With a Side of Blackberry Jam

Next stop on the Tour des Dyers... we head to the Missouri Ozarks, where Ashley of The Blackberry Ridge Fibers lives and dyes some of the richest, most beautiful yarns you'll ever wrap around your needles and hooks.  

Last month, we celebrated the one-year yarniversary of the Harry Potter line at 6 and 7 Fiber with Rachel.  This month, we celebrate not only The Blackberry Ridge's one-year yarniversary, but also Ashley's birthday! Happy Birthday!  I'm so excited to have this opportunity; Ashley's yarns are such a gift that shares her life "on the ridge" with us.  As a woman who lives in a concrete jungle, I crave the outdoors, especially the mountains.  And when I knit up Ashley's yarn, it was like I got to breathe a little gust of the Ozarks.  

But I'm getting ahead of myself!  Let's start at the beginning. 

Depending on how you look at it, we have her cat to thank for Ashley's beautiful yarns; after venturing into entrepreneurship with a shop selling ready-made crocheted items, she had to refocus her business after being bitten by her cat! You can’t make this stuff up:

The bite injured some nerves and muscles and I wasn’t able to crochet, at least in the capacity to make items to sell. I was of course disappointed and tried a handful of other crafts before trying knitting again. My mom tried to teach me as a girl, but I never picked it up. This time I stuck with it and fell in love with the craft. It wasn’t long before I discovered the world of hand-dyed yarn and on a trip to see family I visited my first yarn shop. I was hooked!
— Ashley of The Blackberry Ridge
BJeanHareYARNSCAPINGdotcom-8.jpg

And in true maker fashion decided, “Hey! I can do this”! It wasn’t long before I was standing over a dye pot thinking, “Well, at least I’ll have plenty of pretty yarn.” I really had no intentions of ever selling my yarns.

—Ashley

In speaking with Ashley, I noticed that she battles perfectionism hard, which I totally sympathize with.  She's a fantastically talented woman, and I have a feeling that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to, and sometimes, that involves letting the magic happen without trying to control it.  Which is so hard!!!  I'm so glad she pushed through the doubts to do it.

Being the classic over thinker and perfectionist I am, I had already determined that I would never be “good enough” in the world of indie dyers. Fortunately for me, my husband is the best encourager and wouldn’t let me become a yarn hoarder. So despite my debilitating fear I took the risk and relaunched The Blackberry Ridge fibers in January 2018 and it’s been a beautiful whirlwind of a year!
— Ashley

Yeah, I think "beautiful" sums it up, at least from my perspective:

I've never dyed yarn, but I'm fascinated with the creative process.  Especially with yarns, I always want to know: how do you know?  How does a dyer know that a colorway is just right?

How do I know if I got it right? I don’t! I’m known for quickly discarding skeins into the donate pile because they didn’t turn out just right (perfectionism at its finest), but again with some encouraging from my husband, those colorways are often some of my more popular ones. I’ve learned that color is so subjective and if something doesn’t speak to me it will certainly speak to someone else.
— Ashley

I love this—it's another way of giving up control and letting the creative process happen.  I can't tell you how much your words resonate with me, Ashley, and how I appreciate the example you set of trusting the process.

We don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and see how they react.
— Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

So I asked Ashley a bit about her life as an indie dyer, and about her signature colorway, Blackberry Jam.  First off, what is The Blackberry Ridge?

The Blackberry Ridge is definitely named after our home. Four years ago this December we moved to our home on the ridge in the Missouri Ozarks, our dream home. As we watched spring come we noticed the blackberry brambles. They dotted and lined all up and down the ridge. I was so excited as some of my fondest memories are of picking blackberries with my grandpa and I couldn’t wait to make those memories with my boys. In moving to our home we decided that life was going to look different. We wanted it to be simpler and we quickly began our homesteading journey, determined to grow and raise as much of our own food as we could. As this life of simplicity began to evolve, my passion for crafting and making began to grow as well.
— Ashley

I have this romantic image of life in the mountains, surrounded by brambles and chickens and sunshine.  And while I'm sure there are days like that, we all know that real life is... well, real.

