Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Origin of Sheep

I've got a question.

Do you know where your wool comes from?

Think about your current or last yarn project. Where did the wool or felt come from?

My current projects (I normally have 3 on the go at once) Hobbycraft, Samuel Taylors & Purple Lynda.

Let's take one of mine, Anchor Freccia Cotton Thread. I bought this from Purple Lynda, who runs an excellent online crochet supply store from Inverness.
It's an Anchor product and Anchor is owned by Coats, a worldwide company. Not much to track from the website, but a small note on the label tells me it was Made in Hungary. And there my search ends.

So my little ball of wool, came from Hungary, to Scotland, To Inverness, To Leeds.

Now, how far back can you go?

Most of the time I have no idea where the wool came from, if it's british wool, great, but the truth is it's often the cost of the wool that makes my wool choice for me.

Yesterday I finally came face to face with April. I was so happy, after months of talking about her and asking after her I finally met her. I wanted to brush her up in my arms and hug her, but settled on a few scratches behind her ear.

April is a sheep, a Shetland sheep from the Highfield flock in North Yorkshire. Owned by Cluny Chapman.

You should check out the website that includes a monthly blog written by one of the sheep, it's a must read. I cried when the original blogger passed away and cheered at the first mention of April (coming 5th in the large ewe lamb class at the rare breeds show) then cried again when I read April had twins this year (photo of April and her twins on the right).

I first met Cluny at the monthly Briggate farmers market in Leeds. She has a stall a few stalls down from me. We chatted wool, then her wool, then I found out that not only does she spin her own yarn - the first person I've ever met who does spin yarn - but she knows the names of the sheep the yarn comes from. But of course she does, the sheep are hers after all.

So, I have a few balls of wool in my stash boxes that I can trace all the way back to the actual sheep it came from.

April grows the fleece - Cluny sheers April - Cluny's mum cards the fleece - Cluny spins the yarn - I buy the yarn. All within a 50 mile radius.

There's just something magical about knowing the whole story of wool, even if I can't replace my whole stash with magical wool. Knowing that this coming winter my hat, gloves and scarf can be traced back to April in York will make slipping on ice a little bit easier to cope with.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

British Wool Weekend 2012

So, I'm home again after a lovely day in Harrogte at the British Wool Weekend.

It was held at the Yorkshire Showground, a huge exhibition area that's mostly fields. I don't have a car so I caught the bus to Harrogate and then a second bus to the grounds. The bus drops you off on the main road and it's a long, long walk to the actual building, but a nice walk.

£8 to get in, with some extra speakers on through the day. If you're going tomorrow, don't bother buying the programme. I bought one expecting it to list the extra events, but it is just a list of exhibitors and some adverts. In fact, the door security was so lacking I even wondered if it was worth buying a ticket, since no one checked whether anyone walking straight in had one! However, I did pay, since it's important to support British wool whenever possible.

I just want to give some quick notes on the day and go further into them in later posts (I have a new found determination to blog a LOT more).

What was big this year was big needles and hooks, and I mean BIG!

I appologise for the lighting on the photo, for some reason my camera was playing up and a lot of my photos are too messed up to show.

Do you see the log thingie on the right? That's the knitting needle. Yep, Huge. I think they're using strips of blankets as yarn.

This is The Big Knit fundraising event for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. More information is found here The Big Knit.

For a small donation you too, can do a few stitches on the worlds largest knitting needles.

Big knitting was everywhere. In some way I can see the benefit, a row of stitches is an inch in length, so people like me that don't like to make large projects due to the time. But I also see many downsides for me. I noticed the first stall selling a ball of ultra size wool for £30 a ball, yep, that price was right. So not a cheap knit. Also the crochet hooks were around 4-5 feet in length, not something you can slip into your handbag.

I seriously considered buying a hook, but only as a display on the stall.

The circular needles on the left seem to be wooden handles on a bit of hose pipe. For £20 I think someone's having a laugh.

I finally met April. I don't know if I've told you about her yet, so I won't say anything about her now, another day though.

