Northumberland Woolly Pedlar seamstress brightens up North East with booming business

Sue Reed from Northumberland recycles unwanted wool jumpers into various clothes, including memory blankets from the wardrobes of people who have died

Sue Reed from Hexham who designs and makes a eco fashion range from old woolens
Sue Reed from Hexham who designs and makes a eco fashion range from old woolens. PICTURE BY SIMON GREENER WITH VIDEO

A seamstress who calls herself the Woolly Pedlar is helping grieving families by creating memory blankets from old jumpers.

For the past three years, Sue Reed, of Willimoteswick near Hexham, Northumberland, has recycled unwanted knitwear into a range of colourful products, including arm warmers, bed spreads, skirts, ponchos and jackets.

But the 52-year-old is now branching out further by sewing together squares of clothing whose owner has died into a blanket, in an effort to comfort their loved ones.

Sue, who retired from a 25-year career in special needs school teaching in 2011, said: “The memory blankets have proved popular because they can keep memories alive, while also recycling now unwanted items.

“Bereavement councillors have told me it is very useful to grieving people, as they are left with something soft and cuddly that they can hold on to, and the process of going through their loved one’s clothes can be of practical and emotional benefit.”After leaving her last teaching post at Hexham Priory School, the mother-of-three first wrote a blog about her passion for living sustainably called Bridge Cottage Way, which quickly attracted a loyal following thanks to her tips on growing your own food and seasonal eating, alongside her ‘make do and mend’ philosophy.

It was the latter which led to her setting up a knitting group and then purchasing an overlock sewing machine to help her put old sweaters to use.

Sue said: “I always loved making my own clothes and I began to think that this could be a possible income, rather than writing.

“I started by making arm warmers and then I bought a tutorial from New York designer Katwise for flamboyant sweater coats made from recycled jumpers.

“I made one and got a lot of good feedback so I set up a Facebook business page and started trawling through charity shops in Hexham to collect knitwear.”Sue now works from home with the help of her three employees - daughter Hannah, 21, and a friend who cuts out squares of jumper, and an extra seamstress - and sells her wares at Hexham shops and markets, as well as a string of summer festivals across the North of England.

Work is also underway on ‘woolly warmers’, which look like half a sleeping bag and will be available to local wheelchair users, while Sue has also created patchworks of baby clothes and football shirts.

Sue said: “We are now into our third year of trading and it has been wonderful - we are so busy now and make an enormous amount of items.

“I love running my own business and have found my background as a teacher has really helped in providing me with a range of skills for the venture.

“I am always on the lookout for knitwear, which has to be at least 50% wool, and I collect what charity shops cannot sell due to holes, bobbles or shrinking. I pay them more than the rag man does.

“I also receive donations, and in return can provide discounts and gifts.”Find out more by visiting woollypedlar.co.uk, or search for The Woolly Pedlar on Facebook and @Woollypedlar on Twitter.

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