The yarn she weavesCANNON FALLS — Mary Jill Duncan is swimming in a sea of softness.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
CANNON FALLS — Mary Jill Duncan is swimming in a sea of softness.
As the owner of the Cannon Falls shop What in Yarnation!, she’s surrounded by yarn day in and day out. Whether made from wool, alpaca, acrylic, nylon or polyester, the yarn Duncan supplies at her store is as soft as she can find, because that’s what she prefers when knitting her own pieces.
The skill is one she’s carried with her for years after originally picking it up at age 10 from her mom.
“So often knitting is about family and traditions,” Duncan said.
While the “knitting gene” went from mother to daughter once, it wasn’t carried on as naturally to a second generation when Duncan had her own daughter, Christine.
Though she works as a pastry chef now, Christine spent a few days in the past helping her mom at Yarnation. Before lending a hand, however, she made it clear that she had no desire to share Duncan’s interest in fibers.
“She said, ‘I’m not going to learn to knit,’” Duncan remembered.
But Christine’s strong will diminished quickly as she fell under the spell of the craft.
“On the third day I came in and she was standing behind the counter with ‘Knitting for Dummies,’ a ball of yarn and needles,” Duncan said with a laugh.
Despite learning to knit as a 10-year-old, Duncan recalled there was a time in her life when she, too, had no interest in the activity.
“Knitting was an old lady’s sport,” Duncan said, explaining that it wasn’t until she reached her 30s that she got back into the art.
When friends started having children, Duncan realized her skill of knitting could help her put a homemade flair on baby gifts, so she again picked up the knitting needles.
Duncan would knit everything from blankets to washcloths and hats to shawls, not knowing that her hobby would one day become her career.
Fairly new to the Cannon Falls scene, Yarnation opened its doors in September 2010. The concept of running a shop was entirely new to Duncan
“I didn’t know how to build an inventory,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to find vendors.”
Still, she went forward with the idea and has seen plenty of success, she said. Even with yarn available at retail stores everywhere, Duncan isn’t worried about Yarnation holding its own in the market.
Unlike big box stores, she said, a small, specialized shop is able to offer an insurmountable number of different types of yarn in a wider variety of colors. So many, in fact, that it’s hard for the owner to pinpoint a figure.
“I wouldn’t even hazard a guess,” she noted.
Aside from the diversity and quality of yarn offered at Yarnation, customer service has also contributed to the store’s success.
“You can go into a shop and they practically hug you when you come in. We’re kind of like that,” Duncan explained.
While Yarnation is open seven days a week, Duncan regularly works about four or five, leaving her some time to focus on activities outside of work.
Having grown up almost entirely in Cannon Falls, she enjoys getting involved in the community through her local church and the Cannon Falls Library Foundation. When it comes to hobbies, however, knitting “is pretty much it,” she joked.
Duncan’s passion for knitting extends beyond learning the skill herself. She’s developed weekly studio classes at Yarnation to help others learn the craft. The shop also hold open knitting every Wednesday and Thursday to allow people to bring in their projects and bounce ideas off one another.
But whether it’s a class day or not, Duncan welcomes curious knitters to Yarnation no matter what.
“You can come in any time — we don’t care,” the owner said with a smile. “We just want to teach you.”