Future blogs I plan from today include Angora rabbits, woolen duvets, football rattle spinning, luchets and finger looms, Purists and more about April.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Easy Baby Beanie

Easy Baby Beanie

3.5mm Hook

Yarn used 1/2 ball of Sirdar Snuggly DK in White. Any white DK will work nice though.

The pattern is worked in spirals apart from the treble crochet rows.

Use a stitch marker at the start of rows if this is easier.

*If you don’t know how to make a magic ring there are some good videos on You Tube, but you can also make 2 chain stitches and put the first 6 DC into 2nd stitch from hook.

UK pattern, US abbreviations in brackets:

ch – Chain (CH)                 dc – Double crochet (SC)

tr – Treble Stitch (DC)     rpt - Repeat

Beanie Pattern 

R1:                          Make a magic ring*, ch 1, 6 dc into ring and pull closed. (6)

R2:                          2 dc into each dc around (12)

R3:                          (1 dc in 1st dc, 2 dc in next) x 6 (18)

R4:                          1 dc in each dc around (18)

R5:                          (1 dc in next 2 dc’s, 2 dc’s in next dc) x 6 (24)

R6:                          1 dc in each dc around (24)

R7:                          (1 dc in next 3 dc’s, 2 dc’s in next dc) x 6 (30)

R8:                          (1 dc in next 4 dc’s, 2 dc’s n next dc) x 6 (36)

R9:                          1 dc in each dc around (36)

R10:                       (1 dc in next 5 dc’s, 2 dc’s in next dc) x 6 (42)

R11:                       (1 dc in next 6 dc’s, 2 dc’s in next dc) x 6 (48)

R12:                       (1 dc in next 7 dc’s, 2 dc’s in next dc) x 6 (54)

R13+14:                1 dc in each stitch around (54) (2 rounds)

R15:                       (1 dc in next 8 dc’s, 2 dc’s in next dc) x 6 (60)

R16-18:                 1 dc in each dc around (60) (3 rounds)

R19:                       ch 4, miss next dc, 1 tr in next dc, *ch 1, miss next dc, 1 tr in next dc* repeat around finishing with a slip stitch in the 3rd chain of 1st 4 ch. (30 tr)

R20:                       1 ch, dc in each tr and ch around (60)

R21-23:                 1 dc in each dc around (60) (3 rounds)

R24-25:                 Repeat rounds 19 & 20

R26-27:                 1 dc in each dc around (60) (2 rounds)

R28:                       ch 3, 4 tr in same dc as ch 3, *miss next dc, 1 dc in next dc, miss next dc, 5 tr in next dc*, rpt around, Sl st in 3rd ch of first 3 chi.

Finish off

Loop a ribbon through every second tr and tie in a bow, or add other trimmings to suit.

Final notes:

If this is for a boy you could miss out the frilly edge and replace with a few dc rounds, sometimes ending the last round in back loops only gives a nice finish.

This is the first time I’ve written a pattern down, I hope you will try it and let me know if you liked it or if you found it hard to read. Feedback will make any other patterns I write more easily for you to read.
If you want this pattern in a word document email me and I'll send it to you.

I’ve made matching booties and will eventually add this pattern, email me if you want me to let you know when this is ready.

Finally about selling items made from this pattern.

Feel free to print this pattern, pass it around, and adjust it. Have fun with it and credit me if you can.

Feel free to sell what you make from the pattern, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say.

Revamped Earring Stand

I was looking at my current earring a brooch display and figured it needed a new look.
Here's what I did, and how I did it!
I hope you like it.

I have an old earring stand that I made myself some time ago. It was quite cheap to make. I bought 2 cork notice boards and some small hinges from the local hardware store and put them together to make a free standing board. I spray painted it black in the belief that silver jewellery looks best on a black background. Not sure how legit that belief is.

As you can see, it's worn already, you can see the brown cork coming through where pins have been and on the top a half hearted attempt to write my name on the board.
I had some brown suede left over from making teddy bears and decided to use that as a background, so using double sided sticky tape I marked out enough for the board and stuck the suede onto the cork.
I tried cutting out the shape first but found it easier to stick the material down, then using a craft knife cut the material from the edge of the board.

