What makes Sandra VanBurkleo knit and crochet?
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.”