Spotlight on Ethel & Em
Ethel & Em is an independent yarn shop in the heart of Lancaster selling yarn, needles, hooks and notions. We spoke with owner Melanie McKay and here’s what she has to share.
How would you describe Ethel & Em in a line or two?
Ethel & Em is decidedly “not your nana’s wool shop”, though it probably is – we are as popular with the over 60s as we are with the under 20s and all in between.
What was the inspiration behind starting Ethel & Em?
Owner Melanie McKay had worked in digital for over 20 years and was fed up with the screen based nature of her life, so she took up crochet with a vengeance in 2018. In 2019 she had a crackpot idea to open a wool shop, mostly because the type of wool available locally was not quite Melanie’s style and she was fed up of having to order wool online. The shop is named after Melanie’s mum Ethel, and a very dear friend, Emily, both were craft and colour inspirations and Melanie thought this a fitting way to remember them.
What was Ethel & Em like in the early days?
Despite being less than five years old, Ethel & Em has already moved premises once. When we first opened, we did not quite know who we were and the types of yarns, and brands stocked have changed a lot in the past few years. The one very clear thing from the get-go was that Ethel & Em was going to be a hub for some of Lancaster’s yarny community. With three regular Knit, Knot and Natters including special groups focussing on Men, Students and the LGBTQ+ community, coming together has been at the heart of the shop’s existence from the start.
How has Ethel & Em evolved over the years?
Our position as a community hub has grown and with Melanie becoming a Trustee for local youth charity Escape2Make, the shop participated in the charity’s first Green Festival and held workshops for 11-18 year olds over the summer of 2022. Our stock has shifted and while we still offer an excellent range of value wools, a desire for more sustainable yarns has seen our mid-range recycled and organic ranges grow. It’s still such early years for us – so we are just interested in what the future has in store and rolling with it all! Our most popular brands have evolved with KnitPro, Opal, Rowan, Rico and Malabrigo as standard favourites we have seen the Scheepjes and King Cole value yarns grow in popularity along with the eco friendly yarns from Hjertegarn and Kremke. There are so many other yarn brands to discover though, as well as a great selection of knitting and crochet books and accessories!
What are you excited about in the months and years ahead?
Growing our reach. We are here to serve those on our doorstep but we realised that our community reach was wider than just Lancaster. Whether it’s the Lakes, or Bolton, Exmouth or Humberside, Blackpool or the Wirral our people are a far-flung group. Part of the distance aspect is because Lancaster is a bustling University city and after three years of trading, we are now seeing our student customers move out of town, but many stay connected which is awesome! We are working with local indie yarn Dyers from Heysham, Take Two Yarn, on a series of digital content to help crocheters and knitters near and far in 2023, and this is mega exciting. Ultimately, we are excited each day we open our doors – we are very lucky – the things people buy from us are part of a creative process and the seeing output of that creativity is always amazing!
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