Now for the edge. I have some left over decoupage paper, that has a brown crackle effect. I cut the paper into squares then used glue to paste it down all around the edge. I'm using decopatch glue and paper, but I think it's just the same as any white glue and tissue paper. decopatch though have many great patterns and well worth a look. I bought this from Hobby craft, but they have a website
It looks messy, and it is! But it's great fun and a good way to decorate anything and everything.
After drying, it looks great, better than before at least. It only took a couple of hours. You can see below the one I re-vamped and one I've yet to do. I've also notices the suede hides any pinholes better than the cork alone, so hopefully it will last a lot longer.

Branding the Cattle, Vol. 2

I was talking about how some crafters just get by and others do well and ended up talking about getting my business name. That's not what I intended, so here we go again.

What I have noticed at the various markets is that people buy packaging as much as product. Take my underwear!!! I wouldn't call myself a name brand girl, but my shoes are Clarks and my underwear Marks and Sparks. I know I'm not the only one who feels the same way. But why? Why is my loo roll Andrex and nothing else? Yes, they're quality products, but they're not the only quality products on the market.

Think about my mp3 player. I've been an Ipod buyer for years (arrgghh, maybe I AM a name brand girl) I once bought an Ipod that broke, normally I would then change to a new brand of mp3, but something made me stay. Well, have you ever had a Mac product break on you? Have you tried their repairs department? I did. I phoned them and the next day UPS arrived with a little box for my ipod, then the next day UPS returned with a brand new ipod. No worries, no questions asked. And I am now a Mac lifer.

It's not just getting the sale, it's the whole shabang. You look in the shop window, see the product, but I am beginning to see that what sells you the product isn't the product at all, it's the glossy packaging, the vintage look label. It's the people who go to Harrods just to get a carrier bag with the name. They bought nothing, but the packaging. I could buy a packet of mints from Harrods or from the local shop, they're still just a packet of mints, but one comes in a green bag with gold lettering that says, "I can afford anything I want".

What's the difference between a crocheted bunny that I might make and sell and those little crochet bunnies in Cath Kidsons shop? They both would cost around the same, but if you bought one from Cath's shop it'd come in a bag with roses on, which says "I am buying a great luxury gift". If you bought it from me, apart from being able to haggle the price, you'd get the bunny, a hand written price label (white tag style), a bag if I remembered them or Sue lends me one, and if I remember I might persuade you to take a business card that advertises silver jewellery, not my crochet items!

But behind all of that there is a whole wealth of difference.

Sorry Cath if you ever read this blog, I feel like I'm picking on you, but in truth I really love what you do.

The fact that if you buy from me you meet the actual maker of the bunny, the number of bunnies I make are very limited so it's more unique, I can tell you the wool and even get the pattern for you. Not only that, in some cases I can even tell you the name and address of the sheep that gave it's coat up for you (I hope eventually to get a photo of the sheep too!) And talk about local business, A Yorkshire lass, selling items made in Yorkshire, from wool of Yorkshire born and bred sheep. You can't get any better than that.

In some ways, a bunny from me should be better that one from a high street shop, but I don't feel it is. It all comes down to my packaging, it's not selling for me.

A few days ago my mum took me to a wholesale place she found. I saw some little keyrings for £1 that I could sell for £2 easily. So I bought 10 of them. There were a lot to choose from but some were in boxes and some in plastic wrapping. All from the same supplier, same warehouse, same factory, but the packaging made certain ones stand out to me as better quality as the others. It's the packaging that sells the product.

I don't have any, and if you are a regular reader of my blog you will remember the blog of what to take to your stall. My most forgotten item is packaging, when it should be one of the most important things. I have a nice table cloth, some nice labels, I've made an earring stand and have some baskets for other items, but nothing matches. There is no running theme, and I've been aware of this problem for a while now.

Over the last week the planned blog-a-day idea went a bit off the mark, but I've been busy (honest), I've been looking into all of this packaging and marketing. I hadn't done much in the past because I thought a great business image would cost a fortune, but I've spent under £100 and am so happy.

I finally feel I'm coming out of a dark tunnel (it's not a light at the end of the tunnel. Just some blighter with a torch and more work!) Once items start arriving I'll tell you more, but here's a little smidge of the plan...

