How to open a wool shop Part I

It was on a sunny Wednesday morning in the spring of 2014. There was a chill in the air, not that different from today. I wedged open the shop door with the fire extinguisher and the shop was finally open to everybody for the very first time.

It had taken the best part of 3 months to get to where the shop was fitted, furnished, decorated, and fully stocked with wool. I remember it feeling like the culmination of the most enormous and exhausting project. What I didn’t understand at all at the time, was that it was really just the beginning.

It’s now 10 years on, and as we gear up to celebrate the anniversary and what all of you have helped the shop to become, it seems like a good time to do some looking-back to see where we came from and how it happened.

To help me out here, I’ve dug into a journal I was writing at the time called How to Open a Wool Shop, where I documented the journey to opening. It’s funny to read it now, knowing where we’ve got to. It’s helped to remind me of what a heady time it was – with all the anxiety and bafflement of setting up a business for which I had no guide or previous experience, mixed together with a ridiculously resolute assuredness in the rightness of this idea for a wool shop where all the different people from all around the neighbourhood, would be able to find the skills, supplies and friendships to discover and carry on knitting..

[2 weeks before opening:]
I want to reach for the pattern to follow which can guide me in how to complete this project and yet I know that there isn’t one. I have to trust that my knowledge of the stitches, the drape of the yarns and feel of the needles will allow me to navigate  my way through the absent instructions. It’s not methodical but it is a method, and somehow in my jumble of dreams, box files and paint pots, the wool shop-shaped hole in Lower Clapton road is getting filled.

[6 days before opening]
the best bit was getting all those boxes back into the store room and neatly stacked away on the shelves. Why was that so pleasing? I’m still not sure – but I kept going to check on that little back room all day – each time smiling to myself about its order and calm. Needless to say my ball-of-wool brain feels a lot like one of the big tangly bits has all been sorted and nicely wound…

[3 days before opening]
No more painting, filling, sawing or wiring. Yesterday we laid out shelves, pegs, screws and instructions and slotted them altogether to create a structured new home for the yarn. Verticals were followed by horizontals which were followed by chunky little metal wheels to keep things rolling. And as we slotted and fitted, Greg fixed up the wooden tracks, perfectly matched as exact opposites of the ones on the back of each display box, so that each slots into place with a pleasing solidness.

[the day after opening]
And that’s how I came to find myself sitting in a beautiful wool shop on Wednesday morning, sunlight pouring in by the knitting table, wool sensibly stacked (now also priced) along the cubes, needles arranged in size order, and a till on the counter.  A couple of knitters were browsing the wools, asking about suitability for different patterns. We discussed and concluded. And I smiled a smile inside that was even bigger than the one on the outside. I’d come home and there’s nowhere in the world I’d have rather been.

From this 10-years-on vantage point, it’s now clear that whatever was going on for me 10 years ago, the unfolding life of the shop which was yet to come was all about making its home amongst all of you. My idea was to make a place which would have all the wool, tools and expertise to make real knitters out of whoever came in, but it’s all of you that have made that happen. You’ve continued to come in with your curiousity, imagination, skills, openness and ideas, and left the shop not only with the wool and techniques you need for your projects – you also continue to leave all of us with smiles that are bigger on the inside than the outside.

Next week in Part II of this post, I will write more about the unfolding life of the wool shop.

To mark this 10 year mile-stone and thank you all properly, we are having a Wild and Woolly Anniversary Party on 21 June, to which you are all warmly invited. Tickets are available on the website here. I do hope you can join us!

Leave a Reply