Old-fashioned crafts, like quilting and knitting, make a comeback

People young and old are finding enjoyment in old-fashioned hobbies such as cross-stitch, embroidery, knitting, quilting and weaving.

"I think there's been a resurgence in the hand crafts," said Leslie Ahlert, owner of Stitch On Needlework Shop, 926 Mass. "The crafts aren't new, but people are reviving them."

In addition to Ahlert's shop, Yarn Barn at 930 Mass., and Quilting Bit's and Pieces at 736 Main St. in Eudora offer a selection of materials and classes in the Lawrence area. Here's a look at the shops and the revived hobbies that are keeping them viable.

A national business

Susan Bateman started the Yarn Barn 30 years ago when she graduated from Kansas University with a bachelor's degree in textile design and weaving. The store offers a wide selection of yarns, knitting materials, instructional videos and looms.

Bateman and her husband, Jim, have expanded their business to do mail order. She said the store prints three mail-order catalogs and fills from 50 to 70 orders every day to customers throughout the United States and sometimes foreign countries.

The couple also hit the road about 10 times a year with a 16-foot trailer filled with merchandise to travel to conferences.

"It's a major ordeal," she said. "Sometimes, to keep the show rolling, we have to call on past employees to come to the shows and help out."

Every year, Susan Bateman said, the product line continues to expand, and different kinds of yarn top the list. Yarns are made from or include mohair, metallic blends, ribbons, tencel, silk, nylon, camel and other natural or synthetic fibers.

"The yarns that are available are just exciting," she said.

The store is filled with samples of finished products such as scarves in bright colors made from eyelash yarn, which creates wispy threads when knitted together, and sweaters or big oversized jackets made from thicker yarns.

"Companies have really changed the way people knit," she said. "They now have high-fashion designers making new designs for clothing and accessories."

For people who want to learn a new craft or gain more knowledge, the store offers classes in knitting, weaving, rug braiding and crochet. Weaving requires a floor or table loom, and spinning involves twisting fibers from raw wool on a spindle into yarn or thread.

"Our classes fill up pretty quick because we keep the class size small, about eight to 10 people," she said.

A sought-after craft

It's not just grandmothers who are making quilts for their children and grandchildren anymore.

"We have young people in their 30s and 40s who may work full-time as well as older women who don't want to see the craft die," Ahlert said. "It's a great stress reliever for busy people."

For 23 years, Yarn Barn has sold quilting and cross-stitch materials as well as gift items and collectibles. Ahlert said the store is well-known for its packs of color-coordinated fabric in assorted measurements for quilting projects.

"It's a convenience measure," she said. "It makes it simple for people who seem short on time."

At the Eudora quilting shop, material for blocks of the month and quilt kits are popular. Christina DeArmond and her sister, Amy Deay, started the store four years ago and now work with two other partners, Eula Lang and Faith Gorden.

In December, the Eudora store moved from a little less than a 3,000-square-foot building to about 6,000 square feet to allow addition of a breakroom for employees, a showroom for quilts and more classroom space. An added wall created empty space to the south of the building that can be rented out to one or two businesses.

"I had no clue it would ever grow to this size," DeArmond said.

With the additional space, the store also has room for two long-arm quilting machines instead of one. She said the store has a two-year waiting list of people who want the store to add batting to and finish their quilts.

"The more quilts (Eula) does, the more quilts people want her to do," DeArmond said. "This machine can do a quilt in a few days instead of a few months if you finished it by hand."

Both quilting stores offer a variety of classes for beginning, intermediate and advanced skill levels.

"We try to offer a variety of different things that would appeal to people," Lang said.

Customer service

Busloads of people, mainly women, from out of state have stopped several times at the quilt shop in Eudora.

"Because quilters are willing to go wherever the quilt store is, we're able to draw from the Kansas City area, Topeka and Ottawa," Lang said. "When someone hears about a good quilt shop, people will travel there."

One customer, JoAnn Rodgers of rural Shawnee County, liked the store so much she decided to start working there one day a week.

"I love the variety of fabrics here, and they have a very wide selection," she said. "They're willing to help you and answer any question you have."

It's the one-on-one assistance the three stores offer that enable them to compete with large hobby craft stores such as Hobby Lobby and Michael's.

Bateman said people appreciate the customer service they receive at a small shop.

"The whole idea of a mom-and-pop type shop is that they know the industry and they have people knowledgeable enough to answer questions," she said. "Our staff is what makes the store."

Ahlert takes great pride in the experienced teachers who conduct the classes.

"They really love what they do," she said. "They're very talented and wonderful teachers."

DeArmond said the owners and staff specialize in different quilting designs or techniques such as hand appliqu� or hand piecing.

"Everyone has their own strengths and that has really helped us get started," she said.

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