Clovis News

January 7, 2012

Knitting businesses thrive in Fresno area

Knitting isn't just about grandmas making mittens anymore. It's also about entrepreneurs growing businesses, as younger knitters and trendier projects drive demand for yarn and needles.

Knitting isn't just about grandmas making mittens anymore.

It's also about entrepreneurs growing businesses, as younger knitters and trendier projects drive demand for yarn and needles.

A new knitting shop, a national yarn wholesaler and a goat farmer -- who sells her animals' fiber to be turned into yarn -- are all part of a thriving knitting economy in the Fresno area.

The Knit Addiction opened on Pollasky Avenue in Old Town Clovis in a tiny space in March, selling yarn, knitting needles, spinning wheels and other supplies. In November, the shop moved across the street to an 1,800-square-foot space at 438 Pollasky Ave., with a store, classroom and lounge area with couches for knitting and conversation.

A Wednesday night Knitter's Anonymous group attracts up to 30 people, who knit on the sidewalk in good weather, said owner Micheline Golden.

It's part of the nearly $800 million knitting industry nationwide. Spending rose 5.7% between 2008 and 2009, the most recent statistics available, and has likely continued to increase, according to the Craft & Hobby Association.

A change in what knitters are making -- and the patterns they use for instruction -- is attracting newcomers, Golden said.

No more frumpy mittens. Now knitters are making fingerless gloves, headbands with flowers and even scarves in the shape of bacon and eggs.

That's part of the reason younger people are taking up knitting needles, she said.

The percentage of knitters in their 20s and 30s increased from 13% to 29% between 2004 and 2009, according to The National NeedleArts Association study by Hart Business Research.

Charlie Moore, 30, of Fresno started knitting about two years ago. She goes to Knitter's Anonymous and recently made a hot pink and green hat for a skateboarder friend.

She said she's attracted to projects like "tank tops, fitted trendy-looking sweaters that I would actually wear and buy from a store, instead of something maybe my grandma made in the '30s."

The Internet has made the hobby more social, she said, with online communities publicizing locations for sit-and-knit events, and knitters sharing projects and advice on online forums.

Dozens of groups like Knitter's Anonymous exist in the Fresno area. Some are connected to knitting shops such as SWATCHES Yarn Studio, at Bullard and West avenues. The shop has so many people interested in classes that it's planning to expand soon, said owner Fran Tanner.

At Janna's Needle Art, which hosts 11 classes weekly, there isn't room or time for much social knitting because the classes are packed.

Knitting hasn't always thrived as much as it does today.

Like many businesses, knitting stores nationwide took a hit during the recession, with some shops closing their doors, including Ancient Pathways in the Tower District in 2010.

But the damage was smaller than what other industries suffered, and knitting is recovering and evolving as customers branch out into spinning their own yarn and weaving, said India Hart Wood of Boulder, Colo.-based Hart Business Research.

One behind-the-scenes company has grown dramatically. Anzula, a Fresno-based yarn company, recently expanded to a larger location downtown.

Sabrina Famellos-Schmidt started dying yarn at home before her hobby turned into a business. She moved to a 1,050-square-foot studio in Iron Bird Lofts and hired her first employee in 2010. In March, she took over 6,000 square feet in a former meatpacking plant on H Street near Chukchansi Park.

Inside, Famellos-Schmidt uses giant pots to dye "luxury yarn" made from animals as diverse as yak and camel, along with yarn made from milk proteins and seaweed.

Four employees -- two part-time, two full-time -- now form the yarn into skeins and package samples for retailers. The company sells its yarns only to stores, including three in the Fresno area, and more than 60 others in the U.S. and Canada.

Anzula's sales doubled between 2010 and 2011 and "we're well on our way to doing that for 2012," Famellos-Schmidt said.

At the other end of the yarn-making process, independent producers of fiber and yarn are increasingly getting in on the action, said Hart Wood.

One is Judith Rosin, who turned her Madera County horse ranch into a farm raising 50 pygora goats --a hybrid of pygmy goats and angora goats.

Twice a year she has the goats sheared, and the result is a soft, long fiber that is ideal for warm but lightweight clothing, she said.

"The natural colors are just so lovely that you can just use them naturally instead of dying them," Rosin said.

She sells some of the raw fiber to The Knit Addiction for customers who spin their own fiber into yarn with spinning wheels at home. She also sends the fiber to a mill in Northern California that turns it into yarn, which she sells at yarn shops.

The fiber is just part of the hobby-turned-business Rosin runs, which includes selling goats for meat and selling chicken eggs. The retired nurse wanted the farm to pay for itself and last year it did, she said.

Rosin has rekindled her interest in knitting, too, joining other knitters at her local library and The Knit Addiction. Since she's recently retired, it's also her way of getting out of the house.

"It's very relaxing," she said. "There's people there to knit and talk with and compare things with."

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