New Rockland yarn shop offers chance at accessible art

Posted July 21, 2012, at 1:02 p.m.
Jenny Carboy of Rockport checked out a grey skein at the new shop Over the Rainbow Yarn in Rockland recently.
Jenny Carboy of Rockport checked out a grey skein at the new shop Over the Rainbow Yarn in Rockland recently.

ROCKLAND, Maine — When Mim Bird’s 13-and-a-half-year-old son (“the half is important when you’re 13”) decided to go to school instead of continuing homeschooling, she didn’t know what to do with her life. She had been a homemaker for 16 years.

“For the first year I just wandered around thinking, ‘What will I do now?’ The second year, I thought, ‘I’m doing this. I’m opening a yarn shop.’ I’m fascinated by yarn,” Bird said Friday as she spun purple-red wool on a spinning wheel.

Bird opened Over the Rainbow Yarn on School Street in Rockland last month, on her 50th birthday, as a present to herself.

“My mother taught me how to knit when I was 7 years old. Then I forgot. She taught me again when I was 9 and I forgot. She taught me again when I was 13 and it stuck. I’ve been knitting ever since,” she said.

Bird doesn’t focus as much on the final product as she does the process.

“I like technique. I do English and continental and Portuguese [styles] and I can arm knit — you use your arms as the needles,” she said, picking up an I-cord — a preknit tube of yarn.

“She will have a scarf in no time,” said store manager Kristin Flynn, who sat typing on a computer as Bird began manipulating blue loops of the yarn with her fingers and wrists.

Within three minutes, Bird had a scarf-length section that began piling on the floor of her small office.

“This large-format type of thing is the trend now. It’s all deconstruction,” she said.

Bird tries to keep up with yarn trends. For instance, a new type of “yarn” is actually a thin nylon tube with merino wool fluff blown into it. It is mostly air, so it allows knitters to create yarn-intensive sweaters without as much weight, Bird said.

One of her favorite new trends is new types of fabric that make it easy for people with no knitting experience to quickly, easily make scarves and other simple creations.

“The yarn coming off the ball already looks like a scarf,” she said.

“Anyone can be a knitter now,” Flynn said.

“I want everyone to knit or crochet or create something. To create is a basic human instinct. A creative process is good for your soul. Many arts require a body type or talent or perspective or years of skill building,” she said. “There are only two rules to knitting — knit and purl. It’s like chess. It’s easy to learn the rules, but you can spend the rest of your life learning the nuances.”

For the last month since the store opened, Bird has been doing a lot less fiber art. Her focus has to be the store.

White shelving units are spread through the store, which carries hundreds of kinds of yarn.

“This is baby yarn — only because [of] the color — it’s for grandmas who need cotton candy pink or sky blue for a new grandbaby,” she said. “And this one is a cashmere and mink blend.”

A skein of the mink will set a knitter back $40, but a grandma might get out of the store for less than $10 a skein. Other art yarns, like silk ones with beads and sequins, go up to the $50 range per skein.

“These yarns are like spices,” Bird said, pawing a beaded skein. “You have meat and potatoes, but you need balsamic vinegar and fresh grated ginger. They’re the yarns that raise it from something plain to something exquisite.”

Over the Rainbow Yarn also has Maine-made yarns, including alpaca skeins from a farm in Camden.

“This is Grayling,” Bird said, grabbing a gray length. “You could go pet Grayling.”

Bird thinks she is blending into the community well. So far, she has had a lot of traffic thanks to her proximity to the Farnsworth Art Museum.

“People come to the galleries here and the Farnsworth and they feel inspired and want to participate,” she said.

As a job requirement, all six of her employees must do some sort of fiber art.

“It was my job training — learning to knit,” said Kaila Harris, 15, of South Thomaston.

Her first project is a rainbow-colored dog sweater for her grandmother’s terrier.

“It’s nice because after I put all the work in, I’ll have a finished product,” Harris said.

For more information, visit http://www.overtherainbowyarn.com/

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