Today on the blog I get to share an interview with the fabulous Victoria from Eden Cottage Yarns. I first met Victoria in person at Edinburgh Yarn Festival and even though she was immensely busy she still found the time to chat and tell me a little bit more about her bases and love of dyeing. It’s not a secret that Victoria loves what she does, her Instagram is a yarn lovers paradise and her Facebook group is a wonderful place to spend a tea break and chat with some like-minded people. With Eden Cottage Yarns the colour palette is what draws me in and before I know it, the bases have me begging to take them home. So today, I asked Victoria if she could share an insight into her life as an independent yarn dyer and share some secrets behind those gorgeous skiens.
Victoria, can you give us an insight into your creative background?
For as long as I can remember I have been getting craft-based gifts for Christmas and birthdays so I have tried my hand at a few different things over the years. Whilst at University in Dundee in 2006, I taught myself to knit using online tutorials and trial and error. I was hooked right from the start and as my confidence grew, I tried my hand at dyeing and spinning as well.
Can you tell us how and why you started Eden Cottage Yarns?
I really struggled to find yarn that I yearned for (purple sock yarn!) and so I took it upon myself to just dye up what I wanted. I left university after four years and had a few jobs including working at Hobbycraft, then later Purl City Yarns in Manchester. All the while I was dyeing a little yarn and selling just enough to be able to buy more. In 2011 my circumstances changed rather dramatically and I found myself alone and destitute in a drafty 1720’s cottage in Cumbria. I knew that this was my opportunity to start my business if I was ever going to do it – I’d always wanted to work for myself since I was at school – so I did. Eden Cottage Yarns was born, and it snowballed. The rest, as they say, is history!
Where did the name “Eden Cottage Yarns” come from?
The drafty cottage that I found myself in was in the Eden Valley in Cumbria and so Eden Cottage Yarns was a fairly straightforward choice!
Currently, which is your favourite Eden Cottage yarn and why?
Surely that is like asking a parent to choose between her children??
In all seriousness, I love all of my yarns, if I didn’t I wouldn’t use them. I test out new bases for how they knit up, the softness, durability and how they react to the dye and if it isn’t good enough for me it isn’t good enough for my customers – I couldn’t sell something I didn’t like myself.
I suppose I am most proud of the Milburn range which started out as five shades of 4ply yarn and now we have 20 shades of 4ply and are about to launch 20 shades of DK weight as well. It is so amazing to think how far it has come and I love the feedback I get from customers about all of my yarns.
How do you deal with working by yourself while dyeing? How do you stay motivated and enthusiastic?
I actually quite like working on my own although I don’t think I can technically class myself as alone with Luna around! I am quite happy in my own world, in front of the dyepots, with the radio on. It is quite easy to lose enthusiasm when the pressure increases but now that I have help I am finding it easier to stay on track. My favourite thing to do is to experiment with new colour combinations and so the Cottage Original batches and the newer dappled colourways that we have recently introduced (such as Purple Rain, Wild Orchid and Old Jeans) are where my real passion lies and so I can reward myself with playing with those batches in between the ever popular semi-solid colourways we made our name with – I believe that the classics will always be around because they never go out of fashion and they’re great for subtle knits and showing off stitches, colourwork, and other colours.
Out of all the social media which platform do you think has the more impact on building your brand/following the most?
Instagram definitely. Photography is my other main passion and I take most of my inspiration from nature and the scenery around me. If you take a look at my Instagram feed you will see a mix of photographs taken whilst out walking, our yarn, finished projects and of course Luna (my Labrador). All of my photography has a similar aesthetic which also fits with the colour palette ECY is famous for.
Can you tell us how you designed your colour palette for your signature Milburn 4ply yarn?
I have actually written a blog post about this recently! Inspiration comes from flowers and the environment. Most of the Milburn range has an equivalent shade in our hand-dyed yarns – I send off the shades to the dyers (both also Yorkshire-based, which is rather satisfying) and they match them, send them back to me for approval, and then if I approve they go ahead with the dyeing. I won’t repeat too much of the blog post, but in short, when Milburn first started we were limited to five shades because of spinning and dyeing minimums; that was really hard to choose. As we’ve expanded the palette I’ve become gradually more whimsical with the shades as that is what ECY is built upon, and that’s working out really nicely. The excitement of seeing my slightly leftfield shades dyed on this beautiful yarn never wanes. Also now that the palette is expanding, I feel that it’s gelling together more and more – I’m quite precious about stuff like that so that pleases me!
