Interview with Kerrie Allman of HipKnits and MagKnits

by kath_red on 08/08/2007

in People

Kerrie runs her many businesses from home, while multi tasking with three children – Find out how she does it…

Kerrie you are one busy woman, running a business from home with three children, as well as other numerous projects. How do you do it? You mentioned to me that you take your baby with you everywhere – how does she cope with that? And the older two – are they good at helping out -and are they interested in crafting?

I don’t do everything! There are a lot of things that I just don’t do that often at such as housework, ironing and other housewife type roles. I’m lucky to have a husband who is really supportive and great at helping out with the housework and cooking. Crafty and kid type things are number one priority here.

I am always busy, I can’t bear to be still or not doing anything so I just fit in what needs to be done at the best times. For instance, when it
comes to dyeing yarn I need to be on my own with no children around me – the best time to do that is at around 5am when the rest of the house are asleep.

Trinity comes into the shop with me every day while the older two are at school. This gives me about 5 or 6 hours a day with her to pack orders, label and prepare yarn and sort out samples. She is such a happy contented baby, we always have the radio on and people popping in to see us (and cuddle her). If she has a fussy day I just pop her in her sling and do the minimum. Its all about being flexible and fitting in work where I can.

Admin things I do in the evening while the kids are playing in the garden or doing their homework -my laptop just wanders around the house with me. Brooke helps out with stock takes as she loves counting and Cameron will do anything he can to help. Sometimes it would be more helpful if they didn’t help but I love the fact that they want to be part of it. Brooke is very interested in crafts, she is constantly painting and drawing, she loves sewing and has recently learned to crochet. Cameron not so much but then he is still only 2.

Kerrie you are amazing. I love your honesty and straightforward approach. And I am sure your kids are benefiting a great deal from such an interactive and engaging environment and having a satisfied and energetic role model for a mother. When did you start Hipknits and how on earth did you think you could fit it in among your numerous other projects?

I bought HipKnits as a young company from a friend of mine who had the original creative urge to start the company then couldn’t continue with it. At that time I didn’t have too many other projects on the go, just my full time proper job and MagKnits. I never imagined how successful HipKnits would become in just a short space of time.

You say that “In a world of mass produced conformity, Hip Knits celebrates individuality, craftsmanship, and creativity.” where do you source your yarns, do you dye and spin your own? And I see you do custom dye orders – how does this work?

Almost everything that we sell is hand painted or hand dyed by us. (I do spin but its just for my own personal use.) We try and source our yarns in the UK but have suppliers all around the world. We are always looking for new interesting and luxurious yarns and receive many samples from new suppliers each week. Some we try out and decide not to stock again, others are a hit and become part of our standard range.

Custom dye orders are so much fun! We have many requests to match colours, either from a description, from an online picture or from something sent to us in the post. We have had fabric and yarn swatches sent to us to match as well as a pair of shoes that someone wanted to make a matching shawl for and a picture that someone had painted and wanted yarn in the same colours. You never quite know what to expect from a custom colour and that is what makes it interesting. Some of the colours that we have been asked to dye as one off customs have made it into our standard colour range.

You are obviously trying hard to minimise your environmental impact by using energy saving methods and sourcing your yarns locally. How easy is this for you – did it involve a major change of habits and why is this important for your business?

I think it is important for everyone whether they are an individual or running a small business to be aware of our impact on the environment. I tried from the start with HipKnits to be as environmentally aware as I could and have gone from there. Our local council at home recently introduced a 3 bin recycling scheme which has helped shape how we work at HipKnits as well. Once you are open to looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly you see opportunities everywhere. I recently decided to take the plunge and I’m trialling sending packages wrapped in brown paper instead of using the plastic mailing sacks. It takes a little longer for each parcel but it is cheaper and much kinder to the environment so we’ll see how that goes.

HipKnits runs a project club, can you tell me more about how this works and what the benefits are in joining?

Many companies run yarn clubs where you pay in advance and receive a skein of yarn each month for a fixed period of time. I wanted to do something different. I knew from research that whatever club I came up with would have the option to pay in installments and also to allow people to choose their own colour yarn. And knitters love kits, its great to get a package in the mail that has the pattern and yarn and pretty much everything you need to just pick up needles and get started. The project club members receive 4 different kits a year in colours of their choice, and are designed to stretch people and encourage them to try new skills. We have lace, cable, fair isle and felting projects lined up for the first year. I decided to open a blog for the club members and I’m thrilled at how many have joined and are posting even before they receive their first club pack. Signups are now closed for the first round of the club but I have lots more similar ideas in the pipeline and there will be another round next year. Our newsletter subscribers and blog readers are always the first to hear about the new things we have planned.

You are also the force behind the popular free online knitting magazine Magknits. How long has this been running and is Yarn Forward a spin off of this? When designers are submitting their patterns for magknits and yarn forward, what are you looking for? what are the design requirements? What is the style or feel that you are going for with Magknits, and how is Yarn Forward different?

MagKnits has been running for around 3.5 years now, where did that time go to? Yarn Forward is totally different, I thought that the UK knitting and crochet market had room for an independent print magazine that covered slightly different projects than the existing UK knitting magazines which all have a very similar look and feel to them. Yarn Forward has more advanced and complicated ideas that challenge readers. MagKnits carries a good range of projects from simple to advanced, and should be wearable.

Thank you Kerrie for your time in answering these questions – just one last one – what is next for you? What plans do you have for all these
projects and businesses?

I have so many plans that I don’t know where to start! We are currently focusing on growing the wholesale side of the businesses at the moment, I’m always looking for new stockists for HipKnits and Yarn Forward magazine. I currently have a good base of stockists in the UK and a few in Europe and the US but would like to increase this. My first book is being published this autumn and I’m already working hard on number 2. Apart from that, I am not planning on starting anything new for a while although I do have some ideas floating around in my head that I’d love to be able to work on. There are just not enough hours in the day for me at the moment.

Kerrie is giving away some freebies …

If you would like to get your hands on one of these packs – all you need to do is leave a comment saying what you would do with the yarn – interesting stories welcome – and make sure you fill in the email address section when you leave your comment so that Kerrie can contact you. You have until Saturday Midday – UK time to leave a comment.

Skein of cashmere lace and pattern for shawl

Skein of cashmere fingering weight and pattern for socks

Skeins of aran / chunky cashmere and pattern for hat / scarf

Skeins of aran silk and pattern for sweater / cardigan

Skeins of lace silk and pattern for shawl

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