I Spent My Childhood Surrounded by Cozy and Colorful Yarns
A Personal Perspective: Safety in my mother's knitting and needlepoint store.
Posted January 8, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
I discovered an article in the NY Times recently titled “Can A Yarn Store Be A Place of Healing?” which made me nostalgic for simpler times. When my father lost his job due to his alcoholism – I was thirteen – my mother had to work to support the family. She opened a needlepoint and knitting store in our enclave in Queens, NY.
The store, which she called “Idle Hands,” quickly became a safe place for me to go after school, hang out, and do my homework at my mom’s desk. Anywhere to go but home, where my father presided, depressed because he wasn’t medicating his melancholy with Johnnie Walker Red.
Home had become a place to avoid, especially when my mother wasn’t there to run interference between my father and me and my brother.
The store was small, maybe five hundred square feet, every inch filled with needlepoint canvases of varying sizes and designs, rainbows of yarns with textures from silky to rough-hewn. I learned to knit there under my mother’s patient tutelage and completed my first sweater, which I still have, a maroon tweed turtleneck with a cable. In the early 1980s, there were no personal computers, which meant that every pattern for a sweater had to be calculated by hand.
My mother, whose first love was computers, was a rare female programmer before she had children. She worked on the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC) and at Remington Rand. She quit to raise her children and after she divorced my father, opened her own custom software development company, which turned out to be a successful enterprise.
She ended up hiring a salesperson to work with the customers – Shirley, a woman from the neighborhood, who was funny and great with the women who came into the store. That freed up my mom to work on developing more complicated patterns.
Several years after opening, Mom decided she needed more space and moved the store a couple of blocks further down Lefferts Blvd. This new store was at least double the size, if not more, and had space in the back for a new enterprise.
She and my father (God knows why she decided to consult him) had decided to import a velvet yarn that came on giant spools, wind it onto individual cards and sell it wholesale to other stores. They invested in a machine that held the spools and neatly wound the yarn onto white cards printed with the Idle Hands logo.
After school, I spent many unpaid hours manning that machine, somehow understanding without being told that our financial situation was dire and I needed to contribute in any way I could.
Several years ago, my brother surprised me by finding now vintage Idle Hands velvet yarn cards on eBay. He must have paid some exorbitant price, but he bought them – one for him and one for me – and now it’s hanging in a shadow box on my wall. I still do a double-take when I catch a glimpse of the Idle Hands logo as I walk by, for that name alone brings back a plethora of indelible memories.
This March, my mother will have been gone twenty years. That it’s that long is incredibly hard to fathom. There are days I need her so much that her passing still hurts with the intensity of two decades ago, and there are days I’m managing.
I love and miss you, Mom.
Thanks for reading. Andrea