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

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

September 2016 was ‘Hat Month’

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Pandemonium, a free pattern on Ravelry knitted in Hedgehog Fibres Sock
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More Pandas, this time knitted in Jamieson & Smith 2ply jumper weight

Just for something different, I knitted beanies for a month.

We do lots of knitting for the shop, Convent & Chapel Wool Shop, often simple beautiful items to sell such as beanies, mitts and scarves, but we’re trying to build up shop samples to give people inspiration for projects and see how the yarn knits up. We’re also planning an exhibition next year and would like some interesting displays. These beanies are planned to be on show in the shop and not for sale (which we know will frustrate the non knitters – but maybe it will spur them to pick up the needles for themselves).

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Elephants this time, using Jamieson & Smith 2ply jumper weight

I’m not an experienced fairisle knitter but the beanies are great training ground – not too big, knitted in the round… and I was happy with the results.

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Elephants on Parade in Hedgehog Fibres Sock

Anyway, October is likely to be taken up by another Stephen West Westknits Mystery Shawl KAL 2016 and lots of gardening as the weather hopefully takes a turn for the better.

Pattern details can be found on my Ravelry Projects page.

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Able Cable Hat in Hedgehog Fibres Aran

 

 

 

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Bylong Baby Beanie in Opal Sock (with sparkles!)
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Sockhead Slouch Hat in Zauberball
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Sockhead Slouch Hat in Hedgehog Fibres Sock
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A touch of Lace with Picacho Peak in Hedgehog Fibres Sock

 

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Loved this one – Grenoble Fairisle Hat

Bunkering Down

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Why not have a knitted sign for a wool shop? One of my Winter projects finished.

Apologies for being away from the blog for a while. Winter here tends to lend itself to bunkering down – it’s cold and the gardening winds right down with bitter frosts. However it’s also a good time to drop the pace of activity and a great time to knit (as if I need an excuse!)

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Cable beanie sample

That being said, I’ve been knitting up a storm and also made some improvements to the Convent. Knitting has included shop items (we sell beanies, mitts and scarves at Convent & Chapel Wool Shop), shop samples (it’s great to show customers ideas for patterns and how the yarn looks knitted up) and some fun knitting as well.

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Cabled scarf over the shop fire

The fun items include Shockwaves in Hedgehog Fibres as well as Fringed, a Stephen West pattern also knitted in Hedgehog Fibres. This one is still on the needles. I’m usually a black/grey/brown person in terms of colours I wear but these gorgeous hand dyed yarns have tempted me to use a broader palate that will all happily sit over my black attire!

For something a bit different, I’ve used my love of knitted blankets into making a knitted sign for the shop which happily hangover our balcony at the gorgeous historic Bridge View Inn in Rylstone.

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Shockwaves knitted in our beautiful hand dyed Hedgehog Fibres from Ireland

Over the last last week or two the weather has started to warm up, so I know I’ll be spending less time during the day with needles in my hands and more with the shovel, whippersnipper and hose.

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A yet to be named scarf in Adagio Alpaca.

 

 

 

 

Click Go Those Needles…

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Although this year has been chaotic, there’s always been lots of knitting. Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on more solid pieces, as opposed to beanies, mitts and scarves for the shop. No doubt most of this will end up in the shop as samples, but they’re a chance to play with different projects.

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The Doodler helped me master icord and understand a number of ways I could use it.

First cab off the rank was the Westknits Mystery Shawl Knit-Along on Ravelry which turned into the Doodler Shawl, made in our beautiful Hedgehog Fibres – a fun knit and a chance to socialise online with other knitters. A month of pretty solid knitting and a few new techniques now mastered (I hope!) Very pleased with the result and, whilst it’s hanging in the shop, I hope it will get lots of wear.

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Owlet – such an appealing pattern, this one in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran

Next was trialling Owlet, a cute jumper that goes from baby to adult (OWL) size – clever little cables that look like owls around the yolk – knitted in one up to the armholes, then you pick up the sleeves and knit the yolk in circular with the cables.

IMG_1840Buttons for owl eyes are optional – I put them in a few spots without becoming overwhelming. I wanted to include a few more baby/child jumper samples in the shop. Samples help knitters make decisions on what to knit and are a good way of displaying how a yarn behaves. I’m hoping these will inspire some of our customers. A smart and rewarding pattern – two are already off the needles and in the shop.

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Baby beanie and booties striped with a plain blue. 

Next is the continued love affair with Zauberballs, with seamless booties (I’ve actually knitted half a dozen pairs) and spiral baby beanie. I love the Tropical Fish colour way so much that it’s now also making its way into an experimental Entrelac baby jumper. We stock a good range of Zaubers and colours in the shop and customers are always surprised with what you can complete with just one ball. However I’m anticipating the Entrelac will be using substantially more!

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Not the fastest knit, but lots of fun watching this develop. Another baby jumper – this time Zauberball Tropical Fish being worked in Entrelac.

After this? Well, I have my name down for another Knit-Along – and it’s another Westknits one – this time Exploration Station with the Hedgehog group on Ravelry. Oh, and there are two cream lace shawls that need to be finished for Show season. Plus a never ending list of the “I’d Love to Try That” projects. Looks like those needles show no signs of slowing down.

