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

1 comment:

Anne-Marie O'Rourke said...

I love the idea of a supply shop that has a table in the middle for gathering.