Although Dana Smith knew that the miniature pink jumpsuit with matching hat and cardigan was a “knitting project from hell,” she couldn’t stop herself from finishing. “It was for my daughter when she was born,” Smith said. “It was perhaps overly ambitious. Made from a size 2 [knitting needles], it was basically knit with toothpicks. It was very cute, but time-consuming…and you know you don’t want to put it down because you think, ‘This is for my baby daughter.'”
Smith, a River Forest resident and mother of JT, 7, and Jordan, 3, is the owner of Chix with Stix, a yarn shop that will open in September at 7316 W. Madison, next door to Brown Cow Ice Cream. “I was bringing the kids for ice cream one day, and the lease sign was up,” Smith said. “It was very much like fate.” She and her friend Beth Clarkson, the eponymous Chix, want their store to be kid-friendly, too.
“We want it to be a place for young moms because most of the yarn places now are not places you feel you can bring your kids,” Clarkson, who has three boys (Matt, 6; Peter, 4; and Ryan, 2), said. Smith agreed. At other stores, “it’s like bringing a kid to a wine shop…we cater to those women who drop off their kids at pre-school, and then have an hour to do something.”
The store’s hours and decor will reflect the proprietors’ philosophy: Chix with Stix will open at 9 am, and will include a play area, two couches, and a living room-style atmosphere. “You would want to feel at home,” Smith said. “But,” Clarkson added, “you don’t have to host the party.” Besides selling yarn, Smith and Clarkson will offer birthday parties and beginning knitting classes.
“My feeling is that people want to move away from that commercial [clothing], Gap and Old Navy, and create their own clothes,” Smith said, explaining knitting’s rise in popularity. “There’s an “I did this” factor.”
“There’s a productivity to it,” Clarkson said. “It’s a great hobby, hanging out with people. You pick colors. Some women like to make bikinis…you don’t even have to be creative. I follow a pattern really well.”
Clarkson, who began knitting last year, works on several pieces at once, so if one isn’t going well, she switches to another; she does not recall any particularly harrowing knitting experiences. But, as could be expected in their line of business, both she and Smith have favorite yarns.
“I’m more of a purist,” Smith, who has been knitting for six years, said. “I don’t like the novelty yarns; I prefer to work with more of the solid, basic yarns. But for the beginners, those novelty yarns are fun, because they do something in two days and say, ‘Wow, I did that.'” Clarkson prefers plush yarn (“the softer, the better”) and novelty yarns such as camouflauge yarn, which she gets from Lorna’s Laces, a store in Chicago.
The yarn for Chix with Stix, which the duo bought through a trade show in Columbus, Ohio, is currently being stored at Smith’s house while she and Clarkson renovate the space at 7316 W. Madison. Chix with Stix will have a grand opening in September on an as-yet-undetermined date, and a “soft” opening in mid- to late August, “after we know how to work the cash register,” Clarkson said. Till then, she and Smith can be reached at (708) 366-6300 or at email@example.com.
“We want to make sure we’re a very friendly store,” Clarkson said. “For a beginning knitter, you want them to be able to say, “I want to spend the money, and do something special, buy the camoflauge yarn, but how do I start, can you help me?'”
And, although the Chix emphasize their connection to beginning knitters and young mothers, they acknowledge that knitting appeals to a broad range of people. “Knitting transcends different generations,” Clarkson said. “You can go to the yarn store with your grandma.”
“I knit with my 7-year-old boy; he loves it,” said Smith. “He wants to be part of what I’m doing. It’s awesome.”