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Traditional craft attracts new interest

Flagstaff Team

Casting off Covid… Wild & Woolly Yarns owner Fran Stafford is finding the nesting instincts two lockdowns have brought out in people have been a boon for her Milford business in tough times.

Knitters of all ages are finding fresh appeal in dusting off their needles, a trend that is proving a godsend for Milford business Wild & Woolly Yarns.

Owner Fran Stafford says the hobby also has mental-health benefits in stressful times. Customers flocked to her Kitchener Rd shop ahead of the latest lockdown, resulting in “business since the announcement of what we would [normally] do in a month,” Stafford said.

This repeated what occurred under Covid-19 in late March, when customers were quick to stock up before the store had to shut its doors, and then to order online.

“It’s tough, but we’re making hay while the sun shines,” says the Belmont resident, who moved her store from Devonport four years ago. Loyal regulars have followed, at the same time as new younger customers have come in for expert advice from a specialty store.

Knitting is “like meditation”, says Glenice Taylor, who travelled from her home in Devonport to stock up. “If we’re locked down, I need to finish a jumper.”

Her latest challenge is Nordic knitting, whereby a garment is created on a circle, rather than being made in pieces that are joined up.

Woolly thinking… Fran Stafford serves customers at her Milford store

Another customer, Suzanne Innes-Kent, describes herself to the Observer as a “born again knitter”. The local popped in for extra supplies, saying: “I started some knitting last lockdown and now I’ve got a queue of people wanting things knitted for them.” She wants wool on hand to deal with requests for beanies and jumpers. “It’s a good way of being productive in downtime.”

Stafford, who has owned the 40-year-old business for 20 years, remembers a decade or so back when things weren’t as buoyant. Internationally, the niche uptake of crafts, including among younger people, has been on the rise for several years, but the pandemic has accelerated wider interest and appreciation for hand-made items.

“They’ve all rediscovered knitting – and that it’s good for stress levels,” she says.

“People just want to hunker down, grow their veges, make some cakes and do some knitting.”

Many customers were connecting with loved ones overseas by posting them garments. As she puts it: “You’re wrapping your family in love.”

Younger people were teaching themselves how to knit from YouTube tutorials or asking relatives to show them how. “Young girls come in wanting to do a sexy jumper.”

Although Stafford expects the upsurge in knitting will settle, she believes it won’t reverse. “You do get addicted to it.”

Adult daughter Annie concurs, observing: “She knitted at my graduation.”

“People just want to hunker down, grow their veges, make some cakes and do some knitting.”

While expert knitters can knit anywhere, often in front of the television, Stafford says it is the deliberateness of it that has mental-health benefits. “It’s the mindfulness, it’s the repetitive nature, you can’t walk off to the dishwasher when knitting.” Her daughter, called into the shop to help out during its busy time, says she’s more of a sewer, but can see the appeal of knitting as “a great textural hobby”.

With spring in the air, Stafford was starting to see the start of a seasonally quieter time, but after Covid-19 flared she is now working seven days a week to keep up with demand. “It’s gone through the roof.” Even if the shop can’t be open in the weeks ahead, she is ramping up her online site and looking to click-and-collect sales.

She is grateful to have such “lovely customers” and says community-minded Milford has proved to be an ideal location, with a good catchment area and fewer access issues than Devonport.

“Milford is thriving, retailers are giving the customers what they want – good service and good quality.”

This article originally appeared in the 21 August 2020 edition of the Rangitoto Observer.

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