Some of you may have seen this photo before. It was used by the right-wing press back in 2016 to slate Jeremy Corbyn, with the headline ‘Where’s Corbyn’. Instead of answering questions from the Tory party conference he was ‘lost’ on Hadrian’s Wall, buying recycled knitwear knitwear from The Woolly Pedlar. It was even suggested that he be called The Woolly Pedlar becuase he dealt in woolly politics.
As a socialist, can you imagine how gutted I was to hear that my photo was on the front of The Sun, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The London Evening Standard? It got worse – it appeared on Have I Got News For You?, in Private Eye , the BBC Politics Programme and New New Statesman. It was on BuzzFeed……it went viral.
I rang the Labour Party press office and said that I had done a very stupid thing. I’d had a phone call from The Daily Telegraph after I’d written a blog post about Jeremy Corbyn buying his wife one of my woolly wraps in our village shop, and had given them permission to use my photo. How utterly naive and stupid I was. I was elated that a man I so respected and admired, and hoped would be our next Prime Minister had taken the time to chat to my son on the station platform at Bardon Mill, then go into our very small village shop at Bardon Mill and buy is wife one of my woolly wraps.
He had indeed been working that weekend and was on his way from the Jarrow March celebrations. He was taking a Sunday afternoon off to go for a walk in our beautiful Northumberland countryside. For the record, we are contactable here in Northumberland. It may be north of Watford Gap, but we still have phone signal.
I was relieved to see that Peter Bradshaw had written a piece in The Guardian, coming to Jeremy and my defense. I was only a small business owner trying to show how happy I was that someone as famouse a Jeremy had bought one of my garments, and Jeremy was not sitting in his kitten heeled Westiminster bubble buying expensive designer clothes, and had indeed been working and engaging with ordinary people. I lost some followers of my business, such as the woman who said she was about to but one of my woolly wraps, but couldn’t possibly as she knew Jeremy had bought one. What utter tosh! Would you walk out of a shop becuase you didn’t like the customer infront?
I was about to go on holiday when all this broke, and my photo went viral. My husband, not a huge fan of social media, had said that I was to stop looking at my phone as we were on holiday. I couldn’t leave this! My business grew after this, and I gained a lot of new followers, many of whom were of the same political persuasion as me. At least that was something positive to come out of this sorry tale.
I no longer recycle knitwear as The Woolly Pedlar, and one of the regrets of closing my website was that this story and the photos disappeared with it. I thought, therefore, that in the run up to this moneumentous election, with the country on the cusp of a revolution, it would be timely to tell my story again.
I now have a different set of social media accounts, under Sue Reed Writes – feel free to find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as I head off to Newcastle University to follow my dream to become a writer.
I am proud to be a member of the Labour Party. If I am ever lucky enough to meet Jeremy, I would like to apologise to him for being so naive as to give the Torygraph permission to use the photo, but thank him for being the humble, beautiful man that he is. I do hope he is the next Prime Minister, and we can put an end to homelessness, child poverty, food banks, zero hours contracts, save the NHS, address the climate emergency………the list goes on.
https://www.suereedwrites.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/JC4.jpg540491suehttps://www.suereedwrites.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/weblogo.pngsue2019-12-04 11:16:252019-12-04 11:17:36I Owe Jeremy Corbyn an Apology
This piece is dedicated to all the friends I made, both as
traders and customers during the seven years I ran my own business as The
Woolly Pedlar, upcycling knitwear, and selling it at markets, fairs and events
around the country, and in particular in the north-east of England. It is intended
as a light-hearted but irreverent look at trading at Christmas events, but also
as an acknowledgement to the stresses, strains and sheer hard graft that go
with doing the Christmas Craft Fair circuit.
Two o’clock, and the doors are open for set-up, but first
there is the need to get your vehicle as close to the door as possible. Goodness
knows, you will be doing dozens of trips, wielding your trolley through mud and
over wonky boards to your allotted stall. They haven’t put the heating on in
the marquee yet, and so it’s bliddy freezing, but you’ll soon be working up a
sweat as you march from your van to your table on countless trips. It’s every
man and woman for him and herself, but of course we will all greet each other
with a cheery ‘hello’ a hug and ‘lovely to see you’. We are after all, one big
happy trading family.
A table? Didn’t they get my message that a table is no earthly
use to me? I sell clothes for goodness sake, I have rails and a mirror, and
full-length coats to display, so how the heck am I supposed to use a six foot
table? The table is discarded round the back of the marquee, (let’s hope the
fearsome organiser doesn’t realise it was me who dumped it there) and I begin
the set-up. Thank goodness I paid for a double pitch this time; however, with
the van hire, insurance credit card machine, price tags, bags and a new set of
rails, I don’t have much change from a thousand pounds. I wonder how many of
the punters who turn over my items with a look like they’re chewing wasps,
realise my outlay before I’ve even set foot at these events?
