I was browsing some online newspapers today, looking for something else, when I found an account from May 1919 of someone opening a wool shop. The woman concerned had been in uniform during the war, and wanted to carry on being financially independent. Employment for women was scarce, with all the men returning from the war, so setting up her own business was a way round that.
It seems from the article below that wool shops had not been flourishing before the war, though the huge effort in knitting comforts for the troops must have helped the trade. In 1919 a new 'knitting craze' was foreseen - correctly, as it turned out, with knitwear becoming very fashionable in the 1920s. So it must have seemed an auspicious time to start a wool shop.
I was particularly interested in this account, because the Wakefield Greenwood company started out in just the same way: in June 1919, Clara Greenwood and Harold Wakefield (who were engaged to be married at the time) set up a shop in Huddersfield, selling knitting and crochet yarns, and all kinds of needlework supplies. This could almost have been their story too:
MY WOOL SHOP.
A BIT OUT OF CRANFORD SUCCESSFULLY REVISED.
Somehow talking about wool shops seems to suggest "Cranford" and Jane Austen, and those early Victorian days of terrible gentility when one of the few things that a poor woman could do for a living was to keep a shop for the sale of Berlin wools and crewel silks. Those times have changed, however. At the outbreak of war period it required some searching to find a shop where such commodities were the principal feature. Wool and fancy workshops "went out" at the beginning of the century, but the war has helped to bring them back again.
At least, they are on the way. There is, I think, a decided opening for them in many parts of the country. I happen to know, because I have just received the experience of a woman who has established one. Her home is in a little country market town not very far from London, a fairly busy place and popular with holiday makers.
The Business Rest Cure.
"When I came out of khaki," she told me, "my doctor advised me to stay at home and take things quietly for a while, and in answer to my protests at enforced idleness, he said jokingly: 'You'd better take that empty shop in the High-street and turn it into a wool repository, like it used to be when I was a boy! The papers say that there is a wool craze ahead, and that women will soon be knitting all their own clothes, so you ought to do well!'
"It was meant as a joke, but it seemed to supply just what I had been trying to find—an idea for 'something different' from my pre-war work, something that would give me some independence and which would not demand a terrifically large initial outlay. So I did it.
"The empty shop which had been a Berlin wool shop in my grandmother's young days became mine for a moderate rental: it was painted and cleaned and made to look pretty, and one bright morning it was opened with some wools and fancy work goods arranged artistically in the window and myself behind the counter. Since then it has been opened continually, and now there are two 'young ladies' in the shop as well as myself, and things are more promising and prosperous than I ever dreamed.
On the Wave of Fashion.
"No doubt the recent and present craze for woollen garments and trimmings has had something to do with it; all sorts of wools can be bought at my shop. Embroidery silks, too, either for working cushions or frocks, besides all sorts of fringes, bead trimmings, braided work, and various made-up passementeries, for which there is a greater demand now than there has been for a quarter of a century or so. Lately I have added some pillow and various English cottage laces to my stock, also lace-making equipment, and the results already have been very encouraging.
"One of my assistants is a good embroideress, and I have some 'outside workers,' who will do work to order, so that it is possible for me to take orders for work to be done—in particular, I find many women are glad to give orders for special dress trimmings of an everyday order, also for hat bands, children's clothes, and such like.
Lessons in Knitting.
"To a lesser extent, too, unfinished work is completed; some orders are taken for knitted garments in special colourings, etc.; while the demand for lessons in knitting, lace-making, and embroidery of all sorts, is far greater than the outsider would imagine. It is so great. indeed, that I am seriously thinking of taking a clever friend into my business who will confine herself to teaching.The popularity of hand knitting lasted until after World War 2, and beyond. When I learned to knit as a child, there seemed to be little wool shops everywhere. In Huddersfield, Greenwoods closed long ago, when Miss Greenwood (aka Mrs Wakefield) retired in the 1960s - until then it flourished and expanded into the wholesale yarn business, run by Mr Wakefield. It would be good to think that the woman in the article did well with her shop, too.
"It is an old idea which was dead and has been resuscitated, but it is worth reviving. My wool shop is a flourishing concern: so is one on exactly similar lines which is run by another woman friend in a London suburb. And one hears people who drop in saying: 'How I wish someone would open a shop like this where I live.' "