Happyknits Combines Craft and Community | September 2017
By Maria Landry

Tucked into a corner of the Somerset Grist Mill in downtown Skowhegan, Happyknits is a cozy space replete with an array of yarn from as nearby as Solon and as far away as Japan. In other words, it’s a fiber lover’s paradise.

Established by Julie Cooke in 2010, the shop is now run by Cooke, Sarah Davis, Mary Lou Ridley, and Karla Bailey.

“Julie had the business for about three years when she decided that she needed to make more time for her family and started exploring ways to make that happen,” Sarah Davis said recently from the inviting sitting area in the back of the shop, surrounded by colorful skeins of yarn. “Karla, Mary Lou, and I were all customers, and we couldn’t bear the thought of losing our local yarn shop. We got together with Julie one day to discuss some options and decided right there on the spur of the moment to purchase the store. Julie saw that there would be room for her in the mix as long as she wasn’t carrying the weight of the business all by herself, so the four of us formed a partnership.”

That was in 2014, and the partnership continues to thrive as the four owners share the workload—and their love of fiber.

Happyknits’ yarn selection represents locations across the country and around the world. “We like to feature Maine yarns in our store, but because they come from small producers we can’t do that exclusively,” Davis explained. “The Juniper Moon comes from a woman’s farm in Virginia. The Noro yarns are from Japan and are notorious for their colors. We have yarns generated from South America, the high altitudes of Guatemala and Peru where sheep and llamas and alpacas grow different hair lengths. We have some yarns from Italy and other parts of Europe.”

“We sell yarn that we like,” she added. “We prefer a lot of natural fibers, whether it’s cotton or linen, sugarcane fiber, bamboo—plant fibers—but then we go to the animal fibers like wool, alpaca, llama, camel. It’s a nice mix.”

Happyknits sells needles and other knitting accessories as well, plus a smattering of knitted goods such as sweaters and scarves crafted by the four owners.

“We have classes too, and we offer free knitalongs,” Davis said. “We try to promote the local community through whatever means we can.”

This summer Happyknits took part in a project, called a yarn cruise, that connected communities around the state. Davis said that 18 yarn shops took part, and yarn enthusiasts were able to pick up a passport at any one of the shops and visit all the different stores to have their passports stamped.

“This was a great opportunity for people to get acquainted with locally owned yarn shops in Maine,” Davis said. “As they visited each store they got to travel across the state and see the countryside, but they also got to meet people from all over.”

Many of the participating shops offered a free afghan square pattern that they designed especially for the yarn cruise. Representing Skowhegan, Happyknits’ pattern features pine trees and a river, and it uses local Maine yarn.

Davis and her partners have long personal histories with yarn and knitting. Davis, who lived in Germany for part of her childhood, learned handcrafts including knitting as part of her schooling abroad.

“I didn’t enjoy it a whole lot right away,” she said, “but it grew on me and as I became older, a teenager, I picked it up again.”

Cooke’s mother taught her how to knit, and Ridley learned the craft from her grandmother when she was just eight years old.

“It’s sort of a handed-down art,” Davis commented. “We’ve seen a resurgence of interest in knitting in the younger generation, so that’s a really good thing.”

Happyknits’ owners share their passion for fiber and craft, opening their shop for people to “come in and sit down and knit whatever they want,” Davis said. “We have some specific hours every week, but we find that people come in any time of the day when they’re in town or when they have a few minutes and want to come in and relax. Maybe their husband’s at the dentist, and they’ll just come in and enjoy a little knitting time.”

“What we find is we’re as much a place to gather as a store,” she said. “We really feel enthusiastic about what we do here.”