Meet the indie dyer: Countess Ablaze

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Manchester, and the home of those amazing, boldly-coloured yarns from Countess Ablaze. Rather excitingly, the Countess (as I’ve learned people DO call her!) has opened her new studio doors to the public – making it the best kind of indie yarn-lovers space for miles around! Lyndsey kindly took the time answer my questions so that I could share more about her space with all of you. Read on and enjoy!

Countess Ablaze herself, Lyndsey Blackwood

Countess Ablaze herself, Lyndsey Blackwood

Countess Ablaze is big, bold name – rather like your hand-dyed yarns! How did you come up with the name and come to set up your business as a yarn dyer?
I wanted a business name that could evolve and wouldn’t be tied down to a specific aspect. Countess is the online handle I’d used since I was sixteen and Ablaze was the bright bottle red hair I was sporting at the time. I turned to yarn dyeing by experimenting in the kitchen and secretly opened an Etsy shop without telling anybody in real life. I somewhat expected failure but instead took off instantly. Then I realised I needed to properly think about this as a business and not a hobby.

The gasp-inducing colours of Countess Ablaze

The gasp-inducing colours of Countess Ablaze

​Most indie dyers all seem to have a special technique or process that is unique to them that makes their yarns special and identifiable. What is yours?
Layers, lots and lots of layers. I’m not much of a formulaic dyer, I prefer to build up colour on the skein to create complex colourways that vary in different light. It’s time consuming but they’re distinctively my work.

The Countess at work in her studio

The Countess at work in her studio

The names of your yarns are also as amazing as the colours. How do you come up with them, and do you have a favourite? Or a favourite base to dye on? And why?
I split my work into repeatable colourways and a limited edition series that runs annually. The repeatable colours often take their names from my (dire!) taste in music or trying to be a bit clever. Geeks Like Rainbows Too is because it’s a cyan, magenta and yellow colourway and Nerds Prefer Their Rainbows Darker is Geeks with a layer of black. My current limited edition colourways are based upon Homer’s oral poetry The Odyssey. I tend not to pick out phrases to name colours that are obviously colour based but bring out Homer’s humour such as “Death was quick but marriage was a different matter.”

This year I’ve really enjoyed seeing the colours and stories coming out of your Odyssey Trail colour club. What was your inspiration for the club and how did you come up with the idea?
I read Classics and Ancient History at university and wanted to keep my own interest in the ancient world alive. Last year’s text for dyeing was Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars and each month, I dyed colours for each emperor. Knowing how successful this had been and knowing that I’d caught people’s attention, I wanted to showcase Homer’s Odyssey as it’s an accessible text with a lot of visual imagery.

New Caesars Shawl

New Caesars Shawl

What has the response been? Any surprises or fun things you’ve had come out of fans following along with the Odyssey Trail?
Very, very positive! I’ve had emails from many people thanking me for exposing them to something they’d never thought of reading before. I know of one person who has since embarked on a Classics degree on the back of my ancient world inspired dyeing. The Odyssey Trail has even inspired a couple of knit designs with Boat Trip Cowl by Stitched Together Designs and Never been to Greece by Katherine Lynn. Last years’s The Twelve Caesars Collection inspired a shawl and cowl set by Stitchnerd, New Caesars.

A knit-together in the new Countess Ablaze studio space

A knit-together in the new Countess Ablaze studio space

In addition to the Odyssey Trail you embarked on an odyssey of your own with the opening of your dye studio to the public this summer. Tell us what that’s been like and what your vision is for the studio.
I hit a crossroads this year and had to make a decision as to what direction to take my business. Going down the wholesale route has never appealed to me and with Manchester being fairly Spartan for yarn shops, I found the perfect space to allow me to dye and open up the the public. The dye studio is based at 101 Chorley Road, Swinton, Manchester, M27 4AA and is open to visitors on Fridays and Saturdays, the two days that I am not dyeing. It’s been an exciting time and it’s rapidly becoming a social space for local knitters and crocheters to hang out – obviously the coffee and cakes helps too! My vision for the studio is to invite teachers for workshops, continue the evolution of becoming a hub for stitchers and have more parties in there, such as my first Saturnalia Party happening this weekend.

What exciting things do you have planned for 2016 that you can share with us?
More yarn, more ancient world and a bigger coffee machine for the studio!


 

Many thanks Lyndsey! And if you’d like to see these gorgeous yarns for yourself, the Countess Ablaze studio is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 6pm. I thoroughly recommend it. Click here for more details. 

For those farther afield, be quick off the mark for her shop updates because the best yarns go in minutes. 

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