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North Hills Monthly

Local Yarn Shops Provide Crafters with Sense of Community

Nov 29, 2019 06:15PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Darn Yarn Needles & Thread

Working with yarn is nothing new—knitted items found in Egypt date from between the 11th and 14th centuries AD, according to www.historyofclothing.com. And while trends in knitting have come and gone, both remain popular, perhaps now more than ever. 

The Craft Yarn Council states there are more than 50 million yarn crafters, and studies show that knitting and crocheting not only produces useful items, but is good for mental health.

Lisa Krack started Darn Yarn Needles & Thread in 2010 in Butler, moving to Harmony in 2012. 

“I’m a creative person with a good business background and those don’t always come together,” she explained. “This was a good way to combine them.

“The yarn shop bit just sort of came about,” she added. “I come from a long line of creative souls and knew the business would be something creative; the ideas and brainstorming just sort of morphed into a yarn shop.”

Both a knitter and crocheter, Krack enjoys it when others create. “One of my favorite things is seeing others complete a project—no matter how long it takes them, how many mistakes they make, visible or not, or how it looks,” she said. 

And while she has many longtime customers, there are newer ones, too. 

“It's fun to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over their accomplishments,” she said. “Many of my customers do amazingly stunning work. Some labor for months on what others would consider a simple project. First projects are often a bit wonky. I love seeing them all.” 

Like many businesses, it isn’t always easy in the yarn arena, particularly since Darn Yarn has been flooded more than once, with the most recent and damaging event occurring this past May.

“Yes, it has been hard, but I love this,” said Krack, adding that the shop creates a sense of belonging with group gatherings and classes. “We feel that we are part of the community.”  

Sewickley Yarns is a family business. Robin Kifer owns the shop with her brother and father, and her sister is involved as well. The store had been located in the heart of Sewickley for more than 25 years when the Kifers heard that it was going to close. They reopened it in early 2016. 

 “The store had been a fixture in Sewickley and had a very loyal customer base, including me,” said Kifer. “They had always been known for very high-quality merchandise.” 

According to the shop owner, this is a great time to be in the yarn industry.  

 “When I was younger, the choices for hand knitting were limited, and it was frustrating to try to source beautiful yarns,” she explained. “But in the past 10 to 15 years or so, the availability and choices have exploded.” 

Having a local shop allows Kifer to offer selections that customers can see and feel. Sharing her knowledge and the benefits of the craft are also important to her. 

“Picking up needles, working methodically, seeing something beautiful resulting—it’s a wonderful tonic for the crazy busyness that so many of us deal with in the rest of our lives,” she explained. “Being able to encourage others to learn this skill is a benefit of running the shop.” 

When Amy Elizabeth McCall, owner of McWalker Yarns in Millvale, was looking for a career change, a yarn store quickly came to mind. 

“The yarn store business plan almost wrote itself because I have been part of this community for many decades,” she explained. “I looked into it further and felt that I had something to offer.” 

Like the idea of the shop, the location also seemed like a natural. “I chose Millvale because it is friendly and easily accessible. It’s full of great people and the source of many of my regular customers,” McCall said. 

McCall opened her store in 2018 and quickly found a following. “The people who have found a home here are fantastic. I learn new things, make new friends, and find new joys every day,” she said.

The Pittsburgh Knit, Crochet and Creative Arts Festival has been a vital part of the yarn community since 2003. Over the years, it has evolved to include many aspects of handwork in addition to knitting and crochet, such as weaving and spinning and many other creative types of work. 

“Each year, we feature a few new classes. We try to keep current and expose individuals to many forms of work; we also show people ways to integrate materials into their work that they may not have thought of,” said founder Barb Grossman, who organizes the event with her sister, Ann Szilagyi.

Knitters are often known for using their skills for service projects, and the festival has followed this mission. With almost 4,000 people in attendance, they have partnered with numerous nonprofits to provide them with items such as chemo caps and knitting squares for blankets. 

“Last year, we began a Hand Made Heart Initiative, a kindness campaign following the tragedy that occurred in Squirrel Hill,” Grossman said. To date, more than 4,500 hearts have been made and distributed, and the festival plans to continue the kindness campaign indefinitely.