This interview is uniquely personal to me in that I have been wildly inspired by Jennie and all that she does since I came across her Instagram three years ago. She owns and runs Frostburg Fiber Depot, the only yarn store in Frostburg, Maryland, which itself is pretty magical. In the early days of the pandemic when everyone was at home, she dove into sewing garments and watching her figure it out was endlessly inspiring. To top it all off, there is also a gorgeous AirBNB over the yarn shop that is such a fun reflection of Jennie’s personality and desire to create!
I learned about your shop and your Instagram in 2020, but Frostburg Fiber Depot has been open since 2015! Can you walk us through the history of opening the shop?
I was 24, my contract at work was ending, and I was gearing up to look for a new job when I said to my mom, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if in ten years the owner of the yarn shop in town retired, then I could move home, buy her business, and run the yarn shop?” The next day, the yarn shop owner called to say, “I’m getting a divorce and moving to Australia!” This was clearly out of my planned time frame, but I knew I needed to pursue it because I don’t live in a large enough area to support two yarn stores. By the time I had decided that buying the existing yarn shop didn’t make financial sense for me, I was so deep into the idea of owning a yarn store that I knew I had to build my own from scratch.
Your shop seems so warm and inviting and like such a supportive space for learning. You are always hosting classes too, what is going on right now?
I consider us to be an education based shop above everything else. I like passing on my knowledge and helping people to expand what they think is possible. Nearly all of our classes are project based classes which mean you pick up the techniques necessary for advancement *while* making a wearable item. Right now we’re making the Grey Sheep Jacket in an unspun Icelandic yarn, which is so cool. It’s also the yarn we’ll be using for the KAL I mention later. We’re also making the Faux Chapeau because it’s insane and I had to have one. Plus one that’s not yet started is the Starry Night Hat, which is a really awesome opportunity to learn stranded, two handed colorwork. Our next set of classes will drop in April where we’ll be looking towards spring makes. The best way to stay apprised of what we do is to sign up for our newsletter, which you can do on our website. Primarily, we use our email list to announce classes; we promise, it’s not at all spammy.
For those of us not able to take your classes in person, your KALs are the next best thing, when are you hosting your next one?
So we actually host all of our classes in a hybrid format, which means you can take them online or in person. During the pandemic, we obviously had to pivot and it turns out that our locals like taking classes from their couch so much that half of our class attendees are still virtual. (That’s in addition to all of our wonderful class participants who attend from different states and countries!) We’ve really worked out a good system for classes. There’s a camera that directly looks at my hands, this is projected to your home screen as well as a large television in our classroom, which is so much better than the old hands on approach of walking around the room and showing each person individually. Plus, all of our classes are now recorded and posted to a private group where class participants can ask questions and show off their progress. I’m really delighted with the format.
In terms of KALs, we host yearly one for our Shop Anniversary, and this year we tasked everyone with knitting a dress. It’s been heaps of fun and I am obsessed with everyone’s creations. There’s always a lot of chatter on our shop fb page the Apoca-WIPs. We also have a March Madness KAL coming up where we’ll be trying to make the Vinber through the three weeks of March Madness. It’s a really gorgeous colorwork sweater knit on a size 11 in a bulky weight yarn. It flies off the pins. We’ve just had a race among our shop staff to see who could finish their sample first, it was a blast. (I finished last after a whopping 13 days, lol).
When / how did you learn to sew? I have learned so much watching your stories, your talent blows my mind!
Thanks so much! Like with knitting, my mom taught me the basics when I was young. In third grade, we made a hot pink crushed velvet mini skirt together. It was the epitome of 90s perfection. However, I didn’t do much sewing until my pregnancy where I sewed a few quilts. Ultimately though, I’m a garment maker through and through and I was so captivated by the amazing clothing people were making that I knew I had to give up quilting and head back to my roots. I started making garments in the pandemic when I had what felt like endless time and haven’t looked back. My hips are significantly larger than my bust and waist, which has always made ready to wear difficult to find, so it’s been a blast to experiment with styles I’ve never been able to wear before. For example, I’ve never owned a sheath dress, or a woven dress with a straight skirt, or a jumpsuit that wasn’t made out of stretch fabric. So that’s been really really fun.
