A new niche for island knitting circles

"The dictionary defines the word knitting literally as the act of fashioning yarn into a garment, and metaphorically as the joining together of previously unrelated elements.According to knitting devotee Kit Hutchin, one leads to the other.Knitting is something that creates instant community among people who have that in common, Hutchin said. And it seems that people feel comfortable approaching someone who is knitting and striking up a conversation.Believing that there are enough actual and potential knitters on Bainbridge Island to support a business, Hutchin this week will open Churchmouse Yarn and Teas on Madrone Lane.Hutchin said knitting is making a resurgence because it is an antidote to an increasingly stressful work life.There are studies about the stress-relief benefits of a repetitive hobby, she said. And with so many things mass-produced, it's even more important for people to have things that are one-of-a-kind and personal.The store's principal line of merchandise will be yarn, patterns and other knitting supplies. Needlepoint supplies will also be offered, together with teas and some jams and biscuits. There will be virtually no overlap between Hutchin's store and Esther's, a fabric, pattern and sewing store on Winslow Way.They've been incredibly supportive and encouraging, Hutchin said. They tell me lots of people ask them about yarn. If Churchmouse sounds sort of old-English antique, that's exactly the feeling Hutchin is trying to create.The name just came to me and stuck, she said. It has a traditional English storybook comfortable feeling.Hutchin is a Canadian native who met her American husband Jon Koval at the University of Victoria. They settled in Seattle, where both of them were free-lance writers, and moved to Bainbridge Island six years ago.When she wasn't free-lancing, Hutchin spent four years as copy director of, and operated a bookkeeping service for small businesses. For the first 20 years of my adult life I was worried that I was shiftless because I was doing different things, she said. But now I realize that all the things I've done have added up to this.Hutchin said a yarn shop has been a long-time dream, but it took a nudge from husband Jon to make it a reality.I would think of all the reasons it wouldn't work, she said. Then one night we were sitting by the fire, and he said, 'Think about it for a week.' This time, I decided to try.Another boost came from a knitting group she started at her church.I found out that when people had questions or project, I could help them, the self-taught knitter said. And I learned that I enjoyed doing it.So in January 1999, she started looking for space on Winslow Way. But she didn't find the right spot until she turned and looked at a space up the alley that was formerly home to a natural-foods store.The space had been vacant for several months, but I didn't look at it because I always thought it was too big, she said of the 2,100-square-foot store.When she did look, though, she saw two big advantages. First, being a step or two off Winslow Way dramatically reduced the rent. And second, the larger space creates room for classes and gatherings in an area without merchandise.She planned for a July opening. The June explosion at Blackbird Bakery delayed those plans, but it could have been worse.Some of the electrical work had been done, but not the floor or the paint, and there was no merchandise in the store, she said.The decor fits the overall theme - understated but comfortable. With the numerous inviting chairs and the bookcase-like yarn shelves, the place looks as much like a library as a retail store.The walls display three original oil paintings of knitters. One of them, an austere-looking woman in a dark frock, is clearly not Whistler's Mother, but the subject looks like she could be a close relative.I call her Miss Pymm - she's my guardian angel, Hutchin said. The store's grand opening will be this Saturday. Hours of operation are not firmly decided, but Hutchin wants to be open until 6:30 p.m. for the people on the 5:25 ferry, and eventually plans to be open Sunday afternoon once she hires some help.Turning a retail store into a community center may seem ambitious, but Hutchin said it goes with the product line.Selling yarn is not a one-time transaction, she said. People buy yarn, then look for a pattern, and hope they have the skill to do it. They need someplace to go when they get stuck, so it's really a relationship. "

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