Knitter keeps casting on
Kyla Grexton has made a business out of anything she can get her needles on
Keeping her hands busy with yarn has helped Kyla Grexton stay focused, even when the stressors of life have been overwhelming.
A knitter since she was a kid, Grexton, 40, always gravitated to creative crafts, making afghan blankets for friends when she was a teenager and selling potholders at her mom’s store, Leitha’s Sweets and Treats.
As life handed her ups and downs, a constant was the click of the needles.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Grexton said, seated in the kitchen of her home.
She’s started a business selling her handmade items called Keep Me In Stitchez. She brings her shopping bags, wine bottle totes, baby booties and other items to shows and fairs and sells them at the Kinmount Artisans Marketplace.
From her kitchen table, you can see yarn everywhere. It’s along the wall as garland. It’s balled up on the shelves. It’s in her mother’s cardigan that hangs on the kitchen chair.
Leitha Grexton helped get Kyla started with knitting and crochet and supported her in her passion throughout her daughter’s life.
“[She] and I went to a food show in Toronto and we stopped at White Rose. She picked me up an instruction book and four balls of yarn. She made me do all of the basic stitches and I started out on an afghan,” Grexton said. She was nine at the time.
Later, Leitha would request knitted items for her Minden shop, eventually asking Kyla to provide baby clothes.
“She picked me up some yarn and a pattern and I made the outfit and what got me was the little feet,” Grexton said. “A pair of pants with the feet in them. As I finished it, I handed it over to my mom to put it up for sale, I said ‘what I would give to see even a picture of a baby wearing this outfit.’”
The outfit sold and Leitha gave Kyla the money for the sale.
Many years later, when Kyla was pregnant with her son, her mother gave her a special gift.
“Just before I had William she handed me a bag. She bought the outfit so I could get the picture of the baby … she tucked it away all those years.”
Newborn William fit snugly into the mint-green pants and matching sweater.
In 2008, Grexton found herself starting her life anew.
“I call it my second chance. My first time out I did it to please everyone else. This time, [I thought] this is what’s speaking to me and this is what I have to do.”
She signed up for the fibre arts certificate program at Haliburton School of Art + Design in 2011.
It didn’t take long to figure out she was on the right path.
“I’d always seen spinning at the county fair and I was always intrigued with it, along with weaving,” she said.
Wendy Bateman was her instructor at the college and introduced her for the first time to the spinning wheel.
“I’d had a really stressful morning and she said, ‘come, sit down and try this,’ and I just … melted into it. And I just knew from then it was something I had to do.”
During reading week, when her fellow students had left to visit family or take vacation time, she stayed at the college on the wheel.
The certificate was “three very intense months” of work. Grexton studied fibre science, colour with chemical and natural dyes, screen printing, quilting and sewing and thread painting.
And even though she was having a ball, she said she was hesitant to sign up for the Ontario Handweavers and Spinners six-year certificate course. In the meantime, she took an intermediate spinning class at the college, to tide her over.
“All I saw was barriers,” Grexton said.
With a young child to take care of and in the midst of rebuilding her life, she said she didn’t know if she could make it work. In 2012, her mother was fighting cancer, which added another element of worry and stress.
“My mom, she passed away in November of 2013. Just before she passed away, she wasn’t one who believed in giving Christmas gifts early, but she knew she wasn’t going to make it. So, she paid for my first year [of the six-year course] because she knew that I was going to need something to keep my mind occupied,” Grexton said. “Then year 2, my dad saw what it did for me, so he helped me out with year 2.”
She’s completed four years of the program so far, and is heading into her fifth starting this August.
Her father, Jack Grexton, has been her No. 1 supporter through the years, she said. Handling her grief and watching her father and her son also deal with the death of her mother has been difficult. Focusing on her work and her course has helped.
“It’s my sanity saver. ... It’s been tough. It’s the spinning and knitting and crocheting that keep me sane.”
She does a little bit of everything; she knits and crochets, spins yarn, takes special orders and is a tester. (She’s credited in the book Crochet Style by Jennifer Dougherty and tested for another book due out this September.)
The name of her business, Keep Me In Stitchez, reflects her love of knitting and crochet as well as sewing and quilting. (The Z on Stitchez, she explained, is because the blog name Keep Me In Stitches was already taken.)
Over the years, she’s learned to price her work according to the effort it takes to produce it. Since knitting is a hobby for many, it’s become common to find underpriced items at craft sales, with vendors happy to get the money back for the materials they used.
Grexton said for some, there’s a preconceived notion that knitters shouldn’t be charging for their time, which can make it hard to profit on the work she does.
As with many in the arts industry, it’s a matter of informing consumers of what goes into a pair of socks or mittens.
Her dream is to one day take her yarn and spinning wheel on the road, travelling from one show to the next. And later settling down and opening a studio or storefront.
You can find Kyla Grexton’s work at the Kinmount Artisans Marketplace or you can find her at the Haliburton County Fair in Minden on Saturday, June 9, the Highland Games in Kinmount on July 14 or at the Orono Fair.