You make pieces you wear regularly, and you style them with your knits and existing pieces so well! How do you choose what to sew and what to pass on?
I haven’t bought a piece of knitwear in a store in over 15 years, and I’m headed that way with all of my clothing. I just really like wearing handmade stuff, so I don’t think it’s that I specifically choose my makes with wearability in mind, I just incorporate whatever it is that I’ve made into my wardrobe because I can’t wait to wear it. That being said, I like fashion and when current trends shift to something that I currently don’t have in my closet, I endeavor to add whatever it is that I’m missing.
How do you approach a new sewing project, and what factors do you consider when selecting materials and techniques? I ask this because in your stories you’ll say, things like ‘I don’t like the way this is bunching so I’ll just bibbidy-bobbity-boo and that should fix it’ and I have no idea how you’d know to do that. 😛
In terms of materials, I’m an abominable snob, so I pretty much sew and knit exclusively with natural fibers. When choosing knitwear patterns and designs I think a lot about drape and wearability, how I plan on using the item and what level of wear and tear that use will put on it. I rarely even speak about knitting in stories because everything I do in that sphere is so automatic. It’s something I should work on because it’s an area where I really can speak with expertise. With sewing, I’m so much less knowledgeable, so I do a lot of guessing, and learning, and wearing things that suck, and taking that knowledge and applying it forwards. It’s been a real experience being back at the beginning of a craft, lol. In terms of fitting, I look at books with wrinkle guides, I then do what it says, which adds a new set of wrinkles, I fix those, the old wrinkles re-appear, etc. I have no idea what I’m doing, lol, but I get better with every project, and sometimes I manage to refine a pattern into truly stunning proportions and then I make it in four hundred different colors.
I also have to mention your amazing Halloween costumes, sewn by you for your whole family! That is a labour of love. Can you talk a little about the costumes? (ed note; I’d love to include photos if that’s ok).
I’m so sick of making costumes. Someone please stop me. It’s an illness, lol. It started out really easy, I made myself this Mike Wazowski costume out of felt. It took like an hour to put together. The next year I made Georgia and I Mermaid leggings and safety pinned feather boa’s to my husband’s t-shirt, a little harder but not that bad. Then I went fully off the ever loving deep end and made SEVEN Sound of Music curtain costumes and a Maria dress. Following that I made Momma Mia disco costumes for a costume party we throw every year (they took multiple months to make). This summer, I made a Ren Faire outfit with historically accurate split drawers and everything (we failed to get tickets in advance and couldn’t even go, lol). Following that I was like, “Jennie you have to stop it with this single use bull shit; this is crazy!”, so I promptly made everyone Hocus Pocus Halloween Costumes, followed by Circus themed harlequin onesies for Georgia and I for our costume party. It’s so bad. I have to stop. I have however started trying to think of costumes that I might repurpose, so I wear the harlequin onesie and mermaid leggings to Roller Derby, and the Hocus Pocus Robe I added obnoxious sleeves to and now I’ve added it to my absurd collection of dressing gowns and nighttime wear.
How would you describe your style?
Slutty, tailored, androgynous, ecofriendly, artist, weirdo? I don’t know, I’m always trying to make a statement with my outfits, I want to have the coolest, weirdest clothes in any room.
What are your favourite kind of projects to knit?
So I am almost exclusively a garment maker. I own one perfect shawl (the Lang Ayre, you should make one), and I’m never going to need another. It’s like a cult in Frostburg, the minute you make one, you realize it can’t be topped and then you join the striped blanket scarf club. I can’t handle accessorizing, it just requires too much of my morning brain power, of which there is so very little, so I like for my main pieces that cover the important parts to make a statement. Something else you need to know about me is that I’m a voracious reader, about 100 books a year, so I read while I knit. This means I’m not trying to knit some mind bendingly complicated process knit that requires focus. I would like to turn on my fingers and turn off my brain. So for me, I’m looking for something I can make in a crunchy, wooly, earthy looking yarn that involves a lot of stockinette in the round. Durability is a big thing for me, I don’t have a problem with skin sensitivity, I always joke that I could wear a steel wool thong, so I’m trying to make the most hard wearing, easy care, knitted pieces of armor possible.
