Photos by Julia E. Heath

What’s old is cool again. Knitting, weaving and crocheting, often associated with apple-headed grannies making outdated yet sweet gifts no one wanted, are making a comeback. Maybe it’s climate change activists like Jane Fonda encouraging people to minimize their material consumption and be content with what’s enough. Or maybe it’s the younger generation’s digital fatigue and desire to acquire experiences over owning things. Whatever it is, the idea of creating something yourself, especially something with a story of thoughtful sourcing, has a younger generation and wider audience embracing places like Rumpelstiltskin, a yarn shop in Sacramento with a long history, curated assortment and a cozy space to learn something new.

“Rather than just going somewhere and buying a sweater, there’s pride in being able to say, ‘I made this, and it’s American wool and I can tell you which farm it came from,’” explains Ciara Crain, who recently took over ownership of the tenured store.

A stitch in time, Rumpelstiltskin is positioned as an answer to the zeitgeist. Crain sources products from companies that are made in America. American-made yarns are rare these days, although Crain says that the U.S. wool market is making a comeback.

“It’s not like I have 25 brands to choose from,” she explains of her dwindled homespun yarn offerings. Crain looks for something that’s been recycled or for companies that don’t package their products in plastic. She also looks for craft cooperatives in places like Nepal where women aren’t typically paid a living wage, but where the co-op allows women to earn money and take care of their families. In particular, Millenial and Gen Z consumers are willing to pay a higher price for products knowing that there is a positive social and environmental impact.

A menagerie of items makes up the mix at Rumpelstiltskin.

“I always crack up when people call and they’re like, ‘Do you have any yarn?’ Like, that’s literally all we have,” jokes Crain. The yarn is wall-to-wall, in every color and texture imaginable.

“We also sell a lot of notions or haberdashery,” she continues, “like handmade scissors from Japan, stitch markers, receptacles to put all your goodies in, books, patterns, looms, weaving supplies, kits, locally made candles and enamel pins.”

If you’re a beginner, crocheting and knitting are equally accessible to learn. Knit wear tends to look more put together, like something you’d get at a department store, while crochet has a vintage, bohemian feel. Yet, if you’re making a stuffed animal, it’s easier to crochet it than it is to knit.

Quips Crain, “People can be bistitchual.”

Classes are a great way to learn because you can watch someone’s hands while they’re knitting, crocheting or weaving. Watching a YouTube video to learn knitting or crocheting can be tricky because you might not quite catch what they’re doing with their hands or get professional feedback while trying it yourself.

Three knitting teachers—a master knitter, a crochet teacher, a macramé and tapestry weaving teacher and a spinning teacher—make up the roster at Rumpelstiltskin. Crain personally teaches Beginning Knitting and the All Skills classes. In All Skills, people simply come in with a project and she’s there to help.

“Sometimes, it feels like we made it together,” she says with a smile. “The beginning classes are really fun because there are a lot of people who have never touched knitting needles before, so being able to introduce it to them and watch it click for them is really amazing. Like riding a bike, once you’ve learned, your hands always remember how to knit.”

As with learning and furthering any skill in the company of others goes, an encouraging atmosphere and community is born.

“We have people that met in knitting class and now they’re great friends and have been taking classes together for awhile, so it’s a way to meet people as well as learn a new skill,” says Crain.

Beyond Rumpelstiltskin, Sacramento has many meetups for folks to congregate and stitch. Some groups have one day a week where they’ll get together and share projects, and it’s interesting how a seemingly individualized activity can be a great group activity, too.

Beyond Sacramento, the online knitting community is huge. Instagram designers post works in progress, finished art and patterns to inspire up-and-coming creators. Because of online inspo, customers tend to know what they want before they walk into the store. They’ve already done the research and know what colors they want, and they just want to come in to touch and select materials. Crain herself will see something in a store or on Instagram and, knowing she could make it, she changes up the design or color scheme a little to make it her own.

She wasn’t always a knitter. In 2002, while in high school, her East Sacramento neighbor who happened to own Rumpelstiltskin was looking for a cashier, and Crain needed a job. She knew nothing about knitting, so she sought out a friend and declared, “‘You need to teach me knitting or this job is not going to work out.’ And I never left.”

Rumpelstiltskin had opened in 1972 and still stands in its original location on R Street beside Fox and Goose inside the Arthouse building. Working at Rumpelstiltskin throughout high school and on and off during college, Crain began teaching knitting classes in 2008. Her boss, Linda Urquhart, had owned the shop since its second year in business, more than 40 years when she decided it was time to retire.

Crain had a moment of panic, as Urquhart was either going to sell the business or close. Crain’s husband had always joked around with her about buying the shop because it was her dream job, yet it was a goal that she didn’t feel was practical or attainable. She had a good, full-time job in public relations doing projects with the city, but after some soul searching, she called her parents who decided to help her out. They bought the shop as business partners and Crain is now living her dream.

“It became a passion,” says Crain. “We have customers who shop here that shopped here with their moms in the ‘70s and now they’re shopping here with their grandkids. It’s a really cool group of people that come here, so carrying on that name and that legacy was really appealing. Doing what you love as your full time job is anyone’s dream.”

Crain began upgrading the space to make it feel more like her own and underwent a rebranding process with a local agency who is also working on a new website for Rumpelstiltskin. Their bi-weekly newsletter focuses on what customers have made, and they use the hashtag #rumplemade to weave their stories together.

R Street, once a forgotten corridor, has recently become a hub in Sacramento and a haven for artists. As things have rapidly changed in the neighborhood, things have also changed dramatically for her business. When she first started working at Rumpelstiltskin, she wasn’t even sure if she was going to the right place. It seemed a desolate location.

“WAL [Warehouse Artist Lofts] has been a huge catalyst for us,” acknowledges Crain. “Bringing in that creative community that’s right across the street from us has been amazing. We’re really lucky that Arthouse fosters the creative community and that all the businesses in it were chosen to support the creative economy. The R Street Partnership has also done a great job of filling spaces with businesses that sort of vibe together. There are no chain stores. We’re all hyper-local craft businesses and it’s something that is really unique to the downtown area. I kind of joke about it, like, ‘Yeah, we’ve been here all this time, and now it’s like, TA-DA!’ We have this whole corridor around us and it’s fabulous. And every time a new business opens, the foot traffic picks up. A couple times a week, people wander in and say, ‘Oh, there’s a yarn store in there?’ or, ‘I think I used to come in here with my grandma.’ So we’re really fortunate.”

Speaking of fortunate, Crain, a first-time mother, is due in a few months and prepared to do whatever it takes to run her dream business while raising a child. She says if her child isn’t interested in knitting, she’d be OK with it. But, she laughs, “People always come around. My sister always said knitting was not for her. Then she started knitting and she loves it.”

Rumpelstiltskin is located at 1021 R St. #6519. For more info, visit Follow @rumpelstiltskin_yarn on Instagram if you’re down to knit up.

**This piece first appeared in print on pages 14 – 15 of issue #305 (Nov. 20 – Dec. 4, 2019)**