The Soppy One

Posted by Eleanor Burke on

I've been thinking about how and what to write on this since the first time it occurred to me that I might have to write it - well over a year and a half ago. Dr Chris was first headhunted on the 20th of October 2022 (our anniversary, that's the only way I remember) and that's the first time I've ever truly considered not having the shop in some capacity. He asked me if I'd be okay moving to Sweden with him and before I could even think about it I had said 'yes'. The reality of what that mean took some time to settle, in all honesty, probably until last Christmas when I spent three weeks over there and realised how much I miss him, how our lifestyle could be over there and that it would be possible for me to find and pass the shop onto somebody I trusted to do it right.

I feel like I'm forever going over the start of the shop, you must be bored of hearing about it, but I've kind of got to here haven't I? I was 20 when it first starting coming together. Lizzie, a friend from knitting club, had set up a yarn shop on the market and I'd helped out quite a lot there - she'd encouraged me to design and publish knitting patterns and given me free reign in her shop where I absolutely thrived. She didn't last for long, it wasn't for her, but it was clear that it was for me. When we saw it wasn't going to last a few of us got chatting about what we wanted a wool shop to offer - space, community, affordable yarns, integration with the internet services that other shops seemed to ignore like Ravelry and Knitty. Then she closed, push came to shove and three of us actually started it.

The opening and the first few months, were some of the most exciting and tiring times of my life. I was the one who knew what was happening and so even when the others were helping out I was there, on call. I didn't have a single day off from the opening day in September until Christmas Day and then I was back in on Boxing Day. I was 21 back then though, young enough to do things like that and also incredibly privileged enough to be living at home for virtually nothing. I worked my arse off, I mean I hustled not even day in day out, but hour in hour out - knitting, teaching, craft fairs, press releases, radio, tv, handing out business cards, writing patterns off the top of my head in the shop - every single day from when I got up to when I went to bed. I sacrificed a lot of what a 21 year old might be doing but I could feel something was building. Pretty early on I realised the other business partners weren't able to give what I was giving and I am very proud that I saved penny by penny to buy them out. I'm not sure I realised but I was absolutely burnt out and if it had fallen apart then, which it could have done, things weren't easy, any benefit would have been equally split but only based on my working myself into the ground.

The reason I was able to keep that level of working up though, apart from being young and having nothing else to do, was just how much I loved the shop! I always roll my eyes when people say they'd love to sit and knit all day - like, so would I! But the reality at that point is that I often did that! Mostly commissions, design work and samples, so still work, but I definitely had time to do it. But I also had time to really get to know customers and it's this end point of the smaller shop where the Knit Nottingham community really started to cement - the parties, the uniforms, hand dyed from Truly Hooked, the vlogs, remember when Amy Singer came to town? The wonderful thing about a shop like this is that I've been able to focus (some might say... hyperfocus) on whatever I fancy at the time - there's such a wide range of what could be appropriate for me to be doing in the shop that I can really tailor it to whatever I fancy and because there was more spare time then, I really dug deep in that and enjoyed it so well. To give you an idea of the jump in productivity and profit necessary from the old shop to the new - the minimum I needed in the old shop to survive another day was £72 and the minimum in this shop is £300. We've always made it, mostly comfortably, but it became a different thing when I moved.

I'd been looking for a bigger space for a couple of years really, got serious with some options but until the Trinity Walk shop came about in 2016 I didn't have the feeling. I remember the first time I came to look around when it was still a vintage shop and I couldn't believe my luck - how big and spacious and fancy it was! I crowdfunded the move because people kept just sending me money and I didn't know how to explain that to the taxman. Doing that crowdfunding was one of the biggest swells of community, support and love I've ever felt. It's probably, thinking about it, a heartbeat moment in my journey with money - understanding what money could mean in terms of solidarity. I've never forgotten the feeling and I've always understood the duty to pass that feeling and that movement on and in all honesty, to take better precautions with myself and my health so I could be strong enough to pass it on. Actually physically moving was another moment that means so much to me - the support from customers, friends, customers who'd turned into friends, Dr Chris and Dr Chris's family. I'd booked myself a day off in that week because I knew it would be so wild but I happened to get a 24 hour bug and Dr Chris ended up cleaning up a lot of puke - that's really when I knew he was a keeper. That and how he sweated to make the bloody till work.

