High Fiber DietNov 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon
On September 30, when Bev Prentice closed the doors at Nimble Needles (her shop in Savona for the past fifteen years), she retired from shopkeeping but not from more than eight decades of exploring needle arts. Like many women raised in the first half of the twentieth century, she was encouraged to become an accomplished needlewoman.
She began knitting at the age of four, when her much-older sister asked their mother for knitting instruction. Not to be outdone, Bev sat on her mother’s other side and learned at the same time. Before she finished school, she was giving classes to her teachers and classmates. When she went to college, she located a needlework shop almost as soon as she found her dorm. Lacking a roommate, she spent her evenings knitting, developing a taste for “only good yarn.”
“My to-be husband got eighteen sweaters,” she notes with a twinkle in her eye. She married him—thus thwarting the “Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater.”
Bev’s first needlework shop opened in her living room, then expanded to a storefront in Horseheads, then to several other locations, including Spencerport and Naples, and finally, in 2008, to Savona, closer to her home. She made quilts, crocheted, and also embroidered. She dabbled in other fiber arts. Knitted more sweaters. One day she sat down to record how many different needle skills she’d tried and came up with ninety-three. “And taught most of them,” Bev says. She’ll reluctantly admit she’s won awards and accolades for her talents. In her spare time, when she wasn’t knitting, she sang bass with the Sweet Adelines women’s barbershop group—and learned more needlework from the other singers.
These days, her constant companion is Fraulein Klein, a friendly, longhaired dachshund who’s won prizes of her own. And when Bev finishes packing up her shop, which evolved into an inspirational gallery of beautiful handwork as much as a source of needlework supplies, she has more needlework projects of her own planned, including unraveling the mysteries of a pair of seventeenth-century mittens she encountered at a yard sale, and finishing a necktie quilt and a crazy quilt. “And after that, we’ll see,” she says.
If Bev’s handwork can be considered a visual diary of a life—hers—created in yarn and thread, Barbara Vassallo of Rabbit Row Yarns and Haberdashery, 38 W. Market Street, Corning, offers area knitters and visitors an opportunity to record their own sense of place using an exclusive yarn that has its own. “Centerway Square” is custom-made for her shop—she created it in collaboration with a Baltimore spinning company named Plied Yarns.
“My brother is Michael Haas, the architect who designed Centerway Square in the late 1980s, and I get to have my shop less than half a block away!” Barbara says. “It’s where everything happens, people eating lunch, festivals… .The blue and brick [colored] strands wound around each other represent the square’s terracotta bricks and the blue sky above at that time of day when the sun goes down and it’s so deep, with little wisps of white clouds.”
Barbara knitted herself a sweater with it, and while she’s sold Centerway Square in sock and sweater quantities, hers is the only garment she’s seen. But she has hopes. “Being able to say ‘I made this,’ brings a huge rush of endorphins, right?” she says. “For my younger customers, I certainly see an empowering element to knitting and crocheting.”
Fiber artists and other sewers—newbies and the experienced— can join the like-minded in the Mending Circle on Thursdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and #StitchCorningSundays on, what else, Sundays, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Barbara is a supporter of sustainably-sourced needle and craft supplies and products, and is a member of LocalFiber (localfiber.org), Hudson Valley Textile Project (hvtextileproject.org), and the New York Fiber Trail (nyfibertail.com). Contact Rabbit Row at (607) 654-7383 or learn more at rabbit-row-yarns.myshopify.com.
At Wooly Minded, 91 E. Market Street, Corning, tradition continues as proprietor Jean Gray believes that if you “learn something new…it’s going to bolster you up a little.” She offers mostly one-on-one instruction, her preferred method of teaching since the pandemic. Three knitting groups a week create a welcoming community where knitters share their lives as well as techniques around a bright blue table. Jean describes Wooly Minded as having a “broad selection of affordable and practical yarns, but a little more elevated.” She speaks with a British accent, which, she jokes, “makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about.” (Actually, she does.) Ask questions or book a time slot at (607) 973-2885, or visit woolyminded.com.
Fiber Arts in the Glen, at 315 N. Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, had a lot to celebrate with its recent tenth anniversary. The business’s seventeen owner-investors built the shop from bare walls after its previous owner relocated, stocking it with fiber-rich products including yarn from local alpacas, regionally-sourced wool—how about a bison/merino blend?—felted creations, dryer balls, and other regional products.
“We like to focus on local yarn and local gifts,” says Ann Pettit, who co-manages the shop with Joanna Snyder. “I’d say we have a nice variety, from the expected to the unusual.” As the shop has evolved, they’ve built community with classes, knitting/crocheting groups—there’s one on Monday evenings and one on Friday afternoons—and one-day retreats. Fiber Arts in the Glen enjoys the support of seasonal customers, many of whom return annually to restock their fiber stash and reconnect with the year-round patrons, and staff, who are the backbone of the business.
“Between the five of us who work in the shop, there’s a lot of knowledge,” Ann says. Reach them at (607) 535-9710 and at fiberartsintheglen.com.
It takes more than thread and yarn to keep a community knitted together. These groups welcome newcomers to join in sustaining Finger Lakes traditions and friendships.