chunky knits

The "Perfect" Workshop

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Hello my Chunky Junkies it’s been awhile since my last blog post. I’ve been mulling and reflecting over things and quite honestly have been so busy, finding time to blog seems lower on my to-do’s. I’m definitely enjoying the quieter months and am spending time steadily working on new orders that come through as well as prepping new projects to launch over the coming weeks. Autumn/Winter 2019 isn’t far from my mind either as I start to put into motion organisational plans for the busy Holiday season. It seems in the craft world, you are always working six months ahead. I’ve been mulling over this article though as my recent workshops have sort of drawn something to my attention.

The craft and workshop world has recently taken Britain by storm. Nearly every community art centre, coffee shop, gallery, cafe you name it, seems to be running their own craft making workshop series. This is great news for small businesses like my own where a major percentage of earnings are derived from such workshops. Monetary benefits aside (let’s be real, they aren’t hugely lucrative) are that I can meet and interact with my followers and supporters in person as I share the joys of chunky knitting. I’ve written in the past how I’m a classroom teacher by trade, so getting back in front of students is hugely rewarding for me personally. I’m always humbled by each person that takes the time (and £) to come to one of my classes. Merino wool based workshops do not come cheaply, and The Chunky Needle is proud to offer Merino as an option in our classes. Very few chunky knit instructors offer both a combination of merino and acrylic wool, so I feel particularly proud that I’ve been able to keep merino arm knit costs below £100. I’m determined to keep costs as low as possible.

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I take my workshops quite seriously and despite having some of the best laughs of my life with each of you, they can be exhausting as I’m personally determined each of you go home with something perfectly… well, PERFECT. That idea of ‘perfection’ is what’s leading tonight’s post. I am getting to the point, albeit slowly.

When a person registers onto a workshop one must remember (including myself) that he/she is a student learning a skill for the first time. If everything I custom made for each client was as easy as “getting it” on the first attempt, well, I’d be out of business. Everyone would be chunky knitting ‘pros’ and there would be no benefit to learning the craft. The art of chunky knitting can not simply be handed over in a two hour workshop. The skill behind getting either a blanket, cushion, footstool, etc. “right” takes several weeks, attempts, and moments of shear frustration before you can at last get to a point of personal and professional satisfaction. It’s vitally important to keep one’s expectations realistic when signing onto a workshop. Equally, it’s important the instructor tries to manage the burden of expectation. I have a personal tendency to want so badly for a student to go home with something as close to ‘perfect’ as possible, that it can be blinding.

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The goal of a successful workshop is to pass on knowledge in a fun, socially engaging environment and for the student to go home with a finished product made with their own two hands. It’s important however, that everyone realises that it’s practice that makes perfect and that your first attempt at learning a new and sometimes complicated craft may not result in the quality of finished product you were hoping for. That is the nature of workshops - they are opportunities to work and learn. Perfection comes much later. The valuable money spent on attending a class is not simply the finished product; the instruction, materials, venue, snacks you may enjoy, wider experience is all priced carefully in the fee. As written earlier, The Chunky Needle works very hard to keep prices reasonable and fair.

I guess in a long winded, round-a-about way, I’m just trying to say, “try, try again.” You aren’t going to nail it on your first go. Come to the class prepared to go home with something custom made by your own hands. Unless you have loads of chunky knitting experience prior to the workshop, you quite possibly are not going to go home with a finished article that is catalogue ready. It’s a complete bonus if the finished work is perfection in your eyes. It takes time, experience and patience getting a newly learnt craft ‘just right’ so be kind to yourself and enjoy the process.

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I have to be kinder to myself as well. It can be challenging trying to ensure 10 or more of you go home with something I’d consider Chunky Needle worthy in two hours or less. I can place too high expectations on myself as the teacher to ensure you go home thrilled with your new make. I’m a people pleaser by nature and work so hard to make sure my students leave with a smile. I need to sit back now and again and remember there’s just one of me and that all I can do is my best at any given moment. Anything beyond that is a level of perfection that even the “PROS” can’t achieve.