How do you find the business/creative balance between having to produce yarn for the business but yet want to give into your creative side?
As mentioned earlier, I know that without the semi-solid colours I wouldn’t be able to produce the other more exciting colourways. There is a direct correlation between the time that I started getting help in the business from Laura and the addition of many new colourways. It really helped me to fall back in love with dyeing. At this point, I have a few people working for me, and that is why I’ve been able to spend so much more time over the past year on experimenting. Before that I just had to produce as much as I could of a more limited palette, then do everything else too. Now I spend most of my time dyeing and it’s not under the same pressure, so it’s been very liberating and my creativity has really snowballed as a result. It’s a wonderful situation to be in.
What does running a creative business mean to you?
I love everything about what I do, the fact that I have a creative output, hearing positive feedback from customers, seeing finished products and I get to work from home. It’s incredibly rewarding running your own company but it is not an easy way of life. One of the nicest things is that we get to work with a lot of really nice people and businesses. We work with customers, designers, magazines, suppliers, show-organisers, and stockists to create what we hope is an overall positive experience for yarn-enthusiasts. Also working with great people within the company means that we bounce ideas around a lot, and seeing them get excited about our yarn is really rewarding for me – it’s a really nice feeling that I think particularly a creative business can nurture.
How do you overcome creative slumps?
Inspiration can be hard to come by when you are working flat out and are pushing yourself to the limits. Stress and tiredness are a major hindrance to new ideas. This is especially true in the run-up to big shows, with the pressure of planning how the stall will look, working out how much yarn to take, colours and yarn types, then getting it all dyed and labelled in time. The main thought that used to keep me going is that the prospect of finding and attending another job would be terrifying!! I only ever wanted to pay my bills with this business, but we’re past that point now I’m very driven by the fact that I simply love it. I really love my job, and I really love running a business – it’s so very rewarding. I do find that getting out for dog walks and a bit of a change of scenery on the weekends really helps keep my creativity going during the week – it doesn’t take much to recharge the batteries but you do need to make sure that you do. I also have a lot of friends who run various businesses and a small group of us keep in very regular contact – we motivate and drive each other, and provide accountability. Setting goals really help me to stay focused and motivated, so I do a lot of that!
What has been your most memorable success to date?
My greatest success was definitely reaching a point where my business could pay the bills and that I could take a wage doing something I love. More recently, it was a massive honour being asked if I would be involved in Interpretations volume 5 by Joji Locatelli and Veera Välimäki. I had a massive fangirl moment and still have to pinch myself when I see the beautiful cardigan designed in my yarn. Furthermore, I now feel that hiring staff has been a huge success – it feels like a milestone, and it’s changed my work life so much and for the better that I consider it to be a real turning point for ECY.
Finally, what is in the Future for Eden Cottage Yarns?
That is a good question! We have just launched our Milburn DK range so will be promoting that and getting it out to stockists. Hopefully, if things go well we will be coordinating future dyelots for that. We also have a couple more new hand-dyed bases that we are excited to get out to our customers this year so keep watching our social media and the newsletter for more information about these as and when they come out! We’re always up to new and exciting things – I’m a lot more confident these days, plus have learned a lot through trial and error, so my instinct for what will work is fairly good, and the confidence sees me saying “yeah, why not?!” more often than I used to!
If you want to find out more about Eden Cottage Yarns then pop over to Eden Cottage Yarns website or why not drool over some wonderful images and follow Victoria on Instagram. If you want to join in with other knitters you can join the Eden Cottage Garden Facebook Group here and follow Victoria on Twitter here. You can also stay up to date with all the latest news from Eden Cottage with their newsletter. You can find sign-ups on their homepage here just scroll to the bottom of the page.
Please put your fingers on your keyboard and leave a reply to thank Victoria for taking the time to answer questions for the blog. There are some wonderful insights to running a creative business in there along with those wonderful images. All images are under the copyright of Eden Cottage Yarns.
I will be back with a podcast tomorrow with the wonderful Felicity Ford, recorded on location during her recent workshops at This is Knit in Dublin!