At The Knitting Tree LA, Annette Corsino-Blair has a vision for creating a yarn shop that’s vibrant and welcoming to all. “I’ve recreated the neighborhood that I grew up in, which was pretty much every nationality you could think of,” says Annette. “I’ve always felt more comfortable in ethnically diverse environments. I want to build a place where everyone can come and feel welcome.”
Annette co-owns The Knitting Tree with her husband Bruce Blair, and the shop is a creative family affair. Her daughters are frequent collaborators for fiber projects at the shop. Devotees of the store think of the space as a second home — a testament to Annette’s approach to community building. The Knitting Tree’s events go beyond knit and crochet classes, to include monthly Sunday brunches at the shop (which have gone virtual via Zoom).
Inside the shop, yarn and fiber radiates bright hues from every corner. Even Annette’s hair, usually dyed vibrant pink, blue, or aquamarine, fits the mood of the store: colorful and fun. It’s no surprise that this creative character gravitated towards dying yarn.
“How did I get into dying yarn?” Annette mused, “It was just the next logical step. I’d tried knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving, sewing, embroidery… The margins are low when you run a yarn store. One way to make better money is to dye your own yarn.” Her background as an artist and an educator gave her confidence. “I’ve been a painter and a photographer, and I love color and texture,” she said.
An eager experimental dyer, she dove into the craft, trying out all kinds of yarn. She stumbled upon a favorite in Knomad’s line up of bare yarns. “I like Egg Shell! I know it’s super basic, but that’s the one I’ve been using, and I sell pretty much every skein I make,” she said. It’s soft, but not too soft — it still has some body to it. It’s got good yardage… it’s just super solid yarn.”
New collaboration opportunities emerged as Annette grew her line of hand-dyed yarn. “Nicole Frost approached me to start a dye program for the store, and I said ‘Heck yeah!’ We decided to offer a class with six different dye techniques. Students leave with a really deep knowledge, and we can expand the program from there,” she said. The workshops have been a community favorite: Nicole and Annette are hosting their sixth dye workshop in September.
The Knitting Tree offers a scholarship for each class, part of Annette’s commitment to supporting local artists. “We really want to help encourage more indie dyers of color in LA,” she said. Annette, who is Mexican-American, is passionate about making her dye workshops more accessible. “It was important to both Nicole and me, having grown up without opportunities like this, to offer a scholarship. Every class we offer a scholarship to a person of color, but we were realizing: that wasn’t enough.”
Since opening the store in 2013, Annette had been searching for local Black and Latinx indie dyers to highlight in the store. Customers were asking for yarn from Black artisans, and while she was happy to offer skeins from brands like Neighborhood Fiber Co., Annette also wanted to offer yarn made by Black dyers based in LA County.
Facing local underrepresentation, Annette realized she could help empower indie dyers from within the community. “I was meditating — which I don’t normally do, because my brain is very chatty,” she laughed. “The idea came to me: we can do a mentorship program!” This eureka moment launched The Knitting Tree’s new BIPOC mentorship program, called LA In Color, which will run from January through June in 2021.
The mentorship program, developed with assistance from Nicole Frost and Siedah Garrett, will cover both the artistic side and the business side of building an indie dye company. “We’ve accepted six students,” Annette said. “We’re so excited, they are awesome people. I don’t have a lot of money to give, but I do have experience and know-how to share.”
The program will offer mentees training in the in-house dye lab, as well as an opportunity to sell their work in-store. Mentors will introduce students to business fundamentals, including licensing and permitting, product development, and branding.
“It’s technical, but also artistic,” Annette says. Influenced by her years as a fine art educator, Annette wants her students to think deeply about the work they develop at The Knitting Tree. “What’s going to make your yarn different from everyone else’s? What inspires you? At the end, they’ll have a cohesive body of work in reproducible colors that they can market — with a story behind it.”
This season, Annette will be busy getting ready for her mentees, but she’s still finding time to create events for her community, including a virtual fiber festival in October. “This year has really opened me up to celebrating my Mexican heritage. I want the store to reflect what turns me on: bright colors, textiles, and interesting designs,” Annette said. “We’ve been doing a lot of weaving in the store, I’m excited about that. Designing as well. My daughters picked color palettes and I dyed yarn for a Steven West shawl. I want to do more of that — more collaboration with my kids.”