Working in a winter wonderland
’Tis the season for taking inspiration from the big chill outside. Meet four readers who have made cool businesses out of winter
We discover some successful start-ups with a seasonal slant
‘I love making people feel warm and cosy’
Kate Sayer, 40, from Altrincham, Cheshire, lives with her husband Steve, 42, and two daughters, aged nine and six.
‘When the winter chill sets in, there’s nothing cosier than wearing a lambswool scarf or snuggling up to soft, comfy cushions. Ever since my mum taught me how to crochet aged 13, I’ve loved everything to do with knitting, but
I never imagined I would be running my own woollen business.
For 14 years, I worked at the University of Manchester, lecturing in knitted textiles. But when I had my two young daughters, life was hectic and I longed to find more time for my own knitted creations. My head was full of ideas, so, in 2013, I decided to make the break from lecturing and go for it, setting up my business, Little Knitted Stars.
Starting by listing some hairclips and hairbands I’d crocheted on the online site Etsy, I was delighted when they sold for a couple of pounds each. Then my mum saw a vintage 1980s knitting machine advertised for £50 and bought it for me. It meant I could make the cushions I wanted, with detailed dog, flamingo and cactus motifs. I installed the machine in our spare attic bedroom, which quickly became my studio. I loved using the machine, which fitted neatly on my desk and made a comforting whirring noise. These days, most knitwear is made using computer-generated patterns, but my aim was to hand-punch my designs and finish them myself. I wanted my pieces to be hand-crafted.
My only outlay, apart from time, was yarn. I decided to use 100% lambswool, which comes in vibrant colours and is soft, warm and light, and washes well. In addition to producing my motif cushions, I soon added a snood to my listings after friends loved a picture of me wearing one on my Facebook page. Next came hats and matching mittens, all made using my trademark geometric patterns.
Sales slowly started to trickle in until in September last year my business got the boost it needed to grow. There was a ‘pitch-up’ to be a seller on the website Notonthehighstreet.com. I had a face-to-face meeting – a bit like a mini Dragons’ Den – in which I had 10 minutes to show my products. I was terrified, but thrilled when I got a yes!
After getting the go-ahead, I listed 35 products (adding scarves, beanies and wrist warmers) and the orders picked up so quickly that I got two more machines. Seeing them working together, whirring in motion as my designs slowly emerged, felt amazing. Most of my work was done when my girls were at school or after they went to bed. Doing all the packaging and posting myself meant that soon boxes of stock were spilling out on to the landing.
Since starting out, I’ve learned so much. Now I work through my quiet seasons getting stock ready, knowing Christmas is my busiest time. I charge from £25 for a pair of mittens to £45 for a thick scarf, with cushions starting from £28. My turnover is now £10,000 a year.
Working in my attic studio suits me perfectly – I’d never want to go back to commuting. I love my new lifestyle.’
‘Seeing my designs slowly emerge from the machines felt amazing’
Kate works on her beloved knitting machine