SPIN­NING YARNS

Alice O’Con­nell is an ac­tress who learned to knit on set – she now makes knit­ted ac­ces­sories from her home in Am­s­ter­dam

The Simple Things - - LIVING - Words: EMINE SANER

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.

Ig­nore self-doubt

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

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