At some point on the learning curve, the fingers just know. They take over.
A once undecipherable pattern stamped out on paper starts making sense and the art of knitting a three-dimensional sweater begins.
At age 8, Kim Haesemeyer broke a needle when her mom was trying to teach her how to knit, and she quit. But after her marriage and three children, she tried again, calling her mom in Arizona for tips.
“I would just stare at them. I couldn’t understand the patterns and I thought there must be another way,” she said.
Today, her fingers fly in an effortless dance, using needles like mind-body extensions to create heirlooms from wool. Millions of women and men knit and crochet, but only a few break through into the publishing world.
On Sept. 8, Haesemeyer will be at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Billings, signing copies of her first book of 17 original knitting designs called “Expand Your Knitting Skills.”
“I just love the aesthetics of everything, the process, the yarn,” she said.
After knitting seriously for the last five years, Haesemeyer has had half a dozen patterns published in knitting magazines and was recently hired by New York City company to knit a stealth project with cashmere, silk and de-haired possum yarn.
Haesemeyer teaches classes at both of the Billings specialty yarn shops: Wild Purls, which moved last year from Broadwater Avenue to 1206 24th St. W., and Purl Yarn Boutique at 1001 Shiloh Crossing Blvd.
Julia Warmer said the Wild Purls shop she opened in 2006 has grown every year, even through the recession, and it draws customers from Bozeman to North Dakota and up from northern Wyoming. Sales are up 20 percent this year over last year, she said.
“Our little shop has become recognized as probably the strongest shop in the state,” Warmer said.
The other Billings store dedicated to knitting and crocheting is Purl Yarn Boutique next to the Shiloh 14 theater. Ren Dschaak, 28, opened her boutique in March 2011 because she always wanted to be an entrepreneur and she fell in love with knitting.
After studying Japanese and metal smithing at the University of Montana, Dschaak said packing around knitting needles was a lot easier than packing around her blowtorch.
The most exotic item at Purl Yarn now is real cashmere wool yarn from Mongolia selling for $41 per skein. That means an heirloom sweater for an average-sized woman would cost $250 just for the cashmere yarn.
After teaching a knitting class Thursday at Billings Skyview High School, Dschaak said both female and males students “just loved it.”
Haesemeyer teaches knitting classes at both Billings stores and is one of a handful of Billings women who design knitting patterns. After submitting 30 designs, the well-known Leisure Arts published 17 of Haesemeyer’s creations in a book. So she appears to be the only current local designer to get a book published, so far.
Another local Renaissance woman of fabric arts is Linda Shelhamer of Shepherd, who has been spinning and dying wool for 30 years and teaches those skills.
Shelhamer started designing about the time Haesemeyer did, and said she’s amazed that Kim has succeeded so quickly.
“It’s difficult for a publisher to take a chance on you, especially if you haven’t been on the national circuit,” Shelhamer said. “Big time designers always say that you have 250 hours into a knitting pattern from concept to printing.”
Cindy Dell is another local designer who teaches education psychology at Montana State University Billings. Dell started drawing simple designs for neck cowls to perfect her national master knitters’ chops.
“It’s really a stress reliever for me,” Dell said. “I get to balance my science academic side with something creative.”
Hannah Knick designs needle-felting patterns near Joliet.
“I do wild bird patterns and they are displaying eight of my creations at Wild Purls,” Knick said.
Other nearby yarn outlets are in Stillwater County.
Muddy Lamb Studios in Fishtail is a yarn and pottery shop that carries local yarns. Marianne’s Yarn Studio in Absarokee is open two days a week and by appointment.
Haesemeyer is a much nicer person when she knits, she said, quoting her own children’s assessment. Knitting, for her, is both Zen mediation and a social event with friends.
“I do it for the processing of life. You chat and you laugh and you process life that way,” she said.
Turning a hobby into a business wasn’t easy, Haesemeyer said, but she now likes the business end: constantly making contacts, sending out designs to publishers and now signing books.
“It’s not a money making venture for me yet. I do it out of passion,” she said. “But I feel like I’m making headway.”
Knitting’s popularity is coming back, Dschaak said.
Purl Yarn Boutique’s sales for materials or finished scarves and clothing have topped her business plan goals, she said, and it’s fun.
“It’s just something that touches the soul. It really, really does,” she said. “It’s a way to commune and get back in touch with people, which is what we all should be doing.”