I am a small batch yarn dyer. In one session I can dye 18 skeins of yarn. I dye in my garage, which is a shared family space. It works, but isn’t ideal. So as my business grows into the next year, one of my goals is a dedicated space that I don’t have to share with farm/homesteading stuff. However, it’s always fun to have baby goats or chicks to snuggle while you work! I do though have a dedicated office/creative studio where all of the yarn is stored and business-y stuff gets done.

One of the biggest questions I get is how I manage my time with the business, homestead, and homeschooling two kids. The short answer, I don’t know! It just works. Of course my boys’ school comes first which is generally done in the mornings and then I try to get a batch of yarn done in the afternoons. Sometimes that works, sometimes life happens and it doesn’t. The key is to not put unrealistic expectations or deadlines on myself. I shoot for an update a week, but if that doesn’t happen…it simply doesn’t happen and that’s ok. I enjoy keeping things small and don’t have any immediate plans to upgrade to larger scale equipment for larger production. My dye process is intricate and detailed and I thoroughly enjoy the process. I think I would be sad to lose the art in the details in bigger production.
— Ashley

I can't put my finger on it, but Ashley's yarns evoke the Ozarks to me, though I've never been there.  There's something rich, deep, and real about the colors. When I asked her about her inspiration, I wasn't a bit surprised that she finds it in the natural world and homestead around her:

Living on our little ridge I’m blessed with inspiration just outside my window. We have towering oaks, wildflowers, wild berries, a plethora of farm critters, the untouched country sky, and the ability to be still and soak it all in. Nature seems to pair colors that you or I may not ever think to put together and I love the beauty in that. My colorways are certainly a reflection of my home, but they are also a reflection of my feelings or emotions. I tend to think in color. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to have an outlet for that.
My signature colorway, Blackberry Jam, is a good example of both of those. I wanted a colorway that mirrored the beauty of our life on the ridge. One that was deep and rich like a ripe blackberry, with emerald greens of the fields and the pops of darkness in the night glittered with lightning bug light. Yet, I also needed it to speak of home and memories and comfort. I love this life I live and in this particular colorway I needed to share a little piece of that blessing.
— Ashley
BJeanHareYARNSCAPINGdotcom-7.jpg

…deep and rich like a ripe blackberry, with emerald greens of the fields and the pops of darkness in the night glittered with lightning bug light…

—Ashley

Last fall, Ashley released her signature colorway, Blackberry Jam.  Isn’t there something elegant about having a signature colorway? I had been following The Blackberry Ridge on Instagram for months before I purchased this.  I'd been tempted by so many of her colorways but when she announced that she was going to introduce a signature color, I made sure I was the first to buy it.  No hesitation.  I guess I was waiting for this one.

I'm not normally a fan of pinks and purples, but lately, purple is dominating my projects!  Blackberry Jam is so warm, that it feels mature and sensual rather than girly-purple.  I promise that the photos you see here and on The Blackberry Ridge site do it justice--it isn't a trick of the camera.  This yarn is really and truly this rich in person.  I love the undercurrent of darkness underneath the purple; the green speckles are a surprise every time and give the yarn a feeling of levity, of joy.

I think it must have been difficult to settle on a signature color.  It has to say so much in one skein, to intertwine with the brand.  In my opinion, it's a success.  

Speaking of brand, have you seen Ashley's logo?

Oh I loathe the branding process! My over-thinking brain isn’t equipped for this part of small business owning. I just couldn’t find the right brand/logo that would fit into the world of hand-dyed yarn. But after a few frustrated tears because nothing spoke “ME” I decided that I had it all wrong. I needed my brand to fit me, not the industry. So after finding a designer on Etsy (beatriceviyiwi) and loving her esthetic, I hired her to illustrate my idea, complete with my sweet pup. Everything seemed to fall into place after that.
— Ashley

Another example of trusting the creative process, and being true to what speaks to you!  I think the logo turned out unique and perfect.  This is another theme that came up when I asked Ashley about her photography, which you really need to see.  Her Instagram feed is so luscious you’ll have to go on a diet just looking at it.

