How this yarn shop fostered a community in regional NSW during lockdown

How this yarn shop fostered a community in regional NSW during lockdown
Image: iStock.
This article is sponsored by Square.

For Nikki Shipard, crocheting and knitting began as a love language — one that she learnt from her mum. Now, she runs the bustling yarn shop and community hub Mill & Make, an establishment founded on the ethos of sharing the joys of communal creating and producing quality knitted goods.

Before its opening, Nikki ran a fitness business with her husband, which the couple decided to close after he’d become resistant to his epilepsy medication and required extra care. In this time, she began crocheting and knitting beanies for him and started selling modern yarns from a shipping container at M-Arts Precinct — which acted as the catalyst for the business.

Based in Murwillumbah (in north-eastern New South Wales), Mill & Make, like most businesses, has faced a range of challenges during the pandemic. However, through creativity and adaption, the business has managed to reach a whole new audience in this time. Here’s what Nikki had to say.

Business Insider Australia: What’s the ethos behind Mill & Make? 

Nikki: At its core, we aim to bring people together to develop and reinvigorate their passion for making. By providing amazing yarns, running practical classes and fostering a positive community (both in-person and online), we aim to play an important role in the resurgence of ‘making your own’. 

Business Insider Australia: How would you describe the community Mill & Make has facilitated? 

Nikki: We are so blessed to have such a diverse range of people who have a strong passion for knitting and crochet. Kids, men, single mums, grandmas and everyone in between. One of the positive side-effects of the COVID craziness is that it has emphasised the importance of connecting with your people. Our community is creative, passionate, and caring.

Business Insider Australia: What are the best things about running a business in a regional community? 

Nikki: For us, the best part of having a yarn shop in our beautiful town is the ongoing connection we get to develop with our customers. For people to know that if you come in and visit us, we can get to know where they are at with their knitting or crochet skills and guide them on a suitable project. One of the pure joys of running Mill & Make is having people come back into the shop and show us what they have made. Seeing their sense of accomplishment and pride in their work is an amazing thing to witness amongst all the craziness of the outside world.

Business Insider Australia: Where do you find inspiration for your creations? 

Nikki: Instagram is a haven of inspiration for yarnies — all great knitwear designers and modern yarn companies showcase their products there. If you’re a person who loves beautiful yarn and are not using Instagram, then you’re missing out on seeing the best of the best! I’m inspired by high-quality, contemporary yarns and modern patterns. I love companies like Wool and the Gang, Loopy Mango and Knit Collage. They all provide beautiful high-quality materials and designs that are simple and beginner-friendly, with lots of tutorial support. 

All these companies are based overseas, which is why we import most of our yarn supplies for our shop. Unfortunately, Australia is a bit behind the current overseas trends right now — for example, no mill in Australia has the machinery to produce the contemporary yarns we love to use at Mill & Make. We have some of the best fibre in the world here in Australia but are not doing much with it. Beautiful contemporary yarns are spun in countries such as Italy, Peru, Turkey, India and Spain. 

Business Insider Australia: What’s your favourite item that you’ve created? 

Nikki: One of my favourite items that I love to wear is the Simple Linen Tank Top. We’ve designed a few of our beginner-friendly knitting patterns made from cotton and linen fibres that suit the hot summer climate here, and this is one of them. I’ve made three for myself and wear them all the time! 

Business Insider Australia: How have you adapted to the enduring COVID restrictions over the last year? 

Nikki: Before COVID hit in 2020, we were committed to just running a brick-and-mortar yarn shop. We put a huge emphasis on connecting with our customers in-store and guiding them on their making journey. So having an online shop was not on our radar at all. Then after experiencing our first lockdown and seeing the real economic impact of closing our doors, we pivoted slightly and built out our website.

Over the past 12 months, we have progressively added more of the shop to the website, and during the most recent lockdown, our online side of the business was a literal lifeline. Using Square Online has been crucial in our business moving forward and adapting to an online space as well — all of the different elements of the entire package are very straightforward to understand and implement into our business quickly. The in-person shopping experience is quite different with masks, check-ins and social distancing, so we are just doing our best with the restrictions placed on us. 

Business Insider Australia: What’s next for Mill & Make? 

Nikki: To be honest, all the lockdowns have knocked our business around a bit and heavily impacted our customers’ retail spending habits. So we will just focus on getting through the next six months by providing quality materials, great classes and fun community events. Then as the dust settles, we can recalibrate, catch our breath and start to think about how else we can serve our amazing community.