cocoon of ‘lockdown’ in a strong position.
Following our fantastic ‘covert’ mission in September, when we painted our small town with yarn as part of the Tour of Britain race making its way through our main street, there has been a slight expectation from the community that we would make things appear again!
The group of volunteers , now affectionately named the ‘Nutty Knitters’ by a member of the public, have been busy once again. In readiness for a spooky Saturday evening we created a creepy atmosphere by installing a number of webs and ghosts around the main street. One of our local supermarkets even donated some of their distinctly coloured carrier bags for us to make waterproof knitted items… pumpkin bunting, pompoms and lamp post covers were very popular with the younger audience. Spiders webs were hung from signposts and bus stops as well as a very large one covering the side of the telephone box.
The public have once again loved the installations – the messages of thanks on social media and in the shop are gratefully received and passed on to the group.
Let me tell you about our little group of volunteers – there is a wide age range of members from our junior knit and natter group right through to some elderly relatives of my customers. The juniors are learning their craft but they have loved being part of the team. There is a lot of excitement when they can show members of their family which bits they knitted. There are members of the team with a lot of experience with their crafts of crochet and knitting and they do a great job of coming up with ideas to install. The older members of our team don’t always see the fruits of their labour but they are very happy to have some knitting or crochet to do which keeps them entertained and occupied. The team also has some young adults that are enthusiastic and motivated with developing their knitting skills and love the installations and the group dynamics – it appears that they are learning lots along the way as well.
If a community project like this can generate so much great feeling then it must be encouraged. Even the winter months can be cheered with a bit of wool… There is definately a feeling of expectation now from the residents of the town; so we are now planning the next event. Hmmmm wonder what that could be?
Last year the Tour de France cycle race stages that happened in the UK brought massive enthusiasm and community spirit to small towns across the country. This year the annual Tour of Britain is making its way through my home town and we are seeing a similar reaction from the community.
Once the dates and route were published there was a team of enthusiasts organised to generate some displays and activities to put our town on the map. I say town, we are indefinable really – too large for a village but not really a town. Over the years the area has grown to a point that some of the older residents don’t recognise it as the village community it used to be. There are those that will inevitably drum down some of the efforts made by local groups by stating that ‘there is no community spirit any more’ well I have always disagreed with these type of comments and this Tour of Britain event is definitely proving me correct!
For the last few weeks there has been a steady stream of yellow cycles being installed along what will be the route of the Tour. They are old bikes, unloved and battered but they are now seeing a new life – loved and enjoyed by entertaining the visitors and residents with their quirky positions on walls, in flower beds and parked against fences. As business owners we have been encouraged to decorate our windows. Yellow themes and more cycles seem to be popular so we sat down here at Oh Sew Crafty and got our thinking hats on. Several cups of tea later we came up with a plan!
As a craft shop our window needed to reflect our whole mission. Of course – the only option was to be a little bit crafty with our window… after a small appeal for some extra help we embarked on our project. Whatever our volunteers could provide; knitted pieces, crochet pieces or even some spare odds and ends of wool…have you guessed yet? What a reaction we have had – lots of volunteers came forward to help. We cracked on with our project for about a week, then we needed a little meeting to reflect on our efforts so far… When we checked the box of items we were a little bit amazed! This calls for an extended ‘covert’ mission as part of the project!
We spent last Saturday in the shop checking the progress and adding to the stash of woolly pieces. As we worked away and customers came into the shop they were fascinated – in fact we gained a few more volunteers along the way. The response has been amazing – I still maintain that there is a deep community spirit in our town. We spent last Thursday adding the first part of the project to the shop window. There is also some knitted bunting and crochet flower garlands in the window. What a reaction we have had to this! It has been lovely to have people pop into the shop and tell us how much they love the bike. One little boy needed to come into the shop just to check it was a real bike! I have seen people cross over the road just to have a closer look – it feels really good to get a happy and positive response.
– and so to our ‘covert’ mission… well we cannot say too much at this stage but suffice to say it involves yarn, volunteers and a bright moon!!!!
