Today’s featured knitting place is Uniquities, a boutique yarn shop in Vienna, Virginia. Our interview is with Brenda FitzSimmons, the owner.
Can you tell us a little bit about your shop?
Our tag line is “Your Hand-Knitting and Spinning Supply Destination” and we try to live up to that name. In addition to a wide and varied yarn selection, we also carry prepared fibers for spinning as well as books, patterns, bags, and all the necessary tools (including spinning wheels and drum carders) for knitting, crochet, and spinning. Our yarns range from basic to exotic and our knowledgeable staff is experienced in working with each customer to find the right choice for every budget and skill level.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the history of your shop? How did you get interested in the fiber arts? How did you come to open or run your yarn shop?
I learned to knit while in Girl Scouts–I was probably about 10 years old–and knitting has always been one of my many hobbies, although there were years at a time when it was definitely on the back burner. I had planned to be a high school French teacher, but ended up with a career in banking instead, and eventually decided that it was time to do something else that would allow me more flexible hours for my family. My association with a group of local handcrafters culminated in the opening of a shop to showcase those handcrafts–hence the name, Uniquities, which plays on the unique nature of handcrafted items. It was obvious, however, that handcrafts alone would not cover the store’s expenses, and I wanted to offer a product that would complement rather than compete with those items. I knew a thing or two about knitting, and I also thought the area could use an additional source of high quality basics, so yarn became the additional product.
From that beginning in October 1994 grew the shop you see today. We still carry a few handcrafted items, most notably the pottery that adorns our windows and is made by two local potters. We also carry some handcrafted shawl pins, needle cases, and drop spindles. The majority of our inventory, however, is devoted to the fiber arts and we are constantly at work trying to select the fiber combinations and colors that we think will most appeal to our clientele.
What products do you provide? Traditional yarns? Exotic or unusual yarns? Novelty yarns? Local farm yarns? Eco-friendly yarns? How large is your inventory?
Our inventory is large and it includes great variety in yarn choices–from everyday basics to luxury fibers such as alpaca, silk, and cashmere, to exotic fibers such as yak and bison, with a few novelties thrown in the mix just for fun. In addition, we offer one of the largest selections of needles and other tools of the trade in the area. We are also the only area shop to stock spinning wheels from numerous suppliers and other spinning equipment. We have yarn and fiber from local sources, and many products–both fibers and tools–that may not be local but are made in America. More and more companies are producing eco-friendly yarns, and we offer a selection of those as well.
What, if any classes do you offer? Do you offer any type of social gatherings?
We offer classes in knitting, spinning, and crochet. We start with beginner skills classes and go on from there. Beginning knitting and crochet are taught as group classes, and other classes build on these
beginning skills. Many classes target a particular skill, such as two-color work or methods of casting on. Other classes are project-oriented and the class incorporates the skills needed to complete the project, such as knitting socks or mittens, or making a beaded scarf. Beginning spinning classes are taught as private lessons and spinning classes are offered on a variety of skills.
Our workshops classes give people the opportunity to work on a project of their choosing with the guidance of an instructor. Private lessons are also available for those whose schedules do not work with our class times.
We host a Spinning Open House the second Saturday of every month from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon, and a Charity Knitting Afternoon the fourth Saturday of every month from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.
Twice a year we host a gathering at the Vienna Community Center (120 Cherry St., Vienna, VA) which we call our “Fiber Farmers Market”. We invite local fiber farmers, hand dyers, or producers of related products to display and sell their wares at this event, and , of course, Uniquities has a booth
there as well. Our customers enjoy the relaxed shopping atmosphere and the opportunity to chat with the vendors–something that is not possible at larger fiber fairs. The event also includes a bake sale to benefit a local charity.
Our next event will be Saturday, March 23 from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Our list of vendors is almost complete and will soon be up on our website, www.uniquitiesyarnshop.com.
What trends do you see in the fiber arts and in yarn choices?
Yarn choices continue to expand as companies and mills experiment with non-traditional resources, such as corn, milk, and soy. Wools and wool blends abound, and lately there has been growing interest in breed-specific yarns. Folks are also interested in where the fiber originated and especially enjoy having local choices. Alpaca is also a popular choice, as it is very warm and very soft and is often considered a more affordable substitute for cashmere.
In terms of fiber artistry, our customers are no longer limited just to knitting and crochet. Interest in spinning has increased tremendously over the past few years and we are getting more and more inquiries about weaving. (We can order looms from a couple of companies but have not yet made the decision to stock them on site.) Needle felting is also quite popular.
Do you have an online/mail order business?
We do have an online shopping cart (shop.uniquitiesyarnshop.com) and most of our products are available there. Of course, we also take phone orders for items to be shipped.
Is there anything else you’d like to share? What makes your yarn
Perhaps the most special aspect of our shop is the staff. We are lucky enough to have a seasoned and knowledgeable staff, all of whom have been with us for a number of years. They are friendly and welcoming, are able to assist with questions, and have a thorough knowledge of the inventory. Every shop has a personality, and our shop strives to convey a feeling of warmth and welcome to everyone.