What does a Kansas farm girl who went into nursing have in common with a Maine island girl who went into lobster fishing? They may come from different worlds in some respects, but after meeting each other in a cozy yarn shop in Glenburn, Maine, Sandy Spiller and Patti Lewis found that they shared a great deal more than a love of knitting.
Sandy has the glow of someone who, after years of work and waiting, is finally living her dream. I went to meet with her at Essentially Felt Studio and Fine Yarn, the shop she opened in 2011 next to her home. Sandy’s cheeriness splashed around the room as she gave me a tour of the brightly-lit, two-story space, filled with worktables, displays, floor-to-ceiling shelves of felting wool, countless yards of yarns from all over the world, and Patti Lewis.
Patti is such a constant in Sandy’s shop that many visitors assume she works there. Although she does help out a lot, Patti is not an employee. Nor could you really call her a volunteer. Perhaps the best way to describe Patti’s presence in the shop is to say that she is thoroughly at home.
Sandy and Patti first met slightly more than a year ago, when Patti first came to check out Glenburn’s new yarn shop. Patti’s sunny enthusiasm bowled Sandy over from the start, and the more the two of them talked, the more they discovered their shared affinities and experiences, starting with childhood.
Sandy and her siblings were the third generation to live on her family’s farm in Kansas, where they raised livestock and grain and sold milk from their dairy cows. Patti’s childhood home on Little Cranberry Island was similarly remote, though her ancestors had been fishermen for several generations. In addition to being accustomed to daily chores and do-it-yourself work, both women attended a one-room schoolhouse.
“When you grow up in places like that, you make your own entertainment,” said Patti.
Both women learned to love creative craft work from a very young age. Patti loved the crochet work that her grandmother used to do and treasured the first tiny sewing machine that she got as a child. Sandy dabbled in just about every kind of needlework – knitting, weaving, tatting, sewing, and embroidery. But craft work was not enough for either woman to make a living. Patti joined her dad on his fishing boat and learned how to be a lobster fisherman. Sandy pursued a degree in nursing.
Throughout her years as a nurse, including four years in Germany working for the military, Sandy gravitated toward yarn shops everywhere. She loved the colors, textures, and creative atmosphere, and she dreamed of having her own shop one day. Back in the states, she studied interior design in her free time. After moving to Maine in the late 80’s, she left nursing behind, went into health care interior design and became skilled in felting clothes and shoes. Slowly her life was evolving towards more creative outlets.
The thing that stands out in Patti is her general delight in life, a twinkling optimism that has outlasted hard times. As a teenager, she had scoliosis and spent a year in the Shriner’s Hospital in Boston, so she learned to knit lying on her back. When I expressed sympathy she quickly corrected me.
“Oh I made friends on the ward,” she said. “Annette Funicello visited, I had an old truck mirror that I used to spy on everyone. All I know is I was having fun.”
Patti’s years on the lobster boat reflect high spirits as well. She treasures the old rocking chair that her grandmother used to sit in on her husband’s lobster boat. From her earliest days, Patti loved opening the traps to find sand dollars, crabs, starfish, seaglass, “and these little fish I call blowfish. You tickle their belly and they puff up. They’re so fun!”
Whether talking about yarn shops or lobster traps, Patti shows the same charming air of anticipation.
“It’s just like opening a treasure chest! You never know what you’re going to get.”
Patti’s spunk added a new element to Sandy’s shop.
“She’s really a better salesman than I am,” said Sandy. “She’ll say to a customer, ‘You know, if you buy the whole bag, you can make a scarf and socks to match.’ I would NEVER do that, but she does!”
Another important connection between Patti and Sandy is their appreciation of the therapeutic nature of craft. Both women have done hospice work and find fulfillment in nurturing those in need. They love to be able to share and promote the comforting nature of handwork.
“It frees the mind and body to focus and relax at the same time,” said Sandy.
Indeed, there is a warm feeling that pervades Essentially Felt. Perhaps it is the beautifully laid out interior, the light, the colors or the sensuous pleasure of burying your hands into the softness of sheep, goat, rabbit, llama, possum and yak. I think, however, that the heart of the place is manifested best in the comfortable companionship of two women who share a creative home.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at email@example.com.