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March 21, 2022 —

Shopkeeper Spotlight: The Modern Crafter

With a passion for crafting, sisters Rachel Lawson and Siobhan Watt created The Modern Crafter - an independent craft store in picturesque Saffron Walden
Shelley Welti
91 Magazine online content editor,
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The sisters showcase their beginner-friendly punch needle and embroidery kits in their store, created with 100% British wool. We caught up with Rachel to hear more about their story so far…

Hi Rachel, when and why did you decide to open The Modern Crafter?

We opened our shop in Saffron Walden in September 2021 after running the business online offering punch needle and embroidery kits and workshops for approximately three years. Previously I ran the business from my living room whilst Siobhan was designing from her studio in London. We were looking for a location to move the business, to help us grow. We are very grateful to have managed to keep growing with the support of our online community and we’ve enjoyed meeting the local community at our shop and our punch needle workshops which have been very popular.

Inside the studio of The Modern Crafter store, with owner Rachel Lawson
Stylish punch needle cushion in The Modern Crafter store in Saffron Walden

What had you both done before? Did any of these skills help?

Siobhan is an experienced textile designer who has designed print and pattern for many high street brands. She specialised in screen printing as part of her degree which lends itself well to punch needle patterns. I previously worked as a Facilities Manager at St Mary’s Axe, managing a shop you could say is similar!

How did you decide on the name?

We love traditional crafts in particular punch needle and embroidery and we are passionate about keeping these traditional crafts alive in a modern way. Sadly, some traditional crafts have disappeared from being practised in the UK and there are so many wonderful benefits to crafting. We were keen to have a bold modern appeal and we came up with the name The Modern Crafter, so that, in the future, we can also bring in other traditional crafts in a modern way under our brand.

Punch needle kits inside The Modern Crafter, Saffron Walden
British wool on sale in The Modern Crafter store in Saffron Walden

How would you describe the interior style of the store?

The interior was designed by Matt Watt, Siobhan’s husband. Matt is a commercial interior architect and the style was to keep it functional and simple. As well as pre designing the shop Matt also did a lot of the fit-out work such as installing the plywood and making the pegboard.

What is the neighbourhood like?

We are lucky to have our shop in a beautiful market town, which is between London and Cambridge, attracting lots of tourists. We also have a great community that supports our shop and there are over 20 other small independent businesses which makes Saffron Walden very unique too! We also have a Business Improvement District group who helps to market our town and local businesses.

Punch needle hanging plant pot in The Modern Crafter store in Saffron Walden

Tell us about the range of products you stock…

We stock punch needle and embroidery kits that are suitable for beginners. Punch needle in particular is a craft that everyone can do from age seven upwards, we like to describe it as drawing with wool! We stock punch needle hoop kits which are a great introduction to the craft and if you feel like a bigger project we also stock punch needle cushion kits.

These kits come with our own range of exclusive 100% British wool, by supporting us, our customers are also supporting our British farmers and using a renewable and biodegradable fibre. We also offer a range of punch needle embroidery kits that come with Appleton’s 100% British wool. We currently have five beginner embroidery kits to choose from all of which are printed on organic cotton. We only choose natural or recycled materials in our kits.

What does a ‘normal’ day look like?

We open the shop from 10-3pm Tuesday to Friday and Saturday 10-4pm (we’re closed on Sundays and Mondays) to welcome our customers. I also use the shop as my studio space for making up kits and fulfilment of online orders, admin, website updates, newsletters, goal planning, product photography, and we also have our stock room to manage.

Lion punch needle cushion in The Modern Crafter store in Saffron Walden
The Modern Crafter punch needle DIY kits in their Saffron Walden store

Tell us more about your kits…

All of our kits are created in house, the design process is done by Siobhan in her studio who often hand draws the designs first before turning them into illustrations. Then it is over to me to mock up, photograph, source the materials and launch as a kit. All kits are made by hand in our shop in Saffron Walden and online orders are posted out from there too.

Which item is your bestseller? Why do you think that is?

Our bestsellers are our British Wool Monstera Punch Needle Hoop, Abstract Punch Needle Cushion and our Summer Swallow Embroidery Kit. We have found that our customers love to create anything with plants, they love practical items and the Summer Swallow kit is such a beautiful pattern with bright summery colours which our customers love too!

15 Punch Needle Projects book by Rachel Lawson, The Modern Crafter
img 62c33e4f0655e

What items are your personal can’t-live-without?

My personal can’t-live-withouts are my punch needle tools and embroidery needle pouch that we stock from local small business Red Bike Leathers, it’s handy being able to store all my embroidery needles in one place!

What do you enjoy most about running The Modern Crafter?

We love working together as sisters and being able to combine our strengths that compliment one another. We both absolutely love being creative and crafty and it’s great to be able to offer our customers something unique. It’s so exciting to be able to manage your own destiny and building a business from scratch!

Punch needle kits in The Modern Crafter store in Saffron Walden
Outside The Modern Crafter shop in Saffron Walden, with owner Rachel Lawson

What has been your career highlight?

We designed and wrote a book with 15 Punch Needle projects which launches at the end of March (2022), this is definitely a highlight for us and we are so proud of this achievement especially as it was written during lockdown with our children at home!

Do you have any advice for those thinking of starting their own store?

Negotiate your rent with your landlord, if you don’t ask for a reduced rate you won’t receive one! You can also negotiate a break clause to your rent. Think about the support you might need to take a holiday or to be able to take a Saturday off now and again!

Find The Modern Crafter at 7 Market Row, Saffron Walden


Photography: Diana Stainton

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