Soon after the move we had the Brexit vote. I'll never forget the day that that happened, we ended up having a really sweet, poignant and unplanned craft club in the shop with lots of regulars and also some not regulars who just came to the wool shop because they needed a space to feel connected. It was a real watershed moment for me, of course the political and economic turmoil it caused in the immediate wake was a real problem as a business who'd just taken on a huge commitment, but I was also embarrassed and sad at what it meant. The true ramifications weren't apparent until much later, of course, coming about when we were just trying to find our feet after Covid, but it definitely kicked off one of my most difficult periods. At that point I also had my first theft which I saw with my own eyes because of the CCTV and then the fall out from trying to identify the person on social media which was horrendous. Those two incidents, and my dad being re-diagnosed with cancer kicked off a year and a half of quite serious depression. One of the throughlines of this shop has really been mental health - mine and my customers. I didn't know how bad I was when I first started here, it was the norm to me, I didn't have a core self-esteem at all, just nothing. But building the shop - the success and the community are the things (and I really mean the only things) that saved me - it tested me, it taught me, it showed me, it gave me the opportunity to build myself from nothing by placing me amongst some of the most caring, thoughtful, clever, interesting, capable, candid, experienced humans you could ever wish to meet - my customers. I can honestly say I have never felt loved like it, sometimes it takes my breath away and it's by far the hardest thing for me to give up. I hope I have enough of your love and support saved up in my heart to get me through moving to a country where I don't know anybody!

In 2018 I got married, I also found fitness in a way that fitted with body positivity, I found bullet journaling, I found time off and minimalism. That's got to be my best year yet and all through it the shop grew as I did. It's the year we had the makeover done by the BBC which you can still see on Netflix here. In 2019 my dad was really ill and then died, the shop was in many ways my saviour again, I didn't quite fall into a depression but only because of the rhythm and steadfastness that having a duty like a physical shop gives you, I do feel like I missed most of that year though. During this time there was also the reckoning with racism within the yarn community which has forever changed my perspective on life and politics. Whilst it's been difficult, uncomfortable and upsetting to confront white supremacy within myself and within the community that I feel such a big part of and that has held me so lovingly, it's absolutely, unequivocally on us to use our voice and power to put it right. Another part of the shop which I'm proud of is how I've been able to use my space to further my politics - it started with body politics on an individual level teaching people how to love and cherish their bodies by making clothes that fit and flatter them and their lifestyles and it moved into something more determined and forceful - calling suppliers, magazines, manufacturers and customers in and out when it was needed. I'm proud of some of the changes I've helped create and the conversations that have happened in this shop, it's something I am absolutely going to carry on and increase focus on in my next business.

As I think a lot of people thought, 2020 was gonna be the year... until it wasn't. Covid was something else wasn't it?! I still can't get over what actually went on, I'm sure you feel the same. The shop never closed, we went all out online, I worked every morning at home and then two full days in the shop coordinating ordering from our suppliers and working out swaps for what wasn't in stock and then sending all the parcels out too. I also took it upon myself to help people through the anxiety that this was causing - being a pro at dealing with anxiety meant I definitely had something to offer. For me the heart of the outbreak wasn't so bad, it represented a bit of a rest, but coming back from covid was more difficult. The way people had got used to online and changed the way that they shopped, the stock issues which still aren't right (side eye to Brexit...), how it depleted my money reserves which didn't really sort themselves out until last winter and, as I know everybody has been dealing with, just the sheer exhuastion of the shock of it all. Society has changed and we are all still finding our places in it. I'm lucky and glad that we were never in a serious amount of trouble as a shop but it did feel choppy and I've struggled to get my energy back to be honest.

