Touch for Texture Has Business All Sewn

Weekly Briefing by David Greenberg

Mel Clark said her native New Zealand has 3.5 million people and 70 to 80 million sheep. So it's no surprise that she has been knitting since age 8. When she moved to Santa Monica 16 years ago, she began a career designing and wholesaling hand-knit sweaters to East Coast specialty boutiques. L.L. Bean also bought her designs. Drawing from her five years of experience as an elementary school teacher in New Zealand, Clark began teaching knitting classes at Wildfiber in June 2000. When she discovered the owner had put the Santa Monica store on the market, she jumped at the chance to buy it.

"I've changed the focus and remodeled it extensively in April of last year. The store used to (focus on) fabric dyes and silk painting supplies and other fiber art materials. We still sell them but we have a lot more knitting, yarn, spinning wheels and weaving supplies. We also have needlepoint supplies and craft books.

"We have yarns from all over the world Japanese, English, German, American and New Zealand. We offer hundreds of different colors and textiles everything from 100 percent acrylic to 100 percent cashmere and all kinds of combinations of silk and wool and cotton in between. They are $3 for a ball of cotton yarn to $40 for a skein of cashmere.

"We have classes every Saturday and sometimes during the week, as well. The ones that are the most popular at the moment are knitting, weaving and spinning wool, silk or cotton into yarn. We also teach silk painting, lettering and photo transfer on fabric, basketry and shibori, which is the Japanese origin of tie dyeing. At a given time I have 10 to 15 freelance teachers to teach the different classes some of them who come from overseas. They are all specialists in their different fields. I (also) have two employees here all the time.

"I teach knitting. It's very satisfying to introduce people to new crafts that they are going to enjoy and find very therapeutic. The classes are six hours and are $55 to $90 for a day and then we have six-week courses of three hours per week for $150 to $200. The cost is dependent on the length of the class, the materials provided and the cost to hire the teacher. We can have up to 25 people in a class.

"(Revenues) go from $7,000 to $15,000 a week. The winter is marginally better than summer but it has been steady throughout the year The classes really sell the products in the stores. Recently I sold 20 looms for $200 each after one class."

David Greenberg

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