Welcome to our brand new blog series of profiles on creative small business owners in Bristol. We’re starting off strong with our brilliant client Emma, from contemporary craft kit brand, Stitching Me Softly. She’s leading the way in the coolest yarn designs and teaching you how to make them yourself.
A small business was born
Emma started her creative crochet business Stitching Me Softly 4 years ago while on maternity leave with her second child. She was making cute crochet bonnets, booties and blankets for the kids, as well as crochet baskets to chuck their toys in.
In the beginning, she wanted to see if she could make a little extra pocket money by selling her crochet creations, but Emma took it further and turned this side hustle into a business, selling readymade crochet items alongside her super fun craft kits.
It was the year that the Bristol Etsy Team were first running a pop up shop in the Galleries, the mall in Bristol city centre. Emma went along and started chatting to some of the lovely Etsy team, and they encouraged her to set up her own Etsy shop for her crochet makes.
From crafty hobby to full-time job
Emma set up her Stitching Me Softly Etsy shop, then attended the Bristol Etsy Team monthly meet ups and found boundless support from the other creatives.
“They were so encouraging, and from there I decided to start teaching crochet workshops in and around Bristol. I really loved sharing my love of crafting with the people who attended, and I’m pretty extroverted, so I loved talking to everyone.
“People would contact me to tell me that they weren’t Bristol based and couldn’t make my crochet workshops, and asked if I had any crochet kits to do at home. I started turning the crochet products that I already designed into craft kits. The Stitching Me Softly crochet kits were a massive hit, and that’s where the focus of my small business is now.
“Stitching Me Softly became less of a hobby, and now it’s like “oh, I’m going to do this full time and it’s going to pay all my bills, and this is the only job I’m gonna do.”
“I’d really like to build my small business to the point where I can hire employees and expand.”
Crocheting through Covid
In early spring 2020, Covid reared its ugly head, and the UK went into lockdown – so naturally, we all wanted craft projects to keep our anxious brains and hands occupied indoors. Alongside that, many people were juggling working from home with their children at home, while the rest of us were simply trying to find the motivation to dress ourselves everyday..
For the first lockdown, Emma’s husband was furloughed – he had 4 months off work, which was really useful for the family as well as for Stitching Me Softly. He could make sure the kids were doing their schoolwork and that the youngest had things to entertain her, while Emma got on with working from home.
He wasn’t furloughed for the other lockdowns, so it became a mixture of the kids going into the office with her, and working from home while she figured out what she could actually do from home with the children there – it turned out it wasn’t a whole lot.
She says, “there have been quite a lot of times when I’ve dropped the ball on replying to emails or contacting people that I should’ve contacted quicker, because I just haven’t had time. I’ve gone to write an email, and then somebody’s asked me for a snack or somebody’s fallen over, and then the email has just gone out of my brain.
“It became apparent in October/November that we needed more office space. We literally couldn’t move in the room that we were in because there were boxes of stock everywhere. I was also thinking that the business was reaching the point that I needed a part time member of staff, and if social distancing is going to be a requirement for the next year or two, we didn’t the space for that.
“Stitching Me Softly was turning over enough money for me to start looking at office spaces to rent. I moved into The Old Schoolhouse by Bristol Spaceworks in Barton Hill with Sophie from vegan knitting brand Moloney Makes, and we were very happy there for a little while, until we quickly realised we needed even more space.
“We both recently upped & moved our businesses to a bigger unit inside The Old Library at the top of Old Market on Trinity Road – it’s a 1600 sq foot room – it’s absolutely huge!”
They ended up recruiting jewellery designer Bec from Dakota Rae Dust and illustrator Jodie from Sunshine For Breakfast too, as they has also reached the point where they needed to run their small businesses from somewhere outside of their homes. So now they both have a space where they can keep all of their stock and sit at a desk.
Working from home < having an office space
“We actually agreed to move into the new space right at the point in March where my sales just crashed and burned. I was spending 3x the amount on rent, and the sales just weren’t coming in. I kept thinking, “what am I going to do now?”
“But it’s fine – my sales will pick up again. 2020 was such an anomaly that I can’t compare this year’s figures to last year’s, because it’s not a true reflection and it’s not helpful.
“I’m trying to realign my thinking and my mindset to look at where I am now, and how to build back up to the point where this big office makes sense again.
“It feels like business is going ok, which is a contrast to how I felt last month. At least my mood is on the up again, and hopefully the figures will follow.
“And it’s great to now be based in Old Market – it’s close to Bristol city centre and nice coffee shops like 25a, and it’s super easy for me to get to from St George along the cycle path.”
Bristol & small businesses: a love affair
At Studio Cotton, we are constantly banging on about how great Bristol is for its plethora of small businesses, and the super supportive attitude Bristolians have.
