PUBLISHED: 1:42 PM on Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Nancy caters to Juneau's knitters

Photo by Christina Holmgren
  Nancy Huebschen working on one of her many knitting projects in front of hand-spun and hand-painted yarns from Raven Frog Yarns in Sitka.
It's not all businesses that have the community rallying, excited, and volunteering to help out before they even open. But when Nancy Huebschen was in the process of starting up Skeins Fine Yarns in the Airport Shopping Center last fall, she knew there was a need for a yarn store in Juneau.

"I put my own yarn in the window and had all these empty shelves in here -Eand people would stop by and ask 'is this a yarn store?', beating down the door before I even had anything to sell."

Opening a yarn store wasn't anything like a lifelong dream.

"Juneau needed yarn. And I like playing store," said Huebschen, who remembered driving by the location where Skeins is now housed on a sunny day and reminiscing about a yarn store being there 20 years ago.

Photo by Christina Holmgren
  Saturday knitters, left to right, Chris Personett, Chris Winter, Carole Edwards, Bonnie Goodrich and Jeannette Collison gathered last Saturday at Skeins Fine Yarn for an afternoon of knitting, talking, and thinking about future projects.
"I would go down south - which I do quite a bit - with empty suitcases and come back with them filled with yarn... and I thought I'm not getting any younger..." and that's how the idea was born.

The yarn business is one where shopping locally adds something the Internet can't provide.

"Yarn is a real tactile product. You just have to touch it, hold different yarns next to each other, hold them up to your face..."

And customers tend to be supportive bordering on passionate.

"I've had customers come in and say 'I saw this on the Internet, but I want to buy it from you'," Huebschen said.

Good neighbors in the Airport Shopping Center also provided Huebschen with contacts - a trio of experienced knitters who now teach knitting classes at the store.

"I'm not an expert knitter by a long shot," said Huebschen, while working on a scarf in two different blue yarns, "so I think of these women as my angels of mercy."

One of them, Stacey Mason, walked into the store shortly after Huebschen moved into the space on Sept. 1 last year.

"I asked her, 'what can I do for you?' and she said 'No - what can I do for you.'"

Mason had worked in a yarn store back east, and is now one of the teachers in the advanced knitting classes. Mary Jefferson, another teacher, is a longtime volunteer at the Amazing Book Store right across the parking lot, and Chris Winter, the third teacher, was recommended to Huebschen by the owner of Raintree Quilting, also right across the parking lot.

And she has a possible lead on a fourth teacher: 16-year-old son Ray, who has been resistant to the idea but is currently toying with the thought of a guys-only knitting class. Ray started with crocheting, and after Huebschen opened the store has turned into "a knitting snob," she said. "The kids help out after school. It's a Mom & Pop business. My husband helps in the back. He would like to be in the front, but he doesn't know a lot about yarn."

Huebschen herself teaches beginning knitting because, she said, "there's a huge demand for that."

While Huebschen was only six when she learned to knit, she prefers that knitting students be at least eleven, so that they have the skills to handle the frustration involved in learning. For younger textile-interested creative minds, she is planning "a day camp sort of thing for the summer" with finger felting and other fun and less frustrating things.

In addition to teaching, she also does "everything else -Eordering, bookkeeping, vacuuming." And that's kind of the problem.

"I thought when I opened the store that 'now I can knit whatever I want' but I end up not having the time."

Knitters meet on Saturdays in the store between 1 and 4 p.m. for what was initially called "Sit & Stitch."

"But it's been renamed 'Rescue Knitting'," Huebschen grinned, "because people bring in their problem knittings, help get things solved, and then they stay and knit. It's a great group of girls."

Editor's Note: Skeins Fine Yarns is located in the Airport Shopping Center at 9121 Glacier Highway. For information about classes, call 780-6865.