slow - simple - soulful - sustainable
behind the brand
Pothies | Belinda Knott
Pothies are hand-crocheted slippers and boots, made from a combination of chunky wool, and synthetic fibres. They are crafted from a pattern handed-down through generations, and have been keeping toes toasty for over 60 years! They are a cosy hug for your soul, and a celebration of the simple things in life.
Belinda inherited the business, but has put her own creative stamp on it and expanded its reach. She lives on a small-holding in rural Wales with her family.
words by Fiona Barrows and Belinda Knott / images by Belinda Knott
So perhaps we could start with you telling us a little bit about Pothies and how the business was born?
‘Pothies were created back in the 1960s by a Cumbrian woman called Judith Whitard, while she was living in Greece with her husband. She made him a pair, and they soon became something that everyone in their local community wanted. The word “pothies” actually comes from podia, the Greek for feet so it’s a Grenglish word that has somehow stuck all these years.
Many years, and twists and turns later, Judith returned home to Cumbria, and set-up a small cottage industry making and selling Pothies. She sold them at local fairs, markets and in shops, and gradually began to employ women to help her. It was from one of these women, Monica, that I bought my first pair. Monica eventually had to stop making Pothies as she developed a hand tremor, and before she stopped I begged her to teach me the craft. She sent me instructions via letter, and I’d have to decipher her words before sending back my crocheted interpretations for feedback. At the time I hadn’t crocheted since I was a child.
After sending a few back and forth I went up to visit her and she kindly gave me a masterclass – which was such a precious moment! Monica had wool stashed everywhere; in all her cupboards, and boxes of it everywhere. It smelt of mothballs but was an Aladdin’s cave of colour! I returned the next day to help her clear it all out, and that was that – I inherited the business from her. Now, twelve years on, I’ve added my own creativity to the business and they now sell worldwide.’
What is it that you love about Pothies so much?
‘There is an absolute honesty to Pothies that I just adore. They also provide such a deep level of comfort, almost soul-comfort, and encapsulate all that is wonderful about being at home. However busy your lifestyle is you return to calm the moment you pop them on, and I love being able to create that moment for my customers.
The actual process of creating them with crochet is deeply grounding. The rhythm of the hook, my hands and the threads working together, is a meditative practice, that returns me to myself, my breath and my work. It’s my absolute bliss to sit outside, when the weather permits, in the fields or under a tree, and make them, while the wind rustles the leaves, and the grass, the birds, insects and my dogs play around me.’
Where do your get inspiration from?
‘Everywhere! I am a total colour freak – I can’t remember place names, but I can recall front door and plant combinations in incredible detail. Customers also often send me their ideas: favourite blankets, cushions, places, seasons, descriptions of loved ones personalities, favourite books, waterfalls, beaches, favourite foods, flowers and even a theme of scones ‘n jam! I love it!
I’m also so lucky to have so many amazing returning customers, and I know when they get married, have babies, or when someone gets poorly or passes away. I make them Pothies for every occasion, and for Christmas, birthdays and holidays. It’s precious to feel so connected to people’s lives and I love this side of the business.’
Do you work on Pothies full time?
‘Yes, I really do!’
What are you future plans for Pothies?
‘This year I’ve really been investing in the business. I’ve taken it, literally, out of our shared playroom and into its own space. Like when my kids need new shoes, we’d outgrown the space we were in. I’ve always made Pothies around my children, and they’ve learnt to crochet alongside me. They are all in school now, and it’s been an opportunity to delve a little deeper into my creativity and the business.
We are lucky enough to have outbuildings, and I’ve taken out a loan to convert them into a studio. It’s so close to being finished – eek! I’m excited! I’m also simultaneously working on a new product which involved sewing rather than crochet. Yet I’m really keen to grow this business slowly and sustainably; for myself, and for the planet, and all it’s creatures. Step-by-step we are getting there…’
How do you balance working on Pothies with your life?
‘Sometimes with ease, and sometimes not! We have 3 (very busy) kids, 2 dogs, a cat, poultry, a smallholding, and our heating is run on solid fuel. Life is physically busy. I get up early as I find the quiet of the dawn is a good time for me to concentrate. I then attend to family needs, school run etc before settling down to work. It’s a daily puzzle for sure, and I am grateful to be able to take my kids to after-school classes, as well as timetabling in a few things for me when they’re not around. We adjust around busy times and I’m getting better at setting boundaries. It’s a constant learning curve, but one on which I thrive.’
Is there part of your business which you struggle with?
‘I’ve recently come to understand that running your own business is actually like having another child! It has its own needs, wants, and developmental milestones and transitions. Sometimes no matter how hard I push it in one direction it will not budge. This year has definitely shown me that the steps have to be in the right order, otherwise you get all tangled up and are constantly tripping over things! However, working out what those steps are isn’t always obvious and they need their own time to shake out. Sometimes that can be frustrating.’
