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With a little help from my family.

Starting and running a business uses lots of time and a whole clutch of skills.  As a sole trader without staff, it very much helps to have the support of others.  This post is really a paean to my family for the help they have given me over the years, without which creating The Sheep Shop would have been a lot more difficult.  This is a by no means exhaustive list of how wonderful they are, just examples of how their help has made the business possible.

My mother, Victoria.  She has a flair for interior design and making things beautiful.  This skill passed me by so completely when I moved home several years

Mum helping put together the Rhapsody in Bloom yarnbomb

ago I did without curtains for a year until Mum made them and put them up herself, and still live happily with the regrettable decor choices of the previous occupant.  The design of the shop?  All hers.  I gave Mum a brief of the type of environment I wanted and how much wool there would be, and she figured out all the shelving and furniture that would be needed, where to get it, where to put it, spent goodness knows how long restoring it back to life, making new cushions and putting all the finishing touches in.  Thank you Mum.


Emily studied illustration at Norwich School of Art and is responsible for the shop’s logo, name logo and choosing the font I use regularly (butterbrotpapier).  Thank you Emily.

Tom has saved me somewhere up to 1,000 hours of data entry.  My till spits out a report every 003day of what has sold and I put that information into a spreadsheet tracking stock levels, so I can figure out what needs buying and how much to get.  The till report isn’t in a format that can be copied into a spreadsheet so it used to be a laborious process, prone to mistakes, to manually copy information from one to the other.  My computer scientist friends from Cambridge said there was nothing that could be done.  Step forward Tom, who is an electrical engineer and not a programmer.  He taught himself C++ and wrote a program that means I can now merrily cut and paste the data from the till report into my spreadsheet.  Thank you Tom.Bronny with a French knit headband

Bronny is a primary school teacher by trade.  Bronny volunteered to spend some of her precious holidays with more teaching, of crafts to kids here.  She relearnt how to French knit, found all sorts of cool new ways to use French knitting (when we were kids, I don’t think we ever got beyond intending-to-make-a-rug-actually-making-a-tiny-coaster), made a bunch of samples and they’ve been on display ever since.  Thank you Bronny.

Joel is my wonderful boyfriend, and when I’ve realised things like There’s an e019vent! People need chairs! There aren’t enough chairs! has leapt in to volunteer to go and get chairs so people can be comfy.  Thank you Joel.015

June and Julia are my Nana and Auntie.  They have used their car as a mobile advert, driving around with a poster for the shop in their car window at all times for years.  Thank you Nana and Julia.


My Dad, Nigel.  He has run his own gardening business, Lawn Order, for the last 26 years.  As a kid and as an adult I never thought twice about it, it was just w

Cambridge News Business Excellence Awards. Picture by Duncan Lamont.

hat Dad did.  It obviously had its stresses (enough that I knew I never wanted to be self-employed!)  but Dad calmly and uncomplainingly got on with making a living for his family.  I only realised quite how amazing an achievement that is having become self-employed myself after all.  Having his reassuring presence on the other end of the phone if I need advice makes all the difference.  Thank you Dad.

Running a shop is no small task.  Thank you for everything, family mine.










Clothes moths

On WI visits, a question which always gets asked is “what’s the best way to stop clothes moths?”  As yarn is a prime target for moths and I need it in perfect condition to sell, this is what I’ve learnt over the years from pest control experts, other shopkeepers and the internet.

A dreaded clothes moth
A dreaded clothes moth CC BY-SA 3.0 by Aiwok

In the UK there are three main culprits who chomp away at your natural fibres: common (aka webbing) clothes moths, case-making clothes moths and carpet beetles.  The adults themselves do not eat yarn but they lay eggs on it and when those eggs hatch, the larvae do the damage.  The warmer months – May to September – are prime moth season but due to central heating and mild winters, they can now party all year in your cupboards.  Their lifecycles are flexible, and can completed within a month or take well over a year.

If you see one or two moths every now and then you probably don’t need to worry.  If you see six or seven moths in quick succession, you’ve probably got a problem.  (Three to five moths – quandary!) Don’t be tied to thinking the problem is where you saw them – the adults may be at one end of the room having already laid eggs at the other.

Traditional preventatives like cedarwood and lavender don’t work.  They *might* deter an adult moth who doesn’t like the smell but they won’t kill eggs or grubs.  You can’t rely only on direct sunlight or just small amounts of handling to disturb critters either.  If you are lucky enough to keep fleecy animals, they can even live in fleece whilst it is on the animal.

