Soft, snuggly and super-sized: Chain Gang makes it big

Suz Grimwood listed her Chain Gang products on Felt just one month before her third daughter was born in an ‘it’s now or never’ moment. Nearly a year on, she has enjoyed selling her throws and scarves online and in stores amidst the craziness of parenting. With a background in graphic design and magazine work she has always loved making things – and is proud to bring us her beautiful, incredibly soft, super-chunky knits. Winter is coming, so check out what’s in store and be tempted!

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What do you make?
I make chunky knit throws and scarves using New Zealand merino wool.

How did you get into your craft?
My Mum! I grew up learning macrame as a preschooler, knitting myself jerseys in primary school and sewing clothes as a teenager. Making things makes me happy – so being able to sell what I love to make just makes sense.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I have a degree in Visual Communications and have been a graphic designer for over 10 years – but no specific training in knitting – just my Mum (and the internet when I want to learn a new stitch!)

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite materials for my Chain Gang products are the huge sacks of merino wool that I have stashed all over the place! No one can resist touching it, it’s amazingly soft and snuggly. I love that the wool comes from sheep in the South Island, and that I’m supporting another local business in the process.

My favourite tools would have to be my hands! And some pretty large knitting needles. A measuring tape can come in handy too. And I must give a mention to my trusty Mac – as without it I couldn’t bring all the creative mess together to sell what I make online.

My process in most cases starts with a bit of online inspiration or just sitting down with a pen and notebook and doodling my ideas. From there I just start experimenting with the wool. One thing I’ve learnt is to be prepared to make prototypes, and to be prepared to undo (a lot) and start again. No pain, no gain right? Not everything works perfectly the first time and starting again can be hard – but in the end it’s always worth it when you can be proud of the finished product.

Not everything works perfectly the first time and starting again can be hard – but in the end it’s always worth it when you can be proud of the finished product.

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What inspires you?
People that are passionate about what they do, other crafters, Pinterest, children’s books, art, magazines…

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Use what you have in your hands, start with what you’ve got, what you’re good at or what you already know and go from there. For me in the busy/crazy stage of life that I’m in with young children, my products are achievable for me to make because I can do the majority of what I make myself – and fit it in around everything else that’s going on!

Describe your workspace:
A creative mess, which takes over the whole house! We converted half of our garage into a studio space which I am so lucky to have. Unfortunately my default setting is a bit messy, so even though I am constantly buying more storage items in the hope that one day my studio will be tidy – actually that will probably never happen! (So jealous of those tidy craft rooms online. Who are these people?) Even though I have a studio, at the moment most of my knitting is actually done in my lounge late at night when everyone is (finally) sleeping. And all my computer time is done inside too!

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Five words that describe your mind:
I’m a visualiser, detail-focussed, creative, messy, dreamer.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I love all my feedback! Sometimes online sales can be a bit lonely as not everyone sends a message or gives feedback. When people email with a lovely comment about my service and how much they love their purchase I am totally stoked! Once a customer that had no computer or email address got her sister to search me out on her behalf and visited me in person to purchase a throw. She then emailed (via her sister again) to say how thrilled she was with it. It’s really nice to meet the people that buy your products. I also have a customer who loves his throw so much he asked me to custom make a scarf so he can wear it out of the house!

What are you currently listening to?
I hardly ever put music on! But I do listen to RDU in the car.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Mr. Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham and Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins as I love the illustrations. A favourite book that I read my children now is Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. The illustrations by Jon Klassen are amazing.

What are you reading now?
Many, many children’s books, over and over again! Otherwise I mostly flick through various home magazines and Frankie.

Who is your hero/heroine?
The main character from the book Extra Yarn! Definitely read it. She is an ordinary girl who changes a colourless town into a vibrant place with her knitting! She totally believes in herself and what she does – and isn’t swayed by money or put off by negativity.

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A favourite quote:
Bloom where you are planted.

Do you have any pets?
No, but the amount of wool I have – you’d think we own a flock of sheep out the back!

If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
The Woollenator. My superpower would be that everything is magically clean and tidy after a crafting session!

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Just start with what you have and build from there. I often talk myself out of ideas because ‘everyone else is already doing it’ or ‘you can already buy it cheaper elsewhere’ – but in reality there are still people who seek out beautiful New Zealand made items and will love what you do. Although I have a tendency to want to get things perfect, I do think it’s great to just get your product out there. It’s great to get feedback and encouragement from doing markets. Or start by giving your products as a gift to friends and family so they can trial them before you sell them. I am fairly avoidant of social media – but if you do that well it’s huge!

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A couple of cute prints by Katie of In My Backyard. I just love her illustrations. She’s such a talent – who I studied with back in the day!