Onward and upward my Chunkies. I think I need a long hot bath and some R&R.

Arm Knit Workshop June 2019, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Arm Knit Workshop June 2019, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Workshop Review

Where have the last five or six months gone? Running a small knit business like The Chunky Needle, I’m always jumping the calendar ahead, looking at the colder, darker months that inevitably will return. As the arm knitting and cushions workshops wind down over the next six weeks or so, I made a quick little video looking back at some of the recent classes held over the last couple of months.

June marks the first year anniversary of our very first workshop that was held at Meggies Lifestyle in Stow-on-the-Wold. When The Chunky Needle debuted 18 months ago, workshops were the furthest thing from my mind as I didn’t realise the opportunities that existed in the workshop scene. Man-o-man how much I didn’t know. The variety and wealth of crafting courses offered in various venues around the country has really helped revitalise struggling High Street shops by bringing in new potential clientele as well as revenue from the workshop itself. The relationship between venue and Maker is important as it allows us crafters an opportunity to showcase our work to new locales as well as possible buyers. It’s a win win for both.

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It’s so funny. The first workshop I rolled up to I brought way too much with me. It was a cushion class and since perfecting my 14” cushion, I know only 500g of wool will finish the job. I brought close to 2kg for each student! I was so afraid they’d need more than what they actually required. Needless to say, those first students got alot more for their money than just a cushion. They probably could’ve made a lap blanket, scarf, hat, etc. with all the excess wool they went home with! I travelled with my banner, ladder shelves, blankets, cushions the whole shebang! Meg must have thought me so clueless. LOL. Fact is, I WAS! I am much more streamlined now. Bring just enough, no more or less. Oh and the shelving ladder is safely stored in the garage!

I’ve certainly put more miles on my car than I ever thought I would when The Chunky Needle launched. This in itself is quite an accomplishment for me. Having moved to the UK in 2004 from Vancouver, Canada, I lived in London and didn’t drive a car for about 9 years! Naturally living in London a car is more of a hindrance than a necessity. Furthermore, you all drive on the wrong side of the road and seem to mainly drive a stick (again something I didn’t do as in Canada I drove an automatic transmission.) It wasn’t until 2014 when my husband INSISTED I get behind the wheel as we had twin boys arriving. Well long story, short; the whole experience has been eye opening. Whilst living in Maidenhead, Berkshire, my first goals were to successfully drive to the local Sainsbury’s on my own. My ultimate dream was of reaching The Oracle Shopping Centre in Reading someday. LOL when I look back now I’m amazed that I now bomb all around the country from workshop to workshop. North, South, East, West, off I go with my 4x4 jammed full of merino and acrylic wool balls off to my next venue. I must say though, if we didn’t have Google Maps I’m quite certain I’d still be walking to the grocery store.

400+ students in one year makes me gape in amazement. It’s funny though as it’s the most natural thing for me to do. As a former classroom teacher, I’ve missed being in front of students sharing knowledge with them in a funny relaxed manner. I enjoy teaching so much, so being able to run these workshops really fulfills that missing need in me.

As the season winds up I’m looking forward to some much needed rest but I’m already super excited about all the new venues that I’ll be meeting from September onward. I have a load of dates already launched but have room for more if you or someone you know thinks a Chunky Needle workshop is a perfect fit for your space. Go to www.thechunkyneedle.com/workshops/ to see what’s coming up later in the year.

The smiles and often look of disbelief on the faces of my students after they’ve completed what they considered the impossible, is addictive. The feedback has been so rewarding and encouraging. I love that everyone and every age can participate in a Chunky Needle workshop. Young and old alike can sit side by side creatively. How rare that is. As I type now, I’m gearing up for another workshop tonight in Cardiff. I love it. I’m so happy.

Stay Chunky Dolls.

Cx

The Chunky Needle Turns One!