Emma raves about the abundance of small business support in Bristol, and has used a myriad of these resources available for Stitching Me Softly – “there are countless places like Knowle West Media Centre where you can go and learn how to use a laser cutter, and they will teach you so many other skills and supply you with knowledge and resources that you can use in the running of your small business.
“The Bristol Etsy Team runs markets and pop up shops – so there are physical places to sell your items without having to commit to wholesale orders or renting a shop. There are also loads of lovely small independent shops all over Bristol that you can work with on a sale or return basis. These are both great ways to test the water with your products and see how they will sell, without a big commitment.
“There are lots of Facebook groups for Bristol creatives and Bristol small businesses (such as Studio Cotton’s Smart Creative & Kind: Bristolians in Business Facebook group) – it is so easy to go online and say you need help for something very specific, and somebody else will have already done it and have all the answers, which they’ll be willing to share with you.
“Everyone in Bristol is always very happy to help – it’s like a little bubble of liberal happiness.”
Trade shows & shiny new craft products
Now that we’re coming out of lockdown, Emma is focusing on building her small business further.
“It’s certainly been an interesting year, and there have been massive highs, but also a lot of lows – just coming through it and the business still being afloat is probably quite a good achievement.
“Looking ahead, Stitching Me Softly will be attending the Home & Gift trade show towards the end of July – I’ll set up my space and buyers from loads of different shops will come and have a look. At trade shows you are selling to shops rather than selling to individual consumers.
“I’ve also just found out Stitching Me Softly has got a place for a new section of Autumn Fair – they are trialling a new system called Curated Meetings where they have lots of retailers & suppliers, and they set up 10-15 minute meet & greet style sessions with buyers who have already registered an interest in your product. It’s an opportunity for small businesses like mine to showcase our product ranges, and a chance for buyers to touch and feel the products & discuss business in person.
“The Stitching Me Softly products are perfectly suited for going into shops – I’ve done a lot of work on the branding and packaging, and Studio Cotton has worked behind the scenes adding a wholesale section to my website. So everything is in place for shops to place their Christmas orders now, and the general public will start Christmas shopping in September.
“I’ll be launching my new crochet advent calendar at the trade shows. It’s a sort of 12 days of Christmas calendar – so you get a little something to open every few days. Behind each door might be a little extra wool for example, and some treats, and by the time you’ve opened all of it you will be able to make a project out of all the little items. It’ll be available to order soon!”
Emma says she hasn’t really recovered from last Christmas yet.
“Normally, I would think along the lines of the Christmas period being 3x as busy as any other 3 month period in the rest of the year, and I can gauge how much stock I need to get in and how many hours it’s going to take me to get everything done.
“In November 2020, I took the same amount of money that I had in the previous 4 months leading up to November. I just felt like I was chasing my tail the whole time, and we were also in lockdown again.
“I just kept thinking, “oh my gosh, this is nuts, HOW?!” ”
Crochet workshops (AKA ego boosts)
Other than preparing for the Christmas period, Emma really wants to focus on doing more crochet workshops again, now that restrictions will allow.
“I was contacted by Jess Siggers earlier this year to become a host on Yuup – a website where you can find unique experiences and things to do in Bristol. I just did my first workshop and it was wonderful! You get £10 off your first experience when you sign up to the Yuup mailing list.
“I have a few more crochet workshops listed over the summer and up to the end of the year, and if they all sell out then I’ll list a few more.
“I love teaching crochet in person – it’s a little bit of a performance, and people go “oh wow, you’re really good at something” – it’s just a massive ego boost really! And I get paid and get to have cake and coffee and a chat.
“It’s lovely having people attend a workshop – a lot of them will say they’ve tried to crochet before and found it a challenge. They always leave super pleased with themselves, because they’ve got the hang of a new skill and made a lovely crochet basket or blanket. People leave with a sense of accomplishment.
“I really like attending workshops, as well as running them. I like the whole experience of going – not necessarily because I want to make the thing – I like going along and doing something different.”
Creating future craft projects
Emma creates the Stitching Me Softly products in an organic, hands-on way.
“I would love to say that I have a real plan of future products that I’m going to bring out next, but they just evolve.
With crochet garments you have to make them to figure out if they’re going to work – if they’re going to fit nicely, if the sizing will work – and that takes quite a bit of time in itself.
During the process of making something 6 or 7 times, you end up adding in a different stitch or a little trim or a different way of doing something, and that ends up being your end product. All of my products go through a few rotations of what they might look like to get to the point where I’m really happy with it.”
Quick disclaimer: Emma from Stitching Me Softly is one of Aime’s BFFs and we built her website, but this blog post is not sponsored or paid for in any way – we just wanted to have a chat and share it with you lovely lot.