Harrogate-based business The Knitter’s Yarn is a joint venture between mother and daughter Sue and Alice Rutherford, offering wool, patterns and knitting knowhow. Sara Walker speaks to Sue to find out more.
“The Knitter’s Yarn launched in September 2017 so we have been going just two years. Both Alice and I are creative (Alice studied fashion design), so it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off each other. In addition, having different age profiles we can design for a wide age range. I am particularly keen to encourage the younger generation to knit and we are trying to do this by designing knitwear which is easy to make but, most importantly, is also stylish.
“The world of knitting has changed immensely since I began – the advent of Ravelry and the internet enables everyone to learn new skills and continue the learning process. There have been massive improvements to the ‘finishing’ of garments so there is now the opportunity to ensure that ‘hand knits’ look both professional and stylish. When former knitters come back to the craft they are often amazed at the different techniques now taught.
“Whilst my background was in marketing and PR, today’s marketing arena is very different. Alice’s generation are social media savvy and so she is responsible for that area of the business together with the accounts. We work together on designs and then I try to translate our ideas into patterns by knitting them up and writing the instructions as I go. These are later typed up and checked before Alice designs the front covers.
“Starting a new business means that you are both working every hour possible at the outset because there is so much to organise: website; name; logo; inventory etc. We are lucky enough to have a separate studio which is set out like a yarn store and where customers can visit by appointment. I also hold social ‘knit & natter’ sessions here on a monthly basis. As someone who cannot sit still, knitting is something I do every evening whilst watching TV so basically, I have been lucky enough to be able to turn a hobby into a business.
“One of the reasons for starting The Knitter’s Yarn was to set up a business with my daughter which she could then develop and take over. However, life rarely goes according to plan and at the beginning of September Alice started at LAMDA with the aim of a career in acting…….as 90% of actors are out of work at any moment in time, we envisage that the The Knitter’s Yarn will still be very much in her life – indeed, she is so passionate about the business that she is determined to do both.
In the meantime, whilst she is in London and I’m up here in Harrogate, we continue to work together and discuss issues daily. Fortunately, Alice and I are lucky enough to have a great relationship. We are both very strong, determined characters so discussions may get a little heated at times! However, we are also both able to take time to reflect and consider the other’s viewpoint to come up with a solution.
“I started the business because, as a fan of Patricia Roberts and her work, when she closed her shop in Kinnerton Street around 2016 I realised that there was an opportunity to continue to sell her beautiful lambswool online. Patricia gave me the details of her supplier and then I selected a colour range of 22 from a massive choice. As the business grows, we will be extending the range offered.
“We researched the chunky yarn already available in the market and felt that there was an opportunity to develop our own. To that end, living in Yorkshire, we are lucky enough to still have some very active mills within easy reach. We spent months working alongside Laxtons, a nearby mill, to develop the right blend and twist for the yarn. We had a set of criteria for our yarn including softness (I am not a fan or ‘scratchy’ wool) and, the ability to hold its structure.
“Quality does not come cheap but our 100% British merino from the Falkland Islands is a beautiful yarn to work with and wear. Once we had attained the thickness and twist of yarn required, we then selected a palette of eight colours and provided the dyers with some samples of the colours we wanted to achieve. The results were absolutely first class and we are thrilled with our first colour collection and hope to gradually add more shades as the business develops.
“The arrival of the first order of yarn was just the beginning. Alice and I then had to sit down and start designing and making up garments in this new wool. I have spent most of the year, knitting and pattern writing for our first collection of ‘Puddle’ knits. We held a photoshoot at Flamborough, having checked out most of the Yorkshire coastline for a suitable location, and spent 2 hard days with a professional photographer and make-up artist photographing as many of the outfits as possible.
Alice had been the model for the original website but for the shoot we used Alice and her two closest friends from school. We wanted to use real people as models and the girls are different shapes and sizes so that the garments can be seen worn realistically by the target audience we are aiming to attract. A few weeks later, we returned to Flamborough and Alice took some shots of me wearing some of the garments we hadn’t had time to photograph previously. We believe that the final images show that our wool and patterns can be worn by very different age groups.
“The whole ethos behind the business is to encourage people to either learn to knit or to take up knitting again. We believe that knitting is creative, stylish and fun. I am a huge advocate of knitting because it is a pastime which has so many benefits. The workshops were always part of the business plan and we engage a Rowan tutor for the day’s course which is spent in the studio with lunch and snacks provided.
“With the knitting season about to start with earnest again, we will start to plan future workshops. The ‘Professional Finishing’ workshop is a great opportunity to learn how to turn your ‘hand’ knits into ‘professional’ knits and I would thoroughly recommend that to anyone who wants to progress their craft. Equally popular is the ‘Learn to Knit’ course which is great for both absolute beginners and for those whose skills may be a little rusty.
“I think that many people, especially the younger generation, are realising that we need to reconsider our values if we are to save our planet as well as looking for creative outlets to help balance their often stressful lives. When I was a child most people had to learn to knit and sew their own garments as the alternative was either not available or not affordable. With the advent of cheap fashion it was no longer necessary to knit or sew. Today, I think crafting gives many of us the opportunity to be creative and offers a release from technology. However, it is technology and the internet where skills, such as knitting, can be available on a world-wide platform and enable like-minded people to share their skills and their crafts. I am still learning new techniques via YouTube which is brilliant for teaching and a great resource for the novice or skilled knitter. Forums like Ravelry, Instagram and Pinterest offer creative inspiration and are a great way to communicate ideas.
“Alongside The Knitter’s Yarn, we’ve also set up a group knitting for charity because it is such a great way to socialise whilst making something worthwhile for others. Last month we changed venues and held our first ‘Charity Knit & Natter’ at The Granby Care Home in Harrogate so that the residents could join in. I think that knitting is a great way to meet new people and as many older knitters do not have family to knit for, they enjoy using their skills to make for a wide variety of charities. In the short time we have been going, the output from the group has been tremendous: crocheted blankets, numerous hats and scarves for the Harrogate Homeless Project; a large box of garments for the Premature baby unit in Leeds; a parcel of knitting for Syrian refugees; several packages for the ‘Knit for Nowt’ charity and Twiddlemuffs for dementia sufferers.
“It is very hard for new businesses to get started online as you’re competing against much bigger organisations. We currently stock quality yarns from renowned companies and to try to differentiate ourselves from the majority of online stores, we have packaged many patterns and yarns into kits. We believe this is a more efficient way for many people to purchase a pattern, yarn and needles together. If you want to do a knitting project it can be time-consuming looking individually for a pattern and then looking again for a suitable yarn and needles. Whilst we do offer that option on our site, for those requiring an easier, quicker shop then a visit to our ‘Kits’ page brings everything together in one place. We need to stand out from the crowd and so, in the longer term, we are looking to develop some more of our own yarns to our specifications and colours which will be exclusive to ourselves. We also believe it’s imperative to offer a personal service to our customers.”
You can find out more at www.theknittersyarn.com. Kits start at £10, yarn prices start at £3.45.