As Hollywood stars discover the joys and benefits of knitting, Stephanie Smith meets The Knitter’s Yarn, a mother-and-daughter team making it easy and fun to pick up the needles. Pictures by Tony Johnson.
Knitting is not just a handy, budget-friendly, crafting skill; it’s a bilateral, rhythmic, psycho-social intervention, a therapy, a stress-beater, promoting mindfulness and helping fight depression, anxiety, smoking and even dementia. Knitting is the new yoga.
Spin this with the resurgence of knitwear as a cosy, dress-down, cool fashion statement, plus the revival of crafting to show off skills and design know-how on social media, and it’s small wonder that knitting is fast becoming a must-do, super-stylish pastime, not least among celebrities. Famous knitters include Cara Delevigne, Ryan Gosling, Sarah Jessica-Parker, Cameron Diaz, Amanda Seyfried and Julia Roberts, all clicking away merrily.
Where Hollywood leads, Harrogate is sure to follow. The Knitter’s Yarn is a new brand created by Sue Rutherford and her daughter, Alice Bywater. It’s an online site selling yarns, patterns, needles and knitting accessories and tools. There’s a lifestyle element too, with lots of insight and tips on the site itself, while Sue and Alice also run knitting and crochet workshops from their studio on the leafy outskirts of the town.
“If you’re on a computer all day, which most of us are, to be able to do something with your hands is very therapeutic,” says Sue, who is also studying with the Institute of Therapeutic Craft and Creativity.
“There’s nothing sadder than going to an old people’s home where people are sat doing nothing, because your brain dies. But if you’re doing something and learning a new skill, you can actually create new neural pathways and regenerate – basically use it or lose it.”
As a psycho-social intervention, knitting has many benefits, says Sue. It makes your brain work hard to achieve the correct hand movements and helps lift mood and induce serotonin. “By doing something creative, you are not only shutting off your mind, but regenerating the brain, doing something positive. You can do it by yourself, or in a group. It can be very social,” she says.
Born in London, Sue has a degree in Mediaeval & Modern History from Birmingham University. After graduating, she became an air stewardess with British Airways, then worked for an advertising agency, set up a property business, and was marketing director for the property division of the Burton Group. She moved to Yorkshire with her husband, John Bywater, a retired business consultant, when their son, Alex, 25, was three months old. Alice followed two years later, and Sue sold Dorling Kindersley books in the evening, then created Swag-bag, making folding jewellery organisers, which are available on Amazon. “Having had children late, I wanted to spend time with them,” she says.
Knitting has always been a hobby. “My mother used to knit and if you see somebody who is a good knitter, you just want to start,” she says.
She and Alice launched the Knitter’s Yarn last September, after spotting a gap in the market, especially for the kits they make up, which are ideal for new knitters.
“People want to go online and have a one-stop shop,” adds Sue. “There are some people who love looking through knitting patterns and we cater for that, but there are those who just say, ‘I fancy knitting something – what can I knit in a kit?’.”
Alice went to Ashville College in Harrogate, then took a Fashion and Clothing BTEC at York College. She won a bursary-supported place on a degree course at Northumbria University studying Fashion Design, but left after the first year.
“I decided it really wasn’t for me, because we had done so much at college. And it was £9,000 a year for four years,” she says.
Before going into partnership with her mother, she studied for accountancy qualifications, but realised it was creativity she really craved. Both fashion training and accountancy are coming in handy, however. “Mum taught me to knit because I needed it for samples,” Alice says. Now she is passing on the skill and the enthusiasm to friends. “When I put a pair of needles in their hands, they just love it. I had one boyfriend who was so good at it.
“We all live in knitwear nowadays. We’ve gone so much more casual. Knitwear is just effortless. You just throw on a jumper and a pair of jeans and you’re ready.”
As well as the accounts, Alice looks after social media, photography, styling, editing, and works with Sue on new designs, development and the website.
“Because I online shop all the time, I know what I like to see,” she says. “Because I’m very involved in social media I’ve seen how these craft videos are going viral.
“It’s all down to social media, especially Pinterest and Instagram, where people see something they love and want to make it themselves. It’s lovely if someone goes, ‘Oh, I love your cushions’.”
A major catalyst for creating the Knitter’s Yarn came with the retirement of legendary knitwear designer Patricia Roberts and the closure of her London shop in 2016. In the 1980s Patricia revolutionised knitwear with her fashion-based approach, creating editorial images to show off cool designs. Sue had meet Patricia at knitting workshops run by Les Soeurs Anglaises in the Dordogne where they bonded over their mutual love of knitting, design and Leonard Cohen. Now, under its own label, the Knitter’s Yarn sells the beautiful lambswool that Patricia used to sell. Of the highest quality merino, it’s spun in Scotland, then scoured and balled in Bradford, by Edward Hill.
The Knitter’s Yarn also stocks Erika Knight, Mrs Moon, Rowan and many others. Next year, it plans to introduce cashmere, and more yarns its own label. “The variety of yarn now available for knitting is amazing,” says Sue. “You can buy alpaca, camel, even possum.”
The workshops will offer day courses in the Harrogate studio for both beginners and more experienced knitters, taught by Melanie Boocock, a consultant with Rowan Yarns, whose design studio is in Holmfirth.
Future plans include creating more of their own designs and growing the online presence, with a view to Alice eventually continuing and developing the brand. Through working together, they can make sure they can reach all ages.
As Sue says: “The image of knitting being purely for grannies is outdated.”
The Knitter’s Yarn is at www.theknittersyarn.com and on 01423 816618.