Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Beginner's mind

My hands itch to start another project even though currently there are six (at least) in medias res. Some I've put aside temporarily because I'm stuck or at a point where I need to rip out a few inches and just can't face that. One, a scarf for H, is worked on only while I'm riding shotgun in the car, since it's mindless and he doesn't expect it at any particular time. Now I'm wanting to make J the "Rosalie Scarf" from Jamieson's "Simply Shetland, 4," though I'm not planning to use the lambswool-and- cashmere blend they recommend.

Just before leaving for harpsichord camp I visited Jo Ann Bartholomew, owner of Knit Wits in Westerly, RI. She mentioned that she loves to start projects, finding the beginnings the most interesting. Sometimes she has friends finish the pieces for her. I've never delegated the finishing to others, but I do understand the intense rush of excitement generated at the start of a knitting endeavor, since there's so much to absorb--the pattern instructions, the feel of the yarn, the way it knits up and develops, complicated thoughts about the person who will wear the completed item.

I enjoyed my visit with Jo Ann, since I was able to talk to her and watch her in action. Jo Ann is extremely nice to her clients--knowledgeable, cheerful, and kind. She's a really good person, period. Knit Wits is a bright spot in an otherwise banal strip mall off Route 1. The most impressive aspect of the store is the enormous table to the left of the front entry. There sit any knitters who feel the urge, and they knit sociably, or ask for help with a project, and Jo Ann or her staff always oblige. During the short time we chatted, five different people asked Jo Ann for guidance on a project or for advice about what kinds of yarn to use for a specific pattern, and she had sensible answers for everyone.

If you're wondering what the big deal about this is--after all, running a yarn store is her business--it's pertinent to mention that unfortunately many yarn stores in this area actually charge for helping someone, and sometimes will refuse to help a knitter unless she's bought her yarn at the store. While one can see the business mentality at work here, such a policy is, IMHO, petty and not conducive to positive energy. In general, when I review a Local Yarn Shop (LYS), I'll make a point of mentioning whether or not it charges for help, and you, gentle reader, may decide for yourself where to seek knitting advice. It's worth stating that at least two of the Rhode Island LYS I've visited that charge patrons for knitting help have their worktables stuffed in the way back of store, forcing everyone to knit in a cramped manner. They generally limit their help to specific times of the week, as well as the number of people who can attend the help sessions. The going rate is about $10/hour per person for a group help.

To me it's not so much about the money as about what it means to charge knitters for help. LYS tend to cultivate an image that's people oriented, more about knitting sociability than commerce. The deliberate blurring of the line between customer and friend creates the warm and fuzzy atmosphere knitters enjoy; when a shop's policy is "show me the money" for a courtesy like knitting help, it feels, almost, like a slap in the face.

This is definitely not part of the Knit Wits ethos. Jo Ann doesn't even care if a knitter who bought her yarn elsewhere comes in for some guidance. She knows that building a dedicated clientele is furthered by the generous spirit of her shop.

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