The Next Phase – Kandos CWA Takes Off!!!

Our modest Kandos CWA HQ just off the main street.

I’ve been quiet here for a while. I guess life has settled into a routine – and a good one. It’s been super busy with the wool shop and that’s really satisfying. I’ve also nestled into the local community and made new friends. Life is never boring but I’ve felt there’s been less newsworthy stories to tell… until now!

Our local Kandos Branch of the CWA has been an important factor in settling here. The story goes that the branch had been operating successfully for some time but a few years ago, membership seriously dwindled. To the point where CWA HQ considered closing the branch and selling the building (that they owned) given the associated expense. “No Way!” claimed some emboldened locals and shortly after my arrival, I was handed a membership form and told to join to keep Kandos CWA alive. Gemma was actually made Secretary the first week she came to town. Newbies didn’t stand a chance!

A CWA Soiree in full swing.

Since then, our local CWA branch has gone from strength to strength, sponsoring our CWA Kandos Gardens Fair, hosting a myriad of social gatherings and recently refurbishing our modest but well-located and much loved CWA home. The renovations have included a commercial kitchen to help locals establish and run micro businesses. Whilst there are preconceptions about the CWA, all groups are different, as is ours. It’s younger, most work and, whilst we’re capable of turning out a half-decent scone, we don’t.

Think of the cakes and pies that will be coming out of this beast of the kitchen!

Our next phase is about to kick off – the Kandos CWA Pop Up Cafe – one day each week when we offer our food to the unsuspecting public in our updated building just off the main drag. Simple meals, home cooked, eat in or take away. The money raised will help us with our fundraising and also support Barnardos, who we are endeavouring to assist with a regional safe house for families who have experienced domestic violence.

Initial discussions amongst CWA members indicate that this will be an interesting and entertaining endeavour. We already have a spectrum of opinions – from those who are pragmatic with “blokes like baked beans” to those with aspirations of becoming the new Nigella. Spruiking for our own reality show has been proposed and I believe one or two members are approaching Kim Kardashian for contract advice. Teabags versus teapots is sure to be on the agenda and the savoury mince has already become a hot topic.

Anyway, life is never boring in Kandos and this looks like it will be a great addition to our community and an opportunity for more locals to engage with our convivial and growing CWA group.

A social hub. Wait until My Kitchen Rules or MasterChef want to film one of their shows here!

 

Contemplation

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A quiet corner with goldfish and frogs

There’s been a few quiet weeks here to end 2018 and begin 2019. Just before Christmas my much-loved Mum passed away.

Losing a parent is significant and both of mine have now left in the last few years. As I’ve reached 60, it’s prompted me to take a some time to reflect. For so much of my life, little seemed to change and I appeared to be following a well-mapped route. I’d grown up, married and lived in the same area for decades. I married mid 20’s, had children (the best!) and worked in the same industry with few job changes for 3 decades. There were many aspirations and dreams however dreams were all they appeared to be.

Then lots changed. And quickly. Single. Job change. Tree change. Dramatic swings over the last 10 or so years – ups and downs, but most have also brought opportunities with them.

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Home. I wouldn’t have believed this possible until it actually happened.

Just over five years ago, as part of exploring a long-held dream to live in the country, I stumbled across an old Spanish Mission Convent in Central West NSW. In a town I’d never heard of before – Kandos. Five years later, I’m living here permanently, am part of a warm and welcoming community and spend my working life knitting in my wool shop business.

At times life can be hard and certainly the loss of Mum is one of the hardest. However I was once told to look at my life in three stages:

  • First 30 years – the growing up years, finding yourself and emerging from childhood and youth to become an adult
  • 30 – 60 – the adult years, marrying, being a mother, work. Predominantly doing for others in dutiful roles
  • 60 onwards – the individual years – a chance to be who you always wanted to be, and at this stage of life, hopefully knowing who that person is. With the value of experience and having fulfilled previous roles (hopefully with an element of success), this is the opportunity to shine personally.
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I now call this work!

