When the bells on the front door to Knit One Oxford jingle, owner Patsy Engelhard springs from her office desk and rushes to greet whoever has come in. Be it a regular customer looking for the right yarn for their next afghan, or a novice knitter looking to sign up for a class, Engelhard is ready to welcome them to her self-described knitting haven with open arms.
“A yarn shop is different than most retail stores in that you really build relationships with people,” she said. “They come in and they want advice about colors, fibers and patterns, and you have to be there to help.”
Since opening in Oxford five years ago, the shop on Jackson Avenue has come to be the epicenter of the local knitting community. It all began when Engelhard learned to knit six years ago, and then moved to Oxford, where there was no yarn store. With a little help from the community, she was able to grow her business.
“In the beginning, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to help customers and teach because I was so new to knitting,” she said, “but even before we opened the doors, I had three women ask if they could work at the shop and teach.” Knit One now employs five part-time employees that work the counter, help customers and teach classes.
The shop offers lessons where beginners can learn simple knitting and crocheting techniques and take classes for lace work and felting with teachers on hand to guide them stitch-by-stitch.
“In a few weeks, we’ll be doing a sweater clinic on Wednesdays,” Engelhard said. Knitters of all experience levels may come to sessions every week and craft any sweater they choose.
The store is reaching out to knitters across the area by teaching classes outside of the shop as well.
“We offer to take our classes to knitting groups anywhere within a few hours of us,” Engelhard said. “We bring yarn to them, because many people don’t have a local shop.”
She notes that yarn stores like book and music stores have grown scarce in the wake of large corporate and online vendors. “The fact is, if shops like ours disappear, the craft will disappear, because there won’t be anyone around to teach,” she said.
“We see the yarn shop as a kind of community center in a way,” Engelhard said. “There are often people sitting at the table who meet here to knit or crochet together.”
One of these people is Sandra Crowe, who describes herself as an advanced beginner. “I started knitting after I retired, and I’ve been so encouraged by knitters here to pick my needles back up.”
Crowe sits with Margaret Fancher who says she’s there at least once a week if she’s not out of town. The lifelong knitter is currently working on fingerless gloves to hand out as graduation presents. “I love to sit here and knit, but I also love that there’s always someone here to help you out of a bad situation, even experienced knitters have emergencies,” Fancher said.
The shop hopes to reach out to more customers through the Internet with Facebook and their call-in ordering service with free shipping. “Our business has changed over the past five years and still continues to evolve,” Engelhard said. “We’ve learned about who our customer is so we buy our yarns based on that.”
Knit One carries mostly natural fiber boutique yarns, opposed to the synthetics that can easily be found at Wal-Mart or Michaels. “The small, independent yarn companies tend to do more interesting fiber combinations and pattern designs,” Engelhard explained.
For those who aren’t ready to to commit to knit just yet, the store offers a range of handmade goods from bags from Marin county to baskets from Tennessee. “We now carry scarves that were made in Paris that you can only find in our store and in Paris,” Engelhard said.
These goods will be on display, as well as a selection of the store’s inventory, at their sixth annual Fiber Festival, January 29-31, 2016. Knit One teams up with the Yoknapawatha Arts Council to put on the three day event showcasing yarn crafts, local artists and even llamas to a crowd of over a thousand people.
Community support for the store is evidenced by their customers’ dedication. Meredith Wulff has been a knitter for 12 years and has shopped at Knit One since their opening. “For me, knitting is very much meditation,” she said.
“You can buy yarn online easily, sometimes cheaper, but not always. It’s the people that make this place so special,” Wulff said, “and the ability to come in and feel the yarns makes all the difference.”
“Needlework started out being something you did for function, to stay warm,” Engelhard said, “but over time it’s really become about high fashion; it’s exquisite and unique to have something made by hand by someone who has thought about you with every stitch.”
Like a knitting project, Engelhard plans to keep growing her business to keep the craft alive, “Knitting is a wonderfully organic process, I’ll stop after every row and watch it grow,” she said. “Even from the beginning, no matter how experienced you are, you can make something beautiful.”