Su Cowell is the creative force behind baby knitwear company Cobweb Knits. Her adorable hats and blankets are the perfect gift for an expectant mum or new arrival. We find out how the company was formed and what Su loves about knitting for babies.
How did you get started?
I used to teach in a boarding house and decided to show some of the kids how to knit. Baby hats were ideal because they are small and manageable. The basic design is actually quite simple, it’s just a rectangle and you draw the string up at the top. Some of the kids carried on and started selling them for charity. When I left teaching, I knew I wanted to start up a business. People had been saying to me for ages that I should sell the hats commercially, so I took their advice!
What happened next?
I knew I’d have to start online, so set about designing a website and getting the branding, imagery and packaging sorted out. There was quite a lot of lead time to get it all set up, so I knew I would be properly ready to go when I stopped teaching. I don’t think there’s anything worse than launching half-prepared, and it can affect your reputation from the beginning. It started out with the strawberry hat. I’d bought a similar design in the past and thought, “This can’t be too difficult to make.” I worked out a pattern for myself and it went from there – oranges, watermelons, Christmas puddings – I could make anything with spots or pips in it! I was offered a day’s photo shoot in a proper studio and wanted to maximise the opportunity, so came up with 46 different hats! There are now 150 designs.
Do you make them all yourself?
It’s mainly me who knits the hats, although I can get help if I need to. I started out knitting on needles, but moved over to a knitting machine because of the time constraints. The great thing is that they’re still handmade. It’s personal and you feel connected to the person who is buying it. I keep some of the popular designs in stock and during the warmer months, when demand is lower, I try to get ahead for the winter and for craft fairs. It means I can always respond quickly to any orders that come in.
Could you machine knit before?
I’d never used a knitting machine before, and because I wasn’t taught in a group or a lesson, I’m not afraid to try things. If someone had told me I couldn’t do something, I wouldn’t have thought about trying it. But as no-one had taught me otherwise, I just had a go. It’s turned out well because I use the machine for work and still enjoy using knitting needles as a hobby. I can sit down of an evening and do something completely different, using different yarns and different techniques, and it doesn’t feel like a busman’s holiday!
What yarns do you use?
I use DK yarn because it makes the hat that much more sturdy. It’s a soft acrylic yarn, because you never know if babies are going to be allergic or sensitive to wool. The colours have to be right too. I used to use a pumpkin shade and it was discontinued – I was so gutted. It took me ages to find another one!
Tell us about the rest of your range
People were asking me for the knitting kits, and we’ve kept to three or four basic designs. It all comes in a nice box, with a printed pattern. I’ve also expanded into blankets, partly through requests and partly because of marketing and promotions. You need to have new products. Because I’m a small business, it means that if I do get unusual requests, I usually can accommodate them. Someone once asked me to make a Norwegian flag blanket, and another customer asked me for specific colours to match their nursery.
Are there any safety considerations?
The main thing is that the colourwork strands on the back of hats aren’t too big, because a baby’s fingers could get caught. I sew tiny pearl beads on to my cupcake designs to look like sprinkles, but all the other embellishments are felt.
Why do you love knitting for babies?
It’s great because they’re so small and knit up so quickly; it’s really satisfying. Designs for kids are just so sweet. They look really cute when worn – we have a photography competition so I get to see a lot of my hats on babies. If I was doing something for my friends or family, I would knit something that wasn’t part of my range and personalise it to them.
What’s next for Cobweb Knits?
We’ve just launched a hamper range, which includes a hat and blanket. We also hope to expand the stripy hat collection and go into clothing. I had a design student come on work experience and we felted a blanket, then cut it up – it was quite daunting! This would work for jackets and dungarees. In the last year, I have started supplying The World of Beatrix Potter shop with bunny hats. I’ve just sent off an order for 60 hats and they are so cute. The wildlife ones are my favourites at the moment. I never get bored of making them!
See Su’s full range of hats, blankets and more, at www.cobwebknits.co.uk . If you love knitting for babies as much as Su does, don’t miss the May issue of Let’s Knit, which comes with a bonus Adorable Baby Knits pattern booklet ON SALE NOW!