Shit! One of the rails has a leg missing. Why did I get my
husband to help pack the van? A quick phone call, and I ask him to bring it
along. ‘Yes, I know it’s a nuisance, but no, I can’t do without it, and I did
tell you there were five pieces to each rail.’
Despite having set up a zillion times before, each event is
different, and with new stock to display, I want to get it right. A quick word
with my neighbour, and we decide to butt up to each other to gain a bit more
valuable space. The organiser is patrolling the venue to make sure we don’t go
over the line, although there is a stand at the end, best friends of hers it
seems, who are sticking right out into the aisle with their imported tat – I thought
this was supposed to be a ‘handmade event’. I worry about the bottle-neck they
are causing with their Union Jack and sequinned cushions. I’m also seething
because I asked to be in the main marquee, and I’ve been demoted yet again to
the side tent. Probably my own fault for sticking my neck out and complaining
last year. I’m surprised I wasn’t struck off!
Everything is now out of the van, and I move it into the
turnip field to allow other traders to unload. I notice others are not so
magnanimous. It may have something to do with the rain we had over the last
three days, and the prospect of being towed out by a tractor in the dark
Set up took five hours. I am shattered. The other half did
turn up with the rail, and we hissed at each other as he tried to ‘help’ with
suggestions of how he would do it better.
I have been working on this collection since the beginning
of August, sweating under the Velux windows in the woolly garret under piles of
wool when everyone else was outside, sipping Pimm’s and basking in the summer’s
heat. Not only do I source all the knitwear I use, rushing around Hexham’s
charity shops on a Tuesday morning like an old bag lady, but I then wash and
dry it – think Widow Twanky’s laundry –
then design and finally cut and sew. I think of that oft heard comment ‘How
long did it take you to make this?’ Sometimes, admittedly said with admiration
and genuine respect, but more often by the chewing wasps brigade, with first an
incredulous look at the price tag, then their friend as they show it to them
and mouth something, Les Dawson style thinking I can’t hear.
Home for a much-needed gin and tonic, or maybe two, and meal
I had the forethought to put in the slow cooker before leaving, washed down
with a bottle of red that doesn’t touch the sides.
I wake at three in the morning – What?? I need my sleep more
than ever tonight – Oh why did I drink so much? I’m hot fidgety and sweaty, and
my mind is now racing. Did I put the card machine on charge – I must remember it
in the morning; I forgot the bags – must put them in; Have I got all the orders
ready for collection? I’m not sure if I drifted off again. Other half says I
was snoring, so I must have done, but at 6.30 I get up, feeling dreadful. The show
must go on despite the hangover.
I park the van in the turnip field and head down, covers
off, in time for a quick bacon buttie and a coffee before we start. I stock up
on ‘Christmas Slice’ – a calorific confection of shortbread, caramel,
cranberries, chocolate and almonds that will see me through the day. It’s soon
ten o’clock and the doors are open. There is a sea of people, mainly older
women, with the look of the undead, making their way around the venue. There
are four coach parties due in this morning.
‘Morning!’ I say with a smile – by the end of the four days
I will have an ache in my jaw from smiling.
‘We’re only looking’ they snap. The wasp chewing has begun.
And I’m only saying hello!
Not put off, I try again,
‘How’s the Christmas shopping going?’ I’m ignored.
I grab a pair of my armwarmers and step forward
‘Can I show you what I do with recycled knitwear?’
‘What? Second-hand? Eugh – do you wash it first?’
Of course I bloody wash it you silly old bat
‘Oh yes, everything has a forty degree wash first, then any
shrinkage that is going to occur has already happened. I use the felted jumpers
for mittens and bodices of my coats and jackets’
I grab a jacket and pair of mittens and show them with a
cheerful smile and hope in my heart.
‘No, it’s ok dear, we’re only here for a coffee and scone. It’s
all so expensive’
I step back, the smile fixed, and look for someone else to
chat to about my process and creations. It’s only early on day one, I’m not
going to feel defeated.
You see some traders sitting behind their table, hunched
over mobile phones, hardly glancing up. ‘I didn’t sell much’ I’m not flipping
surprised – selling is all about talking! Talk about anything – the weather,
the car park, kids, Christmas, anything to get the conversation going while you
suss out what colours they like wearing then Bam! Hit them with a design in
their colourway and style and the sale in in the bag – well, sometimes!