Anyway, that’s the way I choose to look at my next/current phase. I have a wonderful family with my girls, a beautiful home and garden that keeps me active, a thriving business that allows me to work at my passion and a wonderful, vibrant community to be a part of. It’s sad that I can’t share my stories with my parents any more but I’m sure they’re keeping an eye on me from somewhere.

The Convent Paddock – the cook’s garden – my current project

 

 

 

Tweedy Times

Our new collection – Convent Donegal Tweed

At Convent & Chapel Wool Shop we understand the personal nature of the crafting process. You are creating something unique incorporating your technical skills, artistic talents and personal taste. Fibre projects are a personal expression, a relaxation and even an obsession. They’re always an achievement.

WB Yeats in Donegal Tweed

Your skill and time deserves yarn that is also authentic and individual, that has it’s own story to tell. That’s why at Convent & Chapel Wool Shop we focus on yarns made or dyed by talented artisans to complement your process and creations.

Shane McGowan in Donegal Tweed

We are excited to introduce our new Convent Donegal Tweed. Donegal Tweed has its own unique color, beauty, and quality. The process of making it is also unique, resulting in a signature color-flecked weave.

Situated in Ireland, our Convent Donegal Tweed spinning mill can trace its origin back to the centuries old tradition of tweed effect yarns domestically spun in Donegal.

These yarns came onto world markets over a hundred years ago and gave their name to the internationally famous ‘Donegal Tweed’ woven fabric and knitwear.

The company we source our yarn from operates a vertical production process from raw wool, including the dying, blending, carding and spinning, to a finished multi-coloured fleck yarn targeted at the weaving, knitting and craft industry.

Signature colour flecks throughout

All production is carried out in their mill in Donegal, Ireland. Only natural fibres are used and sourced from the finest wools from New Zealand, Australia and other international sources of quality fibre.

Convent & Chapel Wool Shop is proud to offer our customers authentic Irish Tweeds – Convent Donegal Tweed, a 10ply Aran weight of 100% pure new wool, as well as Convent Irish Tweed, an 8ply/DK weight of 70% Merino and 30% Mohair. Both come in a great range of approximately 20 colours at an accessible price. Wound into easy ready-to-use 100g balls and in some cases, on the cone.

Choose the dark and brooding Colin Farrell or maybe a deep red Bram Stoker.  Perfect for scarves, beanies, garments, blankets and throws. Perfect for colour work or on their own. Great allrounders giving you an authentic rustic creation of your own.

Available at our Rylstone shop as well as online. Happy knitting – I know we are!

Knitting For Our Supper

 

Production Line at The Convent

Being a remote rural yarn shop comes with its challenges. We’re pretty remote for a yarn shop  with an immediate population of barely 2,000 between our two towns and then a 60 (even then, no traffic lights) to 100k drive to the next towns.

Louee Lace Scarves are always a favourite

However fortunately our town attracts great visitation, particularly on the weekends, so we get lots of people coming into our shop. The downside to this is that visitors aren’t all knitters. In fact for a yarn shop, the majority of our visitors are passing through and just love to look at our shop and displays. So we make sure we have plenty of tempting hand knits on show with a good selection for sale. It seems a pity to attract so many people and not have something to offer them.

Convent Spiral Beanies always look good on display (and even better on heads!)

This means that Gemma and I are always creating gorgeous but more simple knits for the shop that can be sold but also serve dual duty in showing off yarns and pattern samples for knitters. We create many simple patterns ourselves that are available to customers, making the most of beautiful fibre textures and colours or using interesting stitches. Last week was Beanie week, with versions of ‘Snug’ using Kidsilk mixed with our new Convent Irish Tweed. This week it’s our rustic tweed ribbed wrist warmers. The cold weather has depleted our stocks of hand knits drastically!

