When Kalea Turner-Beckman told her friend Anna Davidson about her dream to open a store that specialized in Alberta yarn, Davidson pitched an unusual pairing — they could also sell beer in a knitting pub, or a Yarn Bar.
“We both love knitting and drinking beer, and it’s best to do both of those things together, with other folks,” the pair wrote in an email. “Why not put the two together? It’s an exciting time in Alberta for both of these things.
“There are lots of small yarn producers looking for places to market their yarn. And the laws for microbreweries just changed, so there could be a boom of more local beer.”
Right now, they operate as the Alberta Yarn Project, making Alberta-produced yarn products available to locals through events like the recent On-The-Spot Pop-Up at Latitude 53 and their Oct. 5 Craft & Draught night, a pop-up yarn bar. An actual retail space that fosters community and creativity is still a dream, but the Tea Girl (on 124 Street and Stony Plain Road) will be showcasing Alberta Yarn Project wares during the month of November.
The decline of independent yarn stores is part of the reason they want to do this — because no one else is, Davidson said.
“I have experience as a stage manager in theatre, so basically I tell people where to go and when to do it and what to hold and what to wear,” she said. “Running a business seems to be like that so far. Lists, details and professionalism will all come in handy.”
Turner-Beckman added that after working in retail for many years, the Alberta Yarn Project will allow her to use her education in sustainable development, while fostering an appreciation for local economies and working co-operatively towards a common goal.
One of the last dedicated yarn stores in the city sells mostly international, albeit beautiful, products, Davidson continued. So the province’s two mills are of particular interest to the two women.
“Alberta yarns are a resource that do exist and it’s exciting to tap into that,” Davidson said. “There are lots of artists all over Alberta dying yarn. There are people hand-spinning and hand-dyeing yarn with plants from their backyards. There are folks using Industrial Revolution-era spinning machinery.
“I think the challenge is making it accessible to folks who’d like to use it. And that is where we come in. We have a love for high-quality, natural fibers (sheep wool, alpaca, cashmere) and that’s what we are finding all over Alberta.”
They’re also finding it out firsthand — they have taken a few roadtrips through the province to visit the tightly knit group of people (everyone knows someone who is knitting, dyeing yarn, spinning or weaving, Davidson said). Turner-Beckman compares it to just as people in urban centres have embraced farmers’ markets, this is another way to foster the connection with the long history of rural production in the province.
One of the two mills is particularly interesting to Turner-Beckman — she credits Custom Woolen Mills for making her fall in love with Alberta yarns.
“I love knitting with the Icelandic style yarn, lopi,” she said. “It’s kind of like bananas [at a farmers’ market], you can only buy Icelandic lopi in Iceland. Except, oh wait, the only other place they make it is at Custom Woolen Mills in Alberta. It’s kind of like we have our own secret banana tree.”
The Alberta Yarn Project can be found on Twitter @ABYarnProject.