Maker’s Canvas Tote
What about sewing? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
Because my top half is always covered in knitwear, I make a lot of bottoms, which is a bummer, since that’s where much of my fit issues reside. I also like to sew “frosting” or stuff that I’ll only wear once because I’m an IDIOT. But yeah, right now my main focus is bottoms. I’ve been torturing myself with a pair of jeans all year so far.
If you could time travel to any historical era to experience crafting, which would you choose?
What a wildly interesting question. My knee jerk response is pre industrialized Shetland? I think knitting belts are so very cool. I own one and I quite like the mechanics, but I also don’t like to get good at new things, so it isn’t like I’m going to be headed towards using one as my primary knitting vehicle ever. Plus, the Hap shawl is just such an incredible tradition.
You have turned the unit above your shop into an AirBNB, the Knit Inn, so fun! What brought on that decision and how has it been?
So I like to create things. It’s clothing in my professional life, and in my personal life it’s actually spaces. I married a really handy man on purpose and have been torturing him from the moment he said, “yeah baby, I can make that” on the morning after our first date. (Yes, you read that right, go peep my first style adjective again lol) We live in a big Victorian a few blocks from the shop which had the very best bones when we purchased it. It had nothing else to recommend itself, just the good bones, lol, so over the past five years, I’ve been slowly and meticulously designing each room and forcing my husband and his dad to carry out my whims. My dad’s job in all of this is to go and fetch the antiques my husband hates sitting on. I don’t own a single piece of modern furniture, lighting, or art. I’m nearly finished with our home however, and I hate that. So when we bought this building and moved the shop into it, the upstairs space was just such an exciting opportunity for me. The original owner of the building, the Laportas, were a large Italian family that had a barber shop in one of the store fronts. They lived upstairs with their enormous Catholic family. After the WWII they ended up with a number of widowed daughters, who moved back home, and to accommodate them, they turned one side of the family unit into a second apartment with its own kitchen and bathroom. So the space was really just primed to be the perfect spot for large groups. It has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, two eat in kitchens, a sunroom, a living room, and can sleep 13 people. In addition to all of that, I got to fill the entire thing with antiques and design the rooms, and that was a joy.
You can rent the space in a lot of different ways from single bedrooms, to private two bedroom apartments, to the entire thing. Check us out on AirBNB! If you’re interested in booking us for a retreat, just shoot us an email at [email protected], retreat users get access to our shop classroom as well as an additional bathroom and kitchen.
What is next for Frostburg Fiber Depot in 2023?
We’re opening a fabric store! I’m hoping to flip the sign to open in the summer, but that depends on a lot of different things, chiefly me getting the courage to complete the finishing touches. Maybe announcing it in this space will help!
Questions I ask everyone for fun..
What was your most recently finished project?
I just limped into last place on the Vinber Dress and cannot wait to wear it! You should definitely make one with us!
What is your most recent cast on?
I started a Faux Chapeau with the class in the kid size so Georgia and I can have matching ones this week.
What new patterns have you added to your queue?
Next up, I’d really like to make the Oopsie Daisy Set by Mia Anderson, but I’m working on a sweater for my monstrously large, handyman husband on a size TWO needle, and I need to whip myself through finishing the fronts first. I’ll never finish it otherwise and I really do like to make him things.
Are there any other crafts you enjoy? I love cross stitching and needle felting.
I really want to be a shoe maker. I’ve bought the exorbitantly priced class and am halfway through a pair of red leather pumps, but I’m having trouble finding the brain space to learn something new. I think it’ll take me about two hours to finish them, but I’m not a terribly good self motivator.