Shop knits community together
What do Olympic diver Tom Daley, actors David Arquette and Ryan Reynolds and author Michelle Obama have in common?
Here’s a hint: It has a connection to World War II espionage, botany, veterinary medicine, and the way a medieval shepherd might score the odd groat.
Still wondering? Let’s toss in the Crimean War, the Battle of Waterloo, the Tour de France and a few Neanderthals.
If you answered “What is knitting?” you’re ready for the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions.
Like the colorful collection above, Melissa Salzman, 44, and Jayne Trentanove, 63, owner and employee respectively of the Lovelyarns shop in Hampden, are enthusiastic devotees and historians of the fiber arts.
“People come for the yarn and come back for the camaraderie,” Salzman said.
A native of Baltimore who earned her college arts degree in North Carolina, Salzman came to Lovelyarns as a part-time employee, teaching classes and working a few hours a week.
When the owner decided to retire, Salzman and her husband, artist David Showalter (“he fixes things when we break them, but he doesn’t knit”), purchased the business in 2017.
“I wanted a safe place where people would explore their own creative journeys and not feel limited by traditional ideas of ‘what is knitting,’ to have fun with different fibers,” Salzman said.
Entering her shop, located at 3610 Falls Road, one encounters “an explosion of rainbows: knitted and crochet samples, pieces by local artisans, homemade bags and jewelry, stickers, buttons, Amigurumi [Japanese art of knitting small, stuffed toy creatures], and yarn to make whatever you want — it’s an adult playground,” she said.
History of fiber arts
In discussing her craft Salzman gets into a rhythm, weaving a tapestry of facts.
“During World War II, people would send spy code in knitted things. Women would get secret information and relay it through the knots and stitches.”
Raglan, she noted, was named for the Earl of Raglan, who lost his arm in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and had his tailor design a jacket with a wide underarm to make it easier to dress himself. And the cardigan was named for the seventh Earl of Cardigan, who infamously led the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.
Lovelyarns employee Trentanove offered another history lesson: “Back in medieval times, only men were allowed to sell their knitted items. Women could only knit for their families, but were not allowed by law to make money from their craft. So when people say, ‘That’s only for women,’ I can get a bit testy.”
As for the Neanderthal connection to yarn, Trentanove cites an artifact discovered in the South of France, announced last year.
French archeologists found the world’s oldest string of yarn or cord, which our Neanderthal ancestors made by twisting together natural fibers from tree bark. The yarn was dated to 41,000 to 52,000 years ago.
All skill levels welcome
Salzman noted that most who enter her store are “traditional hand-knitters,” interested in making gifts like baby blankets, sweaters, garments and socks, while “people from the Maryland Institute College of Art may be developing a texture or color concept piece,” she said.
Regardless of skill level, most people can find a sense of peace when they concentrate on knitting or crocheting, Salzman said.
“With the pandemic…if you’re staring at a screen all day, why not do something productive? People knit or crochet during Zoom meetings. They enjoy the satisfaction of making something with their own hands.
“It’s evidence that you existed…you have control over this item in your hand while the world outside is going crazy,” she said.
“Some doctors send people to us for stress relief or anxiety management,” Salzman added.
For Lovelyarns customer Abby Rammelkamp, 66, her connection to knitting started early.
“I learned knit and purl stitches from my mother when I was nine or 10, and I made an endless scarf out of orange acrylic — it curled into a tube and now sits at the bottom of a landfill, where it will never biodegrade,” she explained with deadpan humor. In her 20s after graduate school, “sitting around unemployed waiting for a security clearance,” she took up knitting again.
“Knitting was my own world, and I was its deity…my knitting was the one thing that was completely under my control. Knitting taught me a lot about color relationships and all kinds of mathematical concepts. I really love the problem solving.”
Abby found a second home at Lovelyarns when Salzman bought the store, she said.
“I found myself hanging out at Melissa’s back table every day, knitting and talking about anything and somehow I became part of the furniture. It was like ‘Cheers’ (the 80s TV comedy), with yarn instead of booze. Actually, there’s sometimes booze. And always candy,” she added.
Summer is a busy season for fiber artists, due to the Tour de France.
In the concurrent Tour de Fleece, Salzman said, “hand spinners spin their own yarn during the cycling. It’s an international event we take part in, spinning for the entire tour. You challenge yourself to learn a new spinning technique while being social with other spinners and members of your ‘fiber tribe.’”
History and math, ovine health and ancient ancestors, medieval finance and military finery, hobbies of the rich and famous (Ryan Reynolds and the “knitterati”), races — the fiber arts connects them all.
“Becoming a knitter is like traveling to a foreign country. We have our own language. ‘Stash’ equals your accumulated collection of yarn, and my favorite, S.A.B.L.E., means Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy,” Trentanove explained.
During the pandemic, Salzman set up an online store “with pictures and descriptions so people could shop safely form home,” she said.
Lovelyarns provides free local delivery, free shipping and curbside pickup.
“I’ve worked really hard to get craft supplies to anyone who wants them,” she said.
Lovelyarns specializes in hand-dyed yarn and fibers from local and regional vendors. It also hosts small classes in knitting, crochet, spinning and weaving for every skill level.
To learn more about Lovelyarns and its offerings, visit lovelyarns.com or call (410) 662-YARN (9276).