There is an invisible line about two feet in front of the
stall; a line which some feel is a sound barrier. You can be as rude as you
like about the products on display, and the stallholder won’t hear you – I have
news – they can. As my patience with the general public wore thin, I was heard
to say, ‘I can hear what you’re saying. I made all these.’ Rule number one, don’t
take comments personally, but it’s very hard. You made everything, and they are
part of you, how can you not take it personally? I have a story to illustrate
Still feeling a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ about my
designs, I was doing my first big event at a local venue, and a lady came up to
my rail of hooded sweatercoats. They had long liripipe hoods, a full skirt and
are not for the faint hearted, but many raved about them. (I’d like a £1 for
every ‘Joseph’s Technicolour Dream Coat comment made)
‘Feel free to try anything on, there’s no pressure, have a
I helped a short lady into a coat. I noticed her bowed head
and closed in stance lifted, as we buttoned up the coat. She looked at me and
‘Have a twirl!’ I said, ‘you look fab!’
A man appeared. I had not seen him at first, but now he was
six inches from my face, his own, bright red, and spittle flew as he roared at
‘Take that off! You look fucking ridiculous!’
The general hubbub that had been in the tent stopped with
the volume of his tirade, which continued, the room now silent, listening and
watching, as he turned his venom on me.
‘Are you taking the fucking piss?’
The lady took off the coat, and placing it on the rail,
whispered ‘Sorry’ to me. I noticed she had retreated back inside her shell as
he marched her off.
I had turned to face the back wall, tears welling up in my eyes, when I felt a hand around my shoulder. Seeing and hearing what had gone on, a fellow trader had gate vaulted over her stall of cushions.
‘You’ll need to grow a thicker skin’ she said. ‘You’re
dealing with the general public’ She continued. ‘Your work is beautiful, and if
you ever need a seamstress I’m your girl”
This angel of mercy was Julie, who had her own business as a
seamstress, and importantly, an industrial over-locker. Following our
serendipitous meeting, Julie made hundreds of ponchos, bedspreads and blankets
for me over the years. Talk about silver cloud! I do however, think of that
woman often and wonder what sort of a life she had with that bully of a man.
It was seven years later, when another man came up to me (at the same event interestingly – it did attract them) and said ‘Perfectly good jumper til you started messing around with it’ and I replied, ‘Piss off!’ that I realised I’d grown my thicker skin.
‘The general public’ can be a nightmare, and one’s patience tested to the max, but over the seven years I sold my woolly wares at Christmas events, I met some wonderful people. There are jewels out there, who support, encourage, and buy from crafters year in and year out, preferring handmade to imported tat, and supporting local artisans and producers. I thank you for your kindness, purchases and friendship.
I am in fact having lunch with a woman this week who first
bought a sweatercoat about five years ago. Our paths have crossed at pop-up-choirs,
music concerts and political events, which is hardly surprising – we sing off
the same hymn sheet.
I only lasted seven years, before the sheer hard work and
all-consuming nature of the beast got the better of me. To all those selling at
craft fairs and ‘Designer Maker Markets’ on the run up to Christmas, I salute
you! It’s a Monday as I write this, and hope you’re taking a well-earned day
off before the next onslaught at the weekend.
If you are a customer, visiting a handmade Christmas event, please spend a moment to smile, say hello and encourage our artists. They have put their blood, sweat and tears into what they do, and if you can, buy homemade this Christmas.
Whilst I am no longer making any woolly goodies, there is a small selection of remaining stock at The Cane Workshop in Alston, where Lou demonstrates chair caning, as well as stocking a wonderful range of products made by local artists in lovely old shop in the market place.
There’s no rest for the wicked! I’ve been back from Tuscany for a week, the washing is all done, and the cupboards filled again. I’ve had a day childminding Daisy, been to my writing group and have a plan for my first book. Despite heading off to university in September, I am hoping to write this book over the summer. I am looking to write about my journey as The Woolly Pedlar, giving tips along the way on how to get to grips with social media. ‘You’ll only ever be like a farmer’s wife making jam’ was the comment thrown at me by a family member when I first mooted the idea of making a business from recycled knitwear. Light the touch paper and stand back! Having lost my teaching job through ill health, I was not going to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I built up The Woolly Pedlar from one pair of armwarmers in 2011 to be a successful business and an international brand. I couldn’t have done this without the use of social media and would love to share the knowledge and skills I gained in this area. As a creative entrepreneur, I feel I can relate to other creative folk, talking their language, without using a lot of technical computer jargon. I do not however profess to be an ICT expert!
Just this week, my husband had a client visit him (he’s an accountant) who spoke of how she’d love to be able to share what she makes on social media, but does not know where to start or how to do it, and it simply terrifies her. I think a book that is easy to read, interspersed with funny stories and anecdotes about my time as the Woolly Pedlar, might just go down a treat.
