Stitch & Story's fifth birthday! #askjens
Inspiration | 7 min read time
Stitch & Story turned five on the 4th of April 2018, the same night that Jen & Jenny were featured on BBC Four’s MAKE! Craft Britain*. To celebrate we hosted a screening party for family and friends! As part of reflecting back on the last five years of the business and promoting their TV debut Jen & Jenny answered questions, submitted through email and social media using #askjens, in their first Instagram Live. Thank you to everyone who asked questions, from knitting to business! J&J couldn’t answer every question live so we’ve put them all together below. Enjoy!
When did you start knitting?
Jen Hoang (JH): I was taught in school. After learning how to knit and purl, I started making scarves for all my friends (I still remember knitting Jenny a scarf with a big hole!). It was only later down the line I started to pick up knitting again and realised how relaxing it was. Nothing compares to that sense of accomplishment when you finish a project.
Jenny Lam (JL): A few years back before S&S, I taught myself how to knit. The eureka moment for Stitch & Story was when I was learning to knit through poor quality YouTube videos and overly explained books. Knitting should be therapeutic, rewarding, and fun but with so many variations finding the perfect knitting project can be a real challenge. That's how our knitting kits came about.
Where do you think your passion for making came from?
JL: I’ve always been creatively talented since school and this originally sparked from making origami. My passion for the art of Japanese paper folding later developed into a desire to make something wearable and so I challenged myself to take up knitting.
JH: My father was a tailor; so growing-up I was always surrounded by fabric and dressmaking. I would make cushions, knit scarves and create jewellery to gift to my friends. I carried my making skills through to college and later branched into other areas of design.
What is it about knitting that appeals to you?
JL: Knitting is a way of embedding our creations with emotions and memories, adding to the richness of stories behind handmade products. There is a great sense of achievement in having knitted an item yourself, quirks and all! Behind every knitter or project there's a personal story and that's what amazes us! Be it for therapeutic reasons, nostalgic memories or a challenge, knitting can connect with us all in different ways.
Which is your favourite S&S Knitting Kit and why?
JL: My favourite kit is the Bounty Throw Blanket because it’s so rich in textures - there are so many varied stitches you’ll never get bored knitting kit. And in the chunky merino wool, it just feels so luxurious when snuggling on the sofa with it.
JH: I love the Aloc Lace Jumper, it looks complicated but it’s actually quite simple to do. Knits up easily and makes an amazing lace pattern. Great jumper to wear for the springtime too!
If I have never knitted before, can I learn with a Stitch & Story kit?
JH: Absolutely, this is the main mission of ours; to make knitting so simple that anyone can learn and knit a project. Our knitting kits include step-by-step instructions for complete beginners, with online video tutorials. Plus working with chunky yarn, it is so much easier and faster.
What project would you recommend for a beginner who has just started?
JL: If you’ve never held a pair of knitting needles before, then a scarf would be the easiest. Our Grazier Scarf or Vale Scarf teach you all the basic stitches. If you know a little bit, such as cast on, knit and or purl, then a fun project to do is the Lola Pom Slippers, you get to learn how to shape by decreasing stitches, as well as making fun pompoms from a fork!
What tips would you give crafters or people who want to start in the world of design?
JH: Practise makes perfect - treat design like exercise, the more you do it the more you'll find your own technique.
JL: Be brave - find your own style, be inspired and stay original. Put your own spin on things and don't be afraid to add your own personalised touches.
Why do you like teaching Craft?
JL: When I was learning to knit I realised this amazing, satisfying hobby was often dubbed not only as old-fashioned but impossible to learn. That's when our vision came to light - making knitting simple. My favourite reaction from teaching a total beginner how to knit is that moment when the penny drops and the knitter finally understands the technique. Especially when it's someone who's hit a brick wall during the lesson but suddenly that look of realisation dawns on their face and you see them nail it and it's all super speedy knitting from then on!
What has been your favourite knitting story that you've heard?
JH: When a city banker came alone to one of our knitting workshops and we asked him what made him want to learn to knit. Someone had told him he couldn’t possibly knit because he was a) a guy and b) a banker. He decided to take up the challenge and learn knitting just to prove his friend wrong! He wanted to be the only banker that knit. A walk before he could run kind of guy he pushed himself to learn quickly, knitting a hat in his first ever two-hour workshop. Later he knit a bright pink scarf just because!
What was it like being filmed teaching for MAKE! Craft Britain?
JL: It was actually really hard being filmed, quite nerve-wracking, and an intense day running from morning to late evening. We did have lots of fun too though. The best part of it was teaching a group of people that had never knitted before, or had very little experience, and seeing them knit a hat in a day. It was so nice to hear their personal journeys and individual stories. The highlight was when they saw their reflections in the mirror wearing their creations - ear to ear grins because they were so proud that they had made something with their own hands. It was a real mission accomplished moment!
JH: I just wish I hadn’t worn a skirt!
What obstacles or challenges did you face when starting Stitch & Story?
JH: Where do I start! We had no idea how to start a business at the time and so it was a very steep learning curve – and still is. When setting up S&S, we had to get up to speed about the yarn industry – it surely wasn’t as simple as wanting a ‘chunky yarn’. There were so many technical terms and yarn specs we had to get our heads around, let alone actually finding a supplier that we could work with. I think the key is to keep going and not let those big obstacles get the better of you - seek advice and surround yourself with like-minded people.
How did your family support you?
JL: My poor husband has been roped into every possible task from moving boxes in the warehouse, to packing kits, accounting, helping with shows, you name it. But aside from all that, he’s been super supportive from the start. He really is our rock. Plus he puts up with my business wife, Jen!
How do you balance your work with your family life?
JL: I have to admit it’s hard because there’s an endless amount of work to do and it’s so easy to attend to emails on the go. I’m no longer able to take days off and not work – the only way it’s possible is if I leave the country and the laptop stays at home; only if I’m on holiday do I properly switch off.
JH: This is the most difficult thing to master when being an entrepreneur as work becomes your life and your life becomes your work – you can’t switch off as you’re doing everything. The only thing that’ll help reach that “balance” is by surrounding yourself with amazing friends and family – there’ll always be someone there who will remind you to take a break.
How has your friendship remained strong despite the challenges of owning a business?
JH: We’ve known each other for more than ten years now and glad to say we’re still friends! Owning a business is very much like a marriage; at first we were dreaming of the opportunities together and then reality hit and everything got serious. We’ve gone through challenges as both friends and business partners but over time we’ve learnt how to understand, compromise and cooperate with each other. Working with friends isn’t for everyone but we’ve been very grateful we’ve managed to make it work.
JL: I’m really grateful to have had my friend as a business partner because I can’t imagine starting a business on your own. We really rely on and bounce ideas off each other, bringing our individual strengths to Stitch & Story.
Where do you get your inspiration?
JH: Our inspiration comes from our mission to make knitting truly modern. Our style inspiration is Scandinavian designs and colour trends. There is nothing more satisfying than mixing and matching yarn colours in a project combined with rich textures!
Have you managed to satisfy your creativity whilst creating a business?
JL: Absolutely, the beauty of having a craft business is we’re continually making - using fibres, playing with textures and rich colours. Above all, we get to creatively find new ways to make knitting accessible and achievable for more people and so one idea leads to another and sparks off the next idea or project.
What lies ahead for Stitch & Story?
JH: We’ve actually got a little secret to share - we’ve been working on our crochet lines for the past couple of months which are to be released this year! So watch this space ☺