In July 2023 we welcomed Louise Balaguer into Team Wonky via the Graduate Career Advantage Scotland internship programme. This was a 6 month placement, funded by the Scottish Government, to help graduates gain skills to enter the workplace. Louise has now completed her internship and has written a summery of her time with us.
The door to the workshop opened and I was greeted with machinery I had never seen before. A little wagging tail and excited eyes (this I had seen before, and immediately recognised as Ruaridh dog). Cones and cones of yarn stacked up on shelves, and the patterned whir of the industrial knitting machine in the background, sights and sounds I was to become very familiar with over the next 6 months.
Learning the ropes
And so my days at the wonderful Wonky Woolies workshop, complete with dog, began. As with any new environment, the first step is to get to know everything and everyone. I took great delight in every new discovery: the two linkers (one of which is Hank, who produces the most mesmerising clanging melody). The pom-pom machine (an eye-opening discovery – I was stuck in the days of winding yarn around a little piece of cardboard). The latch tool, who truly deserves a mention of its own (an incredibly nifty tool for picking up dropped stitches).
I love a challenge and these 6 months at Wonky Woolies did not disappoint. Day 1 and Alison (Chief Wonky) had already demonstrated how to use the linker, day 2 and it was my turn already. For context, I am not a stranger to knitting (I have even tackled double pointed needles, a beast with 8 pointy heads and a potential like no other to get stuck in your sleeves), but I had never used any knitting related machinery before. As such, what I saw in place of a linker was a round giant with hundreds of teeth poking out from every side of its body in a perfect circular formation (a beautiful dentition, really). Anyone in the knitting industry will know this is a standard piece of kit. To a newcomer like me, this is what it looked like. To all the readers, I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s actually not as daunting as it seems; very much like the double pointed needles – and any other skill for that matter – it just takes practice and patience.
The process of learning how to operate the machinery – both the linker and the pom machine – was incredibly rewarding. I kept track of my progress over the weeks, seeing a very clear improvement. If you’ve ever been abroad for an extended period of time, this is a bit what it felt like. Initially you feel exhausted from being bathed in words and sounds that don’t make much sense, but slowly you find that, inevitably and in a most comforting way, you adapt to your surroundings. Without you realising, the efforts pay off and everything becomes easier. You operate with more ease, faster, more efficiently, and with a greater depth of knowledge. Walking into a workshop is a bit like going abroad. It’s a place where there is a lot to take in, which also means that opportunities are plentiful: a fact that is heightened, in this instance, by its small size. It is precisely because Wonky Woolies is a small family business that I got to learn so much.
Some of the tasks I learnt during my knitwear internship included:
- Preparing the products ready for linking
- learning how to hand-finish products to a high standard
- learning the process of making and sewing pompoms onto hats
- creating content for the social media channels (I fondly remember my first reel, made for Iona Craft Shop)
- going out of my comfort zone and having a shot at product photography
- proceeding to then having a human in the pictures wearing the product
- to then becoming said human in the pictures, wearing the products (being involved in theater comes in handy)
- helping out at different events: the Country and Food Fest at the Philliphaugh Estate in September, our pop-up shop at Seamster Vintage in Glasgow in October, and at the Ford and Etal Christmas Market in November
- packing products ready for posting and marveling at how far our garments were travelling
- getting to see and be a part of the development of blanket scarves (which you can buy here)
This image is from the Country and Food Festival in Selkirk, where we set up our shop in a field for the day. Helping out at the events involved a lot of work before, during and afterwards. This list is not exhaustive:
- Making products
- Packing up the van
- Setting up the trade stand, shop display or market stall
- Chatting with customers
- Advising on yarn type, styles and colours
- Creating content for socials
- Taking cash and card payments
- Packing up the event space
- Drinking a lot of coffee!
It is hard to sum up 6 months in a few paragraphs. Learning all about wool and it’s properties is the first that comes to mind. I also learnt that no bicycle is safe to pass the workshop without Ruaridh Dog announcing its presence to the world. It has certainly been nothing short of a well-rounded experience.
When asked what I loved most about the work, I found it really hard to answer. The variety of tasks which comes from working in a small business is enormous. As you get more involved in the business, you end up wearing many different hats. I thrive in a varied working environment but I also find it soothing to be absorbed in one specific task. When each person is working to their strength it creates a synergy: picture one person linking hats, the other making poms, the next progressively sewing those poms onto hats, the loop going round and round. In these moments you can fully appreciate the beautiful teamwork which is happening, and enjoy the almost meditative flow that accompanies getting into a rhythm of repetition – just so long as a regular cup of tea or coffee makes it into the beat. And if you’re lucky Ruaridh Dog will even add a little bark to the melody.
And if you’re still picking up stitches with a crochet hook, go get yourself a latch tool.
A big thank you to the Wonky Woolies Team for their patience and the invaluable skills they have taught me over the past six months.