Globe Staff Photo/Wendy Maeda
Knitting as a hobby is the “new yoga,” said Janet Hampson, proprietor of The Woolpack yarn shop in Acton, where she sees a lot of customers with think-tank jobs who never go home with anything tangible. “Knitting is something you can touch and say, ‘I did this today.’”
Long before Julia Roberts, Hilary Swank, Jennifer Aniston and a whole new batch of younger 20 and 30-something knitters made this retro-trend craft fashionable again, Hampson, 64, has been armed with 4mm needles and a skein of yarn. She was a national sales manager for a knitwear company, and when she was laid off nine years ago, she said, “It was time to reinvent myself.”
Given her contacts on the wholesale side of the industry, she thought that a knitting shop would be ideal. After intensive consumer research, she opened a shop in Littleton, that moved to its current location this past fall. “We like to play nice in the knitting world,” said Hampson. “I didn’t want to be too close to any competitors.”
With about 38 million knitters in the US, Hampson sees knitters from all demographics browsing through the yarn, needles, and buttons in her shop. From her perch behind the counter, Hampson approaches knitting with a sense of humor that she hopes to pass onto her customers. No physical is required to sign up for her Knitting Needle Aerobics which “exercises needles,” she said, and when it comes to knitting for mature figures, she asks, “Does your front look like your back? How about your husband’s front and back?” offering advice on how to adjust patterns accordingly.
Q: How has the downturn in economy affected knitters?
A: Typically when the economy goes sour, the interest in knitting goes up – not because it’s less expensive to knit, because in most cases it’s not – but because gives a sense of purpose. Knitting is very meditative, allowing your mind to relax and go wherever it wants. It can be as intricate or basic as you want.
Q: What’s hot for the spring 2011 season?
A: The hottest thing is new fibers manufactured with soy and bamboo, both by themselves and in combination with each other. The fibers are very luxurious but lightweight.
Q: Do you have any male knitters in your clientele?
A: I have both male knitters and crocheters; one of them does a lot of knitting for his grandchildren. Another travels extensively and fills time on the plane and airport while away from home. They enjoy it and don’t feel there’s any stigma attached to it.
Q: A lot of knitting shops play off of puns – A Good Yarn, Have Ewe Any Wool, String Theory. How did you come up with the name for your shop?
A: The name and logo are from an English Tavern Sign. About 20 years ago, my husband’s boss, a former antiques dealer, brought back a replica of the original tavern sign and it hung over our fireplace mantel for years. When I started thinking about names, I initially went for the “cutesy” ones, but I realized I wanted the shop to have the feel of the old Boston Cheers tavern, so “The Woolpack” it is.
Q: As a knitter yourself, what are you working on now?
A: My latest project is a linen shawl to display in the store as an example for our new upcoming spring collection. Every spring and fall we bring in new yarns and designs, with the discontinued inventory going into our so-called orphans and oddballs sale corner.
Q: What does your husband think of your knitting?
A: He gets really relieved when I finally put it down to go to sleep. But seriously, he knows how much happiness it brings me, and a happy wife is a good wife.