I’m also popping in here to talk about my friend Muriel’s amazing new venture, La Boîte à Moutons. Muriel is my main collaborator on the Yarnadelic Remixes 0.1 project and if you’ve looked at that forthcoming project in my online school, you may have noticed the exciting sentence in Muriel’s bio that says she quit her 30-year-long career as a musical educator to refit a horse box; fill it with woolly wares; and take it on the road with her two adult children as a travelling emporium of joy: La Boîte à Moutons. It’s a true story and Muriel has kindly joined me today for a Q&A to tell you more about it. I hope you enjoy this tale of travelling woolly wonders and family enterprise!
Felix: Hi Muriel, thanks for joining me! For those who don’t know, what is La Boîte à Moutons (BAM)?
Muriel: That’s the name we’ve given to our old English horse box. We have been fixing her up for several months with the help of friends, neighbours and family in order to transform it into a tiny wool shop on wheels! BAM means La Boîte à Moutons; it refers to the horse box (box = boîte in French) and the sheep (sheep = moutons) and the whole expression is a play on words between « boutons » (buttons) and « moutons ». We conceived it thinking about a « Mercerie lainière » (haberdashery dedicated to wool).
Felix: I love all those associations! Sheep, buttons, wool and the idea of expanding on the idea of the button-box (where we store buttons and fixings) into something bigger, that contains many other notions and woolly wares. What prompted you to create this warm and charming emporium on-wheels?
Muriel: It’s a mother and son project. My wish was to work outside and meet people and I thought that a shop on wheels would be perfect to drive from place to place. Ewan, my son, thought it would be great to share our love and interest for wool and handcraft in this way. We constantly think about each others’ roles in this project, seeking ways of co-working that allow us to flourish together. My daughter Nolwenn also lends her wonderful support and help to this project’s development – it’s a team effort and takes a lot of energy and skill to develop a project like this.
At BAM we’re all about celebrating sheeps’ wool; supporting passionate workers and makers in the wool industry; and sharing skills that empower people to be creative in a sustainable way.
Once we settled on this idea we had great support from some wonderful friends and family members and also from some great women who have already created wool shops on wheels in France, like Andrea (« Laines & Co. »), Elodie (« Mobilaine ») and Marion who owns « Maison Bonpoil, mercerie engagée ». It’s fantastic to add our own chapter to this dynamic story of travelling wool shops in France!
Felix: When you first told me about BAM I did think of Andrea as in 2017 she brought a beautiful postcard showing her wonderful Laines & Co. traveling wool shop as an inspiration source to my Quotidian Colourwork class! I wonder if one day there might also be a BAM KNITSONIK swatch?!
I’m very honoured that some KNITSONIK items have made it into your BAM inventory (I spy KNITSONIK washi tape!) but what else do you stock? What were your main aims and considerations when deciding what to carry?
Muriel: We wanted to offer a careful and limited selection of products, each with strong ties to sheep and wool. From a practical point of view, BAM is rather small! On the ethical side we wanted to support and promote the work of very small businesses, owned by people who love sheep and wool as much as we do. We stock mostly British and French yarns. All of our wool and yarns are natural, with fully traceable and transparent sources and production. BAM offers bouncy wool stuffing; natural and dyed tops; worsted and woollen-spun yarns; highly twisted woollen mending thread; needle-felted wool batts and some finished items like felted wool soles, and woollen dish sponges.
We also carry some handy, simple and high-quality tools to empower people to make things with their own hands. Examples include knitting and darning needles; drop spindles; stitch-markers; darning mushrooms… either made locally or ethically or by EPV* labelled businesses. And, of course, selected stationery goods to celebrate sheep, wool and all the things people make by hand.
Felix: I love your inventory! There is something for everyone – from the wool-appreciator who just loves sustainable and biodegradable homewares (like your wondrous woolly sponges) – to the wool-worker who spins, knits, mends, felts and crochets. With a such small space, everything you stock must have to really earn its place! What are some of the other challenges of managing such a small space, and how have you overcome these challenges?
Muriel: Firstly, we have a limited selection of items; secondly, we have carefully considered the space and how best to use it. Skeins and balls can be seen and squeezed on big suspended wooden embroidery hoops while the backstock is stored in boxes on shelves behind us.
Haberdashery is stored under the counter but samples of all the items are exposed in little windows on the counter or outside.
The real challenge is moving around inside BAM because it’s really narrow! The nice thing when we set up BAM in a market space is that the bigger part of the stock is already in place in the horse box, ready and waiting to be unstrapped.
Felix: That’s so cool – you don’t have to load everything in and out of the selling space because it’s already right there! Where can people find BAM in 2023?
Muriel: People can find BAM at Cholet market (Maine et Loire) every Saturday mornings; at Vallet market (Loire Atlantique) on sunny Sundays; and around Cholet at special events like Christmas markets, Wool, Sheep or Craft festivals.
BAM is quite an old lady, and although we would love to drive her on farther adventures we have to stay local and meet wool-lovers around Cholet. One of the happiest surprises for us has been finding people ready (and even waiting!) for beautiful yarn and natural sheepy products while coming to the market for vegetables or cheese! Customers are not only discovering our selection but they also come back to BAM to show us what they made and to talk together. And we are always happy to share knitting tips or how to take care of their handmade items.
Felix: Your customers are lucky! There is something absolutely lovely about finding wool at the farmer’s market, right beside the cheese and the vegetables. In the yarn store it can be easy to forget that wool is an agricultural product from a working landscape and that it’s tied into the same seasons, weather and communities as other kinds of (usually edible!) produce but in between the other market stalls, your woolly wares read as part of the same story.
I am sure loads of people are going to love the whole story of BAM! How can folks contact you to book BAM for their woolly events; follow your activities; and support your wondrous woolly dream on wheels?
Muriel: We would be more than happy to be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re mainly promoting the project on Instagram, but we’re also planning to write a newsletter for BAM friends. If you are near to Cholet, please come and have a chat with us at the market! 😉
As we drive BAM to markets and events, we not only have met peole who are curious and enthusiastic about wool and sheep but also people who really want to learn new skills; make things with their hands; buy in a sustainable way; and share convivial moments around wool. So, in addition to selling things from the horse box, we are starting to provide courses about specific knitting techniques, and to organise nomadic Knit & Natter events in different locations that allow people to discover nice places, great people and – of course! – the creative potentials of wool.
Thank you very much, Felix, for these questions and for your interest in our little shop on wheels!
We would like to thank all the partners who have believed and trusted in our project; we are so happy to share their savoir-faire and fantastic products with customers of La Boîte à Moutons!
*EPV : Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant
Thank you so much, Muriel! It’s wonderful to see this dream coming to life; it’s such a happy thought to know that you and Ewan and Nolwenn are traveling around in your lovely old horse box, bringing THE JOY OF WOOL to all the farmers’ markets of Cholet! Thanks for spending some time here today on the KNITSONIK blog and best of luck with your adventures on the road!