HIGH IN FIBER: Six Loose Ladies yarn shop to move to Chester

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Mara and Yukio

Mara Novak with her dog Yukio amid hand-dyed roving braids, which Novak dyed in her microwave oven. Photos by Cynthia Prairie. Click a photo to launch the gallery.

By July 1, Six Loose Ladies, the Proctorsville yarn shop with the unusual name, should be settled into its new home in Chester, at 287 Main St., between the Southern Pie Co.  and Country Treasures quilting shop.

The peach-colored building — which might not stay that color for long — has been purchased by Mara Novak, a Chester resident who owns two other rental properties in Vermont and who is one of the more than six who make up the Six Loose Ladies consortium.

Novak bought the building — closing on it in late March — after the board of directors of  Six Loose Ladies agreed that it was time to make the move to a more retail- and pedestrian-rich environment. It will also bring one more retail establishment to the area and add to the regional reputation for its fine locally crafts.

The property has three retail spaces — two fronting Main and one behind — and three rental apartments, Novak said in a recent interview. Southern Pie will remain in its 750-square-foot space. After the space is renovated to suit its needs, Six Loose Ladies will move into the 850-square-foot space currently occupied by Twigs and Thistle Thrift Boutique, which will move into the 550-square-foot space along the side of the building.

Searching for a walkable downtown

The decision to move arose organically last winter, says Novak, when members were discussing various ways to attract more business to the Proctorsville store. The group was trying to come up with ideas,  “things we had never tried, such as putting a colorful sandwich board on Route 103.”

Six Loose Ladies will take over the space on the left. Left of that is the Country Treasures Quilt Shop.

Six Loose Ladies will take over the space on the left. Left of that is the Country Treasures Quilt Shop.

But she says, “We were scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas when Ann Summers (a Chester resident and co-owner of the Chester Bookworm) said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could buy a building down in Chester.’ ” Novak said she went home to think about it. She knew a move to Chester might be hard on some of the founders. “They had built this beautiful thing in Proctorsville,” she says. The problem is, there is no walk-in traffic.

Suellen Slater, a Chester resident who is vice president of the board of directors, says, the board saw the need for the move. “We were the only shop in Proctorsville that didn’t serve food and so you had to come to Proctorsville specifically for us. We got a fair number of skiers during the winter but we really felt we needed to be in a more populous area.”

Because of the skiers, Chester wasn’t the only place considered: There was also nearby Ludlow. But, says Novak, “Chester’s Main Street feels like a place you want to be in.”

She recalls what brought her and her husband to Chester: “When I first came to Vermont, we got to Chester and I said I want Vermont to look like this. It’s walkable. ”

And, says Slater, “Already, quite a few of our customers on our newsletter list have expressed excitement about the move.”

While Six Loose Ladies is a cooperative with a curious name, the 10-year-old shop and its management bear the hallmarks of a tight-knit, goal-directed business. The store is filled with high-quality, handmade goods, natural fibers and interesting yarns. Many of the fine scarves, hats, gloves and other goods on consignment, are made by members of the co-op.

While two women are directly involved with buying, they gather opinions from other board members as they filter through all the possible products — fibers, yarns, needles and other tools — to purchase the best for shop customers, whether they spin, felt, knit, weave or crochet.

While the Proctorsville store is open just four days at week, the hours are set: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. on “Sit ‘n’ Knit Sunday.” There are no By appointment or  Catch me if you can signs anywhere, even though, like other co-ops, it is staffed by volunteers.  Those days will expand once the Chester move is complete.

Slater says that, “Our mission is to promote the fiber arts in Vermont and as such we offer fiber artists the opportunity to sell their wares.” But the products, she said, are juried and there are between 20 and 25 consignors who sell everything from from felted, crocheted, woven and knitted wares, hand-dyed fiber for spinning and yarns and fiber tools on a 70-30 basis. That is, the consignor gets 70 percent of the sale price and the shop gets 30 percent, which is above the usual 60-40 split, Slater said. “We consider ourselves high-quality with no acrylic.”

The take pays the bills and get plowed back into the store, since all the shop-sitters are volunteers and no one gets paid.

More days, local yarns and critters

Shop renovations are set to start June 1, with the opening expected on Friday, July 1, in time for the July 4th holiday.  The two buyers, Novak says, “are the arbiters of taste and will be designing the layout for the new store.”

