Love Our Indies: Wild and Woolly

One of the original inspirations behind the Love Our Indies feature was meeting Anna, the owner of Wild and Woolly, a new yarn shop in Hackney. I visited there for the opening party and collected some audio for the podcast a few months ago. I was really struck by the unique way Anna had put her shop together. It's not easy running a bricks and mortar store and I love to see new stores open as it is so important for crafters to interact in *real life* rather than always online. How else can your queue grow explosively as you see shawls and sweaters in the wild, moving on real people?!?

So with that in mind, I invited Anna to tell us a bit about herself, her store and what it took to make it a reality.

(c) Wild and Woolly

(c) Wild and Woolly

Please introduce of yourself

I'm a 43 year old former website planner, with a long standing love of yarn and fibre arts in general, and knitting in particular. I'm originally from Norwich but have been living in Hackney, east London since the late 90s. I'm from a big family, most of whom live very nearby and I have two teenage children.

Why a Bricks and Mortar store?

For the last 15 years I've been supporting small non-profit organisations with their presence online by planning their websites and developing their online communications. And although that work was all about engaging real people out in the world with the issues my clients worked on, my role was always firmly located in the digital space. I used to find that an incredibly exciting place to be - with all its new possibilities, ways of working and opportunities for creativity constantly changing.

(c) Wild and Woolly

(c) Wild and Woolly

Equally, it can feel like a very intangible place. And over the last years (and in spite of the amazing work of my web clients), the web's lack of texture, hold and warmth, started to disappoint and then frustrate me. I responded by using new-found free time (from kids getting older) to explore personal fibre passions with short courses at the City Lit and a much longer and more involved City and Guilds course with the knitwear designer, Loraine Mclean. I also began volunteering with the knitting group for clients of the Helen Bamber Foundation. With hindsight I can see I was gradually working a new section of my life:  Proper learning of stitches and techniques, inspiring class outings to examine antique knitting in the vaults of the V&A, spending more time with really serious knitters, teaching stitches that I could see soothing the troubled hands of refugees, and of course all the time working through new creations with my needles at home. 

(c) Wild and Woolly

(c) Wild and Woolly

The contrast with the flatness of the online world I was dealing with in the office was not lost on me. And so this fantastical and rather ridiculous idea grew - to make a real place where knitters could come and squeeze and stroke and check and ask and offer and just be the way that knitters are. I imagined a space which would be real and inviting and which could respond out loud, with texture, form and colour to fill those gaps left by our lives online. 

How did you choose the location?

I wanted to be in a place that I was very familiar with, so that my local knowledge could be part of the shape and approach of the shop. My vision was a very conventional one - of a neighbourhood wool shop that local people could depend on for their knitting supplies and pattern support. I grew up with a little wool shop like that at the bottom of my street in Norwich. Later after we moved to North London when I was doing my A levels, I always had put-by yarn waiting for me behind the counter at ColourSpun in Camden Town. It's shops like those that have really been my inspiration. 

Meanwhile Hackney is where my children were born and grew up, where my mum and sisters are, also where my great grand parents lived and worked when they arrived as migrants over a hundred years ago.

So I wanted this shop to be a place that was easy for local knitters in Hackney to get to. And when I found the shop on Lower Clapton Road, it felt like the right size and location for what I had in mind.

(c) Wild and Woolly

(c) Wild and Woolly

What aesthetic did you go for?

The aesthetic came from working together with product designer, Gregor Timlin and graphic designer Raquel Dumas,  on interrogating values and themes which were central to my vision of a good wool shop. These included a slightly antiquated sense of 'expert retail', of modest industry and manufacture - where things are created on a small scale with an emphasis on crafting and grafting, a workshop-like space with an atmosphere that can cultivate a sense of industriousness and creativity. And from all of that, we gravitated towards a light industrial aesthetic, with echoes of a well stocked apothecary or tool shop. The design was also heavily informed by the constraints of my tiny budget and the understanding that everything during this early stage is experimental. So the shop you see now is a first iteration and there's an acknowledgement of that in the wheels that underpin all the wool cupboards, and the wooden tracks that support all the haberdashery display boxes. Nothing is fixed and everything can be altered and re-iterated as I learn over time what works and what doesn't.

What was the hardest thing about having a blank canvas?