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The Chunky Needle is one year old! Wow how did that happen? When I look back at where I started, a lonely, bored former secondary school teacher, stay-at-home Mum with too much time on my hands to now having no time, it’s pretty amazing how my world has shifted on its’ axis. As I’ve written before I’ve been a knitter since the late 80s and was chunky knitting way back in 2005 of course not knowing then how I’d actually make money at it in years to come. I saw a chunky knit post on an Australian friend’s Facebook page nearly 2 years ago and I immediately knew I needed to make these blankets, scarves, cushions etc. I at last found a new purpose. Time was then spent on learning the craft. I knew how to knit already and had been familiar with using 25mm needles but 40mm was something entirely new. You can’t simply buy these sorts of needles at Hobbycraft. I started online research and was amazed to see all the chunky knitting already going on here in the UK. I had some of my very own wooden chunky needles made from a local wood turner found close to my home in The Forest of Dean. I sourced a wool supplier and slowly began putting all the pieces together. With no website building training or experience, that alone took me a good 6 weeks or so to get my head around. Thankfully my husband has already launched a very successful home based, online business and without his expertise and general know-how, it’s unlikely I’d get the business side of The Chunky Needle up and running.

My first official order came from America of all places!. On the back of a blanket gifted to a NY City blogger, I was able to get a little bit of coverage in US social media. The first order was for a Dandelion Infinity Scarf. I remember the order clearly as I worked carefully with the buyer to ensure the length was just right.

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The orders that followed all became a bit of a blur. A slow steady trickle started to emerge. Of course my first summer trading happened to fall in the longest summer heatwave Britain has seen in decades. I spent most of the summer elbow deep in merino wool as I prepared for Country Homes and Interiors Magazine show in November. It was a long hot summer of knitting and always thinking ahead to Christmas and the months to come. Summer seemed to go by in a bit of a blur as I spent much of it with needles in hand. I’ve learnt how to better time manage and have an action plan for this year. ;-)

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I completed my first market in Cheltenham in July and managed to swell a whopping £110 worth of stock on one of the hottest days recorded. I sweltered in that market, melted in front of any punter that dared come near my smelly self, but I made good friends and meeting customers face-to-face was just the sort of boost I needed at that time. I attended a Going To Market workshop in the days prior to Cheltenham and it gave me just enough confidence to make my first market experience worthwhile.

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In August my business started to move in an unexpected direction. I was approached by a gift shop in Stow-on-the-Wold about holding a cushion workshop. I hadn’t even thought there was market or interest in teaching the secrets of chunky knitting, but little did I know, I was about to open a pandora’s box. 315 students later, I’m rocking and rolling the workshop world. I’ve done arm knitting and cushion workshops in counties all over the country and have several requests for more. It’s kept me incredibly busy with little time to blog, knit, clean house, etc. but it’s been quite rewarding. As a former teacher, I love being able to get back in front of a group of students and teach something that I enjoy. It’s been quite uplifting for me. The workshop world has really taken off in the last few years as many cafes, work spaces etc are diversifying into small crafts and DIY.

The autumn was a blur of prepping for the big magazine show in November as well as keeping up with the regular commission orders that were coming in quite frequently. From October onward I had consistent Making work. By far the stockinette, opal blanket was/is the best seller for Christmas 2018. I think I must have done 30 of those blankets by the time Christmas rolled round.

Images courtesy of @shnordic Instagram

Images courtesy of @shnordic Instagram

The November show in Henley-on-Thames was crazy. A beautiful show with awesome vendors, I was super lucky to probably get the funniest and most chilled neighbours at the event. I was able to secure some social media coverage from Country Homes & Interiors magazine when it was discovered they were using chunky knit stockings in a sponsor display by a competitor knitter that hadn’t even paid for their place in the show. There were many red faced magazine folk on hand when it was quickly discovered. I saw & spoke to hundreds of people over those four days. It was exhausting but was so much fun getting The Chunky Needle ‘out there.’ The feedback was super encouraging. Will I do it again? Probably not. I think workshops and web sales with a good Google presence are the way forward for this little company. No regrets though. So much learnt.

