In 2008, Knit In Style magazine wrote an article about Beth and her journey to The Alpaca Yarn Company. Here it is, with updates in Italics. The article does such a great job introducing Beth and how the company began, I’ll let it do the work.
I did take the liberty of leaving out the yarn lines that were written into the article, as most of the info is out-of-date.
Following the article, you will find introductions to the rest of The AYC staff.
Sometimes your dreams in life come to you in a very interesting way, or perhaps you get to your destination without even knowing it. Beth Lutz of The Alpaca Yarn Company shows that even though you don’t always directly go in a path to achieve your dreams, you sometimes get there anyway.
It is possible that Beth’s life path was right in front of her by the time she was 10. As a young girl, she learned to crochet at about 9 and was so young when she learned to knit that she doesn’t even remember actually learning it. (Step 1) Her first memory of knitting was a bulky sweater, complete with cables, bobbles and a multitude of patterning when she was about 13. Her mother is credited with the actual teaching, but she admits that she didn’t teach her those skills.
Since then, there hasn’t been a time that she hasn’t had a “project” that she was working on. Among some of the other crafts she has enjoyed are needlepoint, embroidery, stained glass and sewing. From the first time she sat down at a sewing machine, there was no stopping her. In high school, she was known as the girl that made and designed all of her clothing.
At age 15 she made her first wedding gown for a cousin and began a small business of her own, creating gowns and veils for mostly friends and acquaintances. (Step 2) The last gown she created was her own, when she married her husband Neal almost 20 years ago. (29 years ago now…)
So as a teenager, she decided that New York and Parsons School of Design would be her destiny. Somehow, after high school, her path changed and design school was left behind. While she still had a nice little business of custom sewing, she went to college locally beginning with computer programming and ending with accounting.
For about a dozen years, she worked as an accountant in a variety of industries. All those years, her love of handcrafts was strong, but these “jobs” were just that – something to go to pay the mortgage and bills. Along with a full time job, she still did sewing and small private accounting jobs on the side.
In the mid 90’s, A co-worker was hosting a knitting group to teach some of the office girls to knit. Beth asked if she could join since she loved knitting. The wonderful host of the group re-ignited her love of knitting and she has admitted to not having a day since then that a project has not been on her needles. (Step 3)
Her last job in accounting was running an office for a construction company. This job allowed her to work independently and gave her the confidence that she could run a business on her own. (Step 4) She also taught a few knitting classes at a local yarn store and learned to spin.
Destiny came closer when one of her small business clients who owned a small gift shop in the downtown area of York PA, her hometown, said they were moving to a larger shop and their adorable 300 square foot space would be available, an idea came to the surface. She excitedly brought it to her knitting group – York needed a Yarn Store – could they do it together? The idea was pitched to at least 8 people in the group and 5 of them decided that they should give it a go. A harder decision than actually opening a yarn shop was what to call it. Beth and her friends came from every walk of life – a respiratory therapist, an art therapist, a financial planner, a chemist and an accountant. Quite a group, very diverse, but all sharing a love of knitting. The name Uncommon Threads seemed to sum it up for all of them. So in the fall of 1999, Uncommon Threads was born. Each of the members was able to structure their full time paying job around the running of the shop, so that there was coverage all days. (Step 5)
Living on a small farm with her horses was great, but Beth wanted to have some type of fiber animals on her farm so that she would have a source of spinning fiber. They had the land, so why not? Neal relented when the angora rabbits came to live on the farm, but sheep and goats were out of the question. In a weak moment, he agreed to a weekend trip to visit several alpaca farms. For some reason, he was taken by these gentle, incredibly soft creatures. After several months of looking, they decided to start small with 3 boys to “get the feel” of it. If they didn’t like working with the animals, they hadn’t made an incredibly large investment. It didn’t take long to decide that they both loved them and 3 pregnant girls arrived shortly after the boys. Now after a few years of breeding, they have about 20 animals (currently around 45 head) on their farm. (Step 6)
By 2002, the Yarn Girls at Uncommon Threads, as they called themselves, had built the business up to the point that they just simply needed more space. A newly renovated space about 3 blocks away was the perfect place for the growing business. During those first few years, 3 of the 5 original partners decided they needed to devote their time to families and careers leaving Beth and her current partner Kathy Yost to run the business. Shortly after moving to the new location, both Beth & Kathy left their “real” jobs to devote more time to Uncommon Threads. It really was a dream come true. (Step 7)
Beth has always admitted that she has a problem; she can’t say no. So unable to just be content to run a fabulous yarn store and take care of the alpacas on the farm, she was still doing accounting work on the side & dabbling in pattern writing. Because of her ties to the Alpaca industry, she taught knitting at alpaca events and began writing and editing patterns for the Alpaca Fiber Co-operative of North America. Also known as America’s Alpaca, the Co-op collected member’s alpaca fiber and had it manufactured into clothing products and yarn. So when she heard that the Co-op had decided that they were going to sell the Yarn Division of the business, her interest was peaked. (Step 8 – you have reached your destination)
The process of buying the business took a few months, but in December of 2004, she and Neal drove to the headquarters of America’s Alpaca in Tennessee and returned to York with the inventory to begin The Alpaca Yarn Company. Finding an incredible warehouse space in a completely renovated historic industrial building just 2 blocks from Uncommon Threads was more than she could have hoped for. The 2000 square foot space had 2 offices and a room that was equipped with water that could be the fitted into a dye room. Brick walls and a huge overhead crane from its industrial days grace the warehouse. It is still her dream space.
For the first few months, just getting to know the customers and develop her business policies were priority. Much of the existing customer base were the members of the co-op, alpaca farmers with small retail operations on their farms. There were retail stores on her customer list, but the farms out-weighed the yarn stores. Uncommon Threads actually had the distinction of being the first retail store customer of the co-op.
After sorting through the ins and outs of the business, it was time to get down to developing new yarn lines. Beth has never wanted to be a huge yarn company, but instead a small business, intently devoted to customer service and quality.
Beth’s goals are simple. To provide quality products to her customers, provide top notch customer service, to be friendly and honest and to continue to develop lines of yarn that showcase the finest qualities of alpaca. She hopes to be around for a long time because who would want to give up their dream?
Knit in Style June 2008
So, that’s Beth Lutz and her amazing journey to become the sole proprietor of The Alpaca Yarn Company. But, who does she have to help her?
Heather “GirlGoneLoopy” Sakall – hand-dyer extraordinaire.
Heather took over the full-time hand-dyeing when the previous dyer, Tasha, had to retire after seven years, in the spring of 2014. Heather was working at the company part time and stepped into the big shoes Tasha left behind. Since 2014, Beth and Heather have grown the hand-dyed yarn lines by 30 new colorways, plus one new kit in six color offerings and a yarn set in 6 different color pairs, bringing the total hand-dyed palette to over 100 colorways, all dyed in-house, by one crazy lady. You will often find Heather, with her mad scientist cackle, in the dye room concocting new dye methods and recipes. She also finds time to crack jokes and design for the company’s ever expanding pattern line.