Yarn Store of the Month continues visiting many of our favourite yarn stores across the world with the beautiful Woolpatch in Long Melford, UK. We spoke to Stuart Race and discussed the inspiration behind the business, as well as the future of knitting in the UK.
What was the inspiration to opening Woolpatch?
I used to be a secondary school teacher and head of department. I had done that for 16 years and loved the job, but it had got to a point where I wanted a change. I loved my job, but I was working, working and working and I thought it’s about time to consider my well being and to do something different. In February 2016 I handed my resignation in to leave teaching at the end of the academic year in July 2016. During those months I began to create The Woolpatch and the shop opened in September 2016 and I’ve never looked back.
How popular is knitting/crochet in the UK?
Knitting and crochet, and the arts and crafts in general, are very popular in the UK. In fact it always has been, but with new technologies always coming out, companies really are bringing knitting and crochet into the 21st century. We have lovely materials to use with HiyaHiya being one of them. Interchangeable needles that have joins that don’t catch and cables that don’t twist up. This is why knitting and crochet is as popular as ever because the companies are keeping up to date with the times.
Pattern designers are ever prominent due to Instagram and YouTube so you can find very modern patterns by going to the designer direct. YouTube makes learning even easier too so entering into the world of knitting and crochet is so simple and open for all. Well being and mindfulness are also big talking points at the moment in this ever constant working world, so knitting and crochet are even more popular at the moment as these crafts really help to ‘be in the moment’ and switch off and impact positively on our well being.
Since opening, how far has the business developed?
It has developed slowly; the internet is a wonderful resource but it is incredibly hard to compete with Amazon and other big online companies with regard to prices, but they can’t provide the ‘social’ aspect and the ‘community’ and this is where the business has developed. We’ve cut down on actual teaching classes – as in teaching people to knit or crochet – and increased our social ‘knit and natter’ sessions. Every morning and afternoon in the shop, I welcome up to 6 people for 2.5 hours a place to sit and knit, crochet, sew and chat. This community is so important to the shop. For some this is there only contact with others during the week. These sessions bring people together. We share skills, learn, laugh and relax. Many customers come on a set day, and have been coming since I opened in 2016 so I’ve got to know them very well. What’s also good about this is customers in the shop can get assistance on projects. There is always someone at the shop with skills and talents to help customers out. How good is that? Something you can’t get on the internet. Customers will travel to our shop, not only for the yarn, but because they know they can get help and assistance. All for free. Share and share alike.
What is the secret to your success?
I think the concentration on the social side of the craft industry. Exactly what I said in point 3. It’s not about having the poshest yarn, or the widest range of something. It’s the people and the community.
How has HiyaHiya helped your business to flourish?
HiyaHiya has brought knitting and crochet into the 21st Century. It stops people thinking it’s something from the olden days. I feel modern and cool using these needles on the train and it makes me proud of the industry and that the industry is still moving forward and we’re not all using the grey metal needles (which were good of its time, but the world has moved on). It makes knitting for me incredibly pleasurable and makes me even more successful. In any trade, the tools you use have a big impact on your work, and yes, there are some good tools and some exceptionally good tools. HiyaHiya for me are exceptionally good. I’m better at my knitting – even though I’m still a beginner – because of HiyaHiya.
What do you love most about your line of work?
My customers and the community, and seeing what they produce. It never ceases to amaze me the skills and talents of some of my customers at Woolpatch.
What trends do you see happening in the craft industry in the future?
The importance of buying local and reducing the carbon footprint. More and more local yarn close to where the yarn shops are based; this is what I’m trying to do. Also, the digital world and how it interacts with the real world. Patterns as PDFs, and YouTube, vlogs etc. The immediacy of everything.
What are your plans for Woolpatch in the future?
I have two main plans as I start year four of my shop journey. To dye more local yarn using ‘WOAD.’ My village in Long Melford is a ‘WOOL TOWN’ and became very wealthy in the 15th and 16th Century. Lavenham, the village next door, became famous for its blue broadcloth which they made. They dyed in the wool using woad, carded, spun and wove it all in the village and it made them very rich. So I want to dye yarn using Woad.
I also want to develop my YouTube presence so will be vlogging much more and making cool modern, exciting videos to show off the cool and exciting products in the shop and the industry. I’d love to come to HiyaHiya and make a vlog on the products and your warehouse to see it all in action! So lots planned!