We’ve had lots of new customers shopping with us recently, and since I’m regularly asked questions about the business, I thought it might be a good time to answer some of them.
Q. What dyes do you use?
A. We use acid dyes, in 7 base colours: 2 yellows, 2 reds, 2 blues, and 1 black. All other shades and colours are mixed from these.
Q. What other chemicals/fixatives do you use?
A. Only citric acid, which makes the dye solutions acidic enough to fix them permanently. We’ve experimented with various other chemicals, brighteners, colour enhancers, etc, but never really found that they made any difference, so we keep it simple now. The yarn is presoaked in water, nothing else.
Q. How does Tony come up with his colourways, and how does he dye the yarn?
A. He works very much like a painter, actually. He sometimes has a vague idea of what he wants a colourway to come out like, but more often than not, he works it out as he actually dyes the yarn. So he’ll apply a colour, then consider what would work well with it, and keep building up the colourway like that. I think that’s why he is so clever with his colourways, because it’s more of an intuitive, creative process, rather than the way I used to dye, which was to think up a colourway in my head, and then try to recreate it. He finds dyeing really tiring, not physically, but mentally, as it takes a lot of concentration and creativity. Despite that, he does work very fast, and dyes a week’s worth of yarn in about 5-6 hours.
He uses a few different techniques to apply the dyes, depending on whether he wants the finished yarn to be solid, semi-solid, subtle variegated, or block variegated. Even I don’t know all of these techniques – he has trade secrets!
Q. How is the yarn ‘cooked’?
A. We have a commercial baker’s oven. It is HUGE! The yarn gets wrapped in sealed parcels, and stacked in the oven, then cooked for several hours, until all the dye is exhausted (ie. only clear water is left).
Q. What happens next in the process?
A. The yarn is left to cool overnight, then rinsed, gently spun to remove the excess water, and hung out to dry – if the weather is good, it goes outside on large drying racks. If it is bad weather, then it is dried on long poles above our woodstove. Once dry, it is twisted into skeins, sorted, named, labelled, etc.
Q. How does you come up with the colourway names?
A. After 6 years of naming colourways, I have pretty much exhausted the obvious names! So more often than not, I work from a database of names that I come up with in my spare time (and a good friend also contributes to). When it comes to naming, I compare the database with all the yarn, and fit the name to the colour. Occasionally a name will spring to mind when I look at a colourway, but not often nowadays. When coming up with names, I have to be in the right mood. I can come up with maybe 50 names in a matter of minutes, when inspiration strikes, I do find, and this is completely unconscious, that whatever is going on in my life will colour the names I come up with. I don’t know that I’m doing it, but there’s quite often some hidden messages going on!
Q. Why don’t you repeat colourways, or dye yarn to order?
A. The way that Tony works really isn’t conducive to either of these. Rather than dyeing in an organised manner that can be recorded and duplicated, he works as inspiration strikes, like an artist. We decided long ago to make this one of our strengths, rather than a weakness. There are plenty of other indie dyers who will dye to order, or who have permanent colour ranges that you can order from. Our niche is in providing unique, one off colourways, that are yours, and yours alone.
This is also part of the reason why we don’t do wholesale – plus the fact that it would just be too much work, and we are busy enough as it is.
Q. Why don’t you do more shows?
A. Because I’m shy! And because it’s quite a heavy work load, and we already are pretty busy keeping the weekly updates going.
Q. What about clubs, kits, and other special sales?
A. I would love to do more of these, but it’s hard to fit them in. So we do them when we can, now and then. Tony does all our dyeing on his own, as well as the post-dyeing process and twisting, and I do all the sales, listing, naming, photographing, and packing. We have help with the labelling and other bits and bobs, but basically this is a two man show. So we are limited. We both LOVE what we do, and expanding too far beyond our limitations would threaten that joy. So we aim to keep things small and manageable. Besides, treats are more fun when they are less frequent, don’t you think?
Q. Where do you get your yarn from, and why don’t you stock my favourite more often/any more?
A. Most of our yarn is sourced from a UK supplier, a fantastic guy who is a dream to do business with. He has such a good range that we are able to carry lots of different yarn bases as regulars. We do buy from other suppliers, but as these are overseas, and cost is determined by currency rates, shipping costs, Customs fees, etc, we aren’t able to carry these yarns regularly. We see them as occasional treats, rather than yarn staples. I do feel that it is important to keep our prices down as much as possible, and that influences whether we are able to stock a yarn at a particular time.
If we don’t carry a yarn any more, that it either because we weren’t satisfied with the quality, or because we no longer wished to trade with the supplier for various reasons.
Q. Is your stash full of Posh Yarn?
A. Not really! I don’t have a very big stash anyway, and maybe a third of it is Posh. If I was to keep back all the yarn that I wanted, we’d never make any money! Sometimes I really cannot resist, but usually, I do. I try not to let myself think about it, to be honest. I guess it’s how people who work in a Cadbury’s factory manage……
Q. Do you have any future plans for Posh Yarn?
A. Not really, only to keep doing what we are doing, and to keep trying to improve on it. I have little plans, for things like clubs and kits, but nothing on a grand scale. We love what we do, and you seem to love what we do, so why change anything?!
Q. Do you ever do an Open House? If I’m in your corner of the world, can I drop in to see you?
A. This is a very difficult one for me. I absolutely love my customers, and I do truly see them as friends. That’s part of the pleasure of this business. But I am shy, and an intensely private person. We run Posh Yarn from our home, we don’t have business premises. When you run your own business from home, you do have to be careful to have boundaries, between business & private. So I draw the line there, and say no to home visits. SORRY!
Q. What would you say is the essence of Posh? What makes you successful?
A. I like to think that we have the best of two sides – creative and businesslike. Tony is very creative, and I am in constant awe at his colour sense, and the way he keeps learning and improving in his skills. And I am very organised and systematic with the business side of things. We’re both over achievers, never quite satisfied with what we’ve done, so he is always trying to come up with better colours, and more effective techniques, and I’m constantly trying to improve the level of customer service, and the smoothness with which the business is run. I think that makes a pretty winning combo!