Lou Edward of Wild Wool is about as mad on wool as you can get. That passion, combined with a desire to create individual, wearable pieces ensure’s Wild Wools place on my ever growing favourites list. Luckily for us she managed to take a few minutes out over the Christmas period to talk to Frankly. Here she shares childhood knitting projects, trashing her kitchen and why it might be time to go “abstract”.
How long have you been selling on Folksy?
I’ve been selling on Folksy since I gave myself a stern talking to and got round to it (which was in the summer). I had been wanting to do it for ages – previously I’ve sold my knitted and recycled accessories at Greenwich market in London, and whilst I loved doing that for the atmosphere, the contact with customers and being with the other traders, I just couldn’t commit to the long weekend hours. It was quite hard on my husband and boys.
Tell us about your work
I think Folksy buyers are looking for something unique and one-offs are something that comes naturally to me – I’m always itching to try out a new yarn I’ve fallen in love with or to use something that I couldn’t resist buying. I’m always hugely impressed by designer makers who stick to a colour palette, for example, or a certain style – it gives them a real identity. However I always like to wear one offs, and with my accessories you’re unlikely to see anyone else wearing exactly the same thing. I love using a variety of colour palettes, differently textured yarns, and I often add recycled fabric to the mix. I don’t stick to the same patterns for long either so my work tends to be quite eclectic.
What’s your favourite piece of work?
I think my most successful piece of work would have to be the wristwarmers that I make from recycled cashmere jumpers. I started doing this about five years ago, and as often happens, I had started off making something else entirely. I was cutting sleeves from a jumper to make a tank top (yuk!) when I looked at the sleeves and put them on. And it didn’t take long before I was deliberately laying waste to any jumper I could find in order to make what has become my biggest seller. My husband thought it was a crazy idea – cutting up an old jumper and then selling it in separate pieces. Put like that, it does sound a bit mad, but these clothes would go to landfill otherwise. It’s great to recycle, and I think it really appeals to people who shop on Folksy. Now I need to find something to do with all the tiny offcuts – I have a mountain of them and live in hope that I will find a brilliantly creative solution soon.
When did it all begin for you?
It got to the point where myself, friends and family were all kitted out with enough woollies to last a decade, so the only thing to do was to try and turn a hobby into a potential business. It was the obvious thing to do, and although it has been tricky at times, I’m glad I took that route. The other option was knitting less – and as I’ve been doing it all my life, that wasn’t even a consideration. My gran taught me to knit when I was small – I started with teeny weeny dolls’ scarves before moving on to knitting squares for my primary school. These were sewn into blankets and sent overseas – this was such a joyful, fulfilling project as the pile of squares grew pleasingly high, and increasingly colourful. And who knew where they’d end up? Somewhere far away, exotic and possibly dangerous. There was something hypnotic and addictive about knitting those squares – and I still get a sense of that when I knit now. I briefly deserted knitting, before embarking on a series of woollen misadventures in my late teens and twenties…one of them was an astonishingly shapeless patchwork jumper in all shades of green. It came down to my knees and the sleeves were short and tight…not a good look and it never got worn in public, but it taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of tension. Now, knitting isn’t just about fulfilling a creative urge, it’s also the most effective way I know to unwind.
Tell us about your work space? Favourite place to work?
I have a room with all my wool, needles, boxes of ribbons and buttons in, and it has a wall covered in inspiring tearsheets and photos for when I need a hit of creativity. But the brilliant thing about knitting and crochet is how portable it is – I do it wherever the light is good or the sun is shining. I usually drift towards the kitchen (and the biscuits) with a ball of wool and my needles, then I keep going back to get different colours, my sewing box, buttons, then I need some fabric…so by the end of the day the kitchen looks like there’s been an incident in a haberdashery store. Boringly, that all then has to be tidied away so we can eat – this is why I should stick to my workroom, so I can just close the door at night and pick up where I left off in the morning.
How do you keep your work unique?
