The Woolly Pedlar – Inspiring Upcycling Artists Series

The wonderful Sue creates fabulous clothing and homewares by upcycling unwanted knitwear. The results are gorgeous! Come have a nose at some of her beautiful work and hear all about how she became the Woolly Pedlar …

I am based in rural West Northumberland, a stone’s throw from Hadrian’s Wall, near Hexham. I live in a lovely house, Bridge cottage, that has a little river running through the garden, hence the name, and have wonderful views all around.

I work full time from home and love it! I have taken over the third floor of our house where I have a workshop, studio and storeroom (and count myself very lucky!)

I have been upcycling now for 3 years. I was forced to give up my teaching job (25 years as a special needs teacher) because of health issues. I started to write a blog about living sustainably, growing your own food and recycling and through this set up a knitting group. A friend came along and said she didn’t want to learn to knit, but asked if I could make her a pair of Katwise style armarmers. These were made from recycled wool jumpers, cut into strips and sewn with an overlocker.

I bought my first little domestic overlocker and made her a pair, then made some for Christmas presents, and got the upcycling bug! I then downloaded the Katwise sweatercoat tutorial and made my first sweatercoat, and the rest is history! I registered as self-employed in March 2012 and now work full time and more!

I am self-taught though as a teacher in a special school I think you need to be really creative. I do have a degree, but in teaching! My Nan and mum both taught me all the craft and dressmaking skills that I have and I have always made my own clothes, knitted and loved upcycling. My great aunt Vera was an inspiration as she made wonderful hand sewn patchwork quilts and sold them worldwide, right into her 80s.

I create funky clothes, such as jumpers, cardigans, ponchos and sweatercoats; accessories such as armwarmers and scarves; baby products such as blankets, leg warmers and ponchos; soft furnishings such as blankets, throws, bedspreads and cushions. They are all made from locally sourced, recycled knitwear that would otherwise be going to waste.

I scour the charity shops and also talk to knitwear factories about their waste, then give it all a good hot wash before gathering piles of suitable colours. When I have enough of a colourway, I design whatever I am making. The jumpers are then cut into pieces, and sewn with an overlocker. My little domestic one soon gave up and I had to buy an industrial one – best purchase ever! It is like sewing through soft butter.

The first piece I ever created were a pair of armwarmers for a friend. My favourite piece is the wedding coat I made using all ivory jumpers.

I have been working on ponchos this season and have just introduced an extra large size for men or big girls. I am always working on new designs for jumpers and cardis, and have been experimenting with necklines as not every likes the funky pixie hood look.

I do not take commissions for sweatercoats or jumpers as what I make depends on what I find, so very serendipitous, but I do take orders for blankets and bedspreads. I also take commissions for memory blankets made either from baby clothes, or from the jumpers of a loved one who has passed away – I have a page on the website that explains more about this- I have not won any awards, but have been featured on TV and in the press.

The planet only has a finite number of resources, and I think the greed of consumerism has taken its toll. There are lots of eco conscious folk who realise that it is far better to recycled and upcycle rather than buying new. I struggle to find clothes I like on the high street and am very conscious about where my clothes come from. I do not want to put on something that has meant a child sleeps on a factory floor to make it. It has been said that my clothes are ‘an antidote to boring high street fashion’ I am also addressing the need for big girls to have funky designs too. So often foreign imports, and especially those found at festivals are in tiny sizes.

I was originally inspired by Katwise, who has an almost cult following in the States with her upcycled woollies. She sells her tutorials online and says that it is fine for others to use them as long as they mention her and charge a decent amount for their creations to make it fair to all others making them. I do try very much to put my own twist on things though and come up with my own designs. Examples of these are the hooded baby blankets I make – these came about after a friend at a festival asked me to design her one for her new baby.

I love working with colour, and love the colours and shapes used in Gudrun Sjoden’s clothes. I love to see work by other artists via social media and particularly like the sock figures made by Socktacular creations at Hebden Bridge.

Advice to others would be to go for it, work really hard, and let your creative instincts guide what you do. Learn to grow a thick skin, as the general public can be horrific at times, as well as really encouraging on the flip side! Use social media to its full advantage to show your work to a worldwide audience and blog regularly about your work to drive traffic to your website. Pick your selling venues carefully and avoid craft fairs! I prefer to do less events but pick the better ones where folk have come with a genuine interest in what is being made, and have come to buy! One example of these would be Woolfest for me, where folk (usually women but not exclusively) come together as they have a love of wool and all things woolly, and have often saved up all year to get their woolly purchases – a captive audience!

I sell locally at our Farmer’s Market during spring and autumn and am on the road at festivals during the summer then it’s full steam ahead at Christmas with local fairs. If you head to the Events page on the website you’ll see where I’m selling my woolly wares next. I have a fully stocked online shop over on the website where I ship internationally. Free shipping within the UK.

About Kirstie Adamson

Kirstie Adamson is a magazine & junkmail collage artist. Co-Founder of EcoCreate art & craft network and a passionate revamp crafter!

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