Dead common clothes moth
If you have to see ’em… CC BY-SA 3.0 by Lamiot

So what do you do?  Mothballs are illegal for a reason.  There are newer chemical control methods like Pest Control Formula C which are safer.  However, don’t rely on pesticides as a pre-emptive measure, as moths can build up resistance then cheerfully ignore them.

Here in the shop I have a system called Exosect.  Dotted about are tabs of waxy powder impregnated with female moth pheromones.  If a male flies in, it gets all excited thinking there is a super-sexy female nearby and heads towards a tab.  Its getting-jiggy-with-it hopes are dashed, but it isn’t killed, and gets coated with the powder.  As it then flies about, it scatters a trail of female pheromones.  The males get overwhelmed with these fake pheromones so if a real female flies in ready to mate, she gets ignored and doesn’t lay any eggs.  This is now available for home use, but is still expensive.

Pheromone traps are the next best method to prevent a problem, renewed every couple of months throughout the year.  There are two different pheromone traps for different types of clothes moth and another for beetles (some brands specify which they target, others do not) and they all only target males.  Keep items made of natural fibres out of harm’s way in airtight storage, even better vacuum-pack them, or pop them in bags and freeze them.

If you’ve got a problem, you need to clean everything (including the furniture), vacuum all the dust (which may contain eggs) from the cracks of the room and use insecticide.  I have read you can use diatomaceous earth alongside or instead of pesticide, but not put it to the test.  If you’ve got grubs already hiding, spraying the (fabric-friendly) types of pesticides might work on clothes and upholstery but isn’t going to help much if they are safely shielded by a nice thick yarn ball.  Affected items worth salvaging can either be put in the freezer for a whole two weeks* or put in a low oven (56°C) for at least an hour** to kill off eggs and grubs.

*Some sources say a few days but friendly experts say that’s not enough.

**Some sources say 30 minutes, others say two hours. The experts specify a non-scientific “hour or two”.  Kindly souls in 1982 tested out the quicker version, a microwave-as-death-ray-machine

Interview with Lola of Third Vault Yarns

Lola Johnson is thoroughly lovely – so lovely that people begged me to stock her yarns having met her at a festival (I’m not sure if they even saw her yarn!). Hers are the capable hands which dye the glorious colourways that make up Third Vault Yarns.  She kindly agreed to be interviewed here.

Lola of Third Vault Yarns
Lola of Third Vault Yarns

How do you come to be hand-dying yarns for sale?

I’ve been knitting in earnest since 2012, before then it was mostly just on the odd occasion. When I went back to University after my placement year, I joined the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch society which helped me get back into knitting in a big way. The next year, having decided to give back, I became a committee member. Which is incidentally when I also started teaching, knitting and crafting skills.  Myself and the other committee members were looking to plan a range of workshops and dyeing yarn got the best response when broached. I mean what fibre artist isn’t slightly fascinated with the idea of dyeing their own yarn!?  In any case having had no experience at this point, it was up to me to figure out how! So I watched YouTube videos, read books and played around with yarn and food colouring, achieving passable results. Having a decent idea of the process, I then taught a fellow committee member and we went on to teach a class of eight others. It was a great afternoon accented by cups of tea, biscuits and lots of colour!  This was the start of an addiction to playing with colour and dyeing my own yarn. I even taught my partner how. I ended up dyeing yarn for myself and others on commission, so towards the end of my Masters degree, it just felt like it made sense to me. To do something I loved and to take that leap into sharing my passion for beautiful yarn with others.

Many of your yarns are variegated in different ways, what sort of techniques do you use to get the different effects?

No trade secrets here!  I like to use lots of different techniques to achieve my different colourways, largely the techniques I use will be influenced by the inspiration behind the colourway I am creating. For example I talk a bit more about how I come up with colourways on my blog, specifically Saphira, for which I use a combination of immersion dyeing and resist techniques. Other methods I use are dip dyeing, hand painting and lately I’ve been playing with kettle dyeing.  I like to experiment with lots of techniques to help create my vision for each colourway.

Some Third Vault Yarn colours

Matching variegated yarns with patterns which suit them isn’t always easy.  Have you got any tips?

