Have you ever seen arm knitting in action or had a go yourself? Let me tell you (as a girl who’s now proudly arm knitted her way through four blankets), it’s an addictive craft. It’s almost as joyfully infectious as Paula, the woman behind Brighton-based textile company cocoon&me, who runs arm knitting workshops (and sells her stylish knitted, crocheted and macrame wares), throughout the city and beyond.
I chatted to Paula to talk starting a new venture, utilising recycled and fairtrade products and of course: all things arm knitting, for our latest feature in the Woman in Business series…
How and when did you decide to start cocoon&me?
In 2016, I decided to follow my long-held dream of running my own business and cocoon&me was born. From the very start, the aim has been to create a brand of beautiful textile-based products and workshops for like-minded people whilst at all times respecting the people and planet that we all rely upon.
What had you done before?
From an early age I fell in love with all things creative helping my multi-talented artist mother in her Covent Garden studio in the 1970s. Growing up in an environment buzzing with creativity, art and design, it seemed the natural path to study a specialist textile degree at Middlesex University. After finishing, I enjoyed a long career in the fashion industry as a knitwear designer and later creative director with some of the UK’s leading retail brands.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day anymore! I do try to give the days a loose structure. Some are designated as ‘making’ days in my studio for example, but even on these days I have to make sure that customer orders are being posted, the website is up to date, workshop bookings are recorded and, most importantly, taking and sharing images on social media. I love taking photos, and really enjoy the whole creative journey from sourcing materials, the initial design and making process through to styling and visualisation.
What are your favourite products to make?
I really enjoy creating the brightly coloured, chunky crochet wall vases with pompom detail. Each one is unique and individual. It requires me to pull together various elements and materials: the ceramic vase with a flat side so that it sits neatly against the wall, the chunky recycled cotton shell hand-crocheted using a huge hook, the satin hanging cord and finally the brightly coloured fairtrade pompoms sourced from Mexico. To create a finished product that is so aesthetically pleasing and sought after gives me a huge sense of accomplishment and pleasure.
As well as making gorgeous wares, you also run consistently sold out workshops – why did you decide to do workshops?
There is a real trend here. Increasingly, people are seeking real experiences where they learn new skills as part of a creative group in a social setting with like minded people. I kept being asked how I made some of my range and I thought that sharing my skills would be good for the mind and soul. It has been a great experience for me. It’s so rewarding to see people learn a new skill and make a bespoke item all of their own in around two hours. We also all have a lot of fun and have a good laugh.
I can certainly vouch for that! What workshops have you got coming up?
I’ve just got back from the Creative Craft Show in Manchester where I was doing both macrame and arm knitting demonstrations to promote my September workshops. I have teamed up with Nola in Brighton to run workshops at their sister boutique in the Northern Quarter in Manchester! These will be a mix of arm knitting and macrame. I also have lots of workshops coming up in Brighton at Between Two Thorns and Alcampo Lounge on London Road. I’m also running workshops in nearby Lewes, at the Fuego Lounge and in Farnham at the Maltings.
Wow! You are a busy girl! What do you enjoy most about running workshops?
Sharing creative skills and meeting new people is very enjoyable and makes for a rewarding work life. Crafts can be very therapeutic leading to stronger social communities and increased individual well being. This makes the workshops really meaningful for all concerned. It is really inspiring to see how much can be created in two hours or so from a standing start even for those who are confident when they start or are doing something like this for the first time.
What has been your cocoon&me highlight so far?
Growing the initial idea and concept from scratch to become a viable and growing enterprise with a social and ethical heart.
That’s so fantastic! What are you looking forward to achieving over the next 12 months?
We have a lot of exciting projects planned for the coming year – increasing my kit range and adding yarn to my offer online and in the real world, to name a couple.I
In May, I will be showing at two venues as part of the Artists Open Houses in Brighton, which I can’t wait for. The houses are: For The Man I Love – a bright and friendly house at 13 Maldon Road, on the Dyke Road Trail – and BouSham, a pop-up shop which is an ‘Open House Hotspot’ in Dukes Lane located in the heart of Brighton’s shopping area.
We have been asked to take part the Summer and Christmas Zero Waste markets in London which will involve workshops and having a stand with products too.
If you could describe how you feel about your biz right now in three words, what are they?
Excited, growing, rewarding.
What one thing would you tell others to do before starting a biz?
Don’t expect to make any money from your business overnight! Be prepared to plough anything you do make directly back into it. Be willing to devote your full energy and treat the knock backs as learning, stay positive always and never let go of your dream when it is tough because at times, it will be!
That’s such great advice, Paula. Before I let you go, what, when you are not working, do you love getting up to in Brighton?
We walk a lot and taking a walk along the sea front or wandering through North Laine with its independent shops is great. However, I think one of the most enjoyable things about living in Brighton is spending time with family and good friends in the cafes, restaurants, bars and music venues.