Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Christmas is coming

Only 41 days left to go (yep, really, it's THAT soon) and November is normally a great shopping month.  I love the build up to christmas, I love the sparkle, I love the baking, I love the planning and plotting and I love making the Christmas decorations and food.  Yep, I love all the planning but quite often get started early on plans and then most things get left to the last minute, like the tree and decorations. 

And then I hate taking it all down again, I feel the house looks "sad" with all of it's finery gone.  Last year I made mats and a wreath for our table..I loved it and wanted the table to stay looking like this forever.

Well I don't live on my own and the family insisted that by the end of January the Christmas decorations needed to come down.  So I decided to make "non Christmas" decorations.  I would make a seasonal wreath for the table centre. The first season was the season of love and so the Heart Wreath  was made.
Then I decided to make non specific wreaths, ones that have no season, to be used on your table, on a wall or on a door. One of my favourites was the Night Owl wreath.
Obviously many still consider wreaths a Christmas item so this year for my Etsy shop and Limerick Craft and Design I decided to make loads of Christmas ones with snowmen and gingerbread and trees but also a range of "Not Just for Christmas" decorations which includes wreaths and tree hanging decorations. I am not suggesting keeping a christmas tree up all year long but many of us have a large plant or a bundle of twigs that can be prettified.  I also like hanging decorations on netting or muslin tied to a bed post. In fact these were one of the most popular sellers I had in the pop up shop in Clifden this summer.
Baa...Connemara sheep

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Meet the....wool shop lady

Sinead Lee has the job that I would love...she owns and runs Blacksheep Wools in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary.  Now it is no secret that I love wool and knitting and so you could assume that I pop into the shop regularly to buy wool...well I do, but that's not the main reason I go in.  I normally just pop in when I am passing for a chat and a sit down and a catch up on any news. She has a table and chairs in the middle of the room and sitting here I have had the opportunity to chat and learn from other knitters and even meet wool suppliers and talk about new products.

I spoke to Sinead about knitting and wool and things in general.

I assume you love knitting when did you start and why?
I think I was always going to knit. My Mother was a primary school teacher in a rural school. It was at a time when the headmaster would take all the boys to play hurling and the female teacher would take all the girls for knitting or sewing.  Mam was my teacher for three years and so I would knit at school and at home.  I think the first thing I knit was a teddy bear.  Knitting was seen in school as our Friday afternoon treat.

Did you continue knitting after school?
No, not really. In third level I studied European Studies which took up a lot of time, I think maybe I knitted the odd hat and that was it.  Perhaps a baby cardigan or two as I had my own children.  Knitting only came about again for me a few years ago with the formation of the Nenagh Knitting Group started by Margaret Spelman and Valerie Foley. I joined the weekly group in Nenagh Library and enjoyed not only the knitting but the camaraderie of the ladies in the group.

So, how did the shop come about?
Twofold really.  I have always worked and enjoyed it.  I was working in a corporate environment commuting to Limerick and I was made redundant.  Being out of work was very alien to me and I became very unhappy, there was a huge void in my life. Meanwhile the knitting group was going very well but we had no local wool shop. There hasn't been a wool shop in the town for 15 years, the closest shop was in Limerick 25 miles away.  So the thought was milling around in my head and I knew I would have some customers.  Then I was on a girly trip in Yorkshire, a bunch of us were in a car singing the theme tune to All Creatures Great and you do when in Yorkshire...when I spotted something and asked them to stop.  It was the UK headquarters of Sirdar.  In I walked and met Maureen their senior sales lady, I told her that I was considering opening a shop and that was the beginning of it...a shop was born.

And how did it go for you?
Slowly at first, I opened in a backroom in Kenyon Street, it was a small shop and didn't hold much stock.  But I think that was good as I had no experience of running a business and no experience of retail. It was a steep learning curve.  Looking back I probably made many mistakes but I am an optimist so just dealt with it, "Suck it Up" is my mantra and so I did.  Dealing with sales reps was the hardest thing so a lack of space made it easier for me to say no. Also I became aware that customers wanted more than wool and I began stocking notions and haberdashery items.

You are currently located in The Nenagh Shopping Centre, why the move?
Well I wanted more space to stock more items, ansd also wanted a better streetfront location. I was offered a unit here in the shopping centre and felt it would suit me well particularly with the car park located at the front.  I opened here 10th December 2009 and it has been good since. The majority of people know what they want but I do have browsers aswell which is always good for business.

Unfortunatly the shopping centre closed down last year, has that had an impact on you?
Of course it has, that was one of the saddest days I have seen here in town.  No one was aware that it was closing and all the staff turned up for work and were told the centre had closed and they had no jobs. For me in the shop it has meant a loss in customers.  Many of my older customers would come into town on Fridays and Saturdays for their shopping and drop into me, I have lost some of this custom.  But I still have my regulars and they seem to be knitting baby cardigans mostly and some baby blankets.

Can you explain the resurrgance in knitting?
I'm not sure, knitting is no longer taught in our primary schools due I feel to time constraints within the curriculum. Also many of the teachers themselves don't knit so cannot teach it. However with the economic downturn I feel it has raised the value of a handmade gift, it is more special that shop bought. From a physical point of view I feel knitting or any small handwork is very benefical for concentration and handwriting and should be taught to every child.  In broader terms we are all rekindling the satisfaction and pleasure of making something ourselves.

