Stitches in Time
Most of us develop our work skills
gradually ---a summer job
here, an internship there. But not Alexandra Woods. The owner
of The Yarn Garden remembers being taught to crochet by her grandmother
when she was 6. She was hooked (pardon the pun). "My grandmother's
hands were never idle," she recalls. "She made such beautiful
things that we naturally wanted to do it." Yet Woods (better known
as Alex) did not veer straight into full-time ownership of a craft
store where she and a staff of 10 share their passion for knitting,
crocheting and needlepoint.
Working as a nurse and a mother to two sons, Alex pursued her
hobby whenever she could find time. She quit nursing and worked
with her husband Robert running a swimming pool company in Severna
Park, a venture that lasted 22 years. "It was always my dream
to own a needlepoint shop," she says. The opportunity to make
her dream come true arrived in 1996 when Yvonne Moore, the owner
of a craft shop in the Festival Shopping Center, decided to sell.
Four other craft stores in the area had closed so it was not the
easiest time to take on the challenge. While the needle crafts
tend to wax and wane in popularity---Alex estimates that the popularity
cycle runs 10 to 15 years---few crafts have lasted as long. Knitted
socks, for example, were discovered in Egyptian tombs dating between
the third and sixth centuries.
While Alex learned the craft from her grandmother, she is eager
to banish the perception that knitting and other needle arts are
the sole domain of older women sitting in their rocking chairs,
making sweaters for their grandchildren. Some of her customers
certainly fit that role, but "knitters come from all walks of
life---dentists, doctors, accountants, engineers," she observes.
Of course, like any hobby, knitting or embroidery takes time and
experience to develop. Even Alex admits she was not a star knitter
in the beginning. "After I knitted a sweater for my husband, I
swore I'd never do it again," she says. "Robert wore the sweater
exactly twice and almost suffocated each time." The sweater fiasco
did not stop her---Alex says she read every book in the store
to master the skill she now teaches others.
Younger women are a fast growing part of the knit and crochet
population. According to the Craft Yarn Council, 38 million women
in the U.S. know how to knit and crochet, and those under 35 account
for more than half the increase. They are also in famous company.
Glamorous celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah, and
Hilary Swank are known to cast on when they're not on the movie
set. ("Cast on" refers to making the first row of stitches.)
Stress relief is the number one reason that knitters and crocheters
cite for taking up their needle and yarn. Alex says it soothes
her and her customers but names other lures as well. The beauty
of the product, the soft feel of the fiber, the gorgeous hues
of the yarn---needle crafts fulfill many senses that others may
not. Plus, Alex notes, just the act of creating something brings
joy. The Yarn Garden also offers a social community, almost like
a Cheers for knitters, including a knitters' support group that
meets on Thursdays. Novice and advanced knitters alike take up
their needles, admire each others' projects, and share their life
Alex likes being immersed full-time in the yarn business even
though the managing aspect takes time away from the fun of knitting
and needlepoint. "Owning a business is the hardest work you'll
ever do," she says, noting there is no one else to take up the
slack if someone calls in sick. "But it's a lot of fun." She hopes
to expand the store that is now crowded with every shade of yarn
and thread imaginable. But the love of yarn prevails. "I know
if we get more space we'll just fill it up with more yarn."
Marie Maloney works in downtown Annapolis. Her passions
include writing, road trips, Cajun food, and the Terps.