Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 9:07 PM on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fascination with yarn's color, creativity sets foundation for new business Knitting together a community

By McKibben Jackinsky

Knitting is more than a shared craft for Jules Joy and Sarah Browngoetz. Their fascination with yarn, needles and combinations thereof is the basis for a new business, CommuKnitty Stash.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Jules Joy, left, and Sarah Browngoetz of CommuKnitty Stash

The resource store for all things yarn-ish opened its doors in February, tucked comfortably into Yurt Village on the Sterling Highway.

There, soft light fills the wrap-around space, from the central peak of the yurt's ceiling to the throw rugs on the floor. A wood fire keeps winter's chill at bay, filling the cozy room with warmth and the sound of seasoned wood snapping and crackling in the stove. Music provides a softly cushioned backdrop. Chairs aged perfectly for comfort offer space for customers to discuss the intricacies of patterns and share the spark of creativity.

Around it all is the color and texture of yarn. Mixed. Matched. Knitted and purled into patterns. Felted into designs.

It was only a year ago when Joy and Browngoetz discovered their mutual attraction to knitting. One thing led to another and soon Joy was using her 26 years of experience to teach Browngoetz skills the self-taught knitter had yet to learn.

"She didn't know how to cast off so she was knitting long scarves," Joy said.

Color, texture, creativity and the process of knitting originally drew Joy to the craft. After more than two decades, her interest is as strong as ever. If not more so.

"I have my knitting with me wherever I go," Joy said, describing how she has been known to take advantage of stop lights as a way to get in a few stitches of whatever project has her attention.

Color was the motivating force behind Browngoetz putting yarn to needle.

"I've always been fascinated with colors and how they interplay with each other. This is a way to surround myself with color and get something useful out of it. It's cool," she said.

Sharing knitting tips was the beginning of a natural progression that led to becoming business partners. Local craft fairs offered a way to test that water before actually taking the plunge.

"We started at the Homer Council on the Arts street fair in August and it was such fun that we knew it was what we needed to be doing," Joy said.

The next step came while they were at the Nutcracker Faire in December. Among those stopping by their booth was Jessica Tenhoff, who, with husband Lee, has developed Yurt Village, a collection of small businesses headquartering in yurts the couple built through their business, Nomad Shelters.

Tenhoff asked if the women would consider a yurt for their base of operations. Ironically, Joy and Browngoetz had already discussed how Yurt Village might be the perfect location for their house of yarn.

Beginning in February, CommuKnitty Stash has been open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and by appointment for knitting emergencies.

"Which can happen at anytime," Joy said.

The attitude of Homer-area residents seems naturally fitted to knitting, the women have observed.

"When I moved here three years ago, I noticed the 'I can do it' attitude. 'I need a hat and I'm going to make it myself.' Homer people are resourceful. Knitting meshes well here," Browngoetz said.

Joy sees the portable nature of knitting a perfect match for people who traverse between multiple jobs or spend time on fishing boats.

The women also are finding Homer's eye for the unique and a commitment to renewable resources ready-made for yarns now available.

"We have yarns that are bamboo, silk, corn, soy and banana fiber, and there's recycled sari silk," Joy said. "All knitting is pretty much renewable."

A growing familiarity with local knitters is guiding CommuKnitty Stash's inventory of needles, patterns and related supplies. The business's Web site, knittystash.com, is one way to know what materials are available and what classes are planned. The site currently offers a coupon worth a 20 percent discount, and is an avenue through which Joy and Browngoetz hope to build an Internet exchange that will strengthen the knitting community.

Classes are an integral part of CommuKnitty Stash's operations. Among offerings for April is a class on "super duper socks" using double-pointed needles and a class on baby sweaters. If you make mistakes, not to worry; there's a "fixing goofs" class scheduled for Saturday. Other Saturday classes address changing colors and designing patterns.

On April 24, a pattern and trick swap will be held, offering an opportunity for the knitting community to share materials and knowledge. It is a community in which Joy and Browngoetz are happy to reside.

"We ask each and everyone to bring their projects back. We want to see what you did," Browngoetz said.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky.@homernews.com.