I'm tempted to say that the absence of a blank canvas was a bigger challenge, and that reaching blankness felt like progress. The shop I moved into was an unloved, messed up place that had the scars of its previous series of hastily erected enterprises, all of which needed peeling way to get to the blank canvas that would form the base for my shop. And in some ways I feel that the minimal product design approach that we've taken means that that blank canvas is still visible and tangible beneath the wool and needles. It's part of what I hope can make people feel like there's space left in the shop to cultivate their own creativity.

(c) Wild and Woolly

(c) Wild and Woolly

Things you've learned already?

1. Knitters in Hackney/Clapton come from all sections of the local community.  At the moment I still can't point to any one dominant customer group. It's a complete mix of old and new Hackney, and of course all the different ethnic groups that Hackney is known for. I'm particularly pleased about that as gentrification in this area of London means that new shops can be quite divisive between old and new and at the moment I seem to be steering a course that includes both.

2. There used to be a wool shop 2 doors away at 118 Lower Clapton Road which closed 20 years ago and was much loved by lots of the people who now come into my shop. The Designer Yarns SE sales rep, Mike Cole, spoke really fondly of supplying 'Claire's' with Sirdar yarns for years.

3. Twitter is key for reaching the not-local knitting sorority. I was a Twitter novice when I opened up and was very reluctant about making friends with Twitter. I'm now a reformed character and have to acknowledge that Twitter really does reach the knitters other media don't get to.

4. Vegan knitters are a bit of a misguided bunch. Sheep and Alpaca fleeces are exploitative to animals but using up fossil fuels isn't????

5. Floro/neon yarn is in! I really don't like it but it's definitely on trend in Clapton. I'm going to have restock soon.

6. Knitted samples are crucial for pattern sales. If it's knitted and it's here, I'll sell the patterns.

7. I'm never ever going to have a complete and finite stock of needles, no matter how many hours I spend pouring over the wholesale cataglogues. Buying needles is a nightmare!

8. Yarn dyers are very special people. They have a love and knowledge of fibre that you don't find in anyone else.

9. That I love being a shop keeper!

10. Male knitters are very serious about their hobby

Favourite moment so far?

Hhmmm there are quite a few strong contenders for this spot..
- Having my former City & Guilds fellow students come in and praise my range of yarn
- Watching the smile spread around the face of the guy who bought a load of skeins of Jacob yarn after I put it on the swift and invited him to crank the wool-winder handle
- Listening to Linda Lencovic describe the properties of her yarns
- straightening out some muddled circular knitting for a customer who was struggling with a baby hat pattern, and getting them comfortable with their first set of dpns.

 

 

A big thank you to Anna for her inspirational answers. Please do go and visit if you're in the Clapton area and say hi for me!

Love Our Indies: Indie Untangled

One of the big drives for me in starting the 'Love Our Indies' feature has been that indies work hard to make their businesses a success and that often the level of commitment that this can take is not always fully appreciated at first glance. Success can look very different to different people; it can be monetary, recognition, a healthy work/ life balance or collaborating on projects that make you feel good. In my day to day work I am constantly amazed by the way indies have to be so multifaceted in order to be successful. Social media, good photography, branding, reflecting on how things are going and interacting are all the many moving parts that help build the story around their quality product. 

This isn't easy and websites such as Indie Untangled offer indies the opportunity to be visible and the marketplace feature feels like a space waiting to inspire me as a crafter. It's packed full of interesting vendors, with their stories told on the blog and developed further still on Ravelry and Facebook. It's very appealing and exactly the kind of thing that makes you really understand the value in what an Indie is doing so I asked Lisa, the creator of Indie Untangled to share a post about why she was driven to create Indie Untangled. 

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My first apartment in New York City was down the block from The Market NYC, otherwise known as the Young Designer's Market, a collection of crafty entrepreneurs selling handmade clothing, jewellery and other accessories out of a church gymnasium. This was in 2003, so pre-Etsy, before handmade goods became trendy and ubiquitous. Pretty much all of my earrings and necklaces came from the YDM. I loved that everything I bought there was unique and always got compliments, and that I could forge a small connection with the person who made what I was buying — I even ended up documenting the process of an artisan who made decoupage jewellery out of coins and paper for a photography class.

