Fiber arts store builds community around crafting
Fiddlesticks Knits fills the niche of local, ethically made crafting supplies in Madison.
The first thing customers see after walking into Fiddlesticks Knits fiber arts shop on Atwood Avenue is Artisan Island, a focal-point display featuring creative color blends by local yarn dyers. Shop owner Erica Hainz points out a pink-and-purple blend called Isle Royale, inspired by the national park in Lake Superior. Other skeins pay homage to Wisconsin’s natural beauty: a gray, pink, purple and blue swirl by Evergreen Fiber Works is a nod to quartzite found in the Baraboo Hills.
“We try to have a little something for everyone,” says Hainz. “We try to focus as much of our energy on really nice fibers at affordable prices and try to have a really good mix to suit the needs of every crafter as much as we possibly can.”
The backside of the central display includes variegated yarns with nods to pop culture, such as “A Little Bit Alexis” from “Schitt’s Creek” and “Star Wars” color schemes representing both sides of the lightsaber. It also showcases exclusive access to the pride collection from Madison-based dyer KnitCircus, whose color schemes include inspiration from LGBTQ+ flags.
As a queer- and woman-owned shop, Fiddlesticks Knits leads with inclusivity, says Hainz. The front entrance is flanked by Progress Pride and Black Lives Matter flags. In the back corner of the shop is the community room, where crafting socials happen three times per week. Hainz stocks only ethically produced items and is working on a method to highlight which brands are owned by women, people of color or LGBTQ+ individuals. Customers can also choose from animal, plant or vegan fibers.
Where a big-box store might be organized by yarn brand, Fiddlesticks Knits products are displayed by yarn weight on aesthetically pleasing pegboards.
“It was really important to me to lay out the store in a way that actually made sense to crafters, rather than making sense to the person who’s buying inventory.”
From Crafter to Business Owner
Hainz has always loved making her own clothes. She started with sewing, then learned to crochet and knit. “I just find the process of knitting very relaxing, meditative, very soothing,” says Hainz. “I am a very type-A, high-strung, anxious human being. Knitting is one of the few things that actually soothes my nervous soul.”
Hainz says it’s been a wild ride going from crafter to business owner. “I frankly never thought I was going to be owning a business at this point in my life — much less running a yarn shop,” Hainz says. “It feels kind of like I’m living a little bit of my high school fantasy.”
The idea for the store came from a community need after Wisconsin Craft Market at Westgate Mall shut down in the spring of 2020, leaving Madison with a dearth of local yarn shops. Hainz stocked up on items at Wisconsin Craft Market’s going-out-of-business sale, but her supply ran out by November. Hainz didn’t like purchasing items online because the feel of the material is a big factor in the buying process.
Hainz knew she could not be the only crafter in Madison struggling to find supplies. “I realized there was a problem and then realized I could be the one who fixes it,” she says.
With a degree in elementary education and no background in business, Hainz turned to community resources. She got access to a free business adviser through the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Because she was considered a high-risk lender, it was difficult to secure a business loan from the bank. Instead, Hainz found funding through the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp.
“I just kept going with the research and, a 40-page business plan later, here we are,” says Hainz.
Support From the ‘Fiddle Fam’
Fiddlesticks Knits celebrated its one-year anniversary in August. Guests clinked glasses and ate cupcakes at a celebration event, which is also when Hainz debuted a Fiddlesticks etched coffee mug following many demands for store merch.
“I have been floored throughout this entire process by the excitement and enthusiasm of our patrons,” says Hainz. “I’m flattered. I’m humbled. It’s surreal to me how much people care about this place. My customers are the absolute best people and they absolutely break my heart with their kindness.”
For example, knitted flags that line the checkout counter and fiber art trinkets in the front display window are handmade gifts from members of the so-called “Fiddle Fam.”
Hainz says she appreciates her three-person staff, the community and her partner for keeping this dream alive. “Although I might be the face that’s most frequently out there, I definitely do not do this alone by any stretch of the imagination,” Hainz says. “I’m just so grateful to the beautiful community that we’ve built here.”
Melissa Behling is a freelance writer for Madison Magazine.
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