We are in the middle of the glorious English summer right now… I promise!! The children have had a few weeks off school and the parents and grandparents are already counting down to the return in September. The weather has not been at its best so far but the memories of good holidays do not rely on just good weather, surely! Here at Oh Sew Crafty we have seen a lot of children getting crafty things organised to take on their holidays – its lovely.
For these school holidays we have organised a whole plethora of crafty activities that are being enjoyed by the local community. Some of the activities need only a little imagination and hopefully the children will take ideas away and create some activities for themselves when the weather turns bad. With the weather being so changeable it has been very important for those groups of children to have activities to keep them occupied but I have often worried about the prescriptive nature of so many activities…and therein is the debate!
Do we need to keep our children SO organised, can they develop their own activities, do they not have imagination? I think that as parents and carers we are a little frightened to allow them to be creative. Everything today has to be completed with such accuracy its scary…. where is the creativity? One of my favourite sayings with the young crafters is ‘there is no such thing as getting it wrong in craft – it is just redesigning!’. If only life was so simple…
We introduced a Knit and Natter session for the young crafters this summer. They have been learning to knit at school and we thought it would be nice to keep the skills ticking over whilst they are on holiday. On top of that the adults have a Knit and Knatter so why not the children? SO instead of coffee and cakes we have juice and fab biscuits. The chairs are pulled up around the table in the shop and the parents/grandparents get a couple of hours to get their shopping done – and it works! There is no real structure, they just bring along their knitting project and crack on with it. I am there to help them if they drop a stitch or gain too many…. The conversations are hilarious – I love the child aspect to the way they see the world. It is lovely to hear them chat about things they consider to be important – no moaning about politics or the price of bread. No debate over the best way to cast on or off – or even the colour of buttons to use. They have much more important things to discuss… the lack of after school clubs through the holidays as they love going to them so much. The new class that they are entering and the new teacher that they are encountering. Life is good. If you could see them, clicking their needles and tutting over dropped stitches. They are influenced so much by the adults around them. They try so hard to be like us – children are like little sponges and take all sorts of gems of memories around in their heads. I would suggest that all adults should spend time with children and listen to what they have to say – it is enlightening!
And there are the seeds of memories about a long crafty summer, looking back will they remember what the weather was doing? I doubt it… they will chuckle and remember being able to chat, socialise with freedom and creativity, on their terms…
I don’t know about any of you, but I know I have times when I would love the world to stop so I could get off for just a wee while. I am a very busy person by my nature, I cannot just sit down, I detest having nothing to do and I love being able to potter around creating crafty masterpieces (not that I ever really achieve the latter very often). Even when sitting in boring meetings I have doodled my agenda in the most fascinating ways. Recently someone created the ‘Zentangle’ phenomena that has made colouring and doodling a fun activity for adults and children alike. Art therapy is now widely recognised as having major benefits to illness recovery.
I remember being in hospital when I was about 10 years old (a very long time ago) and the most awful thing was the boredom – but the best time was when we went to ‘school’. This was a room in the ward where a teacher was employed to work with us. It wasn’t like school really – we did a lot of drawing and painting and making of things. My crafty recovery carried on when I left hospital and I spent time with a family friend who taught me to crochet. Over my month of rehab I became very proficient at making glitzy skull caps! (Well it was the 70’s!).
I have many customers that call into the shop for craft kits or project resources when they are about to set off on holiday. The rest, the peace and quiet, the time to absorb themselves in a craft means they feel refreshed and revitalised when they return. There are those that search for a craft for someone else to do whilst they are laid up with illness or injury. So many times people turn to craft for their therapy and this makes me think that we all have a need to be creative or constructive at times. Why is this? I know there is a great sense of achievement when that project is completed. I know that a knitting or crochet project allows for some thinking time whilst wielding the pins or hooks. I know that most crafts can be achieved whilst relatively immobile. Is this just twitchy fingers or is there something that our soul needs?
There are many quotes out there that suggest this is an age old state of mind…
“Methinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their own hearts than while so occupied.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1859
- Sewing mends the soul
- Stitch your stress away
- May your bobbin always be full
- Any day spent sewing is a good day
All of these are credited to the ‘Unknown Author‘ but how right they are!
