Creative in the Countryside: Say! Little Hen
Today I'm featuring the lovely Sarah from Say! Little Hen. Living in Queensland, Australia, she's passionate about organic and sustainable products and living, and is a woman who wears many hats when it comes to her creative business!
Eleanor: Tell me a little bit about Say! Little Hen, and how it came into being.
Sarah: My business incorporates three of my favourite things - knitting, writing and baking sourdough. Under the one banner of Say! Little Hen I write a blog and run my online store, where I sell my knitting patterns, the eBook I wrote on spelt sourdough and now also natural fibre yarns. Selling my knitting designs was quite unintentional. I had a few designs already made, as I had previously knitted and sold items on my little market stall as a small hobby business. I was asked one day if I would sell the pattern for one of my most popular designs, Tea Mouse, and since I was no longer making and selling, I decided why not! From there I converted more of my scribbled notes into legible patterns, offering them for sale online and now, 2 years later, I am completely in love with designing and selling knitting patterns. Having an online yarn shop is something I’ve had on my “one-day” list for years, and at the beginning of this year, I decided there was no reason not to just go ahead and do it! So I did, and I’m loving growing this tiny little business day by day and seeing where it takes me.
E: You knit, design, bake and blog. Which do you prefer and why?
S: It’s almost impossible for me to choose between them, as each is fulfilling in its own way. Writing allows me to empty the thoughts out of my head, or focus in on one particular subject. Baking is both relaxing and rewarding - a slice of fresh sourdough with butter, enjoyed with a cup of tea is akin to a slice of cake! And knitting is delightful on so many levels - selecting the wool, watching the fabric grow beneath my hands. I love that I can take it anywhere and that it’s a good conversation starter when I do pull my needles out in public.
I guess, very narrowly leading in front, designing would have to be my favourite. It still amazes me when an idea I had in my head comes to life on my needles. When the sketching, calculating and frustrating process of casting on several times is over, and the design is sitting in front of me, all knitted up, looking exactly like (or sometimes better) than my original idea - it makes me smile and feel far more clever than I probably should. And getting to share that with other knitters in the form of a pattern is the icing on the cake.
E: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
S: It depends entirely on what I’m working on. I’d say most of the time it comes from everything around me - the chickens, the bush and farmland around my house, the weather even.
It depends on whether I am choosing to work with a specific material; if that’s the case then I try to make something that shows it off to it’s best ability. But if I have an idea for a particular project, then I seek out a yarn that will compliment it perfectly. My latest design was one where the project had to match the yarn, and so I’ve ended up with a chocolate inspired beanie. It incorporates cables and is, of course, finished off with a pompom. I’m rather proud of this one and am dying to share it!
E: What does an average day look like for you right now?
S: The days can vary a lot, but no matter what they always start with tea, and whilst I drink that tea I am pestered by my more boisterous Border Collie to throw her toy for her - my other collie goes back to sleep if there are no birds to chase; she’s perpetually hoping for a sleep-in.
I usually check my emails and social media quickly before going to feed the chickens, which doubles as a walk for my dogs. I love this time outside as it gives me time to think about what needs doing for the day, mentally draft blog posts or article ideas and also think about my responses to any more complicated emails. Most of my best blog post ideas have been thought up in the chicken pen!
After replying to emails, messages and comments on social media, and perhaps posting on Instagram, I usually have breakfast and do one small housework job (hard to ignore when you work from home). I pack orders around lunchtime and post them in the afternoon, between that there is time for writing, talking to customers online (something I spend a lot of time doing), taking or editing photos and doing other general admin-type tasks.
By late afternoon it’s time for more tea and Border Collie time - they’re very good at making sure they get ample attention! I usually post on Instagram in the early evening and hop back on there later, as I find that’s when it’s most active during the week. I usually knit or squeeze in more writing if I have a deadline coming up too.
The best days are the ones when a yarn shipment is due to arrive. I live out of town so the couriers don’t deliver here, they drop my stock at a tiny service station ten minutes drive away, so I always stalk my tracking numbers like a crazy lady when they’re due to arrive, and jump in the car and collect them as soon as they come. It’s very exciting!