I’ve been toying with an idea for the title, and have been discussing this over on Facebook, both on my Sue Reed Writes page, and The Woolly Pedlar page. At the moment I’m favouring: ‘Tales from the Woolly Garret: Getting to Grips with Social Media’. I think that then leaves room for other volumes. Maybe, a book of short stories? I’ve written so much over the past seven years over on The Woolly Pedlar website, (and you can hop over there and catch up on these on the blog page there), but I was heartbroken that some of the stories would disappear if I shut the website down. I want my story about how Jeremy Corbyn bought one of my woolly wraps and then was hounded by the press to be seen; I want my experiences selling my woolly wares at festivals and Christmas fairs to be written down ; I want to write about all the comments given by the general public; I want to tell all the funny stories from my Women’s Institute talks and other outings.
I would also like to develop this theme and offer courses and tutorials on using social media. I’ll be meeting with Cool Terry from TWDA next week to discuss how we can put out tutorials on the internet. Despite being of the mature variety, I learnt how use social media to my advantage. It’s never too late to learn, and using social media does not need to be daunting or overly time consuming, but it is crucial if you want to show your creations to a world-wide audience and sell your work.
If you would like to hear more, or have a suggestion for the book title, then do get in touch.
https://www.suereedwrites.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/writing.jpg540540suehttps://www.suereedwrites.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/weblogo.pngsue2019-06-29 10:08:202019-06-29 10:09:41Planning my First Book
Welcome to my new website and blog. Some of you may already know me, through my work upcycling waste wool knitwear as The Woolly Pedlar. This is a massive time of change for me. I’ve decided, at the ripe old age of fifty-seven to sell my business and apply to go to university to do my MA in Creative Writing.
Being a writer is on my bucket list, and I secretly promised myself that by the time I was sixty, I would be doing this as my job. So, when I found out that you can get a student loan to do an MA up to the age of sixty, I leapt at the chance. I only have two and a half years left, so I’d better hurry! I had no idea if I was academically competent, or if my writing was good enough. I was very encouraged by Jacob Polley, the course admission’s leader, who I spoke to at the University Open Day. He told me that they were there to teach me the craft of writing, starting right at the beginning. The module he teaches is called ‘Process’ and does just what it says on the tin. It teaches you the process of becoming a writer. Perfect! After all, I am starting at he very beginning.
The University of Newcastle asked me to submit two short stories of two thousand words each in order to apply, plus a personal statement. I thought I’d better get cracking on building up a portfolio, and so enrolled on the local education authority Creative Writing class. I’ve been going to this since last September, and am thoroughly enjoying it. Our tutor, Clare, gives us a task each week for homework, and then we read it out the following week for everyone to discuss. I have found this very helpful in making me write every week, as well as being able to read out my work, and accept constructive criticism. I soon had two short stories to send off to Newcastle. One was written as a character study of my dear old Nanny Dora, and the other, a more edgy piece, about my times living in Toxteth in the early eighties. I’ll be sending both of these off to magazines to see if I can get them published. I’ll put any links to published material here, and if they don’t get published, I’ll just share them anyway.
I soon rattled off a personal statement, though did find it hard to fit fifty-seven years of experiences onto one side of A4. My degree certificate was found buried in a heap of old papers in the loft. The transcript of my degree was a bit more tricky. The college where I had done my teacher training no longer existed, but it was a University of London degree, so I rang them. A very helpful chap said my degree document was pre-digital (obviously) and so was in a box in paper form, in the basement. Hilarious!
To my utter amazement, the University of Newcastle offered me a place. Taking advice from Ann Coburn, a tutor there (who I met on a course at Seven Stories) I am going to take the two years to do the part time MA. It would be so much better to spread my work over two years, and take my time to enjoy being a student. Fresher’s week here I come!!
In some ways it is sad to be saying goodbye to The Woolly Pedlar, but in others, it is exciting to be starting anew. It has given me a huge sense of pride that I built a business up from scratch, and am looking to sell it as a global brand. I have had a wonderful time pedaling my wool, and have met so many wonderful folk through it. Many of you have wanted to keep following me, and it was your enthusiasm that prompted me to set up this website and blog. I have had some super customers too, from the famous to the not so famous!
Now it is time to clear out my work space and sell my equipment and remaining stock. The website shop is staying open for a couple more weeks and then I will walk away, clear out the woolly garret and turn it into the wordy garret.
Change is scary, but it is also very exciting!
Head back to the blog page to read more posts about my progress in the wordy world
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Sue Reed Writes
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a little girl, and would sew pieces of paper together and make my own books.
I now have over half a century’s worth of life’s ups and downs, and a heap of stories in my head.