Generally. That’s something I find hard too, but often when I’m dyeing I have a feel for how a colourway might knit up which is part of the effect I’m going for. When you don’t have that though, I would go with what Bronagh Miskelly mentioned for Tesseract: “Wind before you decide”. This can give you an idea of how the colours might play out in fabric when knit or crocheted as it shows you the length of the colour repeats.  When looking at patterns, look at projects that have already been made [Ravelry helps for this]. How does the texture or some of the features of the pattern play out with other people’s yarn choices (this helps more if you Loki colourwayplay closer attention to projects that use yarn with the same sort of colour distribution as yours. If there aren’t any other projects with variegated yarn, look more closely at the features and techniques used in the pattern, is it a repeating pattern? Is it heavily textured? If it’s cables are the cables simple and chunky or thin and intricate? What kind of stitch does it use? You are more likely to lose the yarn and pattern in heavily textured patterns, thin intricate cables are not as likely to show up whilst simple thin or thick ones won’t be affected as much.  Ultimately it depends on the item you are making, sometimes heavy texture can help to tone down a very variegated yarn, which can make a very pretty hat or accessory, even garment. Sometimes you may want to pair the variegated yarn with another simpler colourway to create a different look.

All of your yarns have a fantasy or sci-fi theme, what gave you that idea?

Well I’m a computer scientist by degree and generally a sci-fi and fantasy fan since my early youth. I think everyone needs a little fantasy in their lives. Theming my yarns
The Magpiethat way is my way of staying unapologetically geeky, also my little nod to the other geeky fibre artists out there that feel one of my colourways resonates with their favourite fandom. In any case despite my theme choices, colour and combinations are accessible to all and regardless of whether someone identifies with the fandom, I love to share my passion for colour with everyone.


Can you now watch sci-fi without ogling characters for colours?

Of course not! Why waste the inspiration! In all honesty I see colours everywhere, which I love. Even when I’m reading, if there is a particularly evocative passage I sometimes think of how fabulous a yarn it would make and I envision colour and layout.

Inspired?  We currently have both acid dye starter kits and natural dye kits in stock, along with lots of undyed yarns.  Want to cast on?  We currently have Lola’s Companion 4 ply and Vortex Sock yarn.

Third Vault Yarns rainbow

One of the best yarn shops in the UK!

The Sheep Shop is officially one of the best yarn shops in the country.  Wahay!  A British Knitting Award came our way this month at the Knitting & Stitch Show at Alexandra Palace.  Big thank you to organisers Let’s Knit and the 14,000 voters!

Can you tell they plied us with Prosecco?  Pictured are the proprietresses of the three Best Local Independent Yarn Stores in South East England: Lois ofJenny Wrens Yarns in Ipswich (1st – centre), myself of The Sheep Shop, Cambridge (2nd – left) and Sam of Sconch in Braintree (3rd – right).

Am over the moon.  Thank you for your votes!

Best Local Independent Yarn Store nomination

Thank you folks! You got us shortlisted for Best Local Independent Yarn Store, South East of England.  This is a big deal! If you’ve enjoyed a class here, taken pleasure in a shopping trip, had fun at knitting group or have any other reason to like us, please vote for us  We’re up against the behemoth that is Loop in London so rather a lot of votes are going to be needed!

Let’s Knit are offering a spa break to a lucky voter.  Nice.

Instagram photo by Sarah Clark • Jun 1, 2016 at 12:49pm UTC

Want to learn how to make the most of your pictures on Tumblr, Instagram, Etsy and the like? Emma Mitchell took this photo, she is a designer-maker, writer and photographer who has been featured in Mollie Makes, the Guardian, Country Living and Standard Issue.  Emma’s Instagram is amongst the most popular accounts on the platform with 34K followers. She is teaching a brand new class here in July!

Visual styling for social media and Etsy – £45
Saturday 23rd July, 10am – 1pm

During this workshop Emma will give you practical tips on the following aspects of smartphone photography:

  • Lighting and angles
  • Lifestyle shots and telling a story with your image
  • Editing apps
  • Colour palettes and image curation on Instagram
  • Joining in with online communities to increase your visibility
  • Using Twitter and Instagram as microblogging platforms

With Emma’s help you will style several images: a product shot, a work in progress and an engaging lifestyle shot. She will give you a guide to composition, using the golden mean, creating vignettes and styling with flowers.

No skills required, this class is suitable for knitters, crocheters and other crafters.

Materials to bring: smartphone, notebook & pen/pencil, knitting/crochet/other craft work in progress and knitting/crochet/other craft finished object.

Please pop in or call 01223 311268 to book your place.  

Instagram photo by Sarah Clark • Jun 1, 2016 at 12:49pm UTC