I have something very special for you today. Dee from Posh Yarn (my most favourite yarn company!) agreed to an exclusive interview…how exciting! Something else very exciting is a new giveaway…details at the end of the interview!
Posh Yarn is run by husband and wife; Dee and Tony, who are based in Wales. They use various different yarn ‘bases’ which are made of fibres such as merino, cashmere and silk. The yarn ranges from cobweb weight (1 ply) all the way up to chunky (12 ply) with everything in between with sock (4 ply) and lace (2 ply) probably being the prefered yarn weights. Tony dyes the skeins of yarn into various gorgeous colourways…Dee gets to name them!
You can find out more about the bases that Posh Yarn uses here.
The shop is online only and there is no yarn constantly in stock. Instead, the yarn is put up on the website weekly at 8pm (UK time). Colourways are not repeated and, because of the limited availability, Posh Yarn is very sought after.
You can check out the shop website here and Dee’s own blog, here…I highly recommend checking out this Q&A section in Dee’s blog for answers to questions about the business and dyeing processes used in creating the yarn. As these questions have already been answered, I didn’t ask them! But here are the ones I did ask…
1. What did you do before you started Posh Yarn?
What haven’t I done! I ran my own interior design web company…… then I moved onto selling vintage clothing online……. that resulted in a book contract, to write a guide to vintage fashion (Viva Vintage)……. Then I took a bit of a breather, because the book had to be researched and written in 3 months, which was pretty hard going, especially since I was ill at the time (I wrote the whole thing in bed with chronic fatigue). I got into knitting, when it was just starting to become popular again, and found all this wonderful hand dyed yarn in the US, but nothing in the UK, so I started dabbling in dyeing and selling yarn online, set up my first yarn business (Hip Knits), then got really ill again, and had to take another break. But I missed it so much, and as soon as I was a little better, we started up Posh Yarn. And here we are, 6 years later! Incidentally, this is the longest running business (or indeed career path) that I have ever have, by far. I have always got bored quite quickly, once the initial challenges of the business have been overcome, and things are running successfully. I’m plagued (or blessed, depends on how you look at it) with the kind of brain that sees viable business opportunities everywhere, and I’ve had to learn to ignore them and focus on what I’ve got.
2. How did you decide to set up the company?
Although there were a few hand-dyed yarn businesses in the UK at the time, there was still quite a big niche for hand dyed luxury yarn, and we decided to try to fill it. My goal was to have a business that we could work on together – up until then, Tony had always worked separately to me, and I really wanted us to work together. Amazingly, we managed that within six months of setting up Posh Yarn. It has been our sole source of income ever since.
3. What did you have to do in order to set it up?
We had to decide exactly what direction this business would take, who our main customer base would be, and what would make us different from other yarn dyers. I had to source luxury yarn bases – which was pretty difficult at the time – and set up the website. Initially, we had a colourway range, and customers could order any of the colourways in any of the yarn bases. So I had to come up with a good range of colourways, and dye up samples of all the yarn bases. I think it took about 2 months before we were ready to open for business.
4. How did you come up with the name ‘Posh Yarn’?
We were driving home from the cinema, throwing around name ideas. We wanted something that made it clear that the focus of the business was luxury yarn. Posh Yarn just seemed to fit!
5. Do you enjoy working with your husband and does it sometimes cause disagreements between you?
I love it. I always knew we would work well together. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but it works really well for us. But one of the key factors, that we learnt by experience, is that we both have very clearly defined roles, and don’t actually work together, most of the time. When I was the dyer, Tony was my assistant, and we did work together on most aspects of the business. That was NOT quite so fun. I am very, uh, let’s say, pernickety. I like things done a certain way, very controlled, very neat, very precise. Tony is completely the opposite. He plays when he works. He literally throws the dye around. It nearly killed me, especially when we first moved back to Wales, and had to do all the dyeing in our little kitchen! Every well we would tape down a plastic covering on the floor, and at the end of the day, it would be ankle-deep in dye, and spattered all up the walls and we’d have to bleach through. I got a little tetchy! But then Tony built a workshop, and by that time had pretty much taken over the dyeing, and so now he works out there, and I work in my little office/stockroom. We have a finely tuned system, and it makes the most of both our strengths.
6. What inspires you when naming the yarn?
Everything! After 6 years of coming up with colourway names, all the obvious ones have been done to death. I have a database of names, and whenever a good one pops into my head, I add it to the list. Then when it comes to naming the colourways, I sit with my list, and match them up. Quite often I will find that the things that have happened to me in the week will creep into the names -one week there was a secret romance going on with one of my friends, and that influenced a lot of that week’s names! I also have a good friend who loves to come up with names, and she sends me a batch now and then. It’s one of the fun bits of my job. I think my names are getting more and more obscure – I often wonder what some of the overseas customer’s make of them, when they are lines from songs, or TV catchphrases!!
