At the age of only 24, a self-taught Scot has become something of a rock star in the colourful world of knitting. Working from her flat in Edinburgh, amid beautifully composed arrangements of wool and buttons, Ysolda Teague cannot produce designs quickly enough for her fans to knit.
Her website receives 2,000 to 5,000 hits a day, as knitters log on to buy her clever, accessible patterns for hats, retro cardigans, mittens and soft toys. Her two books, self-designed and self-published, are selling so well that she can’t keep pace on her own.
In North America, where knitting is a multimillion-dollar online industry, Ms Teague gets celebrity treatment — and she has the income to match. Fans recognise her in the street and her female followers, who range from teenagers to pensioners, endure five-hour round trips to see her at one of the many conventions she attends.
“It is a little weird. These people know me but I don’t know them. It’s such a huge online community, but people are so friendly to me,” she said. “What’s strange is that I work at home and it’s just me. I haven’t changed.”
The fame and prosperity started by accident, in the lecture halls of the University of Edinburgh. Ms Teague, an English literature student, realised that she absorbed information better if she was doing something with her hands rather than taking notes. So she began to knit in lectures and found she could recall everything. “Everyone in my family knitted,” she said. “My mother is a Highlander, who grew up outside Fort William and moved to Edinburgh to go to art college. I learnt to knit when I was 6, but I didn’t want to study anything crafty.
“While I was knitting at university I wasn’t following patterns because I couldn’t afford them, but I started posting pictures of things I had made. People wanted to know how to make them, and I had to do the pattern.”
She made her breakthrough at 19 with her first proper pattern — a lace cardigan in a fine yarn, inspired by a 1940s design, using wool she had inherited from her grandfather. One of the biggest knitting websites paid her $80 and asked about her website — so she had to set one up.
“Then I noticed two or three designers were selling their own patterns, and it seemed very simple. I sold my first design for £2 or £3.” she said. “Over the last two years at university I made £50 to £100 a month from knitting. My parents were horrified when I said I wasn’t going to get a proper job.”
She saw the growth of traffic on her website and decided to try to make a living from knitting, teaching herself techniques from books from the 1940s and 1950s bought at church sales.
“I gave myself six months to make the equivalent of the annual minimum wage. That was my goal. It took six weeks. My mum now works packaging up my books and mailing them.”
Business is now booming. Her patterns cost between £2 and £4 and she sells several thousand a month — or, if she brings out a new design, a few thousand in a day. “It had got to the point where I could either run the business or design things,” she said. “I have sold patterns to Africa; I get blog traffic from Iran. The main markets, though, are the US, Britain, Canada, Scandinavia, Europe and Australia.”
She raised £15,500 for Haiti in two weeks and her focus is now on her next big challenge — designing her first dress. Her fans, no doubt, have their needles and credit cards poised.
Times Online 27th February, 2010