How about this one? – “The innocent sleep, Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care…”
~William Shakespeare (was he a crafter?)
I have a customer that has had a rough time with illness over the last 18 months but all through this time she has had her crafting skills to see her through. She has managed to knit, sew, crochet and other crafts even at the most tiring time of the treatments and it has helped her to mend. This week I had a young customer in with his mum, he was suffering with a rotten bug and was quite weary. Obviously school was not going to feature in his day but he still wanted to do something (I don’t think he was old enough to have caught man-flu!). He settled on creating something with felt and bright stranded threads, and of course the googly eyes.
So from this I have to extend my intended thoughts to the whole craft world and not just the sewing world. Quite definitely, Crafting mends the soul….
The UK we have been witnessing a lovely resurgence in the local shopping experience. This has been lovingly and loyally supported by our biggest community institution, the WI, with their ‘Shop Local’ campaign ‘SOS for High Streets’ launched in 2014. Here at Oh Sew Crafty we have been graced with a steady stream of new customers over the last 3 years and locally our business group has added a town-wide shopping loyalty scheme that has been received really well by the shoppers.
Whilst this situation helps develop a great shopping experience with both retailer and customer, it also brings with it a whole range of more challenging issues that can frustrate everyone! I think that many people are out of practice when it comes to local shopping in small businesses. We have been provided with fantastic shopping experiences over recent years from supermarkets to online stores. We have 24 hour delivery for products that are coming from massive warehouses full of wondrous technology. Customer Services that can be contacted deep into what would be classed as unsociable hours are commonplace on the paper information that comes with our orders. Items can be ordered and delivered ‘Postage FREE’, in bulk and from anywhere in the world
So – lets just look at this from the ‘local’ and small business persepective…
- Opening hours – this has to be one of the biggest organisational and frustrating aspects of shopping for anything. Customers work long hours, they often work shifts. In fact some customers experience this directly as they work shifts in large retail businesses. The small retail business in many instances are run by a family or a sole trader. They will open their doors to the customers during traditional opening hours of 9 – 6pm – or thereabouts. Why is this? This is when the bulk of their customers will come in to shop. What about the workers? I hear you shout… well they are also workers, and often the only ones working in that establishment. They need to go home, to look after family, to shop for their own needs…. They will endeavour to open later at seasonal times such as Christmas and maybe if they are in a tourist area use some seasonal opening times – it just needs a little time management from everyone….
- Payments – we live in a plastic society, our money is mostly invisible; it comes into our bank and out of our bank without even touching our purses and wallets. What is money? Money does make the world go around its true – however for small businesses money needs to be real. It needs to be visible and accountable on a daily basis. We have items for sale from 5p to £70 and it is frightening how many people do not understand that a card payment cannot be reasonably offered for a very small purchase. I dont think many people realise how much the processing of card payments costs. The amount of money in transactions that are being processed from large corporate businesses is so vast that they can negotiate their charges – even have them removed in a lot of cases. The large stores do not want the cash hanging around the building – it is safer to have an invisible transaction. For the small retail business however things are very different. We pay for everything… did you know that we pay for our change for the till? Did you know that we pay rental for the card processing machines, as well as paying for each transaction? Did you know that we pay to bank our money in the banks? We pay more if we go to the counter and are offered a cheaper rate to ‘post’ our money to central services that the banks use. When you want to purchase something for £1 on your card the large companies will ask you if you want a cashback added to get rid of the real money… we will likely decline to take the payment as it will cost us more for the transaction than we will receive for the goods. It just takes a little planning from everyone…
- Stock – how wonderful it is to walk along vast aisles of products that have been arranged in an orderly and clinical fashion to speed up our shopping experience. To gather our purchases into our baskets or trolleys in the knowledge that we have had every choice available and have fulfilled our weekly requirements quickly and without having to miss out. If a particular product is not available then chances are your choice is enhanced by the same product from different companies being available on the same shelf. Hmmmm – not much fun though… It is lovely to be able to purchase 20 loaves of bread because you are taking a group on a picnic or having a party – did you know the local bakery can also provide you with the 20 loaves – and might even do a small deal – if you give them a little bit of notice? The large craft stores provide a fantastic range of products but then – how frustrating that the ordering is done centrally and that they are not going to get another bag of that wool so you can finish your jumper! The small retailer is often happy to make sure you get your products – the biggest difference is that it cannot be done in 24 hours. We need to have minimum orders with suppliers before they will send out an order. We pay for carriage in a lot of instances and we cannot get just a couple of balls of yarn that you need – we need to order sensibly. It just takes a little planning from everyone…
