It was a delight to sit down with Ysolda Teague over coffee and a brownie at Pomfest the other week. We chatted about knitting, publishing and all things yarn-related. Here's a round-up of our discussion...
Ysolda has plans afoot for new yarn... No, sadly it isn't for more Blend No. 1! Blend No. 1 was always planned as a limited run of yarn, and is now gone for good. I know that many of you will feel sad about that (as do I - it was a beautiful yarn!), but the great news is that Ysolda has long-term plans for a limited run of Blend No. 2 (another short production limited yarn), as well as the more imminent introduction of a permanent yarn range (something repeatable that will stay in stock). So much yarn-y potential!
A little sleuthing back through Ysolda's Instagram feed (with encouragement from her of course!), reveals that she and Bex headed over to Ireland earlier in the year...
...and while they were there, they visited Donegal Yarns. Mmmmmm! That's a very exciting thought! We chatted about choosing colour ranges (SO not my area of strength), and Ysolda laughed at the number of greys she had already picked - the remaining colour choices will no doubt come in due course. I can't wait to see what she's come up with.
From yarn, we meandered our way through her upcoming pattern releases. Now that Ysolda.com stocks the full range of Finullgarn (4ply / fingering / light sport weight 100% Norwegian wool in 102 colours!) and 3tr Strikkegarn (DK / light worsted weight, 3ply construction, 100% Norwegian wool in 61 colours) both from Rauma in Norway, she's hard at work coming up with new designs to support these ranges. With the vast colour selection available in Finullgarn, colourwork is an obvious choice, but the colours are flat (in comparison with the heathered shades available from Jamieson & Smith for example). Ysolda is a prolific swatcher - trying out design ideas and working out pattern details - her Instagram feed often gives glimpses of her creative process.
We talked about how your tastes change as you develop as a knitter. As you move from beginner to intermediate status, there's a real temptation to cast on all the interesting projects you can lay your hands on - to make sweaters that showcase the full range of your skills! But often, the sweaters that are most interesting to knit aren't the sweaters that become staples of your wardrobe. We talked about how busy lives require projects that you can pick up and put down without spending hours working out which row you're on. Ysolda was deeply thoughtful on the time and energy it takes to create a hand-knit sweater, and feels passionately that clothes should be long-lasting and provide pleasure for years, rather than the disposable culture that is prevalent on the high street. Her sweaters-in-progress feature tailored silhouettes with interesting details, but a pared back aesthetic.
Another trawl of Ysolda's Instagram feed reveals that she photographed a new design while on a trip to Shetland last month (click on the arrows to see the sweater it's not in the first photo you can see) - a classic colourwork yoked sweater with blues and yellows, and definitely a design that fits the brief of longevity.
In fact, since I wrote up the interview, Ysolda has published the sweater - Threipmuir - a beautiful top-down yoke inspired by Icelandic Lopapeysas, but worked at a finer gauge to give a more detailed colourwork design at the yoke. Ysolda is selling the beautiful Celtic Colours from S Twist Wool on her website - an interesting single ply yarn in light and dark shades, made by dyeing the same colour over naturally light and dark fleece colours.
Running a small business
Alongside Ysolda's yarn ranges and knitting designs, she also plays a really active role in the nitty-gritty of running her own business. She has coded her online shop herself, to ensure that it works exactly as she intends. And her interest in coding means that her pattern design process is entirely done in-house, as she uses an integrated system for pattern writing. The pattern is created in Excel and output directly to InDesign where the pattern is laid out, thus eliminating any possibility of typographical errors where numbers are copied from one file to another. Any pattern changes have to be made on the original Excel sheet - thus ensuring that all follow-on changes occur correctly too. Ysolda clearly derives a lot of satisfaction from this kind of problem solving - often discussing coding issues with Casey Forbes (the mastermind behind Ravelry's code).
In fact, Ysolda strikes me as someone who enjoys problem-solving every single step of the process, from ideas, yarn, pattern, grading, layout and publication through to running her online store and accounting. This gives her a 360º view of her business, but must at times also have the potential to be overwhelming. The Instagram post above gives a lovely insight into her studio and the projects in progress.
The hand-knitting industry has changed dramatically since Ysolda published her first design on Knitty, back in the Fall 2005 issue (a lace cardigan called Arisaig). In particular, the creation of Ravelry in 2007 has enabled faster and easier access to a large hand-knitting audience. This has brought many benefits, but it's also undoubtedly made it harder and harder for new designers (and even more established designers) to get their products heard above the background noise of a very crowded pattern marketplace. For businesses to continue to thrive, they need to constantly evolve. Ysolda's patterns have lead her to publish books, develop new yarn ranges, and she now even distributes pattern books (and single patterns) for a select group of other designers. She already had a network of yarn shops who bought her books, so it was a natural step to use that network to sell a wider range of books.
The challenge is how to keep the personal touch that makes businesses such as Ysolda's so appealing to customers. In the past, customers felt connected through regular blog posts, but as the blogging culture has waned somewhat, Ysolda moved to Instagram, and now publishes regular newsletters. When Ysolda's weekly letter lands in your inbox it feels like she's speaking directly to you. And indeed many subscribers write back as if the letter were such. The newsletter provides a more intimate communication than the more public Tweet or Instagram comment, keeping alive the personal attachment that her customers feel to her and her brand. I have not doubt that as the hand-knitting industry continues to grow and develop, Ysolda Teague will continue to break new ground and produce sought-after products - be they yarn, patterns or something not yet thought of.
This write up doesn't really do justice to the breadth of our conversation over coffee and brownies, so to keep up to date with Ysolda’s plans, you should definitely consider following her on Instagram and Twitter, as well as subscribing to her newsletter. I’m really excited to see what comes next!