Do you think groups and organisations like Raverly and Stitch and Bitch has had an impact on younger people knitting?
I'm not sure about them specifically.  I know knitting groups have always been popular in the UK but are a pretty new thing here in Ireland.  We are very lucky in Nenagh to have the facility of holding groups in our local library.  Our weekly knitting group has members from ages 6 to 83.

I have often been in the shop when customers ask for help with patterns and stitches and so I asked Sinead what is the most common question she is asked?
Well it's not about stitch or pattern help it's about converting  needle sizes to metric.  The most unusual question was about some raw wool fleece. I often advertise for others for fleeces to buy or sell so that in itself is not unusual it was what the cutsomer was going to use it for...she swears that a piece of raw wool fleece does wonders for her bunions and often comes in for a fresh piece.

What have you knitted recently that you like and do you knit for youself?
I knitted a stripey jumper for my daughter Audrey when she was two and I loved it...or maybe I just loved her in it as she looked so cute. I liked one of the Sirdar summer patterns and knit myself a cardigan in rose pink.

Sinead organises a charity knit in lent to make "Born to Soon" baby wraps for the Irish Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society ISANDS for which she donates the 4ply white wool.  She said it is a sobering and thoughtful time for all involved but that as a group they get much more out of it than just the knitting.  Her shop wall has many photos and letters of thanks from ISANDS. 

She asked me to say that her window display and shop samples are all done by friend and knit-a-holic Margaret Spelman.  I know Margaret quite well and she said that if she doesn't do it then it won't get done...oops halo slipping Sinead.

Finally, and knitters will understand this, Sinead had a sign on the door saying "For knitting emergencys call me at 087 *******".  But she has since taken it down saying she was always getting calls Sunday mornings by women that had run out of wool and were knitting gifts to be delivered that afternoon.

Blacksheep wool on facebook

Irish Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society

Born to soon baby wrap patterns

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The animals getting in on the act

We have a number of animals living with us, cats and dogs, hens and ducks and on occasion a pair of pigs. If you knew me a few years ago you would be flabbergasted to know we know have animals as I was the most anti animal person in existance. Don't get me wrong, it's not a case of not liking them...I was just terrified of all animals.

Picasso cat was the first one to come to us, a misshapen stray wandering the carpark at work that the children took pity on.  He was soon followed by two more cats Simba and Socrates.

Picasso helping plant the peas
When we moved to a house in the country with a large garden I decided I wanted hens.  Hens are wonderful animals to have if you like to bake as the eggs from them are so delicious and so yellow that you will make the most wonderful cakes, no other flavouring needed.  My favourite is just a simple Victoria Sponge, it lets the flavour of the eggs shine.  The hens have now been joined by two ducks but they have yet to earn their keep.
The hen house is loved with a wreath
Our front door at feeding time

The two pigs arrived at the beginning of this summer.  Pinkie and Pixie had a happy life constantly escaping from Dave's farm. They are now pork roasts and bacon in the freezer.
Pinkie and Pixie
Zara dog is the latest addition to our animal family and the most surprising one.  Darling son has always wanted a dog but I have always been terrified of them.  But darling son was supposed to be leaving home and was getting a dog to join him.  Well Zara was ready to leave her doggy Mammy before darling son was ready to leave she moved in for ONE WEEK. And well they are both still here 4 months later.
Zara's first modelling assignment
I have three children, now all adults.  As children they got dragged all around the country to craft fairs that I would be selling at each weekend.  They have probably been in most of the hotels and community centres in the mid west. They also very quickly discovered that they were working children, they became models for my knitwear and got to pose on the coldest beaches and windiest mountains in woolly jumpers so I could get good publicity shoots.  This job has been passed on a selection of nieces and nephews with Leah enjoying it the most, she was born to be a model...or a hippy (but her mother doesn't agree).
Leah models and Simba joins in
So now that I am making crafts and selling online a large proportion of time is spent on product photography. I personally don't like the flat white backgrounds earnestly encouraged by Etsy, I prefer a natural outdoor background and rarely venture beyond my garden for photos. But I discovered that when I set up to take some photos I end up with a crowd of animals trying to get in on the act...they just love having their photo taken. 
I now just let them in for a few photos and then banish them to the house so I can finish off.  Somtimes though I end up with an unusual photo worth using. 
Simba and an owl wreath
Socrates and peace wreath
A spooky photo with Socrates and a star and moon wreath

I was making flower brooches and my daughter kept putting them on the brooches are now listed on Etsy as dog accessories and Zara has a full time modelling job...I pay her in long walks and doggy treats.
Now all dogs want a flower hairband
Who can resist a smile like that
We live in a lovely area with long walks along the river and by the lake...I always have my camera with me just in case I see something interesting. The wildlife along the river is wonderful in the summer and I have been lucky to get some good photos.  Though as usual the best one is always the one that got away and this summer that was a kingfisher.  Twice I was lucky enough to see that blue/green/gold sparkle, it's only for an instant but a wonderful sight.
A ladybird house along the river
Sperenza wondering can she sit on these eggs
When I go for a walk I get followed

All the wreaths pictures can be found in my Etsy shop Quirky Apple
and my new line in dog accessories has their own section here