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Monday, November 24, 2014

Back to business


Back before I retired, when I began earning my living by weaving, I was barely middle aged, far more spry, fresh from a manufacturing plant where I knew the value of a costed bill of material. What I did not know about sourcing thread for weaving, however, probably filled a warehouse. Of course it was available from the well known shops of the time, neatly wound on one pound cones, and sold at retail.

Retail! Aarrgghh, as Lucy said. In manufacturing everything is purchased at some level of wholesale; you cannot purchase at retail to sell at retail. This was back in the eighties; there was no internet. I recall purchasing a Thomas Directory, and it was a bit helpful locating some suppliers. I was able to direct one of my competitors to a good source of mop cord, for instance. He wove place mats.

One good source of information was dumpster diving. Jan would stand guard and I would look through the trash behind a shop for return address labels on shipping cartons. Ah, the good old days. Another  source was the U-turn, going back to visit a place of interest. R&M Yarns, for instance. We saw their name emblazoned across their roof, from an interstate in Georgia, on the way to visit our niece.

Over time we built up our list of suppliers for each kind of cotton we used. The thread for the jacket that made up a third of our sales was the only thread we had produced at a mill. Our several hundred pound orders amused them, no doubt; it probably was the overage they held back from regular orders of a ton or so. I called it the jacket from hell; the most constructed garment we made, and I was not sorry to see the last of them leave the booth the last morning we were in business.

Most of our thread came from brokers who dealt in mill ends, the wonderful eclectic world of any kind of cotton thread you can imagine how to use. Mill ends come about when the spinner makes too much of an order, the dyer doesn't get the color right, the thread isn't wound properly—any number of reasons that cause the original customer to reject the lot and the manufacturer have a loss on his hands, to sell to the thread broker at close to cost, and start over.

We bought from two major thread brokers back then, one in Tennessee and one in North Carolina. I have found my Tennessee broker again, and I think the North Carolina broker flitted past my eyes on the internet, but I lost it before I could bookmark it, and haven’t found him again.

Never mind, I've found Sheldon! Spent his career in the New York garment district, retired to Tennessee, to a sort of bus man’s holiday. The first time I pulled into his Tennessee warehouse I actually drove past several times before I decided the very back road Tennessee accumulation of dilapidated metal sheds and garages actually were a warehouse. “The lady from Ohio is here,” I heard him say through my car radio as the slats on a blind across a trailer window parted and his eyes and ear with telephone were revealed.

“Hello, Sheldon, how are you?” I said enthusiastically, last week. “Older and uglier,” he responded, and we were back in business. An old mill in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, is his new warehouse. I told him what I was looking for and I could just see him moving from box to beautiful box of “the large shipment I just got in from…..,” describing the grist and the color.  No matter the order would be small. We both love the stuff.  

I ordered some denim blue flake and some yellow 10/3. I do hope it comes before the holiday; I have a full beam and am about to weave more towels.


26 comments:

  1. Fantastic that you've found an old supplier again. Older and uglier - that will be my new answer to anyone I haven't seen in awhile when they ask how I am :)

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  2. This is SO exciting, Joanne. How fascinating this whole world of weaving is and I'm so glad you are indeed back in business! How fun to be beginning a new (or semi-new) enterprise.

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  3. Woo Hoo. And like jenny_o, older and uglier has just moved into my repetoire.
    I have just been ogling your ETSY shop (again). My partner is looking for a scarf for his sister - and is very, very tempted. I suspect we will be back. I know I will - and suspect he will.

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  4. Things might be easier now, but back then in the pre-Internet age, most things were an adventure. Oh my, Thomas Directory triggered a feeling of nostalgia in me.

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  5. You are a resourceful and resilient woman, Joanne Noragon. I admire you.

    Love,
    Janie

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  6. Enjoyed the story of finding yarn sources in the pre-Internet age ;-)

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  7. Wow, you aren't joking - you are back in business!!!
    Evalina, This and that...

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  8. Glad you were able to reconnect and start getting the supplies you need!

    betty

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  9. that yellow is almost golden with color

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  10. Hari OM
    Glad he is still going... I was thinking about the fact that we used to go to the woollen mills back office to get our wool on the cheap... now the mills are mostly gone and nothing - nothing! - is cheap.... even at wholesale. You did good - and I admire the verve! YAM xx

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  11. I am flabberghasted, Joanne! You are just brilliant. Congratulations on having the verve and nous and the energy to do it again!

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  12. You sound happier than a pig in a puddle.

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  13. another great story. so happy you tracked down some of your old suppliers.

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  14. You amaze me, you are my hero….. err.. heroin……both.

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  15. I've really missed you this past month (gonna have to read past blogs to catch up) so am delighted to read that you are back to doing what you love and are so good at doing. That yellow positively glows! Won't it be fun to work with? Your writing and way with words and telling your stories would make a best-seller!

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  16. That is the most beautiful yellow Joanne.
    Is your header indicative of the kind of weather you are having. It may be cold but it is absolutely beautiful.

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    1. Yes, it is cold and beautiful. We had a foot of snow last week; when Buffalo had six.

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  17. I love that yellow, it's almost Gold.
    How lucky that you found Sheldon again. "Older and uglier", I love that and may borrow it from time to time.
    I'd like to see a picture or two of the jackets you used to make.

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  18. Wonderful colour, captured sunshine, looking forward to the finished material.
    Merle.........

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  19. Yes, Sheldon can still be found. Like you I am back to doing things that worked in the past and may actually have to call him for supplies. you are right, "what old is new again." Now at this point I hope the team wins and the band has another stint to do. Happy thanksgiving and glad you are sticking with the commitment moral ethic

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  20. Dumpster diving...driving past a dilapidated warehouse to find Sheldon...This is such a wonderful memory to share with us. No matter your age, I think you'd take on the dumpster again, if you wanted to do so.

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  21. Joanne, I read with a chuckle the ends you and your friend would go through to find just the right thread or labels etc. for you business. and what a great story about Sheldon. Like the color of your thread you bought -- will make beautiful towels! You so remind me of the early days of my antiques business, climbing into barn lofts, picking up antique stuff out of trash, etc. My friends and I loved this life. I kept at it for thirty some years and then said goodbye after a wonderful life with antiques. And if I ever get back to the midwest I will take you out to lunch where we can talk about our interests.-- barbara

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