Fast forward four years later to when I started knitting. My first garter stitch and ribbed scarves were made with Lamb’s Pride Worsted and Cascade 220, but it didn't take me long to fall down the rabbit hole of Madelinetosh, and then to discover the incredible world of indie dyers. I was drawn to the depth of color that these fiber artists created, the fact that no two grays ever looked the same. I loved how a dyer could be inspired by a landscape, or even a movie, and dye yarn that I could actually turn into something to wear. 

Indie dyers are not too difficult to find, but it does take some extra work to get noticed these days. While Etsy is certainly a great resource for building up a crafty business, and comes with somewhat of a built-in customer base, it’s not so easy for dyers to stand out (that’s not even considering their recent relaxing of the rules governing what’s considered handmade, which is a whole other issue). When I’m signed in, I get a list of the new products for sale from my favorite shops, or I see the items that my friends have clicked the little heart for, but I don’t necessarily know the stories behind these products — or whether there are going to be any skeins of that non-repeatable colorway left tomorrow. Ravelry also provides a way to find out about and connect with indies, but keeping track of all the Update News threads can be overwhelming. 

Part of what makes the indie fiber community so exciting is learning about a new series of colourways, or finding out what  inspired a self-striping skein of sock yarn. Sometimes you can make that connection at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, or at an event like the upcoming Unwind Brighton, but unfortunately most knitters can’t afford to travel to every fiber-related event (sigh).

I don’t really have the budget, or the storage space, to stash with abandon like some people I know, but I also hesitate much less in purchasing a single skein or investing in a sweater quantity, and paying for shipping from the UK, when I know a little bit more about the dyer or spinner and her story. That’s really what I'm trying to build with the Indie Untangled marketplace and blog: a way to get to know the person who creates art in a dye pot, and to more easily find out when she’s created something you just have to get your hands on.

Sometimes yarn is just yarn, but when I'm struggling to get the fit of a cardigan just right, or frogging several rows of the shawl I'm knitting for my friend’s wedding, I like that I can look down and know that someone put just as much thought and work into the material that will be transformed into a garment I can be proud of.

 

A big thank you to Lisa for talking through the value in getting to know our indies, something I feel really passionate about too. If you liked this insight into Indie Untangled, pop back soon as there's more to come and it includes a giveaway!

Love Our Indies: Karie Westermann

Today's Love Your Indie post is actually a reproduction of a blog post that I read awhile ago and found myself nodding and 'uh huh'-ing to as I read it. I felt really encouraged to see a designer standing up and saying 'we knitters are worth something' because you know what? We really are. I asked Karie, if it would be ok to share the post in it's original format because it just said so much about the way I feel about our beloved craft. 

If you haven't discovered Karie before, she's a really engaging blogger, stylish designer and general tweeter of funny and insightful things. I like her a lot and I think she has a lot of interesting things to say about the knitting industry. Here's the post:

_______

Earlier this week, I met a talented girl who had designed and knitted a 4-ply jumper for a client. The client had asked the girl to supply the yarn as well as design/knit it. I asked how much the girl had charged?

An entire 4-ply (fingering-weight) jumper from design conception to finished item and including the yarn. £35. Let me repeat that: thirty-five pounds.

When I asked her why she’d charged that little, she shrugged and replied: “Because the client didn’t want to pay anything more and even baulked at £35″. I got very, very angry at this stage. I didn’t get angry at the girl because she was obviously just trying to make a little money. No, I got angry at a marketplace which so devalues hand-knitting to the point where a customer baulks at paying more than £35 for a custom piece (including materials!) and manages to get away with it. Make that a marketplace in which the customer manages to get away with it again and againbecause I have heard the same story many times.

That is not okay.

Why is it that hand-knitting is so devalued? Skilled artisan-makers like the girl I met are paid pennies when they should be earning pounds. Is it because hand-knitting is predominantly female-centric? Is it because history has taught the marketplace that hand-knitting is something poor people do to make ends meet and poor people can be exploited? Is it because hand-knitting is perceived as being ‘a hobby’ that people do between their ‘real’ jobs? I looked at hand-knitters and I am amazed at their skills, patience and talent. Maybe I am wrong – certainly the marketplace tells me so.

