Interview: Wool On The Exe

Today we’re having a chat with Debbie and Mary Ann from Wool On The Exe. The shop is new this year, and is Exeter (as you might imagine), Devon.

We’ve supplied them with yarn and I thought it would be interesting to ask them a few questions about the shop and how it’s going so far.

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Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I (Debbie) am  an American who’s lived in Devon for the past 9 years. Married to an Aussie – 2 grown sons, 2 step-sons. Read more about us on this page http://www.neighbourworks.co.uk/page_3165326.html

How/why did you come to be a yarn shop owner?

Wool on the Exe is a community fibre arts space designed to provide local people with a place to learn, be creative, make new friends and connect to their community. The idea grew out of two successful projects we started and have been running for the last few years – Neighbourworks and The Knit-Stop.

Neighbourworks is a not for profit community interest company – a social enterprise that supports people who want to use their time and knitting talent to raise funds for local charities.  Wool on the Exe operates on the same principles, so even though we’re a shop and we sell things, our ‘profits’ go back into the community. That’s how we work. 

The Knit-Stop, our second project, was funded in 2014 by the Peoples Health Trust. We started up 12 knitting groups in central Exeter and held a big community project at the end resulting in 90 knitted and crocheted cushions on the benches of Exeter’s High St. You can see a short video of the event here.

We learned a lot while developing and running both of these initiatives. One of things we learned is that there is an abundance of beautiful British fibre right in our backyard. But most people don’t have an opportunity to see, feel or use it because the makers are small and the yarn market is dominated by the bigger brands.

The other thing we learned is that people really love to come together to share with and support each other, learn new skills and expand their circle of friends. Many Neighbourworks knitters are older, widowed women and they appreciate the opportunity to come together and use their time and talent to benefit their community. And it’s not just older people who are isolated. Our groups are made up of people of all ages and abilities and the common bond is a love of making and a desire to connect. 

So we thought it was time for Exeter to have a space that supports these things. A place where local people who are experts in knitting, crochet, spinning, felting, weaving and dyeing can share their skills in a space that is warm, welcoming and nourishing for the spirit. We will continue to support Neighbourworks groups and plant the seeds for more Knit-Stop groups in the community. We aim to have lots of opportunity for people to connect – through events, projects, and charity knitting initiatives. We’ll even have a teen group in the Autumn.

We also wanted to have a place were local fibre artists could sell their products. You will find beautiful wood bowls, hand made bags, felted art, cushions, cards and beaded accessories in our shop. If you’re a fibre artist and are interested in Wool on the Exe, please get in touch.

Of course, everyone knows if you’re a knitter, a cuppa and a cake are sure to be nearby, so we have a small cafe where you can have cup of tea or coffee and a cake from the Exploding Bakery – they are amazing! 

Here are Mary Ann and Debbie…

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What do you enjoy most about running the shop?

Debbie – seeing people come alive when they’ve accomplished something new

MA – apart from meeting folks who come in, she enjoys arranging our displays – the colours and textures really please her.

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And what’s been the most challenging aspect involved with opening and running a shop?

Debbie – turning my brain off and finding balance between work and time with family
MA  – focusing on the task at hand when there are so many on the list!
Do you run any classes or groups?
Yes we do! Lots and lots of them. See this page http://www.woolontheexe.com/collections/workshops
knitters at table
How do you decide what to stock – do you have to be sensible or can you follow your heart?
Oh man, we have to do both. Our  focus is on quality British yarns with a sprinkling of lower cost, but still good quality acrylic blends. Colour selection time is comical because MA and I have totally different preferences, but that gives the shop something for everyone.
Is there a key focus for your shop?
Our focus is to be a community space where people can learn, create and connect with others and their community. We also have lots of hand made gifts from local artisans and aim to support people in growing their businesses.
Wool on the Exe Kalkidan Legesse Photography (13 of 14)
What do people and other businesses locally think about the shop – have you had lots of curious people coming in?
It’s been amazing! We were initially afraid that we’d get lots of people through the door who would look at price tags and then slink out. But that has not been the case. We’re just wrapping up 4 weeks, and the overwhelming response is ‘I’m so glad you’re here’
Finally, what’s the most random thing a customer has asked for?
We had a gentleman who crocheted a blue lobster for his niece and needed a small bit of white and black yarn for the eyes. We dug through our charity basket and found what he needed. He came back and shared his creation with us [below]. So cute!
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