We know our patterns work well to sell and are also great for anyone doing hand knits at the markets – simple but effective. A few tips we’d give anyone who would like to try their hand at the markets with hand knits – always use good yarns. Most people can gauge quality and will pay for it, which leads to the next point. Don’t undercharge – value your work and don’t undersell the value. Our hand knits are a valuable source of income to us and help us offer something to potential customers who love our shop but aren’t exactly in the market for a skein of artisan hand dyed yarn.

Having beautiful tempting hand knits on display has encouraged many a casual tourist back into knitting or even into picking up needles for the first time.

Our beanie mantle is a customer favourite

We’re now finding that Convent & Chapel Wool Shop is a name on many knitters “must visit” lists and are becoming a destination shop, attracting our share of visitors to our amazing town and region. We have lots of people on their national road trips making sure Rylstone is one of their stops and are even finding international visitors asking their hosts to include Rylstone on their itinerary – and are not disappointed when they arrive.

Of course, we also love and greatly appreciate our online customers, although we wish we could ask them what they are making with some of the wonderful order combinations we receive and would love to see their finished projects.

‘Snug’ – our gorgeous Convent Tweed and Kidsilk Beanies

The Convent on Display

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I purchased the Convent in Kandos over 4 years ago now. Since then, this beautiful building has seen a few changes inside and out. She’s had to become accustomed to being a home to me and has also opened her doors and garden gates each year to the public for various community events.

ACP_2897Her next big event is the CWA Kandos Gardens Fair on 7 & 8 April and I’m already hard at work getting the garden into shape during some challenging dry seasons. Whilst the timing wasn’t perfect, I organised a photo shoot with the talented Amber Hooper from Amber Creative to take a series of shots to help with promotion (and because I just wanted to have some lovely photos of the Convent).

ACP_3189These photos were taken at dusk just prior to Christmas and do justice to the Convent and the amazing Kandos surrounds.

Moving here has been such a fantastic experience and I wonder how many others should just take a leap of faith and discover how great a country lifestyle is, particularly in one of the smaller rural communities. Life is still busy and challenging but it’s by choice and with challenges you choose. Living in a community is so different with its own rewards and obligations, unlike in the city or suburbs and certainly focusses your priorities.ACP_3065

Four years on and this is still an adventure that I hope continues for many years to come.

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Three Years!!!

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Setting up shop pre opening

It seems like a year ago, but Convent & Chapel Wool Shop has just clocked up three years since opening in November 2014. And what a great three years they’ve been, with hopefully many more on the horizon.

We’ve met so many new people and feel like we’re establishing ourselves as part of a vibrant and thriving community. It’s been fun to look back on old photos and see how much we’ve changed. We thought we’d kicked off with lots of stock in the shop but now we can see how much we’ve expanded our range and pretty much managed to insulate the building with yarn from wall to wall and floor to ceiling.

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Local celebrities!!

It’s been a learning and growing experience for us, providing us with another career along with a change of lifestyle from Sydney to the real rural country at our prime. What a change from a corporate career to a professional knitter!

We’ve had lots of comments along the way:

“Why would you open a wool shop in such a small town?” Because we live here.

“It’s a dying art” – Umm, no. It’s always been really popular and even moreso now with the internet.

“I think it would ruin it for me – making my hobby my job” – We’d much rather work at something we love.

OK, so maybe not everyone would do this, but it’s working for us and we love it when visitors are surprised and delighted when they enter our world.

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Showtime!

There’s been so many highlights, including our love for participating in Shows, with one of the best being Gemma scooping the pool at last year’s Sydney Royal Easter Show . Winning the Fine Lace category, being in the Cabinet of Excellence and taking out the Margot Chick Award, something we’ve both long coveted, was pretty amazing.

We’d hate to guess how many kilometres of yarn we’ve knitted during that time and have lost count of the Rylstone Ridge and Louee Lace scarves, not to mention Kandos Classic and Rylstone Ribbed Beanies.

We’ve also been supported by some wonderful suppliers – both locally and internationally – that we’ve formed great relationships with. We’ve been to fibre festivals, done classes and exhibitions – things five years ago that would never have been on our horizons.

