About Us

What Sets Us Apart?

Because we can’t carry everything on the market, Artisan Knitworks follows certain guiding principles. First and foremost, everything in the shop is a good value for the money – whether inexpensive or not. If it is expensive, it’s worth it. If inexpensive, it is the best quality available for the money.

In addition, Artisan Knitworks supports independent makers of yarn, buttons, and other components. We travel the country looking for vintage materials; we also attend fiber festivals and expos far and wide in search of beautifully crafted yarns. You can sense the difference when you walk in the door – the colors are wonderfully saturated.

Finally, Artisan Knitworks takes pains to avoid exploitative or abusive companies. If a company pollutes rivers or uses child labor, we won’t carry their products.

The Principals

Sandra VanBurkleo and Larry Hart have been at it since 2007. But the journey actually began years earlier.

Sandra VanBurkleo and Larry Hart, owners of Artisan Knitworks stand outside of the Main Street building in Chelsea.
Sandra VanBurkleo and Larry Hart, owners of Artisan Knitworks stand outside of their Main Street shop in Chelsea, Michigan.

Sandra VanBurkleo

What makes Sandra VanBurkleo knit and crochet?

Sandra-VanBurkleo

When just 7, Sandra’s very grumpy maternal grandmother put a steel crochet hook in her hand, and it was off to the races – tablecloths, curtains, on and on – though mostly home goods. Thread crochet was the darling of men and women without much money: You can buy a spool of inexpensive cotton thread and make drop-dead-beautiful home accessories. At about that time, her mother began to teach her to sew. So, by the time she was a teenager, she was a pretty-good wool tailor and a pretty-fast thread crocheter. But she didn’t know how to knit.

Years passed until, in her mid-20s, she found a department store with a yarn department. She bought some Brunswick Pomfret– a sport-weight wool that made beautiful lightweight fabric. She made a vest for her younger brother. He loved it – until she told him she had made it– whereupon he declared it “homemade” and refused to have anything to do with it. When her family returned to St. Paul, Minnesota, she found a “yarny” ally in her godmother who corrected some of the things she had been doing wrong…and she discovered a yarn store near Macalester College. She was off to the races.

Knit and crochet became sidelines in a very busy life until Sandra’s first husband died. She used knitting to stay alive and began to take it more seriously. She took workshops, classes, and seminars from some of the country’s very best knitters and crocheters. Some of those friendships survive to this day. She began to design her own garments. She also joined a number of local knitting groups, initially on Detroit’s east side. She had learned the hard way that knitting can save your life – quite literally. Later, she learned that those effects were physical: Brain chemistry improves while knitting!

Some years later, she met Larry Hart – a photographer, writer, and marketing and customer-relations expert who had been done in by a worsening national economy. So they joined forces and opened Artisán Knitworks in a small shop on Jefferson Avenue in Grosse Pointe Park. For the third time, Sandra was off and running – this time straight into the Great Recession. The shop survived largely by specializing in handcrafted goods – many from the makers at fiber festivals across the country. To this day, the search involves long drives to Maryland, New York, Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Along the way, they found and decided to specialize as well in vintage buttons and jewelry.

Sandra takes pride in the number of women, girls, men, and boys who have learned to knit or crochet at Artisan Knitworks. From time to time, the company sponsors major educational ventures – as with the Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival, mounted twice at Wayne State University. Why Wayne State? In her spare time, Sandra is a Professor of History, in which capacity she writes and teaches. But don’t try to talk about history for more than a minute at Artisan Knitworks: Sandra likes to think of the shop as a “history-free zone.”

Larry Hart photograph

Photo of Larry Hart, co-owner of Artisan Knitworks and owner of Artisan Pixworks

Larry Hart

During the Great Recession, particularly when Sandra was occupied full time at university, Larry held down the fort and made it possible for Artisan Knitworks to continue. But as years passed, it became clear that skills gathered in his previous life would prove to be invaluable.

Before arriving at Artisan Knitworks, Larry had been a writer and photographer who worked with ad agencies and art studios. He also specialized in customer relations and training, particularly for automobile companies. While looking at all the colors and textures, he realized that fundamentally knitting and crochet are as much a part of the arts as painting and photography. Techniques and media may differ, but objectives and results are remarkably similar.

In 2020 Larry decided to act on his lifelong love of photography and opened Artisan Pixworks at 105 ½ Middle Street in Chelsea, a small space suitable for a beginning enterprise. That experience, while productive, led him to focus increasingly on art fairs and expos. And so, in winter of 2022, Artisan Pixworks plans to move into the lower level of Artisan Knitworks, where Larry will have enough space to show his work and create new images without struggling for room. He’ll also be able to schmooze with people more often!

Larry helps our brilliant website designer and manager with graphic materials. His photography can be viewed and purchased in our webstore. (Coming Soon!) He also writes the Purl Daily newsletter and provides invaluable support for the shop’s line of patterns. He is also toying with the production of a photographic essay in book form to celebrate the many small towns in SE Michigan that even Michiganers too often overlook.