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As December rolled into the new year, I was hopeful a little respite might come my way as Christmas was busier than I had anticipated for a first year company. I was mistaken. LOL. A super collaboration with a Danish homeware supplier was presented and I had to act upon it. 20 blankets were needed in about 4 weeks. Mid January to mid Feb I was deep into about 50kgs of merino, felting, knitting, shipping, repeat. All this whilst still doing on average 2 workshops a week. One weekend in January saw me do 5 workshops in 72 hours over 3 counties. I’m a crazy person. I’ll definitely never do THAT again!

As March 1st approached I was taking workshop bookings well in to May, June and even DECEMBER! I’ve got a dual wreath/blanket offering with a gorgeous Cotswold boutique hotel that they’ve secured me for. As The Chunky’s first birthday rolled round, I have an interior design collaboration with a European hotelier in the works and have secured a mental health, corporate workshop day, for a tech company at their two London based HQ’s. With regular workshops, private parties (which are really taking off) and regular custom orders, things don’t appear to be slowing down. In truth I’ve been writing this blog post over the last 10 days! LOL

By the first year, The Chunky Needle has sold product to seven countries. Have had over 400 orders. Over 40 workshops. Over 300 workshop students and 36,500 unique website visitors. Simply put, WOW!

I’ve definitely learnt quite a bit as the year has gone on. I’m learning to say, ‘no thank you,’ to some of the offers coming through, as I can’t forget I do have a young family to raise - oh yeah remember that?! I know that social media can most of the time be a wonderful place to network and promote, but it can also be a devilish thorn in one’s side that can make a person lose perspective. There will always be someone with better posts, better pictures, more followers, etc. but all so often this is an ‘insta-sham.,’ and not to be trusted. Lastly I’ve learnt to not be so hard on myself. Every day presents something new to learn, and it’s only normal that mistakes will be made along the way. I have a good support network around me who encourage and back me up whenever needed.

Anyway, ten days later, I think I’m going to leave this blog post a bit unfinished, and say “it’s time to move on.” Thank you so much to every customer, student, venue, supplier, friend, family member, etc. that have made this first year such an enormous success. I do wonder what year two shall bring.

Until next time, stay Chunky.

Cx

The Chunky Footstool

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Hello Dolls. It’s been nearly a month since my last post. Just crazy how the weeks are flying by. Spring has sprung in my neck of the woods and despite my thinking that things might slow down a bit, it’s been quite the contrary. March 1st will be our official 1 year birthday and when I reflect on how it all began I’m amazed at how fast the company has grown. More on that later….

Firstly today is the launch of our much anticipated new product our Chunky Footstool! This little beauty has been on my ‘to-do’ list for months. I traveled all the way to Belgium 3 days before Christmas to learn the secrets behind the pouffe and thanks to Coconknits and The Sewing Loft in Bruges, I can now bring my version to the UK market. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a challenge sourcing the supplies this side of the English Channel, but at last I’m able to bring you up to 14 different colour combinations for this gorgeous little footstool.

There has been a load of interest in my launching this footstool to workshop and I’m excited to say that, “YES, this footstool will be coming to a workshop near you soon.” Stay tuned for more information.

Speaking of workshops, holy moly this gal has been busy. I’m pretty much booked up through to May and workshops are now being allocated for the autumn months. The arm knit trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down, thank goodness! Keep up to date with my Event Page for all the latest workshops coming up.

So I’m going to bolt for now and just keep this short and sweet. We’ve got the Chunky Needle Birthday party coming up in ten days so stay tuned for birthday prezzies passed on to all my supporters and followers. Love you guys loads and thank you so very much for your continued support. Hey, should any of you with a Google or Gmail account, want to share the love and drop me a KIND review to help my website ranking, I’d be super grateful. Click HERE to leave a review.

Will be back here again on March 1st. Stay tuned.

Love,

Cx