Q&A with the Skein Sisters

Deb McDonald and Janine Smith from the Skein Sisters discuss how this year has changed their yarn business as more people than ever before pick up the knitting needles and crochet hooks.

A lot of plans have gone awry in 2020, but there have also been opportunities for change. What impact has COVID-19 had on the craft community?

There’s been a resurgence in the craft movement as people have grappled with enforced lockdowns and less social engagement. People are discovering, or rediscovering, the joy of making as a creative and meditative pastime and a balm for the soul in these stressful times. Online shopping has become a necessity and social media filling the spaces left empty by the lack of knit nights and crafting workshops. ‘Help’ sessions by Zoom and virtual social making meetups have become part of the norm. It is, indeed, crafting in the digital age.

How has it changed your business?

With the restrictions in place due to Covid, our online business has grown exponentially and we’ve worked hard to make our website both welcoming and user-friendly. We now have staff who are wholly dedicated to the running of our online business, managing the online orders from start to finish. We’ve expanded our product ranges to offer more choice, developed new kits to make choosing projects easier and paid extra attention to our response times when it comes to communicating with our customers. Adhering to social distancing requirements has meant the cosy sofas in the shop, meant as a place to sit, knit and mingle, have been put away (for the moment at least). Classes have also been put on hold until we can find a way to socially distance and still provide that close ‘hands-on’ help that people usually need when they are learning a new skill.

A big challenge has been getting hold of stock. Most yarn and accessories originate overseas and, with most of the world adversely affected by covid-19, it has meant that supply and production of these goods have been greatly affected. We have had to be very adaptable, finding new suppliers and products. Our customers, too, have also had to understand that not everything is going to be available all the time and if you see something you want to just buy it, as it may not be available again for a while.

Has COVID-19 encouraged more people to take up craft?

Such was the interest from people wanting to try knitting and crochet for the first time during this period, that we’ve created an entire area on our website just for beginners. New crocheters and knitters can find ‘how-to’ books and pattern libraries, guidance in the choice of yarns and needles / hooks suitable for learners, kits with yarn and patterns that are suitable for your first or second project. We’ve also made Zoom ‘help’ sessions available and put on extra staff to help manage the overload of emails and phone enquiries!

How does Sydney Craft Week’s theme, Change Makers, resonate with you? And what is Skein Sisters doing for Sydney Craft Week 2020?

"The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new" (Socrates).

One of the challenges as a maker is to embrace change and incorporate that in our making. We always encourage our customers to further their skills and be brave! This can be as simple as casting on a (challenging) new project, learning a new technique or being bold in your choice of yarns.

In this challenging year we have asked ourselves what problem do many of our customers ask us for help with. As we waded through the many possibilities it became apparent that while we delight in colour, many people are not always confident using it in their making with a joy and fearlessness that is both fun and playful.

This Sydney Craft Week, our offering is Change Up Your Life, a chat with one of our favourite indie yarn dyers, Felicia Lo from Sweet Georgia Yarns. If you feel overwhelmed when faced with choosing colours, hopefully our conversation will give you that confidence and courage to change your way of thinking about colour in your work. And, in 2020, what better way to deliver the message than by embracing change – ours is not the traditional ‘event’ but an online opportunity to hear Felicia and share her passion for colour. Watch the interview here

Why is Sydney Craft Week important?

While we live and love the joy of the handmade every day, Sydney Craft Week is an important and public celebration of the vital role craft and making have in our lives. SCW shines the spotlight on the incredible artists whose works inspire and amaze us, recognises the support of the dedicated producers who supply amazing materials and the teachers who share their incredible skills, while championing the community of makers and the importance of this connection between like-minded people. In a world that can quickly be swallowed by screen time, celebrating and acknowledging the crafting community takes on an even greater importance. One that we’re proud to support as a premier sponsor.

What other events are you looking forward to during the festival?

We always have a soft spot for textile and yarn-related events, however this year we’ve also got our eye on a few fabulous exhibitions including: the Seed Stitch Contemporary Textile Award exhibition at ADC, CULTIVATE an exhibition of artworks at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and RESHAPED the graduate exhibition by students of TAFE Visual Arts Ceramics. We’re also looking forward to some of the other digital offerings this year, such as Connecting Cultures: Story Telling through Indigenous Wearable Art.

Images courtesy of Skein Sisters. Deb McDonald and Janine Smith (left to right). Photo: Philip Le Masurier.