I studied financial advice during the lockdown - inspired, in part, by everything that was happening around us and how money seemed to be a massive key to how well people could cope and contribute. It feels for me like a continuation of everything I've learned in the shop - the links to confidence, diet culture, feminism, community, history, culture - in that way it has the same effect on a person that craft has. I've not had the extra time or energy to set it up properly as the shop takes up so much of me, and at the same time I've known that the shop needed some extra push to make it work for me again (I'd been toying with moving, or adding a cafe or haberdashery) and this all came to a head just as Chris got headhunted. You can see it was the right thing for me, the culmination, the push I needed. People keep asking how I'm feeling and at the minute, it's nothing but fine honestly. I'm not anxious, I'm not sad, I'm not overjoyed. It feels good - the timing feels good, the people feel good, the outcomes and potential feel good. I'm not saying it's not bittersweet, I'm not saying I'm not incredibly proud or that I won't miss it and the people, of course I will but the emotions are stable because it just feels right. Nothing in this business has been particularly planned, I've nosed out opportunities, tested things, gone full steam ahead when it feels right, run my business based on vibes alone to be honest (I had no idea how true this was until I've been trying to explain why I do things to Hannah and the answer is usually, 'well, it felt right' or 'it's the simple way') so this is no different for me.

It's not lost on me how important this shop has been for so many of you - a safe space where you've built relationships, weathered shitty times, laughed and learned, started businesses, built your confidence, had the big conversations, acted out your commitment to small business and resilient local community, fostered your creativity. It's also not lost that for many of you it's just a place where you come and buy your wool and get going. It's been an absolute pleasure to offer that to you, whichever way you've taken it.

I want to thank every one of you (and an especial thanks to those who've read all of this, bloody hell!) who have been part of this. Even the dicks, you've made me who I am and the shop what is it. I am forever, unbelievably grateful that you all supported me enough to build this when it wasn't a given, it couldn't have happened without you choosing to spend your hard earned money here at the end of the day, it's that simple. But the hugs, cards, advice, shares, likes, follows, tips, suggestions, recommendations and time that you have offered me have changed the course of my life and, by virtue of the shop, many others. Thank you for the opportunity.

Thanks especially to those who've worked for the shop over the years: Dave, Jazz, June, Elizabeth, Zoë, Emma, Katie, April, Casper, Sharese, Saharan and Ayesha (she won't admit to having worked but she bloody has). Please let me not have forgotten anybody there. Thanks also especially to the King Cole team - Sue, Julie, Sam and Damon even more especially-er - who always went above and beyond for me. And thanks to Dr Chris who helped me build this more or less from the minute I first asked him anything about html (probably on the first date).

Once again, you can find me here and here, where eventually I'll be talking financial advice/coaching but for now I'll be sharing my Swedish adventure. I'll still be following the shop, keeping up to date with what's going on, buying and popping in when I'm in the UK but I'm standing back now and letting Hannah build on what we've started. I hope you love and support her like you have me.

Thank you,

Eleanor. xxx

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  • Thanks for everyting Eleanor, and for sharing your amazing story with us, and for finding Hannah! Let the new adventures begin!

    Annie on
  • Welcome Hannah. Bye Eleanor. I will be forever grateful for being introduced to your shop (my bank balance may disagree 🤣). For the inspiration, for the guidance, for the laughter, for the solace. THANK YOU.

    Lisa R (the colourful one) on
  • Lots of love to you Eleanor. Thankyou for everything🖤

    Rachel Spence on
  • Lots of love to you Eleanor. Thankyou for everything🖤

    Rachel Spence on
  • Wishing you the very best of luck in your new venture, it’s a truly fantastic opportunity – and being the Queen of wool, it’s the best place you could choose – so those knits to start! Thank you for listening to me ramble, the brilliant yarn dyeing night and being my favourite yarn enabler.

    Welcome to Hannah – the new chapter begins xx

    Fiona on

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