7. How did Tony, your husband, start dyeing the yarn?
I trained him. But right from the start he made suggestions about better methods, or which colours worked well together. I scoffed for a while, because he is about as far from arty as you can imagine, and I had a bit of a big head about my own eye for colour. But then I started listening, and realised that he was WAY out of my league, and I just let him take over. He constantly amazes me – his instinct for colour is pretty remarkable, and he is a far, far better dyer than I ever was.
8. You said, in your blog, that you have no plans to expand but do you have any plans for side projects such as yarn clubs?
Yes, we do try to do little fun extras now and then, to keep things interesting for our customers. We have a steady routine each week, thanks to the Sunday sales, and it would be easy just to stick to that, but I think we have a responsibility to our lovely customers to try to keep things fresh and fun. So we have a new club each year (this year is the Random Acts of Poshness Club), we do kits once or twice a year (we have a really cool one in the planning stages right now) and we’ve started doing the occasional update at a different time, to suit overseas customers who find the current time slot too difficult.
There are so many ways we could branch out, shows, wholesale, etc, and it can be difficult to know what to say no to. But when it comes down to it, we are a little family business, and we don’t want to grow and expand. We want to keep things small and manageable and fun.
9. Do you have a lot of Posh Yarn in your own stash?
Define a lot! No, not really. Not as much as people imagine. If I was to take every colourway that whispered my name, we’d never make any money. I have to not let myself think about it. We play a little game, I say to Tony, ‘I reallllllllly want this one’ and he says, ‘I’ll dye you another batch of it then’. He never does, but I know that he could if I wanted him to. I do sometimes find myself looking at Posh destashes on Ravelry, and considering buying some, which is a bit sad!! And there have been some colourways that I really regret letting go……
10. Do you have time to knit?
Yes, I do. I’m not a prolific knitter, but I knit a little, most days. My trouble is I start more projects than I finish. I’m trying to work on this at the moment, focus on one project at a time. There are just so many darned tempting patterns out there!
11. What kind of things do you prefer to knit/crochet?
I go through phases. At the moment, sweaters/cardigans. I also love knitting shawls. Socks, mmm, I have to be in the right mood for them. I do love a good stranded colour work project as well. I don’t crochet. I tried, but it made me want to chew my own arms off.
12. Do you have any other hobbies outside of knitting?
Dee's homemade cherry pie...yumtastical!
I spin. I read a lot. I write. I do jigsaws. I LOVE to cook. I used to run, but I’ve lapsed a bit lately. I waste a heck of a lot of time surfing the Web!
13. You have been very candid on your blog about your battle with depression, has this always affected you or did something trigger it?
I’ve had tendencies towards depression and anxiety since a child. It’s always affected me, but it was manageable without medication until about 3 years ago. We had some traumatic experiences in our personal life, and it triggered a proper breakdown. It was a bad winter too, and I’m always particularly bad in the winter.
14. Depression is a widespread yet misunderstood illness, what are the main points that you think people should know about it?
That it is an actual physical illness, not just a state of mind. That sufferers are not sad, they are sick. That it isn’t something that you can control by positive thinking. That there are different kinds of depression. I wish SO much that they would create a new name for clinical depression, because the very word depression creates a misconception. It gives the impression that it is a mood disorder, when it is so much more.
15. I suffer with depression myself as part of bipolar disorder; do you think it is important to raise awareness of the illness?
Absolutely. I feel VERY strongly about it, and I’m considering ways that perhaps I can personally improve understanding and awareness about depression. So many people have said to me (or more often, to Tony), ‘I just don’t understand it, and I don’t know how to talk to people with depression.’ Although I understand where they are coming from, it makes me sad. You would never say, I don’t know how to talk to diabetics. There is still so much stigma attached to depression, and so many misconceptions. That is partly because sufferers don’t tend to talk about it, and that has to change. More of us need to open up and be honest about it. It’s hard to do so – I’m only just being able to, after 3 years. But the more people who do, the easier it will get.
16. Has your illness affected your business in any way?
Not really, although it has taken everything I’ve got not to allow it to. It provides stability for me, when things get tough. I don’t have a choice but to get up, and do my work, and follow a routine. 99% of the time that helps. It helps me keep a sense of normality, when everything else feels like it is falling apart. We’ve worked really hard to get the business just how we wanted it, and we love it. It’s something that’s worth fighting for.
17. What, if anything, helps to improve your mood when you are feeling low?
That depends on how bad I am, to be honest. When I’m very bad, nothing. It goes beyond mood. I just have to wait. Generally my most effective mood improver is Tony. I really can’t praise him enough for how well he cares for me. The more time goes on, the better he understands this illness, and the better he gets at helping me. He is whatever I need him to be, carer, supporter, comforter, cheerer, protector. My cats also cheer me up no end. When I get very ill, and find it hard to be out of bed, they at least enjoy it, because they are never happier than when they are under the duvet with me! They stop me from getting too lonely. My customers have been pretty amazing as well. I have so many emails, messages, cards, gifts, and offers of help and support. They never fail to amaze me. You can’t help but be cheered and comforted by such love and generosity. It’s very humbling, at the same time.
