Alice O’Connell is an actress who learned to knit on set – she now makes knitted accessories from her home in Amsterdam
You never know when you might discover a new passion
I was working as an actress doing a lot of TV work – including Silent Witness and Outnumbered – which means a lot of sitting around with not much to do. Someone suggested I start knitting. My mother taught me, and I got hooked.
Other people spot potential before you
I was knitting on set and people started asking me to make them scarves and socks. I started creating knitting patterns for independent designers, and one said, “You should start your own label”. I dismissed it, but the idea was a seed. I started thinking maybe I could start investing some proper time into knitting. It coincided with my husband and I deciding to leave London and move to Amsterdam.
Have your own vision
Before we left, I did a knitwear design course. We moved to Amsterdam with some old knitting machines, needles and a huge amount of yarn. I wanted to make something that was a marriage between old-fashioned craft and modern aesthetic. I was reading The
Great Gatsby for the fifth time and started thinking about knitted bow ties. And so Wool & Water was born. Now I also have braces, lapel pins and pet bow ties.
An early confidence boost helps
My bow ties quickly got a lot of buzz. Amsterdam is a wonderfully small city – it celebrates independent businesses, entrepreneurs and creatives, and if you do anything unusual it quickly gets around. I’m in all sorts of groups with other independent business owners, and we trade tips on things like photography, social media and SEO.
Develop a thick skin
Early on, doing craft markets, I’d joke that I wanted to stand
behind a curtain and only come out if people were positive. I’ve benefited from worrying less about what people think. If someone says my products are too expensive or strange, now I just think: “It’s not for you, and that’s fine”.
Stick to your values
One guy asked me, “Why don’t you do more normal colours?” I wondered if maybe I should, but then I thought Wool & Water is about celebrating the individual, curiosity and creativity. The colours are not apologetic.
Don’t assume you know your customer
I treasure the relationship I have with my customers – they share their experiences of wearing the pieces and how it gave them the bravery to go to a wedding alone, or to a conference. I thought I was making pieces for people who were already confident, and you realise you are also making for people who get a confidence boost from what you make. That was a lovely surprise.
When I’m working my third 12-hour day in a row, there is a voice that says, “What are you doing with your life?” I used to try to answer that voice, saying things like, “Look at these orders I’ve had”, but I realised I was expending energy that I needed elsewhere. So now I just try to ignore it.
Don’t be defined by one thing
Being an actress was very much part of my identity and I’m still not ready to give it up, but I look back at a time when I wouldn’t consider other opportunities that came my way because I thought “No, I’m an actress”. I wonder if I missed out.
Beware of killing your passion
I love knitting – the natural fibres, the colours of hand-dyed yarns and the calming physical action. I could happily do it all the time, so I had to learn to have a work-life balance – I now take lunch breaks and have a day off a week. I’m lucky to work from home, and my husband will tap at the door and say, “Come on, we’re going for a walk”.
I fall asleep thinking of knitting patterns and ideas. When you put pressure and financial expectation on a hobby, you run the risk of killing your enjoyment of it. I’m lucky that hasn’t happened. But I do wonder what I’d have done if I’d killed my love of knitting. My husband would say we’d have a lot more room.
Alice creates all manner of knitted accessories for Wool & Water