‘I love my calmer pace of life!’

Prima (UK) - - Ladies Who Launch -

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.


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.’

• na­tive­yarns.co.uk

Sue uses nat­u­ral dyes and dries her yarn above the AGA in her kitchen (right)

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