What does slow living mean to you?
‘Slow living for me is not about living slowly. It’s about setting intention, and focusing and committing to your journey, whatever that might be. It’s about saying NO! to the fluff and YES! to your soul work: the things which brings you the greatest warmth, the greatest aliveness, and then clearing the space so that you can pay the utmost curious attention to it.
It’s always evolving and that excites me. The more I really hunker down and pay good attention to what the wonder in my soul needs, the more inspiration finds me and different doors open – it’s so cool! At the beginning of this year I said YES! to chill swimming. No-one was more surprised than me as I had told myself a very marvellous and convincing story for over 20 years that I hated cold water. And guess what? I love the challenge of it! I love having to be so committed to working with the cold – it’s a great metaphor for life’s challenges. I love the freedom it brings. I love the connection to the natural world in all the seasons. I love the feel of the water, and the belly laughs I share with a tribe of crazy women who also share this wild insanity. Taking time to do this weekly, completely nourishes me in a way I never thought possible. In turn it has benefited my business immensely, providing space for inspiration for my new product. ‘Go where it’s juicy’ has become one of my guiding principles.’
THE TOOL BOX
What materials do you use: ‘My yarns come from all sorts of places. Some I buy in new and others come to me via charity shops (I love a good rummage) and folks de-stashing. Pothies slippers are made from a combination of wool for warmth, and synthetics for durability, so I’m always on the look out for interesting yarn! The latex I buy in large containers and apply with a knife.
In my actual tool kit: my hands and my heart are foremost, then my crochet hook, a darning needle, scissors, tape measure, knife. That’s pretty much it.’
Which maker inspires you the most: ‘Lucy from Attic 24 has always been a constant inspiration. I discovered her when I was bed bound during the last few weeks of my third pregnancy. Lucy and her blog kept me from losing my mind – I literally crocheted the weeks away, including the beginning part of my labour, quietly ‘rippling’ a blanket in front of the fire whilst my waters broke.
I have loved watching Lucy grow from a small time blogger/mum/crafter to writing columns and patterns for magazines etc. I love her sense of colour, fun and total willingness to share her passion with makers. I always recommend her site to new makers looking for guidance.’
How do you get in the mood to work: ‘Ha! I am always in the mood to work – creativity is always pushing me to crack on. I’m so hungry to get on with it!’
What’s in your mug beside you: ‘Coffee until lunchtime, I love it, and then I have to drink loads of water!’
How do you relax after work: ‘It’s different with each season. This winter I’ve changed my routine so that I’m in bed by 9pm, and reading a good book until 10pm. I’m quite often with our children after school up until they go to bed. I’m spending that last hour between 8-9pm finishing up responding to emails etc so it’s blissful to leave everything, grab my hot water bottle and head for bed! Proper hibernation.’
BELINDA’S TRADE SECRET
How to choose a colour palette for your crochet project
‘When choosing colours I always start with an empty box in front of my yarns. I begin adding a few similar toned colours together and then add more, one by one and twist the yarns together as I go. By doing this I can see if they are going to sit well next to each other, if you’re not sure you can half squint at the colours, anything untoward will stick out; sometimes one colour will make another look muddy or dull – simply remove it and try again.
Trust your gut instinct and your heart as well as your eyes. Colour perception is like a muscle that uses all of your senses and takes time to hone. It’s such a fun journey and can be so different depending on your mood that day – I love the magic of seeing what happens. Nothing ever comes out exactly the same.
Finally, when the thickness feels right, I choose one strand of something that will make the others pop a little or add a thread of sparkles, or maybe mohair or a different textured yarn for interest. I source yarns from everywhere and have built up quite a stash, you can still pick up cones or balls of wool quite cheaply in charity shops or you can unravel jumpers, etc.
Sometimes when I’ve been out walking I come home and throw colours together to recreate what I’ve seen outside, or I might challenge myself to recreate a childhood memory, or a posy of flowers, or a picture from a magazine — just for fun. Give it a go – colour inspiration can be found everywhere!’
PIN FOR LATER
Boundaries are about the things we say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to in our business. They determine when and where we work, and how we spend our time and energy. But setting them and sticking to them can be really hard. In this post business mentor Astrid Bracke shares some of the boundaries that helps her run a slow and intentional business, and offers strategies to help you do the same.
It’s most likely you started your business because you love your craft, like to create beautiful wares, enjoy interacting with your customers and get to live the lifestyle you dream about. If only the business would market itself, right?
Vanessa Simpson is a photographer living in rural Somerset. Slowly building her photography business and looking back at the path that lead to where she finds herself today, she realises how the thread of her life’s encounters and events remind her of the game of connecting the dots.