How to Open a Wool Shop Part II

..And then the shop opened.

Knitters heard that there was a new yarn store in Hackney and the non-knitters also wanted to see what was going on in that place with the kooky things in the window. They pushed the door open and came in: shawled, scarved and some not wrapped up at all, fairisled, cabled and some just plain. People wore knitwear they wanted to show and knitwear they wanted to improve on, some were not in any knitting but wanted to learn, so they could be. And somewhere in the middle of the stream of people who came and went, the shop began to change. For it was no longer just about the DKs and 4 plys and lace weights and whether it was sensible to have this much chunky when we were moving into spring, or if we should make more space for buttons, or whether every size of needle should be on display.

It was about the people..

A very tall man with long eye lashes and a single nose peircing came in and told me he needed some very shiny needles.
Saaqib needed them to knit some horrible wool into a beautiful top-down in the round sweater for which he also wanted advice about how to incorporate an intarsia vertical stripe down each sleeve.

(we made it work by doing the sleeves in rows instead of rounds and locking the beginning and end stitches together to keep the knitting seamless in a tube.) Saaqib went on to knit another 4 sweaters each more spectactular than its predecessor. He also got a second nose peircing, fell in and out of love and made a profound contribution to the well being of untold disenchanted youth in east London.

A woman with bleached hair, orange eye shadow, and a rocket tatoo came in to get some wool to make a garter stitch cowl like the one she’d got from H&M years ago, but was a bit nervous about how to get started because back home in France there was always someone else that did the casting on for her.
Saaqib sat down with Vi at the table and showed her how to do the long tail cast on so that she could get going on her own.
She went onto finish her cowl, moved onto beanies, went into business making them, came back to learn how to knit socks, also fell in and out of love and then in again, started packing parcels in the shop, tatooed her fingers, stayed on and became Wild and Woolly’s pioneer (aso premiere) knitter of cardigans in neon wool+mohair before it was even a thing.

A smiley Brazilian with a head of spirally curls burst in, in a panic announcing that she had 24 hours to come up with 2 crocheted caps for the Birds of Feather Christmas Special in which Dorian is taking Tracey and Sharon to an Abba theme party. Could I help her work out how?

We did and they wore them.

An Australian long distance cyclist with an unbelievably perfect smile, who only ever knit the Seafarers Watch Cap pattern, came in to get wool to make another one. She finished it and I nudged her into adding The Boyfriend Hat with its left as well as right leaning decreases, to her repertoire. She stuck with that for the next few years and finally moved onto balaclavas last year, then got breast cancer, made 2 tank tops and a sweater during her rehab and is now cancer free and about to finish a beautiful mohair cardigan.

A woman in a very elaborately cabled crimson red sweater asked if I had the colours she’d need to finish an even more elaborately technicolour fairlisle top from the latest Knitter magazine. And by the way did I know that the one she was wearing was featured in the last magazine? She had recently retired and was going through a profound change in life direction. Knitting was part of the change.
She finished the fairisle. It was a “disaster” – too short! – until we worked out how to sever the bottom ribbing and knit it down to make it longer. But it was never quite right. She went on to make a Brooklyn Tweed Gansey, a Thea Colman cabled wrap, a skirt and countless kids sweaters for her grandchildren. All of them were full of drama, but they all got there eventually. She became and remains a fabulous knitter.

A softly spoken older man arrived for a pre-arranged meeting with a much younger woman. She worked in film and had seen his work on a production the previous year. He showed her a swatch he’d made with our pink mohair. She nodded and smiled. He turned to me. “Can you get us half a kilo of this shade of pink mohair silk?” he asked.
Trevor went onto complete the comission by making her an exact replica of the backless cherry pink sweater worn by Natasja Kinski on the set of Paris Texas in 1984.

A woman with a broad Yorkshire accent walked in with a bag full of pink yarn coloured with splashes of blue, neon yellows, and bits of gey. “I’m a yarn dyer”, she announced. “I live in Walthamstow. Would you like to have a look at my yarn? You can have it on sale or return.”

I sold the yarn and ordered more. And more. She ran out of space to dye it in her kitchen so she built a dye shed in her garden. The Wool Kitchen’s Hand Dyed Urban Yarn continues to be the most popular hand dyed yarn we’ve ever had. Designers make patterns specially for it, and people cross the Atlantic to come and find it here. Helen went on to join the Sweater Club teaching team and has added Life, the Universe and Everything to the curriculum.

More knitters came. They knitted and they talked: Stash busting patterns.. European wool in Britain after Brexit – could we still? (Yes!).. better ways to do a left leaning decrease.. the smug whiteness in the knitting community and what to do about it.. President Trump coming to London and could we make a banner to tell him what East London Knitters feel about that?

Yes we could and yes we did.

There are hundreds more of these stories to tell and with time and permission I will happily continue telling them. But perhaps the most important part is just that they came and that you too have come. And that your knitting is and continues to be a mixture of good bits and bad bits, mistakes and marvellousnesses. The knitters made an unspoken deal with me for which I can never thank them enough – that they’d be real if I would. And that’s how it carries on still. It’s not about likes or clicks or how big your stash is or how much it cost or how fast you made it. It’s about real wool (and linen, cotton & silk) and real help and advice for making the stitches, for real knitting for real people doing real stuff that keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer and feeling a little bit better about everything else as well.

Please join me for a celebration of the last 10 years of Wild and Woolly at our special Anniversary Party on 21 June.

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