I think it’s important to be aware of what’s out there, but I tend to keep an eye on broader fashion trends rather than seeing what other knitters on Folksy are doing. And I think you do get an element of individuality when you use recycled materials too – I use pre-loved cashmere jumpers for example, and I often embellish them with unravelled wool, plus one of my favourite things to do is to combine vintage fabrics with different yarns. I’m going to do more of this in the new year – I have some lovely bits of fabric that need a new life as part of a scarf or a brooch. Knitted flowers and leaves always crop up on my accessories too – lately I’ve been trying to knit more realistic leaf shapes…it can drive you crazy but you know there’s a way to create them.
Describe your day as a maker? Are you organised/disciplined?
I always mean well. I’m a great planner, and an even greater procrastinator. For me the key to being productive is to build up some momentum and then that keeps me going. That’s why I love the run up to Christmas – it’s always hectic with orders but weirdly, I get more done if I’m busy. I think it’s because I feel inspired when I’m selling a lot – it fuels ideas for me, especially when people ask if I can make certain things for them. I had that with the ladybirds and bees that were appearing on my hats and headbands this autumn – and now I want to make more insects…Butterflies too, maybe.
What three tools could you not live without?
I absolutely need my knitting book and a pencil – it’s an increasingly bulging notebook, which sheds bits of wool, fabric and all sorts if you’re not careful when you pick it up. It’s full of my ideas, and descriptions of things I’ve seen, plus the workings of patterns, and needle sizes and those dreaded tension measurements. Most of it would probably be indecipherable to anyone but me – although I struggle sometimes to find what I want. But we moved house a few months ago and I lost it in one of the many boxes for about 8 weeks – what a nightmare thinking about all those patterns I had worked out. I can’t tell you how happy I was when it appeared again. And a good pair of scissors – I love cutting up old jumpers to make my recycled wristwarmers. It’s such a stress buster, and also feels quite rebellious – like something a really naughty child would do.
What gets the creative juices flowing when creativity is stifled?
A good old walk with some music on my ipod usually does it. And my husband always says, if you don’t know what to do, just do something. And much as I hate to say it, he’s right. Hmmm.
Are you inspired by any artists from the past or present?
More by nature I think – coming from the Lakes, you can’t help but be affected by the amazing and ever changing colours and shapes of nature all around you. And I’m always sketching things I see people wearing. Inspiration is everywhere you look.
How do you know when a piece is done?
The importance of knowing when to stop can’t be underestimated…I usually just know. The old saying ‘less is more’ is something I always keep in mind when I’m making. But if it’s not right, well, it needs to be rethought. Pulling something out that isn’t quite working always feels like the right thing to do.
What do you love most about being a maker?
The potential – it’s thrilling! I don’t know where my next ball of wool will lead me. And I love buying things from other makers – you can see they have been carefully crafted and are beautifully presented. I really appreciate that time and care taken, and I hope that I can give that same experience to people who buy from me. I think makers go that extra mile to please their customers. And I have to mention the freedom this life can give you – like most people I know, I am constantly juggling a dozen balls at once and I need the flexibility you get from being a maker to keep them all up in the air at once.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
Well I love handknitting – there’s something very soothing and meditative about it – but I recently did a course at the London College of Fashion in machine knitting, and I want to become more proficient at that. I’ve also seen some amazing embroidery lately, and I love the idea of free machining – in fact, random knitting and crocheting needs to be explored too. More abstract pieces, maybe that’s that way forward.
What would you say to any makers starting out?
Don’t get despondent – and if something’s not working, change it. I’ve been on a huge learning curve and I can’t believe how far I’ve come from the first day I stood behind a market stall in Wimbledon. It was awful – I sold nothing and my stall looked very amateur. I nearly gave up. But it gave me an idea of what I had to do next, and I did it. You get better all the time, if you can learn from what goes before.
Thanks to Lou for letting us have a nosey into her world. All of Lou’s work can be seen in her Folksy shop Wild Wool.