Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Espace Tricot

Espace Tricot owners Lisa and Melissa.

This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of the 2018 Rhinebeck Trunk Show.

While I haven’t visited Espace Tricot yet (emphasis on yet, as I am hoping to go sometime soon after a trip scheduled for last February was cancelled by the flu), I feel like I have because of owners Lisa Di Fruscia and Melissa Clulow’s approachable podcast.

When I do get to visit, I will be all over their selection, which includes yarn from local dyers Julie Asselin and Tanis Fiber Arts and goodies from Twill & Print, and excited to see their beautiful patterns in person.

Tell me the story of how Espace Tricot came to be. Had both of you always wanted to own a yarn shop?

Melissa first picked up a set of knitting needles back in 2008, and something just clicked. Meanwhile, across town, Lisa had turned to knitting while her newborn son napped afternoons away in the car (his preferred location). As two newly minted yarn lovers, hooked on the creative and stress-relieving properties of the craft, we soon met at a local knit night and became fast friends. Over the next year we daydreamed about creating the ideal knit shop – in an aspirational but totally idle sort of way. One day, when a local yarn shop owner who was moving out of town asked Melissa if she knew of anyone who might be interested in subletting her space, it took one phone call to Lisa and about five seconds for us to decide we would be the ones to take over the lease and open a store. Three months later, Espace Tricot was born!

What did each of you do before you became yarn shop owners and how do you think it informs what you bring to the business?

Lisa was a physical education teacher by profession and had worked most recently in the area of personal/spiritual development while Melissa’s varied background combined clinical psychology, non-profit management and website design and development. Neither of us had specific experience running a retail business, but we optimistically believed we had the personal and professional qualities, work ethic, and initiative necessary to make a go of it.

Fundamentally, creating and growing a successful store requires both practical and organizational skills, as well as interpersonal abilities. These aspects are especially important in the knitting world insofar as we are serving a community of people who love to share, learn, create, and connect through our craft. Having backgrounds in education and psychology enhance our capacity to understand our clients and to guide them in their projects, choices and learning in a supportive and instructional way.

Furthermore, Melissa’s experience in management and web development and Lisa’s work as a physical education teacher contribute to our ability to keep the various aspects of our business running smoothly. That said, we also recognize the limitations of our skill-sets and do not hesitate to engage outside professional assistance when necessary (e.g. accounting, product photography)!

How do you choose the dyers and brands that you carry?

As we’ve grown in our business, we’ve gained a better understanding of knitters and the market as a whole. We would say that the selection of dyers, and brands in general, is more art than science and there are many factors that enter into our decision-making process.

First, we consider our current inventory and determine whether there are particular weights or textures missing and prioritize filling those gaps. We constantly evaluate our shelves to decide if yarns need to be retired and replaced in order to breathe new life into our staples. We meet with yarn reps on a regular basis to see whether their product lines suit our needs and often ask for samples to knit up test swatches before finalizing our decisions.

This all sounds very methodical, but we are also not above making impulsive decisions when we fall for a yarn, even when any rationale for adding it to our shelves is entirely lacking. We are knitters, after all! When selecting hand-dyed yarns and smaller brands we rely heavily on our instincts, we tune in to what is capturing the attention of knitters, and keep a keen eye on sparks flying out in the ether.

Sometimes the clues are ephemeral and sometimes they are more concrete, taking the form of repeated customer requests! We might see something at a festival, twig on to something through social media, receive an e-mail from a new hand dyer, or develop a personal relationship with a producer. We also look to Ravelry for guidance. We check up on popular yarns and those gaining momentum and take note of what our favourite and/or popular designers are knitting their patterns with.

What made you decide to start a podcast?

Lisa had begun to delve into the fountain pen world and wanted to learn more about these curious instruments so turned to YouTube to find out more. She stumbled upon a podcast by a young entrepreneur with an online pen shop and mentioned it to Melissa. Melissa quickly set about exploring this intriguing world of podcasts within the knitting community and was immediately hooked on the plethora of wonderful channels already available. We didn’t dare dream of starting a podcast ourselves (what?! no way would we ever!), but on the urging of Lisa’s husband we decided to film an episode just to see if we could do it. Needless to say, we took great comfort in knowing our initial effort wouldn’t see the light of day if we felt it was just too terrible. And now here we are, 20 episodes later and counting.

Can you talk about any new products the shop is going to carry or special events in the works?

We are always on the hunt for new and exciting products and often bring them in irrespective of the season. This fall, however, we are turning our focus towards stranded colourwork projects and are working to bring our customers on a journey with us as we learn more about the incredible properties of minimally processed 100% wool. We are so excited by all of the beautiful rustic and breed-specific sheep yarns we’ve ordered and look forward to encouraging knitters to move beyond their immediate reactions to these yarns as scratchy or rough towards an appreciation of their warm, comforting, versatile and aesthetically stunning properties!

We’ve developed new relationships with the distributors of Rauma, BC Garn, and Garthenor, and are restocking our current offerings from Brooklyn Tweed, Tukuwool and Quince & Co. We’re also adding new lines from Kelbourne Woolens, Julie Asselin, Rowan and Lopi. Of course, all of these will find a home among our wide selection of hand-dyed yarns from producers such as Madelinetosh, Hedgehog Fibres, Artfil, Julie Asselin and Koigu as well as lines from Shibui Knits, Woolfolk, Lang, mYak, Berroco, Cascade and many others!

When and how did both of you learn to knit?

Interestingly, both Lisa and Melissa learned to knit around the same time in March 2008. At that time Lisa was at home with her 18-month old son and was looking for an outlet to express her creativity and to reconnect with herself. She found a little shop that was offering Learn to Knit classes and the rest is history.

Melissa had just moved to Montreal and asked her mother to teach her how to knit as part of a strategy to find community in her new city. Shortly after, we met at a local knit night and it was love at first sight! We’ve been great friends, business partners, and obsessive knitters ever since. Having each other has been wonderful for our knitting progress — we encourage and motivate one other, take great pride in each other’s successes, and support one another through the inevitable failures –- usually with wine!

Do either of you enjoy any other crafts in addition to knitting?

Lisa loves to dabble in art for self-expression, including painting, drawing, journaling, or collage, while Melissa enjoys a bit of weaving and sewing. Of course, all of these take a back seat to knitting…

Espace Tricot’s Wrapped in Lino shawl.

Tell me about each of your most memorable FOs.

Every project that has pushed our skills to the next level has led to a great sense of accomplishment (e.g. first pair of socks, first sweater, first colourwork project, etc). For Lisa, however, the most memorable ones are the projects she has knit which required kilometres of knitting and sheer perseverance, such as her Wrapped in Lino and European Road Trip shawls. She is also especially proud of her latest design, Étoile Maritime, which required her to figure out how to increase while maintaining a star mesh rib design!

Melissa’s favourite projects are usually those to which she’s added a strand of silk and mohair for that halo quality she can’t get enough of! Her most memorable ones, however, have been designs such as her Chevron Baby Blanket and Getting Warmer cowl which have resonated with so many knitters on Ravelry and which made her think that perhaps she had something to offer in the area of simple, straightforward knitwear design.

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