- Service – with a smile? A small business is very visible to its customers. When you dash around the supermarket chances are the only time you interact with a member of staff is to ask where the store has moved a product to! You might get a short conversation with the cashier as they try to smile and make your shopping experience a little more enjoyable – oh but you are in a hurry, not impressed with the chit chat as they whizz your items down the shute. The store is busy and they open up more tills – or you choose to opt for the completely impersonal option of the self serve tills… When you shop local the smile and chat are a large part of the service. You are trapped! There are no extra tills to open – there is probably no-one to man them if there were… The small retailer enjoys giving a more interactive experience to its customers. We like to share our knowledge and advice for product use. We like to answer questions about skills and techniques… oh but you are in a hurry! Hmmm It just takes a little patience from everyone…
- Response – I think that everyone at some point will have asked a question of a retailer or ordered a product that is needed for a project. In a large organisation there is probably a system where the information is placed onto a form then passed down a processing line to a person that will respond. With a small business there is probably a system where the question or the order is placed onto a form and then passed to a person…. oh yes – they are that person! That person that will need to go to the children’s school play that night, after they have made tea, got the family ready and once home from the play – after a full day in the shop – will sit down to update the books, count the money, sort out the stock orders and probably need to sleep but will not be in bed before midnight! If your response is not there in 24 hours… there may be good reason… It just takes a little organisation from everyone…
- Support – This is were the small business excels! The larger stores have lots of staff but they may not necessarily have the quality. In lots of instances the small retail business will have people working that have knowledge and experience. They can help you get started on a project, pick the correct tools and resources, explain the task instructions, work out problems and probably know your name! They will want to see you finished project – they are interested… It just takes a little determination from us all…
- Prices – I place this subject a little further down the list than you might expect but here is why – I know that there are goods and services out there that are cheap and effective. There are stores for everything ‘budget’. They have their place in our shopping plans, it is always lovely to get a bargain. The larger businesses have the ability to buy in bulk – and we know that is better for costs; but also they over buy which gives us even more opportunity for bargains when they sell off surplus stock. The small business does not often have a reasonable chance of buying in too much bulk. Their prices however needs to remain competitive. The internet is not always cheaper – if you look at postage etc. The small business cannot necessarily negotiate cheap postage. They do however stock items that are relevant and of good quality. Recently in our local area we had a retailer that closed his doors for a final time because he was fed up of permanently having to re-price products as customers asked for discount so they would buy from him and not online or in a larger store. We need to earn a wage – if a product is discounted you can bet that it is already priced with the smallest of margins and that margin, after the tax and the VAT and other overheads have had their bit is our wages. It just takes a little respect from everyone…
- Variety – This is definitely an issue for a lot of people. We love to have choice, variety and we want it quickly – but I think this is something we can control very easily. It’s like the strawberries at Christmas scenario. Sometimes the small space available means you have restricted choice, however often the alternative options are available. They may be in the small storeroom as there is no space, or maybe they have the chance to add them to a next order. Talk to your local shops, tell them the types of choices you need to make. At midnight, after a long day, when you are choosing colours of buttons the decisions can be made without much reasoning as the energy is waning. It just takes a little communication from everyone…
In this fast moving marketplace that has developed over the last 10 years or so we have become a little complacent with shopping. I see many people now opting to have the afternoon off, go out with a friend for afternoon tea and have a general browse around the local shops as well. Thank you to you all – we really don’t mind the browsers – they often come back again when they know what project they are going to start. Thank you as well to the shoppers in a rush – you are also always welcome. I know it looks like I am having a good old moan in this blog but nothing could be further from the truth. I suppose it is a little education for our customers… it just takes a little inside knowledge for us all!!