18. You are a member of the knitting community, Ravelry; do you find that most of your customers are members there too?
I think so. It’s not always easy to tell, because of the Ravelry names. I don’t always make the connection between the Rav name and their real name. But I would say that most customers are, yes. We have more than 1600 members of our Posh Knitters group, so the odds are pretty high!
19. Do you consider yourself ‘addicted’ to yarn?
Not in the same way that I am addicted to books, shoes, and Ravelry!
20. Do you ever wish you had permanent lines of stock?
Not really, I’d get pretty bored. I know that customers would like it, but there are plenty of other yarnies who do that. We are happy in our own little one-off niche.
21. What made you decide to do only a once weekly restock of limited, one-off yarns?
We considered our strengths and our limitations, and tried to work out a business model that made the most of one, whilst allowing for the other. Tony is a wonderful dyer, but he works like an artist, rather than like a factory line. When we did do repeatables, it was a bit of a nightmare. We could never get them identical, and it was a constant source of stress. Also, our income was reliant on the orders that came in each week, and so it wasn’t predictable or reliable. One week we would have only a few, and the next, we’d have too many to cope with. We decided to do regular updates, and to cut out dyeing to order. It has worked REALLY well. I think it provides our customers with stability (knowing when the update is each week), whilst still being fun and unique. I like routine, so it works well for me. Tony likes to be creative, so it works well for him.
22. What are your favourite yarn brands (apart from Posh of course!)?
I love the Kilcarra tweed yarns. I like Rowan’s Felted Tweed range. I love anything rustic or homespun. Tweedy yarns especially appeal; because that’s something we can’t do ourselves. I also like anything that smells ‘sheepy’!
23. How big is your business? How much yarn do you usually sell each week? Is it profitable?
It’s big enough to support me & Tony, and also to provide part-time work for two employees. We sell about 25kg of yarn each week. Yes, it’s profitable!
24. What tips would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Ah, so many. First of all, find a niche. You’ve got to be unique. You’ve got to offer something that others don’t. Ask yourself, what do I want, that I can’t find? Be realistic with costings; make sure that it is really profitable. Make sure that your prices are right, reasonable enough to appeal to the customers, but high enough that you can make a living. Don’t undersell yourself. START SMALL. Don’t think that pouring a load of cash into a start-up will guarantee success. It is more likely to doom it to failure. Start small, be modest in your initial outlay, aim to build up gradually. Be honest with yourself about your own strengths and weaknesses. Be very careful about who you go into business with, or who you employ. If you plan to run your business from home, be quite clear with friends and family, right from the outset, that this is your workplace. And above all, do something that you are genuinely enthusiastic about. Find your joy, and follow it.
25. What do you do to relax?
Read, mostly. My house is jammed packed with books, and there’s something wonderful about being able to step out of your world and into someone else’s, anywhere, any time. One of the hardest things about the very patches of depression is that I find I can no longer escape into a book.
I also love cooking, especially baking, and especially for others. Just an hour or so’s work and you can brighten up someone’s whole day.
And if I’m very stressed and twitchy, I’ll do a jigsaw (online – I have 2 cats in a tiny house, so real jigsaws are not very practical!), and listen to relaxing music while I do so.
26. What things do you consider to be lovely?
My husband insisting on bringing me breakfast in bed every morning. My cats, curled up together in front of the fire. The bottomless love and support I get from my Ravelry group. Red shoes. The smell of baking bread. The robin that follows Tony around in the garden. A row of unread books, inviting my attention. Fresh bed linen. The scent of thyme and lavender.
27. What are your favourite Posh Yarn colour-ways? And do you have a favourite name that you have come up with?
Danger, Will Robinson
I have a new favourite every week! This week, it’s Danger, Will Robinson (this was from the 22nd May 2011 update). I think it’s one of the best that Tony has ever done. I’m a sucker for his subtle, complex colourways. Favourite name, hmmmmm. Probably Pretentious, Moi?
28. Do you have any non-yarn collections of things?
Books. Shoes! My house is too tiny for real collections though.
29. Where in the world would you most like to visit?
Prince Edward Island. I’m a big L.M.Montgomery fan.
30. How many yarn suppliers do you have? Have you ever gotten to meet the sheep?!
Two, although I do the majority of my trade with one, a British supplier, who is all kinds of awesome. No, I’ve never met the animals behind the yarn!!!
Thank you very much to Dee for her wonderful and interesting answers. I really enjoyed the interview…do you think I should do more?
Anyway, competition time!
Dee has kindly offered a £15 gift voucher to spend at Posh Yarn and all you have to do to win it is this:
Post a comment on this blog entry with your idea for a Posh Yarn colourway, what you would name it and why you chose it…you can chose whatever colours you like in whatever combination. Let your imagination run wild! Let’s see how tricky it is for Dee and Tony to come up with colours and names for their gorgeous yarn!
One comment per person. Competition ends on 30th June. The winner will be chosen at random using an online random name picker.
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Lots of Love,