Come in for a yarn

American entrepreneur creates a tight-knit community in St. John’s

Published on April 12, 2014

The most complicated thing Kate Garibaldi has ever knit? A two-foot humpback whale.
It was a horror to create, she says, with an eight-page, complicated pattern, and in the end, Garibaldi gave it away, because she couldn’t stand the sight of it.

Garibaldi — complicated sea creatures aside — considers herself to be an amateur knitter, though she’s already managed to make it her career.

A native of New Jersey, she and her husband once visited St. John’s together on a holiday and, having fallen in love with the place but without knowing a soul here, they moved here five years ago.

Garibaldi worked at a marketing firm and, exploring the city, came across A Good Yarn, a little yarn shop on Bate’s Hill which has since closed. Apart from a place to buy yarn, A Good Yarn hosted a little community of craftspeople, and Garibaldi immediately took to the warm, inviting atmosphere.

“It was almost like a hangout,” Garibaldi explains. “I was pointed in the direction of knitting and I’ve never put the needles down since. Obviously, while I was learning to knit and shopping for yarn, I was learning a lot about new yarns.”

After A Good Yarn closed up when the owner moved to Halifax, Garibaldi said the community that had been created there felt the loss. Continuing to knit and work full-time, Garibaldi said she eventually decided she wanted to do something for herself, and investigated the potential for a new yarn shop.

Last fall, she opened Cast On! Cast Off! at 685 Water St. in St. John’s. Her small shop is like a candy store — wooden shelves stuffed to the brim with yarns in every colour, from pastels to deep jewel tones; knitting needles and notions displayed like lollipops. There’s a sitting area with leather couches and a coffee table, and Garibaldi’s coffee maker is always at the ready, her fridge stocked with cream.

She is her only employee, and works six days a week. When the store isn’t busy, guess what she’s doing?

“Knitting, of course,” she says. “It’s the best part.”

Garibaldi’s fibres range from a $3 ball of acrylic yarn to a $40 skein of Handmaiden sea silk, yarn spun from seaweed and manufactured in Nova Scotia.

“I really tried to bring in a lot of Canadian indie-dyers, and a lot of yarns that are dyed by hand,” Garibaldi says of her products. “People love it, because they get to see yarns they’ve never gotten to see before, except when they travel.”

There’s a good range of local products in Cast On! Cast Off!, including yarns by Shawn O’Hagan’s Island Sweet Fibre Arts in Corner Brook, Sue McFadden’s Clever Cat Knits in Calvert, and lace knitting kits by Shirley A. Scott of St. John’s. She also carries yarn from Desiderata alpaca farm in Branchville, N.J., owned by JoAnn and Glenn Norman of Mount Pearl.

The knitters who hung out at A Good Yarn have, for the most part, migrated to create a new community at Cast On! Cast Off!, Garibaldi says. She has a Monday night knitting club — a group of knitters called the COCO Knuts — who bring cookies and make an evening of it.

Today’s knitters span a range of ages, the majority between 18 and 65, she says.

“I’m definitely seeing a lot of new knitters, and it seems trendy now,” Garibaldi says. “People are going on YouTube to learn how to knit. It’s really neat that it’s coming back.

“A lot of people say it’s relaxing, and it’s a great hobby. It’s definitely not something where you can say, ‘Oh, I’m saving money by knitting my own clothes,’ but it’s a huge feeling of accomplishment with the construction of it.”

In a province where knitting is more than trendy — it’s a part of the culture — Garibaldi hopes her shop will continue to thrive.

“I’m really happy to be here in St. John’s,” she says. “I love it so much.”

Twitter: @tara_bradbury