AN entrepreneur who combined her experience in structural engineering with her love of knitting will represent Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Cork City at the National Enterprise Awards, 2023.
Independent knitwear designer Carol Feller of Stolen Stitches will be up against LEO representatives from all over the country at the prestigious awards ceremony in The Mansion House, Dublin, in June.
Carol’s designs are a mix of contemporary and traditional and she’s taught an incredible 250,000 knitters through in-person workshops and retreats and online video classes.
Increasingly, her company is focused on ‘full experience’ clubs and subscriptions, where knitters have all they need – tools, instruction, inspiration, and community – to fully enjoy and take pride in both the creative process and their finished knit.
Carol, who lives near Innishannon, remembers learning how to knit in primary school at the age of six or seven.
“In fact, I’ve still got a pair of lemon yellow fingerless gloves (half finished) floating around somewhere in my parents’ house! I did began designing very early, admittedly it was usually for Cindy dolls rather than myself!” she said.
She’s always looked for a way to combine the creative and technical sides of her personality in her work.
“When I left school, I first did a foundation course in Art & Design (textile design), before doing a degree in Civil Engineering at UCC.
"I worked as a structural engineer in the late 1990s, and then started and ran an online company focused on ecological and natural parenting products in the early 2000s.
“It wasn’t until I rediscovered knitting, in 2008, that I was able to see a way to combine my varied interests and skills to form a viable, sustainable, and personally satisfying business,” she said.
That reconnection with knitting happened when her kids were small.
“I wanted something that was just for me. So much of my day was taken over by minding other people, I wanted something that was mine. The other benefits became more obvious as I started knitting; the act of knitting was very relaxing and enjoyable in its own right and it gave me a creative outlet that I could combine with my love of numbers!” said the mum-of-four.
Stolen Stitches grew very slowly and organically, with each new activity being added as the opportunity arose.
“It started when I took knitting up again in 2008, and begin working from home writing patterns for magazines and books. I then began self-publishing patterns and selling them online. Shortly after this (as the kids grew older and I had more time), my activities as a designer expanded to include teaching. I began travelling internationally to teach at yarn festivals and related events, and I was commissioned to create a series of online video workshops for a company in the US called Craftsy.
“My books with Wily Publishing and Potter Craft (imprint of Random House), and the classes I published on Craftsy (which attracted over 250,000 learners) all provided a very strong foundation for my catalogue of digital patterns, which continued to grow.”
When her youngest went to secondary school, she began a yarn line and moved out of the house into a studio in Cork city and now works out of the Tramore Commercial Park.
“Since then, it’s been steadily growing, and I’m discovering the process of growing a business can be as creative as knitting!” said Carol.
Stolen Stitches essentially seeks to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for its community of knitters, enabling them to expand their skills in a way that suits their lifestyle.
“We provide knitting patterns, yarn (both Stolen Stitches brand and other lines), online video classes and in-person learning material (all produced in-house), and an online community platform for knitters.
We have over 350 patterns and 10 books that we have produced and many of the samples are available for knitters to try on in store in our Tramore Commercial Park.
“We have over 70 pre-recorded video classes available to get people started with knitting, work through a project, and to improve their skills. These include both free and paid content.
“For knitters that want a more immersive experience, we do clubs that combine yarn, patterns, workshops, craft goodies and online community forums for a very complete experiences,” said Carol.
Along with her team (three full-time and four part time), she’s delighted and honoured to be nominated by Cork City LEO.
“The whole process of the application and presentation to the judges is a great opportunity to clarify the Stolen Stitches message and share our amazing community with a wider audience. I also look forward to connecting with the other nominees - I know we all have a lot to learn from each other.”
Not surprisingly, she whole-heartedly recommends knitting – for everyone.
“It’s still the best part of my day, I get to sit and watch a couple of hours of TV in the evening while relaxing and still produce something that I love. If you have difficulty de-escalating at the end of a day it makes a huge difference.”
She would also like to see the skill being taught in school: “It’s where I learned to knit, and then it was reinforced at home by my mother. I’ve worked with a group in Ireland, ‘Wool In Schools’, to offer online video support for knitters in schools.”
And her best business tip?
There’s no finish line, enjoy the process.
No casting off for Carol then!