Lauren Scarpa, owner of Country Yarns, knows how to make good use of storms. After her annual participation in the Durham Fair and then Stitches East in Hartford, Scarpa found herself scheduled to move her inventory half a mile to her new address on South Colony Road the day before Hurricane Sandy struck.
“We pretty much knew what we were going to do,” said a woman who Saran-wrapped her bins of yarn at an address where she had operated for 18 years. “I had to remain calm.”
Once she had skirted the hurricane — she opened her new shop Nov. 2, just a few days after the storm made landfall — she stacked the racks with the more than 5,000 skeins, or threads of yarn, she sells during the early November snowstorm.
In addition, the shop, which offers Sunday afternoon knitting sessions and also classes, carries accessories and garments the former art student and her lacemaking colleague Chris Rinder design.
Handwork seems a strong part of Scarpa's heritage. She said her mother, grandmother and aunts knitted, crocheted and tatted. Scarpa herself worked at a yarn shop while studying at Paier College of Art in Hamden. Having honed her sense of color there, she then began working with yarns on her own spinning wheel.
Today, she will place 250 to 300 skeins on one of her long tables, and blend as many as 400 strands to produce one-of-a-kind yarns — many of which she herself dyes. She also keeps two sheep and llamas behind her home, and some fleece comes down from a herd in Massachusetts.
Customer remark that they don’t yet know how they’ll use the end-product of her labors — one especially vibrant skein is called passion yarn — but they find the skeins so lovely they decide to buy them anyway.
“These are not your grandmother’s yarns,” Scarpa observed.
For 30 years, some of the brightly colored “novelty” yarns she stocks emerged from Japan, although Scarpa said of late the yarns, which feature a mix of structures and materials, also arrive from Italy.
Presently in style are yarns that Scarpa terms balls of "eyelashes.” These consist of thin threads with a “lash” every few inches that add bulk and texture to a knitted garment. Also in vogue are ruffled yarns, which, Scarpa said, are ideal for scarves.
In 2010, Scarpa established a shop on the online marketplace Etsy entitled Glass Sheep. There, she has found her customers come largely from California and also the Midwest and Southeast. And Scarpa goes to great lengths to satisfy customers.
She has one who is bedridden and has ordered the yarns with ribbons and sequins that Scarpa stocks. To her, Scarpa carefully explains the blend of colors, such as a pomegranate or a “watered-down grape juice,” that she would like to send.
She said knitting has a place in an economy where persons tend not to travel and need something to relieve stress. But she also values knitting as a communal experience.
“I wouldn’t have half my friends if I didn’t knit,” she said.
Yet the story of yarn is filled with travel. History records that yarns came from the Mideast to Western Europe during the Crusades. Later, sailors knitted as their ships traversed the globe because the portable craft gave them something to do.
As far as Scarpa uprooting her shop in Wallingford, she said that is not in her plans. “We intend to die here,” she said.
On Dec. 1, Country Yarns at 9 South Colony Road will have a trunk show, among other events, and serve cider. For the Wallingford "Stroll," she will also serve refreshments and provide gift certificates and a raffle.