Photography. My second passion. I have no technical training, but I did do family photography for a couple of years before my fiber journey. I loved it, but it became to people-y for this introvert. I love how a camera can capture something the eye doesn’t see. The way you can play with light or lack thereof to highlight an image is intriguing to me. The photography aspect of my business has become one of my most enjoyable tasks, but that wasn’t always the case. My photography preferences don’t necessarily match the industry and I was worried people would turn their noses up at my moody, dark-lit photos. So I tried to fit in, but I struggled. Once again, it wasn’t until I decided to be comfortable and confident in my own vision and tastes did my business turn from just that, a business, into a passion that began to grow and evolve into something I was proud of.
— Ashley

In the spirit of being confident in my own vision and taste, I did a turnaround on the project I chose for Blackberry Jam.  My original plan for Tour des Dyers was to knit socks with yarn from each dyer I interviewed.  In fact I'd already wound and split this yarn to make socks.

But just before I cast on, I spotted the Filigree Slouch by Woolly Wormhead and I knew instantly that this hat had to be knit with Blackberry Jam. The color and the texture were a match made in heaven.

I'm always a sucker for reverse stockinette for the way it presents variegations in yarns, and the traveling stitches give the hat an elegance that pairs perfectly with this sumptuous purple.  It was a slow pattern to knit, but I was fine with that; I got to spend that time with this yarn.

The only problem is that I'm now behind on my Box o Sox 2019 Challenge!  Oh well, I'll try to make it up!

BJeanHareYARNSCAPINGdotcom-6.jpg

I hope anyone that holds a skein of my yarn feels the effort and thoughtfulness I put into creating it. But more than that I hope it creates a memory. I know it’s just yarn, but the possibilities that it holds can transform it into heirlooms to be treasured for generations to come. To me, that’s just so special to be a part of.

—Ashley


I know I've said this before, but I love the yarn community.  Yarn people really are the best people.  And when I buy from independent makers, I get so much joy from receiving products that came from the hands of people I can actually meet, online or in person.  

The joy goes both ways.  Unlike mass-produced companies, we have a tightly-knit (ha!) community, and dyers and designers get to see their hard work transformed in makers' hands as we post projects on Ravelry, add hashtags to our WIPs on Instagram, or wear our handknits to festivals.  I asked Ashley what it's like to see her yarns "in the wild," as it were:

It’s completely surreal. I’m still in awe that someone would want to make my color vision a part of their heirlooms. It is truly the greatest compliment as a yarn dyer and brings it all full circle.
— Ashley

In the words of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, who is probably the human on the earth more in love with knitting and knitters than anyone else (I would happily judge that contest:)

Knitters come in such a wild assortment of humanity that I can’t help it. ... I love knitters.
— Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

I do, too.  I love the way we support one another--I've seen it in so many ways, like supporting a woman as she takes the plunge into entrepreneurship:

One of the greatest and most blessed experiences this year has been becoming part of the fiber community. The selflessness and sincerity of the people in this community blows me away. The encouragement and kind words make days when things don’t work out worth it. The support from this community is unmatched and without it my crazy little risk wouldn’t be the legitimate passion and business it has become in just 12 short months. Words cannot express how thankful I am for each and every one of my customers or encouragers along the way.
— Ashley

Filigree Slouch by Woollywormhead


Speaking of community, I have a request:

If you’re a knitter, would you consider trying out the Filigree Slouch or any of Woolly Wormhead's patterns? Her family is going through a tough residency situation right now and could use some support from our awesome community!  Consider picking up a pattern or two (or gifting!)   She has about a million hat patterns to choose from so you're sure to find something you like!