What’s in store for the winter season of 2016?
Throws, available in two sizes and two styles – garter and rib stitch, plus the ever-popular double infinity scarves. New this season will be some extra long scarves for both men and women – and a couple of new colours, cobalt blue and moss green. I am also experimenting with knitwear. So if time allows, watch this space and there may be some new wearable pieces in my shop. If you’re interested, please get in touch!

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Suz has generously offered one of her stylish and super snuggly infinity scarves (pictured above) as a prize for one lucky Felt reader. These chunky knit double-infinity scarves are made of beautifully soft 100% NZ merino wool – and the winner gets to choose the colour! (Choose from creamy white, light grey, grey-brown, turquoise or cobalt blue.) To be in to win, simply leave a comment telling us what you like about Suz’s story and her gorgeous scarves and throws. The draw will be made on Friday 6 May and is open to New Zealand residents only.

 

Purchase from Chain Gang on Felt »

 

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23 Responses to “Soft, snuggly and super-sized: Chain Gang makes it big”

  1. Sarita Muir says:

    Love your work Suz, your pieces look so elegant and snuggly! Love your colours and how happy you look while your are working!!!

  2. Rachel says:

    Absolutely stunning!! The cobalt blue infinity scarf is on my must-have list for this winter!!

  3. Lois Kearns says:

    Well done Suzanne, keep up the great work. You are an inspiration!!!

  4. Charlotte says:

    Love your work & really admire you making time for creativity with three kids!

  5. Emily Smith says:

    They are so gorgeous!!! I love how she is also a mum of 3. I’m a mum of 2 and am loving showing them what I am up to just like her mum showed her and my mum showed me

  6. Emma says:

    Gosh they look lovely and snuggly!!! I love that quote that you’ve highlighted – “Not everything works perfectly the first time and starting again can be hard – but in the end it’s always worth it when you can be proud of the finished product.”. It’s so true. Also love her superhero name – “The Woollenator”, ha ha ha!

  7. Zoe says:

    People with a passion are always inspiring no matter what it is. Good on you!

  8. Michelle says:

    Love your work Suzanne! Managing a new business and 3 kids. Impressive! You’re blooming alright

  9. Wow Suz, loved reading your interview and love your product, such inspiring words that remind me how lucky we are to love what we do.

  10. Aimee says:

    You are so creative Suz! I love the infinity scarf in cobalt blue, simply gorgeous. Congratulations on your wonderful business :)

  11. Lisa Craig says:

    Such a fabulous read, I do love those chunky knits :)

  12. Miranda says:

    What beautiful work you do! I don’t know how you do it with three kids, it’s very inspiring, but they are very lucky to be growing up in such a creative home. Seems like great advice for starting out in the crafty business, it’s so easy to talk yourself out of ideas. Keep on doing what you love doing!

  13. Fifi says:

    These fill me with joy and make me feel so toasty just looking at them. I love the name- Chain gang and that you would be the Woolenator, lol.

  14. Katherine T says:

    These scarves look fantastic! Suz, I admire your perseverance and the fact that you manage to do this with three kids!!!! I have three kids under 5 and I barely find time to feed myself, so I’m amazed at what calm and detailed garments you can produce. Having a beautiful scarf like this to go through winter would be amazing and such a luxury. I think even an un-co like me could work out how to wrap it :-)

  15. Caro says:

    Your passion just screams at me from this article. What a amazing story , congrats on making your dream a reality. Such stunning products :)

  16. Sally says:

    What lovely scarves, I’d have a hard time picking a favourite colour. Your attention to detail is obvious, keep believing in yourself!

  17. Vanessa greig says:

    Love these throws! It’s amazing that you were able to do this through the throws (sorry no pun intended!) of new born motherhood! That takes perseverance and committment but worth it in the long run. Bet your little one loves all that soft comfy wool around!

  18. Rebecca says:

    Wow! Love that so much! It looks so much easier than knitting, as the wool is so large, but I imagine it’s not! Your products look so cuddly. Awesome work, and so inspirational. Thumbs up!

  19. Jo says:

    I love these! And I loved reading the responses, especially the honesty about reading children’s books over and over and over again. loved it!

  20. Fay says:

    Gorgeous! All your pieces look so lovely and warm. You are such an inspiration and I love the name Chain Gang.

  21. Cassandra says:

    I love the simplicity of the scarves and throws, just natures wool and the Chain Gang love and patience that must go into each creation.

  22. Rach says:

    Love Suz’s snuggly looking products. Am loving natural colours and textures at the moment. Her infinity scarves would be lovely and cosy in a Southland Winter. What an awesomely talented lady!

  23. Karen Hollis says:

    Colbolt Blue. Lovely article. I can so relate to the comment about just getting your work out there. I love the size of the needles. Must be quite hard on your hands. I would love to try this but alas arthritis in my fingers make this a no go.

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