‘I love my calmer pace of life!’
Sue Gleave, 57, from Laxfield, Suffolk, turned her lifelong passion for knitting into a business.
‘Autumn is a riot of colour. For me, it’s not just the turning leaves outside, but also the rich yellow and golds of the hand-dyed yarns that festoon my converted Suffolk barn.
I’ve always knitted and sewn for fun, but I never dreamt I might one day try to earn money from it. I was too busy paying the mortgage and bringing up my two daughters, who’ve now flown the nest. But after years as a project manager working with big companies, corporate life had taken its toll and my husband Martin and I felt the pull of a slower way of life. Martin had left his job in senior management and we settled in Suffolk, ready to dive into the unknown.
My passion for wool was sparked on a three-day natural dyeing course eight years ago. I came up with the idea of transforming natural wool into rich, colourful yarns, so Native Yarns was born.
Choosing the wool is important – I find beautiful tactile yarns from British sheep. The next step is to then colour it in my workshop using plant-based dyes, many of which I grow in my garden.
TO DYE FOR
I started by selling my hand-dyed wool by mail order and at shows. My first show at the National Trust’s Ickworth House was invaluable – the feedback helped me know I was on the right track.
Once a month I’ll embark on a dyeing session that can take a week from end to end; it’s a long, slow process. For me, colouring wool is like cooking a good meal from scratch – you appreciate the
effort that goes into it much more than if you just pick up a ready meal!
I knit my own designs, too. In fact, knitting is rather like cooking in that there are basic techniques and “recipes” to learn, then you add your own twist by experimenting with different needles, yarns and tensions. I draft the pattern myself, producing swatches and then a sample, which I re-draft until I’m happy.
The time and devotion that goes into the process isn’t necessarily reflected in the money I make. The raw materials cost half of the £15-£20 we charge for each yarn. They are expensive, but the feedback we get is fantastic – they glow with a life of their own and some say it’s the best wool they’ve ever used.
The business has evolved. As well as selling yarn, I sell kits via my Etsy site for between £25 and £70, as well as creating one-off patterns and designs for yarn companies and knitting magazines.
I love my calmer pace of life. Martin and I are digging deep to find strengths we didn’t know we had, but we’ve never felt more positive.’
Sue uses natural dyes and dries her yarn above the AGA in her kitchen (right)