Comfortable chairs and a sofa surround a coffee table to form an area for conversation and knitting that lends a warm-hearted ambience to Wildskeins Yarn Co.
Owner Ann Dobbins, 60, works in the shop and graciously welcomes everyone who walks in — new customers as well as old.
The warmth and coziness is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the newspaper newsroom. where Dobbins worked for almost 10 years — the Catawba Valley Neighbors, a bureau of the Charlotte Observer.
Out of work for two years and not sure of what she wanted to pursue, she spent much of her time at Wildskeins, just hanging out and sitting and knitting. She began to knit more frequently.
Dobbins, who received a degree in communications and journalism from Lenoir-Rhyne University in 1999, decided to go back to school, this time with the thoughts of opening a book store — something she always wanted.
Dobbins enrolled in a 12-week small business course at Catawba Valley Community College, which she recommends for all business owners.
“It's great, and it's free,” she said.
However, when she completed the course, the economy was on a downhill trend.
“I bought a business in the worst of economic times,” she said. “But, again, thank goodness for that course at CVCC.”
Dobbins, who learned to knit five years ago, picked up her needles and headed for Wildskeins, where knitters not only buy yarn but hang out.
“One day I walked in, and the former owner asked if I wanted to buy the shop,” Dobbins said. “I thought it was a wonderful opportunity.”
Dobbins admitted she thought her husband, Tom, would laugh at the idea.To her surprise, he suggested they talk about it.
That was in February, and the appeal of knitting grows daily — not only to Dobbins, but to women and men of all ages, and children, as well.
Dobbins likes being her own boss.
“Nobody edits my newsletter [Wildskeins' monthly newsletter],” she laughed.
Dobbins admitted she was a nervous wreck on her first official day of business and was afraid she would ruin the business.
“I thought everybody might hate me and not come back,” she said. “I never thought I'd make such good friends out of customers. I can imagine my life without my customers and Mary Bicking.”
“Mary came with the shop – it was a package deal,” Dobbins joked. “Seriously, I couldn't do without her.”
Wildskeins stands as a colorful whirlwind of yarn to a trend that seems to grow exponentially.
Knitting can be as simple as a knitter wants it to be, or as complex.
The vast array of yarn colors and different fibers at Wildskeins come from all over the world. The selection includes basic yarns to hand dyed yarns, yarn made from milk, yarn made from bamboo, and a wide assortment of blends of silk, mohair, cotton, linen and alpaca. The bright and varied colors are almost a visual assault on the senses.
Dobbins' success surprises her, but perhaps that's because her business is more than a business. “Not long after I bought the store, someone came in and said, 'Oh, look at this — it looks like your living room,'” Dobbins said. “Well, it is my living room.”
Furniture and accessories from the Dobbins' home adds a personal touch, and finished knitted projects adorn the walls in addition to paintings and artwork. On any given day, knitters come to sit, knit and greet customers – old and new, that walk in.
Classes are offered on an individual basis or group. Lessons vary from teaching someone how to knit, to more advanced knitting, such as socks and lace.
On a recent Tuesday “Sit and Knit” night, 14 women, plus Dobbins and Bicking, sat around the shop knitting.
One of the women, Betsy Preslar, has been knitting on and off for 30 years. She says comes in the shop four times a week and never misses a Tuesday “Sit and Knit.” This is family, she reasoned.
“It's really nice to be able to have a place like this where you can come and sit and knit and learn new techniques,” she said.
Mary Barker has knitted for 9 years. In addition to Tuesday night, she is a frequent visitor during the week — two or three times a week. She explained why there is such an appeal to knitting.
“It's the tactile aspect of the craft,” Barker said. “It's the color, the feel and it's portable. That's why we work on several projects at the same time.”
A renewed interest in the fiber arts brings people of similar interests together.People knit for different reasons and most knitters find it relaxing and therapeutic. Knitting is an inexpensive way to make gifts.
Some knit to fulfill a need to be creative.
Knitters have to have multi-purpose projects because their are so many yarns,” Preslar said, tongue-in-cheek.
The knitters agreed that it's perfectly natural to work on more than one project at a time.
Anyone who would like to sit and knit or work on a project is invited to the free gathering on Tuesdays, from 5:30-8 p.m.
“We love to talk to people, and once you sit down and knit with someone, there's an instant bond.”
The conversation is always lively. Frequent outbursts of laughter are often followed by a lull as the knitters, as if on cue, become silent and study their knitting patterns.
Dobbins, who knits a lot less than she did prior to buying the business, wouldn't have it any other way. She offers more than simply a store that sells yarn. She offers an upbeat atmosphere in a cozy setting, surrounded by new-found friends.
“You're not in your grandmother's knit shop,” Dobbins said.
Stop in and unravel the mystery of the trendy new social activity — knitting.
Wildskeins is open:located at 131 N.C. 127 South, Hickory. Hours of operation are Tuesday, 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For information, call (828) 322-9276.