Friday, 17 December 2010

The Friday Interview: Ely Wool Shop

It’s The Friday Interview again!
Sandra in Ely Wool Shop
Today’s interview is with Sandra, who owns Ely Wool Shop. I went to interview Sandra on Wednesday morning and arrived just as her knitting group were finishing up: it was all looking very busy and cheerful (note to self, I do sometimes wonder if I’d like to join a knitting group, although I might turn up with something like in the previous post and be ignominiously shown the door. Anyway, it did look a lot of fun). Ely Wool Shop opened about a year ago (in fact that means I pretty much interviewed Sandra on her anniversary, how cool is that?) and it was quite an exciting thing to happen. Because, although internet wool shopping is a wonderful thing, there is something special about being able to go and meet your wool in person, and become seduced by colours, etc, that I don’t think internet shopping can ever entirely replace.

I didn’t get a photograph of the view from the window because it was a bit of a grey day outside, but the wool shop is in a nice bit of Ely, looking out onto the Cromwell Museum. For those of you knitters reading this who live anywhere near Ely, it really is worth a trip.

I would like you to admire the fact that I restrained myself in the following interview from just asking, OMG, is running a wool shop, like, the best thing Evah?, and thought of other questions. But, I have to say, I did come away with the impression that yes, it pretty much is, which was great. More power to your elbow, Sandy, and may your skeins of Malabrigo multiply. On with the interview!
A handknitted bauble and chain in the window. Festive decorations, wool shop-style
1/ Are you a knitter yourself? What do you like knitting?
Yes, I certainly am! I mostly knit scarves and accessories and other small items, like baby items, or little toys. I did a dressmaking course a few years ago - I also really like dressmaking - and it sparked me off being crafty. I knitted when I was a child, but I didn’t pick it up again until relatively recently: there seemed to be a real hiatus in knitting, dressmaking and other crafts in the 80s and early nineties, when everything started being so cheap that making your own didn’t seem worth it, and you couldn’t really get decent dressmaking fabrics. [Note from me, this is exactly how I remember it too, that period was a real desert if you were a crafty-type person, because all you could find were balls of mohair that were rough enough to take the top layer of skin off and cross stitch kits of teddy bears looking a bit cross-eyed. At least The People’s Friend kept the flag flying ;-) ].
A festive display incorporating some rather lovely Manos Maxima. Also crackers! And fluffiness!
2/ Why did you decide to open a wool shop, and were you inspired by other wool shops?
I opened this wool shop purely for the love of it. I used to be a health and safety consultant, but then a couple of things happened - my daughter was born, and my dad died. Then the wool shop on the high street closed, and I was wanting to get out of the rat run: everything came together, and it seemed a good time to just go for it. So I did! And I'm really enjoying everything about it - I love being around people and craft, so it's ideal for me.

I didn’t want to just discard all the things you get in traditional wool shops. I thought about the wool shop which had closed [note from me: I went in this once and it was indeed quite traditional], and I wanted to follow along with some of the existing stuff, but also do some new stuff.

3/ What are your most popular items?
Stylecraft and Rico always sell well – the basic ranges are very popular. And novelty scarf yarns are still going well, and young people like them. I have a customer with a nine year old son who is knitting his way through the pom pom yarn, very successfully.

4/ What’s been the strangest thing a customer’s ever asked for?
[Strangely enough, the minute I asked this question, a customer came in looking for a Bodger tool because she had seen rag rug making on Kirstie’s Homemade Home, which gave us the opportunity of learning what a bodger tool was. So I modified my question to be, what’s been the strangest thing, apart from a bodger tool. For those of you who have also seen Kirstie’s Homemade Home and would like a bodger tool, I think they have them on ebay but they do seem quite expensive. Customer if you are reading this, I hope your quest was successful and your rug turns out lovely and bright and fluffy].
A man once came in and wanted to buy bra extender elastic to hold his trousers up. And a very large man who looked like a farmer wanted to buy ‘a really big sewing needle’. I don’t know what he was going to use it for but I found him the biggest one in the shop and he went away happy.
The woolly wares, shown panoramically
5/ [I channelled my friend Loretta for this next one, because Loretta is very into British sheep and emails me links to websites with the most dramatic-looking animals on them, staring stoically across fields]. Do you stock wool from rare British sheep?
Not at the moment, but I definitely might in the future. I’m doing research into it currently – I’ve been looking at wool from Norfolk Horn sheep, and I’ve also been looking into wool from New Lanark Mills, although I’m not sure the wool itself is British. The thing with wool from British sheep is, it’s often not been dyed and it looks as if it’s come quite directly from the sheep. It’s a different kind of look, which I really like. The subtle colours are really nice.

6/ Do you encounter any anti-knitting prejudice? [Because I do!].
Yes! I went out for a drink with some ex-colleagues recently and there was quite a lot of banter about, have you brought your knitting, are you wearing anything woolly, did you knit that, stuff like that. People do make comments, although it's all done in a friendly way.