I've bought wrapping paper and personalised stickers instead of clear plastic zip bags. Pink carrier bags instead of, well nothing. Professional looking labels that advertise my products and all of my details instead of a hand written price tag, woven clothing labels, and I've bought the web name so my website is the same as the business name.

If I'm right, I should soon start to see the difference in my bank balance as well as the huge smile on my face.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Branding the cattle

I've been taking a little time off from crafting to concentrate on the actual business building.

What makes one person's stall be a winner and another person struggle? I ask this currently as a struggler.

I think my items are great, I work hard on perfecting what I make and think I ask a reasonable price and looking at the work of other crafters I think I'm as good and sometimes better than what is already on offer. What worries me is that I often hear other crafters commenting on their own sales, worrying for me is that while I can scrape by others are telling me they earn £100+ profit for a day. There is always the possibility that all crafters are like fishermen in that the fish was so big and our sales are so much (a wee bit more than the actual fact). One Crafter mentioned she made over £200, when she didn't have £200 worth of stock to start with.

No one really wants to discuss the finances of their business and when they do, they don't want to admit they are not earning a lot. I certainly don't admit that I just get by, opps, I just did. Well today is the day for honesty.

Some people though, are making money. Some are getting their name out there and making a living from doing what they love and I'd like to be amongst them. What do they have or do that I don't?

Arty and crafty people are very visually minded, we like to make things, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty we would rather switch off. This is slowly being realised and there are books out there on how to write a business plan from an arty view point. I have my moments when I can actually sit and concentrate on the business building and the last few days have been like this. But then I also think running a business is a craft in itself.

My first venture into the craft of business running was a few years ago when I qualified as a Reflexologist and a Nail Technician. I spent so much time worrying about a business name and felt rather silly with some of the suggestions. I desperately needed a name other than my own, Y'see, my own name is a bit, well... funny. I was once asked my name, then asked again, then asked to spell it. I remember smiling and saying "Pocock, as in perverted telly tubby!". Growing up in the pre-internet world my name wasn't that funny or odd, I never really thought about it. When I started training as a Reflexologist I also considered studying massage but we no longer live in the innocent world where pot is something you cook in and a joint is a piece of meat.

Massage often has negative undertones of sleazy 1st floor flats offering a massage or O levels and the internet is a hive of minds that could do with a dose of the old carbolic soap. My name and massage just wouldn't go together.

As a crafter I didn't think it would matter as much, but after one week on Twitter using my 'real' name I got fed up of people wanting to offer me services and requests on how large it was! I thought of changing my name and looked along the family tree for an alternative. I found a nice combination of using my Nana's maiden name and my mum's middle name, Amy Evison. It sounded like a very elegant name and maybe one day... But elegant doesn't really describe a woollen Sculpted Dragon or Crochet Roller Skates.

Pixie came into my life two years ago. I've wanted a cat since my last one disappeared when I was a teenager and I finally moved to a place where it was possible. What I really wanted was a ragdoll cat and wanted to save long and hard to buy one. In the meantime I met someone who had got a cat from a charity but couldn't have it at the moment because she was moving house. She asked if I would foster the cat for a month while she moved and I agreed. Pixie was as miserable a cat as I have ever seen, she was about 4 and spent a long time in the kennels of the charity, mainly because it was a dog charity and people only came there for a dog. In the end a volunteer for the charity took pity and adopted her but was in the process of moving, and that's how she ended up for a month's stay with me.

I spent the first month thinking how glad I'd be when she finally left. She hated cats, dogs, people... She bit one visitor, scratched another and spent the whole month sitting on the window sill as far away from me as possible. One month turned into two (Y'know how house moves can go) then after three months the charity called to say the house had fallen through and Pixie was going to be returned to the kennels. I really REALLY wanted a ragdoll cat, at least a pedigree of some sort, and I wanted a kitten, not an adult moggy. I wanted one that liked people and sat on my knee and curled up on the bed.

