'You get to know people': the Derbyshire market stall that knits community
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“I knitted for my children. I knitted for my grandchildren. It just became a thing. Baby clothes were quick, and I could make a big pile of them with very little wool. So, that’s what I did.”
This is Chris Grebby, 68, describing the journey to her business 2 Knits and a Purl that sits in the Alfreton market hall. Her partner in business and life is her husband Ian, 54, and the vibe between these two is as warm as the wool they stock.
“Basically, this is very unusual,” says Chris with a grin. “I’m sitting down and I’m not knitting. Usually when I’m sitting down the needles are going.” Ian laughs. “Same here. I use hand looms.”
When asked ‘why knitting?’, the pair smile at each other. The words ‘relaxing’ and ‘therapeutic’ are used, Ian adding “And when you’ve finished it…” Chris finishing her husband’s sentence with “…there’s always the satisfaction of wearing it, or somebody else wearing it.”
It feels like this sums this couple up. Their conversation knits together, their obvious hard work wrapped in a scarf of easy-going, a creative pride in making people happy. When asked how they would sum each other up, the pair laugh.
“She’s intelligent,” says Ian, a mild surprise on Chris’s face. “She doesn’t always give herself credit for what she can do. And I’m quite happy that we’ve spent thirty-two years together.”
“He’s more laid back than me,” says Chris, Ian nodding with a smirk. “If a problem occurs at home, I’ll get all stressy about it, and I’ll go ‘I can’t do this, you do it!’. We’ve been together thirty-two years now, and they gave us six weeks.”
“Yeah,” says Ian, “because there is a bit of an age difference”.
The smile between them says it all. “I’d got two children when I met him,” says Chris. “He took on a ten year-old and four year-old when he was twenty-one. And he’s made a brilliant dad, and the kids will say the same.”
Sat between their stalls, surrounded by balls of wool, this feels like a moment. “She’s a remarkable person, but she doesn’t always realise,” Ian says, Chris now giving him a mock telling off with a finger raised: “You’ll make me cry in a minute!”
Chris used to work in education, Ian in mechanics. Then they both started working craft fairs, before ending up here at the Alfreton indoor market.
“We had one stall up at the top. Selling baby clothes,” Chris explains. “And eventually, people were saying ‘Can you knit me this?’. And then it was ‘Ooh, I like that wool, can you get me some of that?’ And here we are. We started selling wool, and it snowballed.”
From this beginning, Chris and Ian are now main stockists of Sirdar wool, and cover all aspects of knitting. From baby wool to needles and crochet hooks, from yarns to pre-made hats, scarves and baby clothes. They also have knitting patterns from way back when.
“We get quite a few teenagers wanting the retro patterns,” says Ian. “It all comes back round,” says Chris with a nod.
And do people come round to ask you for knitting advice? Chris smiles. “Yes. I sort of run a knitting doctor repair type thing.” She tells of helping folk with patterns and stitch, with fixes and guidance. You can tell this is important to Chris and Ian.
“A young girl came in. She’d got two toddlers. ‘Oh I like that colour, I want to knit a blanket for the baby’. So I said, ‘Okay, fine, do you know how to cast on?’ ‘Yeah, my grandma taught me how to cast on, I’ll be fine.’”
“She came down the next week. ‘Look!’ and she’d got this hole in it… said the kids had got hold of it. So I said ‘Go and get your shopping done and I’ll get it sorted out for you’. But she stopped to talk to Ian about the next colour she wanted, and saw me pull the needles off and start rewinding it all…”
Chris stops the story, laughing, Ian adding “She went ever so pale!” Chris continues. “But by the time she came back I’d knitted it back up for her, and she was happy.”
“We have ladies come and say ‘I don’t understand this pattern’ so I’ve gone through it with them,” Chris says, explaining how she gets them to bring their early attempt in, and she will “knit it with them. And they’ll come back and say ‘I’ve finished it, look!’… It’s a lovely feeling.”
“A lady said she wanted more baby wool. She said ‘My daughter is going to adopt this little boy. He’s two days old, and he’s got nothing.’ And I said ‘You know one day when you’ve got him, bring him in to see me.’ And she came in the other week, and she said ‘I’ve got the baby, do you want to come and have a look!’… It’s nice to watch that process happen, and then actually meet the baby.”
The more stories Chris and Ian share, it becomes obvious that this market stall is much more than wool: it knits community.
“You get to know people,” says Chris with a smile. “We had one lady, and her mum was quite ill. She just used to come to the stall and we’d talk. She’d trot off again, then she’d come back and say’ Oh this has happened now’. So, come on, tell me what’s wrong… and that’s how it is. People can come in knowing they’re going to be welcomed.”
“It’s not always about what you’re selling,” adds Ian. “I think it’s something communities need,” says Chris. “They need somewhere to be glued back together again.”