Once ready, the shop will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.  “The ladies rest on Mondays and Tuesdays,” Novak smiles.

While Novak says that the space will be smaller than in Proctorsville, the board believes that paring down is the way to go. “They’ll be letting go of some of the more esoteric yarns that haven’t sold well, some of the very beautiful and very expensive yarns that were bought in small batches.”

'We're lucky that a lot of our consignors have critters,' says Novak. This is her Surrey llama Marcea.

‘We’re lucky that a lot of our consignors have critters,’ says Novak. This is her Surrey suri  llama Marcea.

Six Loose Ladies is known for its fine yarn selection, but the shop will continue to stock sock yarn, which has nylon in it, a variety of colors that aren’t necessarily made from natural dyes and some with embellishments — like beads and sparkles. “We’re practical,” she says, referring to customer demand.

She added that customer tastes have changed. “It’s hats, mittens and socks. Sweaters, not so much. People want to work on something that is portable, that you don’t need to carry a pattern around to work on it and that you can finish.”

“We want to specialize in more local yarn. We’re lucky here because a lot of our consignors have critters,” says Novak, herself an owner of critters, including Surrey  suri llamas, blue-faced Leicester sheep and cashmere and Angora goats. Novak explained that Angora goats, despite the name, produce mohair, not Angora wool.  Angora only comes from Angora rabbits.

Slater believes the move will also attract more volunteers to help man the shop, now with an extra day added to the work week.

One of the many benefits of moving to Chester, Novak says, is being next door to Country Treasures Quilt Shop, at 12 The Common. “It is huge,” says Novak, referring more to the importance of the shop itself than its size. “And a lot of us knitters are also quilters. People who like our stuff will like their’s and vice versa.

“And of course, we all like pie,” she says, referring to the Southern Pie Co. “We’re trying to come up with some event that includes knitting and eating pie,” she laughs, as two, fresh-from-the-oven berry pies cooled on her kitchen counter.

That curious name

It's all about being laidback and nonjudgmental, Novak says.

‘It’s about being laidback and nonjudgmental,’ Novak says.

Novak says Six Loose Ladies was actually started by six women who shared a love of fiber arts. In 2003, they incorporated as a non-profit as Fiber Arts in Vermont then began teaching and sharing their love of the various arts and crafts associated with fiber in homes and community spaces around the region. “We are a nonprofit with an educational mission,” she says.

While the “official version” has it that the name comes from the Victorian era, when matrons would attempt to get “loose women” off the streets  by teaching them fiber arts, the name actually came from the husband of one lady. As the group of carefree women struggled to come up with a name for their planned shop, he suggested they were indeed “loose” enough that they would think of a name.

Novak says that spirit continues to be a hallmark of the shop. “It’s about being laidback and nonjudgmental. We encourage everyone to come in, to teach something, to volunteer at the store … The important thing is that we don’t take ourselves seriously.”

 

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Donna Howell says:

    We spent the weekend at Okemo golfing and stopped in Chester to check out the new shop. Unfortunately, we were a weekend too early. Very disappointed.

  2. Leah Karo says:

    Congratulations, I look forward to joining in with the Sunday Evening Knitting!
    Great article Cynthia.

  3. Kim Seymour says:

    6LL,

    This is GREAT news! I love your shop, but don’t travel to Proctorsville except to visit your shop. It will be SO exciting to see the store in Chester where I can visit more often! Good luck with the move and the renovations; best wishes for success in a charming and quintessentially Vermont town,

    Kim Seymour
    Colonial House Inn
    Weston, VT

  4. Bob Behr says:

    I know someone who’s going to jump for joy when she hears this!

  5. Katherine Henry says:

    This is great! Lucky Chester!

  6. Susan Bourne says:

    Hurray for you and for us! This is such great news! I’ve just moved to Chester — and soon I’ll be able to walk over to enjoy all the Six Loose Ladies and friends have to offer. Well done!

    In community,

    Susan Bourne

  7. Dan cote says:

    Congratulations Six Loose Ladies! And thank you for making the move to Chester. Our village is blessed to have you as a partner! Welcome!
    Penny & Dan Cote; Inn Victoria

    PS: an exceptionally well-prepared article