Sadly life doesn't always go our way. I couldn't face sending Pixie back to the dog kennel, so she stayed. Slowly she mellowed, very slowly. After 6 months she sat on the same settee as me, and then I woke up one morning to find her sleeping on my back, finally after two years she climbed onto my lap... I'd waited so long that I cried.

When I realised she was staying – the charity said she had a forever home – I was about to get little cards with my phone number and address printed, and decided to put Pixie on the cards too. The name Pixie and Joy was born. The cat that I once couldn't wait to get rid of is now my most treasured possession (although no one really owns a cat, they own you!).

Using that as a name came much later, in fact it's been a few weeks. I've been through many suggestions... In Stitches (because I crochet funny things)... Clay Babies (because I make clay babies)... Precious memories (because...) In the end I gave up on finding a name that describes what I do. I crochet, make silver things, make chain maille... It didn't matter, I mean ASDA (ASsociated DAiry & Farm Stores) does more than sell milk and cheese. Marks & Sparks name doesn't describe what they do and both started out in Leeds. It's kind of cool thinking M&S started out in the same market as I did, who knows where I could end up?

The most important thing, in my unqualified opinion, is that I like the name, it has a history, it matches my style (well, to me it does) and most importantly I don't feel I'm being rude using it.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Top 10 things to bring to a market stall

I've had stalls at several craft fairs and markets now and one thing is true for everyone.... I will forget something.

This is not a list by someone who does everything right and says, 'Hey guys, look at me and how well I do' rather a list to myself as well as others. On Sunday I forgot the jewellery boxes I'd promised to bring.

  1. Your Stock. This might sound obvious, but believe me, nothing is worse than turning up and remembering the latest wares you spent last night carefully labelling and pricing are still on the craft table at home. I've only done this once, but once was enough.
  2. Warm clothing. Very important at this time of year. I have five layers and sometimes even that isn't enough. I know understand the phrase 'cold to the bone'. Even if the stall is under cover and indoors consider taking extra layers. Some fairs have been indoors, but the heating, even during the Christmas fairs, was firmly switched off. One tip I have learnt from my youth carolling with the Salvation Army, stand on corrugated cardboard for insulation under the feet. It really works.
  3. Packaging. My most common mistake. Not just boxes to put your jewellery in, but carrier bags in various sizes. Sue brings a small box full of packaging items. Organza bags, little boxes, fold up cardboard bags. Me, I forget these things almost every time.
  4. Business tools. Sue taught me to carry a note book with me to list my sales. I wasn't sure at first but it's become a useful little tool. It tells me what I sold and how much for, also the costs of the stall and travelling, lastly I put a little comment on each market. How I felt, busy or quiet, what I forgot... just so I can look back the next time I go to the same place and know what to expect. I also take a receipt book, pens, spare labels, and most importantly, Business cards and adverts. If it's your first time at a fair is there paperwork you need to take? Oh, I've also started taking a camera with me, I find photos taken on the stall in natural daylight look great.
  5. Displays. At least a table cloth. Even if, like me, you're still not sold on a solid look for your stall, bring what you have. Boxes to carry your stock that can double as a raised display, a doll to show off a knitted outfit, even a piece of cardboard cut out and covered with foam and velvet for jewellery. If you struggle with finding the right display for your look at the groups on Flicker. There are several groups dedicated to displaying craft items at shows. Take your camera to fairs and take photos of what you like about other stalls.

    If you have room, take a spare tablecloth. I've been at fairs where someone hasn't shown and I've been offered an extra table. The spare cloth has come to my rescue several times. If you're doing a weekend fair it's a good idea to use a spare cloth to cover your stall at night. However, I was once at a weekend fair which was really poor on sales. Someone hadn't turned up so I was offered an extra table, thank God for my spare cloth. At the end of Saturday everyone covered up their stall but I'd used my spare cloth so left it uncovered and went home. I came back the next day prepared for another day of low/no sales and was handed a few notes by the fair organiser. One of the security staff was walking around the building at night and saw my uncovered stall. They'd had a closer look and decided to buy. It turned out that was my only sale that day but was enough to more than cover expenses and a little extra. You just never know.
  6. Some Comforts. I take a chair with me because I have a problem with standing for long periods. Some fairs treat you well, others don't have the facilities. If you're going to a new market take what you'll need to make your day easier. My chair, flask of tea and pack of peanut butter and jam sandwiches are a must for me but what about you? Could you manage a whole day standing in the outdoors? What if the coffee van is right at the other end of the market or doesn't give traders a discount and is charging a fortune for a cuppa? What about food? Toilet breaks need to be considered too. If you're like me you usually have someone with you (A huge thanks to Pricilla and Sue) but what if you're on your own? Markets and fairs I found have one thing in common; other traders are great people and will always step in to give you a break. Remember though, if you are asking others to watch your stall for you, they might not know your products as well as you do and therefore won't be able to answer questions from potential customers as well as you. Also they are working on their own stall, don't take advantage.

