In a bedroom in Bridgwater sits a king-sized blanket made of granny squares. Some squares are tight and others loosely crocheted, some have sunflower patterns stitched in, others are a simple pink or blue. Overall, this blanket seems quite normal, erring on the wonky side, but it is also very special to Zoe Goddard. It changed her life.
Zoe is the face behind HookAway4Crochet, where she crochets anything from shower puffs to reusable face wipes and anything people might ask her for in-between. Her hands are always busy – she’s making a pair of gloves as we speak.
One thing that strikes me about Zoe is her positivity and her faith in small acts of kindness as essential to her work. It came as a surprise then to realise that Zoe found this path only at a very dark time in her life.
‘About three and a half years ago I was struggling with mental health issues,’ she says. ‘I was a child minder, but I couldn’t work with crowds anymore. I had to give it up.’ Feeling confined to her home, Zoe began looking for ‘something to focus on rather than the noise in [her] head.’
This new focus came in the form of a project for her sister, to make a crocheted blanket. Having learnt basic crochet from her grandmother years back, Zoe decided to give it a go – ‘I learnt a lot from that blanket – how to crochet. I was tense at first which made the squares smaller. I was relaxed and crocheting loosely by the end. When the blanket was done, I felt accomplished – really accomplished. Yes. I did it!’ The giant blanket was the result of nine months hard work and learning.
It was time for a shorter project, so Zoe went on to crochet fingerless gloves and try out the projects she found on YouTube – ‘Crochet still was a complete hobby and a way to distract myself.’ Filling her days with craft, Zoe churned out piles of gloves for her family, and many more. Her younger sister prompted her to try selling them on Etsy, and Zoe opened her shop in 2015 – ‘I didn’t think I would sell anything at all, but I wanted to have a go.’
Two months in, the sound of a ch-ching went on Zoe’s phone. She’d made her first sale – a pair of gloves. ‘I was really anxious about making the first pair of gloves for a customer,’ she says, although those fears went when more orders came in. Glove making has become a fine art for Zoe now – she can make a pair in two hours and crocheted an amazing sixty pairs for people over Christmas! A brilliant moment was finding eight people recommending her skills online in a day.
All this wouldn’t happen without support from her family. ‘I have my ‘happy helpers,’ as I like to call them,’ says Zoe. ‘My daughter Allissa does all my modelling for me. She helps me pack up my orders and make sure there are no yarn ends in the parcel. She and my partner Mark do post office runs.’ While Zoe’s mental health issues still make it impossible for her to hold an outside job, HookAway4Crochet works well for her – ‘I can work from the living room. I sit on the sofa, binge watching Criminal Minds as I work.’ And business is growing – ‘I do constantly feel stressed. Now I get more bulk orders for the business – £400 or even £500 orders! It’s a lot of money and I can get overwhelmed with the responsibility of it. But I’ve never missed a deadline yet.’
To look at Zoe’s shop now, zero waste and reusable products are front and centre. This change came about as Zoe set herself the challenge to crochet a flat circle, and reusable makeup pads were the result. She tested them on Etsy and the response blew her away, which led her to investigate more – ‘It just spiralled from there. Over the course of the last two years I took steps to live more sustainably and thought about what I would use myself. I think my face scrubbies appealed because they are pretty. Every house has a packet of face wipes and, when people dip their toes into the zero waste world, they think about what they can try. A lot of the switches are expensive, but trying reusable makeup wipes can be an obvious change.’
Handmade, reusable items are a part of life now among Zoe’s family and, rather than expensive presents for birthdays and Christmas, they’ll invest that time in craft projects together. ‘It’s changed my attitude towards consumerism,’ says Zoe. When buying for herself, she takes care to support other small businesses – ‘I get really dry hands from crocheting. It’s led me to make more eco-friendly purchases such as handmade soaps. Shampoo bars are great too – I like Conchus and the rinses she makes.’
‘If there was one thing we could do to support makers,’ Zoe thinks, ‘it would be to not compare them with high street chains. Try not to focus only on the price tag and realise there’s quality and longevity in handmade goods. In the 80s and 90s we used to flick through Argos catalogues thinking about things we might like. What we need to do now is think of what we might need and make a considered purchase – buy something that’s tailored to you.’
While optimistic that we’re slowly rediscovering traditional skills, Zoe’s concerned that a new generation of parents aren’t teaching their children the crafts their grandparents used to know – ‘Anything you can make yourself rather than buy has a place. If you can create something yourself, then do. If you can sew a dress, then sew a dress. Don’t buy one. There are so many things we can create.’ For Zoe, the experience of creating HookAway4Crochet has given her a renewed passion to support handmade goods, ‘I get to know other crafters and we help each other.’
As Zoe talks to me, sitting at work on her sofa, she reflects on how far she’s come, ‘When I think of my business, I feel proud – and accomplished. I must say I’ve always struggled at feeling that way about something I’ve done myself. But I think I must be doing something right.’ Two years in, around her sit all the trappings of her growing business – there are boxes of products and bowls of yarn, tools and a special crochet hook holder carved for her by a talented friend.
‘It’s helped my mental health,’ Zoe says, ‘going back full circle in a way. I’ve helped to eliminate thousands of plastic face wipes and puffs. By making for others, I’ve created a bigger difference than if I was just making eco-friendly changes by myself. I take a carefree approach with Hookaway4Crochet. I go in the direction that it takes me. I go with what people ask me for. It started with fingerless gloves and it’s moved in an eco-friendly direction. It’s changed my life in that direction too. I’m excited to see where it’ll go. It’s given me something to do and a sense of purpose beyond it. I feel like I’m helping people. That’s worth more than your average pay check.’
Enjoyed reading about this? Scroll down to sign up to our monthly email, full of stories about indie makers and fun ideas to keep you committed and inspired on the path to ethical living.