Local, luscious yarn at Skein Sisters
Deb McDonald and Janine Smith were friends for years before they opened Skein Sisters, a Sydney store stocking the best in local and international yarn.
Who are you, and how did Skein Sisters start?
We are Deb McDonald and Janine Smith and we opened our shop in April 2017. We have both been making things since we were kids - knitting, sewing, crochet, embroidery and more. But we both stopped knitting during our teens.
After school, Deb went on to study Fashion Design and then took a side step in her late 20s into the world of plants and became one of Australia's leading gardening journalists, editing a national magazine, writing books and newspaper columns, and appearing at events and on radio.
Janine pursued a career in the world of advertising and marketing including over 10 years in a variety of roles with Network Ten television. Positions with Reebok Australia, Ogilvy and Mather, Major League Baseball and two wildly fun years running the UK marketing of a leading London-based casino group, have made for a rewarding career.
Janine began knitting again when her first child was born in 2003; Deb was introduced to the amazing world of Ravelry in 2010 and hasn’t stopped since. They met when they were working on the magazine for the Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney and soon started talking about yarn and fibre.
It drove them crazy that all the yarns that they were lusting after weren’t available in any quantity in Australia. Plus most shops in Australia didn’t have easy-to-use websites with good imagery, so there were too many times that they ordered something only to be so disappointed when it turned up looking nothing like the photos on the website.
What are the different kinds of yarn that you sell?
We offer a contemporary and creative collection of some of the world’s best in Australian, international and indie yarns, focussing on natural fibres, breed specific yarns, and some of the amazing dyeing that is happening both in Australia and worldwide. From your workhorse to your luxury yarn and in a range of price points, Skein Sisters stock the best on offer. Indie dyed yarns include Hedgehog Fibres, Julie Asselin, Primrose Yarn Co, Wollmeise, Fyberspates, Nunnaba Yarns and Wren and Ollie, plus ranges such as Brooklyn Tweed, Shibui Knits, The Fibre Co, Blacker Yarns, Quince and Co, Sweet Georgia and more. The store also carries fabulous accessories such as Chiaogoo, Cocoknits (Skein Sisters are also the distributor for Cocoknits in Australia and New Zealand), Fringe Supply Co and Twig & Horn.
We spend a lot of time on social media, researching what’s popular and which yarns and patterns people are getting excited about. Usually if we love it, we try to stock it! Our customers often recommend the store to yarn companies and they know if they want a particular brand to just ask and we’ll look into getting it in.
What sort of events do you run?
We have a large workshop room used for teaching, workshops and events, and we offer classes in a wide range of topics from beginner knitting and crochet right through to specialised topics such as brioche, continental knitting, Tunisian crochet, weaving and drop spindling.
We also love hosting events with local and international knitting and crochet designers and hold trunk shows (always with lots of champagne and great food), dinners, talks and presentations. Norah Gaughan, Libby Jonson, Clare Devine (knitsharelove), Ambah O’Brien, Kirsten Johnstone, Jess Gore (Sweater Collective), Deanne Ramsay (Addydae Designs) and Nathan Taylor (Sockmatician) and Shelley Husband have all visited.
Who are your customers?
We have a huge range of customers of all different ages, skill levels and experiences. There are so many people who have to knit the latest pattern with the hottest yarn, and there are also so many who are picking up the needles again after many years not knitting. Many are locals and live within walking distance, others live on the other side of Sydney or even in other states of Australia and they make sure they plan a visit whenever they’re in Sydney. Fortunately, we’re not far from the airport and people often turn up with their suitcases having just hopped off the plane! We’ve been amazed at the number of international visitors we get who have heard about us and put a visit to us on their itinerary.
We have a large area in the shop with comfy chairs and anyone is welcome to come and sit with us anytime. We do have scheduled ‘social knitting’ a few times a week too, and the shop can be full of lots of rowdy and very happy people! We’re happy to help anyone with their knitting or crochet problems through drop-in clinics, and private and group classes.
We also send out an email newsletter every Friday, which is filled with news about what we’re making, what’s new in the store, the ‘hot’ patterns on Ravelry and combinations of yarns they could use, as well as upcoming events.
Social media is also such a wonderful way to engage with our customers, to share news with people and get them excited about coming back to visit us. It’s just lovely when people come into the shop who we only know through Instagram or Facebook. We love it when people share what they’ve made with our yarns or come into the shop to show us, and we often have informal KALs going with lots of people all making the same pattern.
What’s coming up at Skein Sisters?
We have some great workshops for knitters with New Zealand designer Libby Jonson (Truly Myrtle) at the end of November.
721 New Canterbury Road
Dulwich Hill NSW 2203
Ph +61 2 9554 7444
Sydney Craft Week would like to thank Skein Sisters for their support.
Images: Skein Sisters. Deb McDonald and Janine Smith (left to right). All photos by Philip Le Masurier