    During quiet moments you might think about taking a book, but if you're a crafter consider taking your craft instead. I have often gathered customers during quiet moments because I've been sat or stood at the stall crocheting.
  7. Oddities. These are things you need for certain fairs. At the Coal Mining Museum we get little badges to wear so we get discounts at the cafe. My first market was at Spitalfields in London. A great place where you simply turned up at 10am on a Friday, paid your £10 and got a stall. Undercover and huge, plus it was packed at lunchtime with local office workers on their breaks. One thing though, you needed to bring your own light bulb. Being undercover there was no sunlight so a bulb was a must. At the end of the day you also needed a good thick piece of cloth to take out the hot light bulb, since there wasn't an on/off switch. Otherwise people left the bulb and brought a new one the following week.
  8. Change. Apart from nice traders and forgetting to bring something, the other certainty is that your first customer is likely to want to pay with a note. You can always get change from your own bank (other banks don't like to give you change if you don't bank with them!) You don't need loads, a few £5 notes and £1 coins. If you are one of those people who like to charge £1.99 instead of £2 you'll also need a bag of pennies. As the day goes on you can get more change from other traders, but again don't abuse the offer and return the goodwill by changing notes for them when you can.
  9. Your Good Self. There's a shop I once went into, I've passed by it several times and always spend time window gazing. There's a lovely handmade pendant in the window that I'd really like. I don't know if I'll ever get it though – I'm too scared to go back into the shop. Remember how you felt when you were treated badly or had poor service when buying and try not to repeat those experiences. On the other hand, remember when you've bought something simply because you liked how you were treated.
    As much as I love that pendant, I won't face the bad mood of the shop owner. However, I've so many pieces of jewellery that are not my favourites but I bought because I liked the service.
  10. Note book & Pen. Inspiration hits at the oddest moments. How many Eureka moments have been and gone because we've said, I'll remember that, but didn't?
    Often I have ideas on what to sell more (or less) of, or while people are looking at my crochet roller skates they'll make a comment that's worthy of noting. Quite often I'll get useful information from customers or other stall owners on places to sell or suppliers to visit. Your notebook/sketchbook and pen should be with you at all times, but especially at the market stall.
You'll have your own list of things to bring I'm sure, and space is a consideration. I don't have a car, like a lot of people in the UK I can afford the car, but I can't afford the insurance. All of my items have to fit into one wheeled suitcase, apart from the chair that despite being folded up, still needs a huge bag of its own.

I love market stalls, but then I live in Leeds, home of Europe's largest indoor market. I love looking around them and finding things that you'd never find in the high end department shops, I love the friendly sellers who sell because it's their business, not because it's just a Saturday job. I love being at my own stall and meeting people, having people come up to me and telling me they liked what they bought last time. I love being face to face with a customer and telling them I don't have their size or colour, but will make it and get it to them.

If you've yet to experience the thrill of selling face to face, find out about the nearest craft market and ask about a stall. Sometimes, like me, you can find someone who is willing to share a stall. Have a look at the Stall finder website and see if there is a market you can try. Some market owners will offer first timers a discounted rate so you can see if it's something worthwhile.

Have a look at business start up organisations. In Leeds we used to have a great stall called How Bazaar. It was a place where people could have a section of the stall for three months and sell their own items. A way to experience a market stall and see if your own items sold, you also got a business advisor, and it was run by someone who had years of experience selling, and best fo all, it was free.