Two metres of cloth that travelled nearly 500 miles changed the life of a Darlington woman. HEATHER BARRON finds out how it happened.

WHEN Tracy Ridley first saw the price of Harris Tweed, she was horrified. She had intended to buy some to improve the handbags that she was making to sell, but she couldn’t do it.

“I looked at it on the website and I nearly had heart failure when I saw the price,” she confesses, laughing.

Husband, Neal, convinced her that she had nothing to lose, so she bravely bought a couple of metres in two different designs – but then put them away in a drawer.

Tracy was having a stressful time at work, and found that sewing helped her to unwind.

“We had recently moved into a new house in Darlington, with a lovely Victorian-style dining room, and I couldn’t find any place mats that would go with the décor – so I decided to make my own,” she remembers. She dragged out her old sewing machine and set to work.

“I’m just not good at making one of something, so I made loads – and then wondered what to do with them.”

Luckily, Tracy’s mother-in-law, Sylvia, was a fantastic knitter, so Tracy persuaded her to start making a stock of babywear, with the plan to take a stall at local arts and crafts fairs.

“We didn’t sell a thing at our first fair,” recalls Tracy. “We came home a bit disheartened, but agreed that we’d had a nice day out, with tea and cakes, so it wasn’t all bad.”

This positive attitude is typical of Tracy, who smiles broadly as she recounts those early, disappointing days. She and Sylvia soldiered on, and, at the second fair, they sold one item to the lady on the stall beside them.

“I think she felt sorry for us,” confides Tracy. “But we decided to carry on, and, if we sold enough to cover the cost of the stall, we were delighted.”

They called their company 'Created by the Ridleys' because: We were making an eclectic mix of things, like candles, handbags, baby clothes, and wax melts, and didn't know from one week to the next what we would be selling."

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The turning point came at the Wolsingham Show in 2016. Tracy's display included fabric handbags, which were being admired by another stallholder. She suggested that Tracy incorporated Harris Tweed into the design.

“She gave me the confidence to approach the mill, but when the cloth I’d ordered arrived, I didn’t dare cut it, in case I messed it up!”

Tracy was still working full-time and spent her evenings and weekends designing, cutting and sewing. She summoned up the courage to use the tweed on a few handbags, and they all sold immediately at the next show she attended.

“I was amazed, but it encouraged me to keep going,” she says. “However, I’m a Yorkshire girl and I don’t like waste, so I started to think about what I could do with the Harris Tweed off-cuts.”

Using Pinterest and Etsy to get ideas, Tracy started making Harris Tweed jackets for hipflasks and for her candles.

Then she was made redundant from her day job, but, typically, she saw it as a positive.

“I wouldn’t ordinarily give up a full-time job, but, looking back, I was so lucky because it pushed me down a different avenue.”

Tracy was invited to exhibit at the British Craft Trade Fair, a big event held every year at the Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate. After setting up on the Saturday, she asked Neal to stop on the way home so that she could buy an order book – “just in case I might need it”.

She was very nervous the next day, but, within half an hour of the show opening, she was filling out her first order.

“The lady asked for a selection of the whole range,” laughs Tracy. “When I started filling in her order, it was for a shop in the Outer Hebrides. I asked her if she wasn’t awash with Harris Tweed products, and she said, ‘Yes, my dear – but not quality.’ I was gobsmacked.

“That was my very first order, and, if I hadn’t taken another order I wouldn’t have cared, because I was stocking a shop in the Outer Hebrides and a person from the Outer Hebrides said my products were quality,” Tracy beams.

In 2017, she was advised to exhibit at the biggest trade fair in Scotland, and many more orders followed. Tracy gave up the craft fairs and started selling direct to shops.

Although Sylvia doesn’t attend the trade fairs, she, her husband, Ben, and Tracy’s son, Daniel, all pitch in to help. They have recently opened a shop at their Darlington premises, where she also holds candle-making workshops.

The range of items that Created by the Ridleys now sells has grown substantially. Tracy buys what she needs from other British companies, and has bespoke lining material made for her in Bradford.

“The emphasis for us is British,” she says. “We use British materials and craftsmanship, and source everything we can within the UK.”

Before the pandemic, Created by the Ridleys was supplying in excess of 150 stockists, predominantly in Scotland, and their biggest coup was getting their products into the Harris Tweed shop and museum on the Isle of Harris.

“Who’d have thought that I’d be selling Harris Tweed gifts to the Harris Tweed shop?” laughs Tracy.

And who’d have thought that two metres of Harris Tweed cloth would have been responsible for such a life-changing journey?

  • Created by the Ridleys can be found at 22 Whessoe Road, Darlington, DL3 0QP, or go to