As for the future, our lovely landlords (the Rylstone & District Historical Society who own the Bridge View Inn) have kindly given us permission to use part of the hallway as a gallery, so we can set up permanent exhibitions. We also have exciting new arrivals on the horizon and, of course, lots more knitting. Our list of patterns and yarns we want to try never gets any shorter.

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It’s important to us and other retailers, who take the risk and make the commitment to a small independent bricks and mortar shop, that we have your support. There are lots of challenges in business today, competing with the big name retailers and small online businesses. However we believe that businesses who can still offer shopfronts and personal service have an important role to play. We also try to give our online customers a great experience and feel we know many of them personally.

So thank you to everyone who has been part of our journey so far. We feel like it’s still near the start and looking forward to every step to come.

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Now part of the Rylstone streetscape

The End of Winter

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Never at it’s best at the end of Winter but the pruning is over and this bed will burst with life from Spring through to Autumn.

Winter here is harsh. Cold (but rarely snowing), cruel frosts but, this year, unfortunately very little rain. By the end of Winter I start to despair for the garden. It all looks so grey/yellow and bare, with little sign of life or greenery.

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This little fella self-seeded and decided to stay. A welcome addition, even if unplanned and in an awkward position.

It’s now nearly four years since I moved here and this year I realised that I’ve been so conditioned to Sydney North Shore gardens that are dominated by evergreens including camellias, azaleas and all-pervading buxus hedges that the yellowness of the landscape here is still a little disturbing. Gardens here are different – more deciduous trees and shrubs, veggie beds and with the frosts, grass will never stay green.

The upside is that Winter is perfect for knitting and has a lot less competition for time, given the garden is dormant. Come Spring, the garden starts to come alive. The last few weeks I’ve been madly pruning – paying a steep price for now having over 100 roses that are doing very well at the Convent. It’s also feeding, watering and mulching time. Water is a problem given I can’t remember the last time we had decent rain fall.

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Not so Tortured Filbert will have grassy green leaves soon. I’m enjoying the catkins that just keep dropping longer and longer.

It’s so rewarding to watch plants that seem so lifeless spring back – and certainly reassuring that I haven’t killed them. Many of the plants are now three to four years old and establishing themselves, which is also intriguing to watch, with a few becoming fast favourites. I bought Tortured Filbert as I was fascinated by the name and felt a bit sorry for any plant that could be called that. However he is a stunning little hazelnut specimen with an amazing twisted structure and the cutest catkins that are currently getting longer and longer.

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Blue Streak Willow – just lucky with this one that it’s such a beautiful tree. Look at the pussy willows just before it goes into leaf.

Another gorgeous plant is Salix Acutifolia ‘Blue Streak’ that I bought from Lambleys, one of my favourite online nurseries. It came in a tiny tube pot and was originally planted in a garden bed. A year later I needed help to move it – obviously a vigorous plant – and it now sits between the Chapel and Grotto (not many people can use that phrase on their Blog!). It’s just displaying gorgeous little pussy willows at the moment and looks like it will explode into growth soon.

One of the first trees I planted was the somewhat Convent appropriate Judas Tree which always has lovely blossoms and pretty leaf growth. It, too is about to flower. The garden was so bare with no established shade trees so I’ve been keen for the Manchurian Pears to grow. They’ve been reliable and I think this year will hit their straps.

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The pair of Wisterias have taken a surprisingly short time to get themselves in shape.

At my last home in Sydney, a neighbour had a wonderful Wisteria that was kept to a standard shape – an ever thickening trunk and heavy weeping strands of flowers. This seemed a perfect option to go under the Convent windows and break up some of the harshness of the exterior. It also seems to be working and the plants are now heavy with buds – although more endless pruning for me to keep it in shape.

Anyway, the knitting is slowing a little although shop hand knit staples (beanies, mitts and scarves) are less in demand, so at this time of the year I try and move towards more detailed lace knitting and always promise myself that I’ll get my Show knitting under control early (never happens!!!).

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The two Manchurian Pears that should become prominent in the front yard are just starting to hit their straps.