I have never knitted for money -  but I do get asked an awful lot if I am willing to take on commissions. Usually the punter wants me to whip up an aran cardigan because a machine-knitted acrylic version is deemed too expensive. When did we move from “mass produced” = inferior to “mass produced” = superior? To my mind, a one-off piece created by a skilled artisan using excellent materials should always be considered more valuable. How do we change this perception?

I am not an artisan maker and while I hesitate to label what I do, I’m probably more of an artisanmakar. “Makar” is an old Scottish word for “poet” or “bard” – and I think of my knitting designs as a way of telling stories with stitches. I care about how hand-knitting is perceived and treated. I know exactly how much time and skill go into designing and writing a pattern – what does that say about my time and skill that Ravelry currently holds 122,147 free patterns? How could I possibly add value to a pattern (and price it at £3) when 122,147 patterns are free?

It’s a weird job I have chosen and it is a strange industry too. All I can do is hope that you’ll like my collaboration with Lilith (note: it involves an essay about cholera, false teeth and William Morris). I’ll be back with a gift-buying guide for the knitters in your life. Treat them well: they are super-skilled and deserve a treat.

 

Karie wearing her own design 'Ronaes;, photography by David Fraser

Karie wearing her own design 'Ronaes;, photography by David Fraser

Thank you to Karie for letting me reproduce her blog post here and for keeping the conversation going on Twitter ever since- you really are an inspiration Karie! If you'd like to chat further about our Love Our Indies topic, join the conversation on Twitter or the dedicated Ravelry thread in the Playful Group

Love Our Indies with Louise Scollay of Knit British

Following on from the thought provoking piece by Victoria from Eden Cottage yarns, next in the 'Love Our Indies' series is a guide to Knitting British and buying local by Louise Scollay. You might know Louise for her excellent podcast but it's actually her blog that I've been devoted to for some time. Horrrified by the number of imported yarns in her stash, she set about knitting British, educating herself about different breads and the production behind goods she was buying. It makes for an interesting read and helps me make informed decisions as a consumer of both local AND global goods (more on the open market another day....!!) What I love is that I can think of ways to ask questions in any context whether it's souvenir yarn abroad or locally sourced at home. 

 

(Post reproduced here with kind permission)

: : Knitting British – Dos and Don’ts : : 

This may sound controversial but don’t believe BFL is the only British wool. Don’t get me wrong because I love Blue Faced Leicester and have heaps of it in stash (and have you seen the sheep - they are quite a noble breed!)

It is beautiful and I love how buttery, smooshily soft it is.  It is a very popular yarn, but if you are considering knitting British and include more breeds, I would say delve further as when I first started looking into British wool the searches through up a lot of BFL first.

I checked out the RBST site for rare & vulnerable breeds & searched on from there. It is good to get an idea of which breeds are most at risk and seeking out wool from breeds where your money will go back into supporting the sheep.

Check out Blacker Yarns too: they are a brilliant source of specialist and rare breed yarns as well as Welsh, Scottish, English and Falkland breed yarns.

There is a HUGE wealth of info out there on where to get British wool. I started to compile a stockist list, but nothing can compare to the wonderful time and effort Jane has put into maintaining her list at Woolsack - it is an absolute must when looking for inspiration and choices.

: : : :

Do cast your (knit) nets wide. Check out what is local to you, but also search by UK region and see which breeds are local to that area - I sort of wish I had started at one end of the map and knit my way around to be thoroughly region and breed specific!

There are a couple of groups on Ravelry concerned with the love of British wool and you are sure to find inspiration there…as well as here still, at good old KnitBritish.

Blacker Yarns Map of Sheep Breeds

Blacker Yarns Map of Sheep Breeds

 

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Don’t believe the myth that buying British wool is expensive. I do not know who is telling this lie, but I have had to correct more people than I care to add up.

There are yarns to suit every purse. Even rare breed or at risk breed yarns are accessible and not too pricey. If you ever need any tips, there is a series of blogs on this subject below,

: : :

Don’t believe that just because the wool is from a  British company that the wool is grown or spun here. Many companies have their wool spun abroad, often in Turkey or Italy. That is not to say you would not be supporting jobs in some stages of production &  handling in this country. Do, however look to see if the company have any British yarn, or UK spun brands within their range. Rowan are a thoroughly British company, based in Holmfirth, and while many of their range are spun and dyed out with the UK they do have their British Sheep Breeds range and also their Tweed yarns (though, not felted) are spun in Yorkshire!