Cyber Knitting

KAL

It was probably about eight years ago that I discovered knitting worlds other than sitting at home and knitting in my own company. Once I was brave enough to venture out, I found communities of knitters, both real and virtual. Many social knitting groups exist and meet at cafes, libraries, other public venues as well as people’s homes. Others exist on the internet and have the potential to expose knitters to an entirely new universe.

Once introduced to a wider community of knitters, I found myself joining ravelry which is a sort of Facebook on steroids for knitters. Not only can it be a desktop for knitters to record their knitting projects and stash, but it also is the best and biggest source for finding patterns. Possibly the most important aspect, though, is the social one where knitters worldwide can connect over wider interests, share learnings and help each other.

A great example of the latter is the concept of ‘Knit Alongs’ or KALs, when knitters commit to finishing a project, preferably all starting at the same time. Members post photos and information on what yarn they are using, photos of their progress and can ask for help from other participants as they go. It’s a great way to challenge yourself and learn new skills. A much more social, interactive and challenging way to knit.

One of the more extreme versions of this is occurring as we speak. A popular designer, Stephen West, AKA Westknits, has organised one of his popular KALs titled ‘Westknits Mystery Shawl KAL 2015’. Why a mystery you may ask? Well a mystery KAL has a twist – you can’t see the final outcome until you finish. All you know is that it’s a shawl and the yarn you will need to knit it. Clues (parts of the pattern) are released online in order over time and participants just go for it. This challenge, we have about one month to finish the project. Of course you can take as long as you want but many aim to keep up weekly.

My Hedgehog Fibres colours - Graphite, Monarch and Pollen.
My Hedgehog Fibres colours – Graphite, Monarch and Pollen.

This KAL recommends Hedgehog Fibres which is one of our Convent and Chapel Wool Shop favourites and combined with one of our favourite designers, it was too good to pass up. Lots of our customers are also participating. In fact it seems a lot of knitters worldwide are joining in. The Ravelry Group started for the Knit Along now boasts over 4,500 members worldwide and growing, with separate groups for Norway, Denmark,  Sweden, Germany, France, Spain and even and Aussies Down Unda group, all working on their ‘Doodler’ shawl.

There’s also heaps of drama, those tackling new techniques for the first time, the dramas of colour selection, mistakes by the million (I’ve unpicked more than I’ve knitted) and not to forget, those running out of yarn part way through the pattern. We’re all following each other’s challenges – better than ‘Days of Our Lives’!

This is a wonderful example of the power of the internet to connect likeminded souls and create virtual communities. It also challenges the concept of knitting being a dying art – far from it. It has now moved into a new realm, keeping up with technology and society, providing expanded creative outlets and connecting people worldwide. Younger knitters abound – no longer dependent on Mum or Grandma to teach them – you can learn so many techniques via YouTube for free. In fact, experienced knitters in this KAL are referring to the internet to learn or brush up on some of the new techniques required to progress their shawls. It’s a great way to push your knitting to another level and lots of fun along the way.

A couple of us are knitting together here in Kandos, as we participate in an international event, and are sure to meet lots of others online doing the same over the next month or so. Mine is not racing ahead after a few false starts and I hope I don’t drop into the ‘Slowpoke’ lane. In the meantime, we’re just all enjoying the mystery, anticipation and collective enthusiasm of our fellow knitters.

Clue one - still a few more 'wedges' to go. I've actually knitted about three times this amount but have undone so much along the way!
Clue one – still a few more ‘wedges’ to go. I’ve actually knitted about three times this amount but have undone so much along the way!

Cute as a Button Baby Jumpers

IMG_3473It’s not a hard life having to knit for a living. At Convent & Chapel Wool Shop we like to knit up our yarn as much as time and our fingers will let us. We find shop samples help people decide on projects and makes the yarn buying process easier and more enjoyable – it certainly helps to sell the yarn as well!

A cutie in Zauberball Crazy.
A cutie in Zauberball Crazy.

One of our favourites has been our little raglan sleeve baby jumper with a buttoning raglan opening for the neck. A few of these have made their way off the needles so far and are a crowd favourite.

An Opal Sock version.
An Opal Sock version.

Yarns used so far have been Zauberball (of course), Opal, Hedgehog Fibres, and Noro Silk Garden Sock. So far the pattern is for 6 – 9 months old and knitted in 4ply/sock weight yarn, although we are now working on larger sizes and upping the yarn weight, due to popular demand.

We love the Noro Sock for this jumper.
We love the Noro Sock for this jumper.
Another Opal version.
Another Opal version.

 

 

Next off the block is one in hot Indian Pink Zauberball Starke 6 and I’m also thinking of playing with JaggerSpun Heather Sport for another colour work version.

This one was in Claudia's Handpainted Yarn.
This one was in Claudia’s Handpainted Yarn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a cute, simple and effective pattern. With warmer weather approaching, we’ll ease off creating our beanies, mitts and scarves and move to lacy lighter weight yarn and some baby outfits. It’s a hard life!

And yet another in Zauberball crazy. The Olive version has been very popular.
And yet another in Zauberball crazy. The Olive version has been very popular.