your conversation or cause a delay in contracting your services. Begin this discussion with your fee for sampling and encourage them to start there. I charge $20 to create a sample that includes picking, cleaning, washing, and spinning an ounce of fiber into yarn.

Tip 3: Place Value on Your Time and Work
Always value your work by putting a fair price on your services. After you have worked for a while you can make a price sheet for common items and yarns; you may include photos of finished works with listed prices. If you don’t value your work, two things may happen: the customer may not value it (oddly that often seems more true when working with a friend), or you will eventually burn out and quit offering your services.

Tip 4: Accurately Estimate Your Time Frame
Let customers know honestly when you can get to their requests and how long it may take to complete your services. Allow time for sampling and to further discuss options—communication at a distance may take some time. Find out their deadlines.

Tip 5: Take Notes
Make notes on your verbal communications. Include the customer’s name, phone, address, email, the request, your promised time frame, what you have agreed upon, etc. Ask for a sample of 2 to 3 ounces of raw fiber (or a gallon ziplock bag full). If you prefer working with clean fiber, provide washing instructions.

Tip 6: Sample
Begin by sorting and washing the fiber, keeping a sample of the raw fiber in a small ziplock bag. This is a good time to dye the fiber. Spinning the sample is my favorite part: it’s quick, it provides instant gratification, and I can usually complete an ounce in one sitting. You need to spin an adequate sample, no less than half an ounce. Try different styles of spinning or sizes of yarn. Base your sample on the customer’s requests and the project suggestions you’ve given—refer to your notes. If the customer wants to use a specific commercial pattern, ask for a sample of the yarn called for in the pattern, and then spin your fiber to match the required yarn.

Tip 7: Keep Records
Start a folder for each custom order. I keep hard copy notes as well as electronic ones. The first page will be a fiber and spinning record. Save a yard of each of the yarn samples with your notes or form. Label all your skeins with weight, length in yards, and wraps per inch (or size and yarn description), striving for consistency.

Tip 8: Estimate Your Price
One way to estimate your price is to base your fee on the time involved and set a price for your time. For instance, I know I can wash, spin, and finish 1 ounce of wool in a two-ply worsted-weight yarn in a half hour. An ounce of fine, two-ply dog down takes me 45 minutes and 1 ounce of fine cashmere takes me 2 hours to spin and finish. My signature yarn is a two-ply sportweight at 80 to 90 yards per ounce and takes me 45 minutes to 1 hour to spin 1 ounce. You may want to charge more for your spinning time than for the time spent in your method of construction (knitting, crochet, or weaving). Remember that knitting, crocheting, or weaving often takes longer than spinning the yarn—I find it takes up to three times longer. Some of the drawbacks of hourly pricing are that you must make a large sample and accurately figure the amount of time for spinning each particular fiber at a particular weight.

Your skill and speed as a spinner are also factors. If you set your hourly price high, thus valuing your service, and the estimate comes out as a fee that your customer can’t afford, then consider giving a discount. You may charge by weight for your handspun yarn, or you could charge per yard (which works well when figuring a knitted or woven project).

Another way of estimating cost to the customer is to price your piece as a whole. You may still need to approximate the amount of time involved, but you won’t have to keep accurate records of your time spent and hourly fees. This works well if you are making completed projects for resale, not specific custom orders, or if you are competing with other custom products.

Trade may be a part or all of your pricing. You will have to figure out the value of the trade being offered and the value of your services and do the math. Do not settle for “I will give you the remaining fiber if you will spin half of it for me.” This only works if the fiber you are being offered is exceptional such as nice cashmere or qiviut. However, if this deal actually sounds attractive to you because you are getting a rare fiber you would not otherwise have access to, go ahead. But price your work at the normal rate and offer a discount for an exceptional fiber in trade. Don’t undervalue your work just to make the deal. You will still need to itemize bartered goods in your taxes.

Tip 9: Make a Contract
To avoid confusion and disappointment, it is important to have the details spelled out in writing; there will be fewer misunderstandings and hurt friendships. You can still be flexible on your terms, but your agreement is written for future reference. In the contract, include contact information for both parties, all the services being offered, who supplies the materials, and what your prices are. Also include the estimated fee for each service, your estimated completion date, deposit and payment schedule, any trade arrangements (you may want to use a separate form for this), and any guarantees. This may sound like a lot of work just to spin or knit for someone, but once your forms are made, it is easy to fill in the data, and your records will be complete and available for later reference.

Tip 10: Don’t Kill Your Love for the Fiber Arts
You do not have to start a full-time spinning business. Some people feel that once they make spinning a business, it loses some of the fun and becomes a job. Even if you just want to do some custom designing on the side to help pay for your fiber habit, it is always good to work in a professional manner.

—Kaye Collins

Currently retired, Kaye Collins is the former owner of Fiber to Fabric, specializing in spinning, knitting, and weaving custom-designed garments and home decor. As a collector of modern and antique spinning wheels, Kaye enjoys spinning all fibers and sharing her knowledge with others.

Featured Image: Photo by George Boe

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