I remember the first series of the Great British Sewing Bee with mixed emotions. I had spent all summer doing extensive market research in my local town and in other places across Britain with regard to setting up my dream business – Oh Sew Crafty was moving from being a tiny little thought seed into a whacking great big business venture! Well that is how it seemed when the roller coaster started.
At the time we had been enticed back into the ‘make do and mend’ attitudes by the lack of disposable cash and the throwback to the glorious vintage era that made it trendy to be crafty. The lovely Kirsty Allsopp had shown us that being thrifty or crafty was achievable by any one of us… that we could create, mend, adapt and re-use items that were previously discarded recklessly as we shopped relentlessly for the next fashion piece. My research showed that people were starting to miss having easy access to sewing essentials and good knitting yarns. This was a re-assuring aspect to my plan.
We opened in October 2012, and by the following spring we had started to feel our feet, just in time for the pilot series of the Great British Sewing Bee. I was new to running a business and knew that I would need to be guided by my customers where stock was concerned. I was not prepared however for the mad rush that ensued when in the first episode the ‘bias binding’ machine, demonstrated and positioned perfectly, encouraged people to dash to the nearest haberdashery to purchase one of their own! We sold out in 2 days… the tool famine that followed lasted for weeks! Other items to take us by surprise that season included invisible thread (thank you Ms Allsopp), hessian and ribbon.
And so we were hooked – all summer the customers chatted about this lovely mini series of craft. “would there be another series?” was the most asked question. “Did you see that lovely dress that Ann made?”. Everyone saw something different in the series. Some people were dismayed at the way the stitchers created their garments, preferring the security of traditional working with its regimented and sometimes soul-destroying perfection, whilst others saw the breath of fresh air that was being demonstrated with relaxed techniques and a definite smile on the contestants faces as they proudly completed their tasks.
When the announcement came that there would be another series my customers were so excited! I had 3 customers that applied to go on the show. One of them got through to the 3rd round and she was very pleased with herself. The second series did not disappoint… once again there was a great effect on the buying trends. This time however there was another, deeper, effect that was starting to emerge. Many of my customers had repeatedly voiced their opinion that sewing, crafting and knitting were dying skills and that the ‘young people’ were not interested. Well, that certainly changed in 2014. Many of those young people emerged from the shadows and showed that actually they had been having a go for quite some time but had not been admitting it. Suddenly my shop was being visited by timid and nervous young mums and teenagers that braved the doorstep and came along to learn better sewing and knitting techniques. My workshops filled with new blood – those ‘young people’ have gained confidence and produced some fantastic projects.
Over the year the interest has gained momentum. My husband works with me at the weekend and he is a very useful asset when it comes to engaging with the menfolk as they accompany their partners into this ‘stash’ containing emporium. Once they see him, there is a distinct relaxation of shoulders! Often the conversation turns to the ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ and surprise surprise… the menfolk quite like this programme…
And so to series 3 – so far we have run out of rotary cutters, princess seamed dress patterns and some vintage style fabrics. In fact the reach now includes children and more openly the men – thanks to great contestants! The Children in Need celebrity specials were very entertaining and the challenges are discussed at every possible moment in the shop. It is lovely to hear the conversations with my customers and their opinions about who is good and who is not.
This week has been filled with ideas for costumes for the World Book Day that the schools take an active part in each year. The ideas have proved to be more adventurous this year. What started 2 years ago with a bit of felt in a mask format has now bloomed into a full costume with embellishments as people have allowed their imaginations to be supported by their growing confidence. I love that there is a rise in those revisiting their sewing and knitting skills so that they can create better garments for what is essentially fancy dress. Well done everyone!
Thank you to the BBC for trusting the nation and providing us with a fantastic opportunity to revive some of these creative skills. What will series 3 bring to us? Who will win? Who will provide us with the ‘memorable’ garment that we will talk about for months to come? One thing is for sure – it is all good. The craft business is benefiting from a raised interest, and confidence, from the nation.