Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Helen Lockhart, owner of Ripples Crafts, Clachtoll, near Lochinver, in the north-west Highlands
Q. How and why did you start in business?
A. I’ve been a private secretary in the oil and pharmaceutical industries, and a qualified massage therapist and reflexologist. My last corporate role was in HR, my final task being to make myself redundant.
I’ve always loved yarn and learned to knit at my mother’s knee. I gradually became aware of hand-dyed yarn – dyed artisanally by hand in small batches – in the 1990s, when there were very few doing it in the UK. Most indie dyers were based in the US.
Q. How did you get to where you are today?
A. Hard work, dedication, a respect for my customers, a love of what I do and, especially, experimentation.
Q. Who helped you?
A. My husband, Stevan, is my biggest fan and asset, supplying endless moral and specialist IT support, building show stands and acting as chief gopher whenever required.
Business Gateway and the Federation of Small Businesses have also been a huge help, especially at the start, providing really valuable advice and workshops, and the much-missed Emergents Creatives Community Interest Company brought makers together from across the Highlands and islands. Being part of that creative group really helped.
Q. What has been your biggest mistake?
A. I believe in making the best possible decisions at the time, learning from any mistakes and never crying over spilt milk. Perhaps I should have become a yarn dyer sooner but I have my doubts. Things happen when the time is right.
Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. Being accepted for my first wool festival, Woolfest in Cumbria, in 2009, and I’ve been to many more since. I also love seeing photographs on social media of finished projects created by customers using Ripples Crafts’ hand-dyed yarn, and I’m very proud of the fibre retreats that I used to organise with Lizzie and Richard Williams on Tanera Mor in the Summer Isles. They attracted participants from around the world.
Best of all are the relationships I’ve built with customers over the past 13 years. Many people have visited me in Assynt, thanks to the photographs in my blog and social media, or because they wanted to see the landscape that inspires my dye colours.
Q. If you were in power in government, what would you change?
A. Nationally, reverse Brexit immediately; locally, tackle the deadening effects of the holiday home market, perhaps through heavy taxation. I’d also insist Highland Council does more to serve the region as a whole, rather than focusing so much on Inverness. Perhaps we should reinstate the old district councils.
Q. What do you still hope to achieve?
a. I enjoy collaborating with others on projects and I’d love to do so with craftspeople working in different mediums to my own. Who knows, perhaps a glass blower has considered including brightly dyed strands of wool in their creations and been wondering if there is a yarn dyer interested in collaborating. I’m here.
Q. What do you do to relax?
A. Most of my hobbies are textile-based and connected to my job, but knitting, weaving, sewing and crocheting all help me relax, as does walking in the most stunning part of Scotland – Assynt. Photography is another love and I started watercolour painting during lockdown.
Q. What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?
A. Audio books allow me to “read” while I work in the dye shed – Peter May’s China series is excellent.
If I’m not listening to a book, I’m usually listening to music.
Q. What do you waste your money on?
A. I try not to. I work so hard for every penny that frivolous spending is taboo, though I am buying fabrics to feed my new love of sewing.
Q. How would your friends describe you?
A. I hope kind, honest, generous with my time and willing to muck in when needed.
Q. What would your enemies say about you?
A. I hope I don’t have any but if you find one, let me know. I’d love to hear what they say.
Q. What do you drive and dream of driving?
A. My wonderful Fiat Panda transports vast quantities of yarn to events all over the country, and I dream of an electric Panda with a 500-mile range and a price I can afford. I’d be delighted to test one if Fiat is looking for volunteers.