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Where do we go from here? | Countess Ablaze

Where do we go from here?

Freshly dyed yarn drying on the racks

How we're going to do things differently here

Countess Ablaze wears a black beret

Countess Ablaze

Dyer of yarns in Manchester, UK.

Well hello there!

As always, I'm wishing you well through this pandemic. It's rough, isn't it? Uncertainty isn't something many people thrive on and here in Manchester some of our lockdown measures were reintroduced this week. Now we can go to the pub but not allowed to go to someone's house. No, I can't make sense of it either but I guess you don't spend money sitting in your Nan's garden.

Uncertainty is something that I've been embracing a lot over the past two years and I've made a decision that could be risky in one sense but personally powerful in another.

I've already deleted my 12-year-old Ravelry account.  If you aren't aware, the redesign launched in mid-June has been causing some people severe issues, such as migraines, vertigo, eye strain, overload, a retina bleed and seizures. I was the first reported seizure and I was ignored by Ravelry so took to my own platform. A further nine people reported seizures afterwards.

What happened next will stay with me for a long time.

Caked yarn on a table waiting to be knitted.

Firstly, I was ridiculed for my autism and how I experience the world. I and others affected were accused of lying and an article was published in Psychology Today claiming we were "hysterical", a "diagnosis" historically given to women to discredit us. My inbox filled with journalists and people asking me to join them to take legal action. I declined both. I did speak to epilepsy organisations that approached me.

Secondly, a whole lot of support of which I, and others affected, are truly grateful for. But with support, unfortunately, came the need and expectation to advocate more as my platform was one of the biggest.

Combining the stress of the trolling and nasty online abuse with needing to advocate more, I crossed a personal boundary and allowed it to affect me too much. It led to a second seizure, three weeks off work (managing some small bits and pieces from home but not much) and leaving my brilliant team Blazin'Squad, under a heavy workload. I quietly continued to offer support to another disability activist, Katie Mazza, on Instagram. Katie has experienced far more nastiness than I experienced and has been directly targeted by a Ravelry founder.

Please know that I am opposed to a boycott of Ravelry. That would be highly damaging to designers, in particular to lesser-known designers, ones unable to use Ravelry to grab the info they need to set up elsewhere and the groups that Ravelry claim to support, BIPOC and LGBTQ+.

If you're on Ravelry or social media, you might have seen last week how the Ravelry founders have reacted to what has happened and it's not too comfortable. I'm purposefully not linking to these things as I won't give them space on my turf. I won't go into how I feel about all this but there is something I want to say instead:

If you've experienced illness caused by the Ravelry redesign, I believe you.

So this leads me to where do I personally and professionally go from here?  Not long ago I wrote a blog post called I fkn hate social media. The truth is, I do. And after what happened these past 7 weeks, even more so. Not a day goes by when I don't see an online article or news report about how damaging social media can be to self-esteem, mental health and causing division in communities.

Amazingly, we've heard from a number of entrepreneurs who've said they built successful businesses away from social media so it's reassuring to know that it can be done.

For me, if I continue to be a part of the #RavelryAccessibility conversations and open myself up to more nastiness or expectation, I'm at risk of another seizure. Seizures can be debilitating and at worst, fatal.

Merino, yak and silk yarn in a rectangle pan before it is dyed.

I don't want to contribute more content or more of my life or business to the toxic cycle of mainstream social media. As I'm autistic and feel everything so acutely, I've increasingly found social media to be very isolating and difficult to use. I've also found, and know of many other disabled people saying a similar thing, that this pandemic has made us feel more vulnerable and forgotten. There's a BBC news article published yesterday entitled Coronavirus: The shielders turning the word 'vulnerable' on its head that feels particularly poignant.

We'll post our final Instagram and Facebook posts on September 1st when we launch our new community. I'm fortunate that social media, believe it or not, accounts for a small fraction of our website traffic so it's not as risky to abandon as I initially thought. We've been using social media differently over the past year, more broadcasting and less engagement. But then there's a pandemic and Brexit to deal with but it's a risk I can ill-afford not to take.

As for using a marketing service or community management, we've already tried that and it didn't sit right with me. I still couldn't mentally "switch off."

I'm actually pretty excited about our plans and feel that a huge weight has been lifted.  We have plans to continue supporting new and emerging design talent (you know I've never been one for yarn trends and making kits to piggyback off big designers), and create a supportive place where we can chat, knit, crochet, dye. I hope to get back into a place in my head where I'm able to collaborate and work with other indies; a number have asked for my help during this pandemic but overwhelm has prevented me.

We'll be moving across our private Yarn Cartel Facebook group first before inviting everyone else over. I really want to chat with people about knitting again, film videos and make people feel welcome, as well as feeling welcomed myself.

Do you remember my Fruity Knitting interview and I spoke about how knitting, yarn and my business saved me? I don't feel too safe right now but I'm determined to get that feeling back. But I need to recover away from the demands of toxic platforms that are built to pit us off against each other. Nor is this is not the end of my activism work, this is me finding a way to do it that doesn't cause me further illness.

Because Blazin'Squad worked tirelessly when I was ill, I've made the decision to have a week of paid annual leave for us all (on top of usual holiday allocation) because we all need to pause and reset. I've completely run out of spoons.

So our next postage days are Tuesday 4th and Friday 7th and then a week off, and back again on Tuesday 18th. I hope you'll forgive us for this inconvenience.

Our latest update Disappointing Pet Names is on the website and we also have mill dyed yarn from Fyberspates, Sandnes Garn and Coop Knits, as well as a, restock of some of our custom blend fibres for spinning and weaving.

You can also find a new page on the website of our retailers. Some yarn is currently in transit so maybe a week or two before it hits their shelves. If you have a yarn shop and wish to stock a Countess Ablaze Rebel Batch of your own, email us for information, we'd be happy to work with you. Our next wholesale dye slots are at the beginning of September.

And because I don't like to leave a situation negatively, I emailed Ravelry with a rundown of the past seven weeks and finished by thanking them for creating a masterpiece of a database and for creating a place where people could build communities, businesses and thrive. They didn't reply.

Have a smashing week and rock on!


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