And while I am wary about buying wool that has had most of it’s processing done outside the UK, do remember that there is a British industry outside these isles. Falkland Merino is farmed organically on the British Falkland Islands and is processed, spun,  dyed and sold in the UK by the likes of LaxtonsBlacker Yarns andJohn Arbon.

: : :

Don’t be afraid to ask where the wool comes from, where the flock lives or which mill spun it. Most yarn sellers – particularly those involved with most parts of the process – will be more than happy to tell you, often at length. They know exactly how discerning knitters are when it comes to the fibre you knit with.

: : :

If you are allergic to wool, but still love knitting don’t forget that some acrylic wool is also manufactured in the UK. Woolcraft, Marriner, Jarol and Wendy all have some acrylic and blends which are spun or manufactured in the UK, but please check the labels.

Do remember that wool does not have to be difficult to care for. We all know the trials and tribulations of trying to wash and block out lovingly knit garments, but there are lots of machine washable yarns out there and I blogged on a few of them

: : :

Do support your LYS, if you can. I often hear folk say that their LYS doesn’t stock much British wool, but you can always ask them if they would consider stocking some.

If you regularly shop online, then look on Twitter, Ravelry, Pinterest or…*shudder* ..,Facebook and see if your yarn shop or favourite dyer are on there. It is a great way to get regular updates about the yarns they are dyeing, or when they have new yarns in stock and when their shop updates are.  It is also lovely to be able to say hello and tell them how much you like their products. Supporting your YS takes on new dimensions when you bring social media into the equation – I know I have come to look forward to reading their tweets and learning about the process they go through to feed our yarny habits!

: : :

Do just give it a go! Before I started doing this I did not ever think where the wool I knitted with came from. I just loved knitting. And then I began to covet wool and it was a short hop from there before I started asking myself the question, “Where did it come from?”

I love that I can look at my knits and know where I bought the wool and which breed it came from. The fact that it was all sourced from within the British Isles is just so heartening to me.

 

Thank you to Louise for sharing this helpful guide based on her journey as a British knitter, dedicated to shopping local. If you'd like to chat further about our Love Our Indies topic, join the conversation on Twitter or the dedicated Ravelry thread in the Playful Group. 

Love Our Indies

It's no secret that I'm a fan of independent producers. Why? For me it's a lifestyle choice. When I interact with an independent producer I can see who is producing my yarn, pattern or pie. I like to know about their process, where things were sourced and how they were put together.

The other thing about being in the independently produced habit is you find yourself drawn to a certain aesthetic and it becomes about crafting your personal style and way of living. Like many, I buy into that element too; I see myself as part of a certain tribe of women that dig handcrafts, love being outdoors, are practical and whose children run free and wild. Fine, I'm actually a more than slightly frazzled working Mum who rarely gets time to sit and craft these days but it's an aesthetic I'm drawn to nonetheless. 

We all do that right? We all like the idea of our purchases reflecting who we are whether you're a 'global tribal' or 'urban modern' kind of woman. These are just a few of the phrases I see bandied around in advertising and I smile every time because in the choices we make as consumers, we are aligning ourselves with certain ideals whether I buy from a store (Whole Foods vs Tesco) or choose from the rich variety of independent producers out there. 

It's why I do the work I do. Working with a host of independent designers, writers, publishers, dyers, and more means I am constantly in contact with some truly inspiring women who deserve to be successful. (Note: I say women because this is an industry that is predominantly but not exclusively made up of women working in their home, more on that later though). Successful means a many things: coping with their work load, being paid what they're worth, interacting with customers in a way that is fulfilling, balancing their business around life and family commitments. If I produce web copy or plan some publicity that helps make this happen, I'm a happy bunny indeed. 

So I've decided to host a series of guest blogs and invited some of the most interesting indies currently working in the industry to talk about some of the issues that they feel strongly about. I'm hoping to start a conversation and I'm really hoping you will join in too. This might be a useful resource if you're thinking of starting your own business, food for thought if you're a consumer and hopefully a source of inspiration for all. 

 

Let's love our indies!

 

Tomorrow I will be featuring a piece from Victoria of Eden Cottage Yarns and why she's concerned about the Women's Institute's recent campaign featuring HobbyCraft.