Story last updated at 6/11/2014 - 5:45 pm
SITKA - When Laura Ramp was trying to decide whether to open a knitting shop in Sitka, she attended a craft show as a guest artist. She put out a signup sheet, asking if anyone would be interested in knitting lessons.
After three days, she had 80 names. So, 10 years ago, the store that would become Knitting with Class was born.
In its early days, Ramp's store was in her family's garage. Her husband turned it into a store-like area so it felt aesthetically warmer than the industrial feel of the word "garage." By word of mouth, her customer base -and the number of Sitkans who wanted to learn to knit - grew.
About five years into it, she moved into the upper floor of the Bayview Trading Company building in downtown Sitka. Her regular knitters were thrilled, she said, as they no longer had to drive up a steep hill.
This is her third summer in her current location at 300 Harbor Drive, in a building owned by the Sitka Women's Club. She offers lessons and sells yarn and knitting supplies, including yarn dyed by a local dyer, sometimes blended with the wool of the dyer's angora rabbits.
Ramp grew up around knitting, but she wasn't always interested in it.
"My mother was an avid knitter," she said. "She sewed, she crocheted, she decorated cakes - and I played sports. I really didn't learn to knit. I couldn't sit still very long growing up."
She married a Coast Guardsman and the family moved to Cape Cod, then Virginia Beach, then Puerto Rico - a place that, in contrast to Sitka, is "not overly conducive to knitting," she said. "The weather (in Sitka) is great for knitting almost 365 days a year."
She has been helped in her knitting journey by friend and mentor Julia Smith.
"She's taught me everything I know and more," Ramp said. "That's how you learn knitting, is by doing it. ... It's just like anything. You aren't a professional anything before you practice."
Smith, who is retired, is a bit like a business associate who works for yarn, Ramp said.
"The more I learn," Ramp said, "the more I can teach people."
Students use a punch card for beginner lessons. Once they know the basics, they can come anytime and sit and knit. In the shop, an eclectic group of people work on their projects around a central table.
"Knitting is not fast. It's the process. They keep writing articles about how good it is for you - the meditative part of it," Ramp said.
Knitting helps her concentrate, she said - she used to knit in the back of church, and her daughter knitted through classes in high school and college. To those who don't knit, it may seem like a knitter isn't paying attention - but on the contrary, "you can concentrate better when your hands are busy," she said.
Ramp said she doesn't consider herself a master knitter. A person has to go through a number of steps to earn that designation - a bit like a master gardener.
As a business owner and teacher, Ramp knits samples frequently.
When she retires, she plans to knit whatever she feels like - which "might just be dish cloths," she said.
In a community of about 9,000 people, her biggest challenge is "keeping people coming through the door."
She offers classes on specific projects - knitting certain kinds of bags, or knitting a Moebius scarf, a pattern that flips over evenly.
She gets more customers in the summer, though business is up and down as cruise ships come and go. Locals tend to think the weather is too nice in the summer to knit.
"It's important to network (with other businesses,)" she said. "Everybody wants to survive, and you do that by helping each other."
Her ultimate goal, she said, is to "become Julia," working for yarn. She may sell the store eventually, or she may just come and go with more freedom once she has grandchildren.
"You're never going to get rich," she said, "but the satisfying part is when somebody walks away and says, 'Wow, this is cool.'"
Making Local Work is a biweekly feature examining the faces behind the local businesses that keep Southeast Alaska moving forward. To suggest a business worthy of attention, email firstname.lastname@example.org.