Meet the owners
A solicitor for more than 30 years, Irena Spence always dreamt of owning her own craft shop. So, in 2018, she and husband Ian took the plunge, launching Cambridge’s creative hub Sew Knit Craft
When did you first discover a passion for crafting?
When I was five my sister taught me to knit. She was cross with me as she was ill and I sat on her knitting needles and bent them, so she decided to teach me to knit so I knew what it was like to knit with bent needles! After that I enjoyed making little skirts for my Barbie.
What made you follow a career path into law, as opposed to crafting?
My parents were determined I would have a profession and get qualifications, so there was never any question of me doing anything arty. I did enjoy working as a solicitor; it’s a great profession, though very challenging. I made some great friends during my 37 year career.
What motivated you to take over Sew Creative in 2018?
I knew the owner and several times before, he’d asked if I’d like to buy the shop – and I’d always said no. But I was there on a course, and he asked again, and I said yes. I’d wanted to have a craft shop since I was in my 20s and when the opportunity arose again, I thought why not go for it?
Can you give us a flavour of your product range?
We sell yarns, fabrics, sewing machines, haberdashery, and most things you’d need for a textile crafting project. Our ethos is to be friendly and helpful so customers come in and feel like they can ask questions. We all have our own areas of expertise so one lady is very experienced in knitting, another is a brilliant seamstress, one young lady does a lot of knitting in the round, we have a costumier, who makes all her own clothes, and my husband Ian, who is the sewing machine king!
What does your customer base look like?
We attract customers across all age ranges, from ladies in their 80s who come in to get yarn for their great grandchildren, to students and children. We have youngsters, aged nine or 10, who’ve picked up skills on YouTube and are really keen to do as much crafting as they can. I’m teaching an 11 year old to crochet at the moment, and I have others who are learning to sew in our one-to-one lessons, which are just £20 an hour.
How did the business navigate the pandemic?
We were very fortunate that we’d just got our online shop going so we still had the stock in store, even though the premises were closed. That was good as we’ve had a real struggle to get stock and there are still delays on certain products. So, we relied on the online shop, and my dear husband Ian got on his bicycle and was delivering orders free within 10 miles of the city – so he got very fit during the pandemic! If people needed a sewing machine service, Ian would pick it up, service it, them drop it back. A lot of people got their machines out from under the stairs or in the loft and had forgotten how to thread so Ian was often on peoples’ drives on his hands and knees threading up sewing machines!
What do you love most about the job?
The fact that a customer comes in not being able to do something, then leaves with this new skill, which they’re genuinely excited about.
I love the fact that occasionally I get time to create something myself and I also love it when reps come in with new products, such as the latest fabric trends. I have to be quite restrained otherwise I’d buy everything!
Sew Knit Craft is at 58 King Street, Cambridge. Find out more at sewknitcraftltd.com
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