Cat kindly spoke to me about starting her business and the path that lead her there. She has many different passions including horses, home grown veg, her little boy, and of course her creative pursuits. She was given a great business tip – to focus on one speciality. If you’ve ever wondered about arm knitting then please read on…
Your business is called “Cat’s Creation Somerset”. Somerset is clearly significant to you – tell us about that.
The name came about because my friends call me Cat and I love creating all sorts of things. I then added Somerset when I moved back to Somerset. My special place in Somerset would have to be the hamlet that I grew up in, Horner. Horner is a small hamlet near Porlock and I lived there from the age of 9 years old. Horner Woods is an ancient wood made of oak trees and a beautiful river running down the valley. I’ve spent hundreds of hours riding in the woods and exploring the miles of bridleways and spotting all the wildlife. My parents still live in the hamlet and we visit frequently to walk the dog and my son loves to explore and jump in the puddles. It will always be a special place for me and my family; lots of memories have been created and many more will be made.
What were your favourite things to make as a child?
I’ve always loved making things. At school I loved woodwork and metal work and went on to take design at A level. I was always the only girl in the class as all the others did cookery or sewing but it just didn’t interest me. I preferred the angle grinder and mig welder!
How did Cat’s Creation Somerset begin? Tell us about the pebble art.
I started making things to sell after I did a big painting for myself and my friends said I should sell prints so I did. I did a Christmas craft fair and my love for making and selling went from there. I’ve tried many many crafts and for a long time I used to make and sell a huge range of things but after some business advice I was told to choose one thing and make yourself the best at it. So I chose arm knitting. To start with I thought it was just a winter seller so I kept making some pebble pictures during the summer and started to get some orders from friends and family. I moved back to Somerset in 2013 after leaving my job in Hampshire constabulary to achieve a slower way of life. My love for crafts grew and grew so Cat’s Creation was born.
Arm knitting is clearly your main focus at the moment – what is it and how did you discover it? Is it for ladies only?
I decided to focus my main attention on arm knitting. I’ve been arm knitting now for seven years. It all started when I tried to knit with needles and I was getting very frustrated with how slowly it grew so I googled how to knit quickly! I’ve not looked back! I really enjoy arm knitting and love how quickly it grows. I love finding different yarns to use and experimenting with them. Arm knitting is when you use your arms as the knitting needles. You cast on to your arm and work from one arm to the other. Knitting has a stigma around it that it’s a female activity but actually men can easily pick it and enjoy it. I recently taught Ben Moon who is an Exeter chief rugby player. He made a single snood which he gave to his daughter.
Tell us about how you select wool and the different types you use.
There’s a lot of wool choice out there. I’ve used shetland, polwarth, corriedale, merino and blended wool. They all have their uses. Natural wool which is just undyed wool tends to keep some of its natural odour! Lanolin are the oil in wool and this does have a sheep smell to it. Some people don’t mind it but some people really don’t like it. Most of the general public prefer dyed wool for this reason. Merino wool is the finest quality wool in the world and is also hypoallergenic. I make lots of items from merino because it’s super soft and doesn’t itch. All my snoods are now only made from merino wool. If I’m making a custom item I give the customer a choice of wool and give them pros and cons of each one. Corriedale sheep is a cross between a Lincoln sheep and merino sheep so it has some of the qualities of merino but it’s a lot cheaper. The finished items look the same.
What is the best feedback you’ve had?
I once sold a large Shetland wool blanket to a lady at the Devon county show. She walked up to the stand and said what blankets do you have. I showed her acrylic ones (which I no longer make) and she felt it and said ‘oh no not that one’ and then pointed to my big one on display. She touched it and immediately said yup I’ll have that one. I hadn’t even shown her the blanket. She explained that she was currently going through chemotherapy and it has very sensitive fingers (fingertips) and the feel of real wool is perfect. She was only able to tolerate natural fibres. She was delighted and knowing that I’ve helped her in some way is amazing.
What does your little boy think of your creations and how do you balance work with being a mum?
My son who is now two is not allowed in my workshop!! Sometimes I have big balls of wool in the house but he doesn’t really take much notice of them. We have a couple of woollen blankets around the house and he does enjoy snuggling underneath them. He also has one in his room for his bed. Fitting in my business around my son is tricky. I can’t make anything if he’s around so that leaves the evening and the two half days he goes to nursery. Unfortunately my husband works in hospitality so he often works evenings and I can’t start an order just in case my son wakes up. Arm knitting is not easy to take off and put back on. You have to finish it completely. It can mess up the tension. So when he’s asleep and I’m on my own I use the time to update my website, do some social media posts or I take product shots.
Tell us about school/college/uni how did you get to where you are now?
As I’ve mentioned I’ve always enjoyed making things at school and after I finished my A levels I had no idea what I then wanted to do. I ended up going off to Bicton College to study my other love – horses. I did an HND in Equine Studies there and then did a top up year at Seale Hayne in Animal Science and came out with a BSc in Animal Science (equine). After University I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do I moved to Swindon to live with my sister and found a job driving large horse boxes around the UK and Europe. During the summer holidays I had taken my HGV licence so thought this was a perfect job for me. After a long year and working six days a week and living in horse boxes I decided enough was enough and I left. After a few years of working for a delivery company I joined Hampshire Constabulary as a Police Community Support Officer. I spent nearly four years as a PCSO and thoroughly enjoyed it but after losing my gran I realised that I was just working from shift to shift and life was passing me by so fast. I took a big decision to leave the job that I loved, sell the house and move back to Somerset where I grew up. This is where I am now! I found a house which we renovated and I got a part time job at the local GP surgery. When I became pregnant I decided that I wanted to have a stress free pregnancy and left my job. I decided to start up my business properly and spent my spare time learning about media and business.
How do you prepare for selling at a craft fair and which shops stock your creations?
Now that I have my little man I have to choose my events carefully. I can’t take him to events anymore because he doesn’t sit still! I tend to pick bigger ones like the Devon County Show and make sure my husband is off work to have Henry. It was the first time that we went to the show last year as a trader and it was a bit of a shock to the system but we managed to get a silver for the best trade stand in our class. I take a lot of time working out layouts and designs for each event as each one is different. My items are very big and chunky and fill up a table quickly so height is very important for me. Some events I can be planning for several months beforehand. I also stock three shops locally, two cafes/tea rooms and one farm shop.
Tell us about the all the other creative outlets you have – the home grown veg, homemade cordials and photography.
When I have any spare time it’s spent in the vegetable patch. My goal is to be completely self sufficient in vegetables as much of the year as possible. I fit this in when my boy is napping/sleeping or when he’s at nursery. It is a lot of work but it’s very rewarding and I also see it as a way to put food on my family’s plate in case I don’t make enough money from my business. I like to preserve any excess fruit and vegetables. I make raspberry jam and raspberry vinegar every year. Enough to see us through until the following year. I also pickle beetroot, gherkins, onions, make chutney and pickled eggs. These are stored and eaten over the winter and spring when there is less to eat in the garden. I also love foraging locally. I pick elderberries to make cordial and mushrooms to eat. I’ve been picking mushrooms for many years and know exactly which ones to pick. I also enjoy taking part in local horticulture shows and I put in fruit and veg, crafts and photos, and I attempt to bake too. It’s all part of the country experience and brings communities together.
Which forms of social media have been most effective for you and how can we all keep in touch?
I’ve built my business mainly from Facebook over the last two years. This platform is slowly becoming harder to be seen so I have been working more on Twitter and instagram. You can find me on all of these social media platforms. Facebook @catscreation Instagram @cats_creation_somerset Twitter @creationcats website www.catscreationsomerset.com