7/ Does having a wool shop make you look differently at mass-produced knitwear? [Note from me, in my experience you can tell a knitter by the fact that they are sloping round M&S prodding their jumpers and muttering, look at that, £35 for a bit of garter stitch, or irritating the staff in designer boutiques by holding hats aloft with the rallying cry of, I Could Knit That Myself!].
Definitely! I look at the quality, price, where it’s made, what it’s made from, all things like that. Knitwear that you buy in shops generally tends to be made of acrylic, but, acrylic is actually getting more expensive (because it’s a byproduct of the oil industry). I can see a point in the future where it’ll be much more expensive than pure wool. I can see us perhaps over the next ten years going back to using pure wool as a basic, and we’ll look back and be really surprised how cheap acrylic used to be. [Readers, you can imagine my fascination, because if acrylic ever becomes a luxury item then the Ravelry forums will just implode in confusion and what will we do then. However, it makes absolute sense that it will get more expensive as oil gets scarcer. I ran this idea past Partner in the car going back because I was so taken with it and he said ‘Ha! They’ll be stockpiling it!’. ‘Who?’ I said. Partner looked at me in a way that conveyed effectively ‘the evil faceless proponents of global capitalism’. So as well as Partner loving Moby Dick beyond all things, he also believes in secret EU mountains of Cygnet acrylic which are possibly locked up and protected from the common gaze by armed guards. I only tell you these things to make you jealous of my relationship].
A crocheted cushion, and a selection of fabrics to the left
8/ Do you attract a lot of new knitters, or does it seem that your customers are mostly people who have been knitting for a while?
I get a bit of both. I do get a lot of youngsters, I think also because it’s a newish shop and they want to come and have a look and see what it's all about. We also get complete beginners coming to the knitting group (Sandra runs a knitting group at the shop every Wednesday morning). I do get experienced knitters as well, though. [We discussed how well served Ely is for woolly-type shops – as well as Sandra’s shop there is also Yarn on The Square and Ely Cycle Centre, which doesn’t sound like it ought to sell anything fibre-y but does. There are also lots of knitting groups – as well as Sandra’s there are also the Lighthouse Knitters, and knitters who meet in the Lamb hotel].

9/ Which of your lines are you most excited about?
I like the British wools. Surprisingly, though, some of the organic and natural lines haven’t been selling so well overall and have been discontinued, which is surprising, because people who knit are often people who are very aware of ethical production and things like that. And of course, Malabrigo! I went on a visit to the Knitting and Stitching Show a few years ago and bought a skein of Malabrigo and a pattern, and enjoyed knitting it so much it started me off knitting again.
So that confirms what we’ve always known. Malabrigo – the gateway yarn. Who knows where it might lead? To piles of surprisingly-soft woolly items, a maxed-out credit card, or, in this case, to a lovely wool shop. That doesn’t seem like too bad an outcome to me. You can see more about Ely Wool Shop on its website and do go and say hello if you’re in the area (take your credit card).

Thank you for being interviewed, Sandy, I really enjoyed it, and I hope Ely Wool Shop is sating the woolly needs of the Eastern region for years to come.

Have a good weekend everyone and stay warm. It’s going to be Snow Armageddon tomorrow. I’m knitting a hat with ears, and I think I’m going to need it.


Kezz said...

Great interview as usual. I don't knit yet but I crochet with *Dun Dun Dun* acrylic. So far that's all I've bought because I'm scared to buy yarns I might wash wrong. *hides in shame*

Susie said...

Aww, thank you. And there's nothing wrong with acrylic, don't hide! I especially love it for crocheting. Don't make me do my story about the shop in London where an assistant told a customer to crochet a throw in Manos, which would be hugely expensive and also who would want to handwash a throw, and I was so irritated I had to put my laceweight back and walk out.

I did my story.

Marushka C. said...

I love these interviews and your comments in them too. Malabrigo IS the gateway yarn, excellent way to phrase it! Sadly, I learned it the hard way... once I let my daughter knit with Malabrigo, there was no going back to the Red Heart Super Saver.

Zina said...

I would soooo love to be able to knit and wear acrylic, but it makes me sweat funny and it feels slimy to me after a while. (Sometimes I do find mixes that I can wear, tho!)

Great interview! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Love the interview - laughed so hard the whole library came to a standstill and stared!! The shame!
Ely Wool Shop is my absolute fave store! I have to only visit every other week - my salary couldn't support my habit otherwise!
For the record - stock-piling acrylic - I wouldn't put anything past 'the evil faceless proponents of global capitalism' - but oh the tragic shame for England! Only if we export the stuff could I hold my head up - maybe not even then! I reject designer garments knitted in A-C-R-Y-L-I-C - they are spawn of hell - and how could anyone do that to all the hard work a designer puts into a pattern.
Better go put some books away ... (I'm the librarian after all)...