E: Tell us about your workspace - where can we find you?
S: My workspace is spread throughout the house. I've a small desk in the corner of my bedroom where my designing process begins on paper, and I also make up sample cards and do handwriting I need to (lists, first drafts, article ideas). Along with my diary and to-do lists, I keep a collection of things on my desk that make me happy, in turn inspiring me as I find happiness key to creativity. They include books, a little mushroom ornament that was a gift from a lovely friend, an inspirational quote card from my sister, design swatches and even my favourite childhood toy - a bear by the name of Winslow, who was the first thing I ever wrote about (I still have his little short story tucked away) and is now looking decidedly worn! Odd collections of things tend to collect on the end of the desk too - stamps, ribbons, sticky tape - there’s even a candle there at the moment! If I can’t sleep at night I tend to sit at my desk and either write or do some knitting sketches.
If I'm working on a pattern I usually do so on my bed - it's the only place in the house where I can comfortably knit for a prolonged period of time, which is important when I’m designing. It looks a lot like relaxing when I'm doing this but often it's the exact opposite! One of these days I’m going to take my knitting into a furniture shop and try out different armchairs to find one perfect for knitting in!
Yarn stock is usually unpacked on the dining room table, where I do waste some time patting and admiring it. Sometimes I pack orders here, too. And the computer is in a shared office space, overlooking the verandah where I do all of my product photography. I take my little piece of linen out there that I use as a background, all of my products that need photographing and balance one or two pieces of plywood painted white against a little step ladder, I use them to reflect light which reduces shadowing. My yarn is stored in sealed boxes in the linen cupboard & the top of my wardrobe - storage is limited here! Sometimes things being spread around makes tasks slower, but everything is achieved in the end and it’s great to be able to work with what I have.
E: Why is it important for you to use natural fibres, and to choose ethical, sustainable and organic materials wherever possible?
S: I could fill a novel with the reasons why I think organic and sustainable choices are best. It’s something that’s talked about a lot now, and sometimes I think that makes people a little deaf to what’s actually being said. But there really is a need to do things organically, and find sustainable ways. In all honesty, I don’t really understand the need for chemical farming when the world functioned without it for a very long time, and modern farms have proven you can still farm that way.
With yarn, there really is nothing better than good quality natural fibres to work with.
Wool has this horrid reputation of being itchy, and I do acknowledge that there are plenty of woollen things out there giving testament to this bad rep. But there’s also a lot of good wool out there, and it’s the most deliciously soft stuff you can imagine.
There’s just something wonderful about natural fibres - they are more comforting, have more depth almost, than anything created synthetically. And when they are grown organically they have come from such healthy animals that the yarn is top-notch quality. It’s blissful to work with and wonderful to wear. I just can’t get enough of it!
E: What’s so great about sourdough?! And what’s the one piece of advice you would give to novice bakers?
S: I love sourdough because of the flavour, and it’s versatility. Did you know you can make cakes and pastries with sourdough? It really is amazing stuff.
I’ve given quite a lot of advice to novice sourdough bakers, and the main thing I always tell people is not to be frightened of it. Sourdough seems to be something that becomes so scary to so many people, but it’s really not that complicated, and if you feel like it is, search for different methods or find simpler ways. Sourdough making should be fun, easy and simple - remember it’s only flour and water.
E: What plans do you have for the business in the future?
S: Oh, so many plans! I’d really love to teach knitting classes, and perhaps even put together an online course for those who don’t live nearby. I love being able to help and encourage people with their craft because it’s such a fun and wonderful thing to do and I hate the idea of people giving up because they couldn’t get the help they needed. I’d love to teach sourdough classes for the same reasons, too.
I’d really love to also see my business thriving enough to perhaps employ a few people, although I do plan to stay intentionally small. And perhaps, in the very far off future, I’d stock my own brand of yarn. Whether it would be yarn I had dyed myself, grown or hand spun I’m not sure of, but one or all of those things would be simply amazing.
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