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Business looks to become fabric of citys knitting, spinning community

Andersen Fiber Works caters to the needle crowd in East County
by: Jim Clark Jen and Tyler Andersen are the owners of Andersen Fiber Works, a shop that sells fiber and yarn.

Jen Andersen knows how to spin (a) yarn. But you won't find her fireside in a rocking chair.

'Knitters and crocheters aren't like that anymore,' she says. 'This is an open and wonderful community that's always willing to share new ideas. It doesn't matter your age or where you came from. There's something really magical about the fiber world.'

Those who pick up and purl will find Andersen Fiber Works on Northwest Third Street and Main Avenue in historic downtown Gresham, nothing short of nirvana.

Opened quietly in early June, the shop is an explosion of yarn colors and textures, most handspun and dyed by Andersen. It showcases works of local independent handcrafters. But more than just a retail operation, Andersen Fiber Works is also an oasis for anyone dying to learn more about anything needle related.

For its owner, however, the shop is a dream five years in the making.

Andersen, 36, learned to knit under the tutelage of her German grandmother, who knit sweaters for her granddaughters. Andersen admits her first effort wasn't the most successful but did whet her appetite to learn more.

'I was 12 when my grandmother taught me the knit stitch,' Andersen says. 'That led to the creation of the mostly brightly colored, uneven scarf that ever left the needles. But after I had my two children and became a stay-at-home mom, I revisited my knitting roots as a way to avoid insanity. I knew immediately I loved it. I would be up until 2 or 3 in the morning trying to figure something out.'

In 2005, Andersen, her husband, Tyler, and their two young children moved from Beaverton to Rhododendron on Mount Hood. Rather isolated from sources for her hobby, Andersen opened a yarn shop in Zigzag with another woman. It was a short-term alliance, but one that enabled her to learn the art of spinning and dying fibers. She created batts, layers of fibers run through a picker and produced in sheets, which she then marketed.

'I dyed and blended a bunch of different fibers and started selling my batts,' she says. 'I got into Etsy (an online marketplace for home crafters) at the beginning and had a good following.'

Pretty soon, she was approached by a high-end Los Angeles boutique that had an interest in her handmade cashmere sweaters and scarves. It was an arduous commitment, taking nearly 18 months to complete, and left her with time-management issues between her contract work and Etsy. She gave up the online shop and designed a line of batts she named 'Hanks in the Hood,' a signature collection of colorful skeins of hand-dyed yarns, now sold exclusively by Paradise Fibers in Spokane, Wash.

But Andersen had outgrown her home studio and began researching other local markets, specifically an area for her own shop. She found herself thinking about downtown Gresham.

'I had done the Gresham Farmers Market a few years ago and loved this Main Avenue area,' she says. 'This space had been vacant for so long, but when we walked through this building, I could feel the positive energy and with my husband's support, I knew we could do this.'

Despite paper-covered windows and no indication of what was to come in the space formerly occupied by Dee's Studio, word of Andersen's plans traveled fast on social networking sites, she says. Once the local knitting community caught wind of her shop through Facebook and her Hanks in the Hood blog, Andersen was flooded with emails and inquiries on the shop's opening date.

'I had people donating furniture and camped out by the door,' she says. 'They were so excited to have a shop like this. We finally just had to take the paper down and open the doors.'

Andersen Fiber Works is a place for the teacher and the student, Andersen says. She plans to offer workshops and classes in the fall, and already loyal followers have picked up Andersen's personal charity work by signing on to participate in knitting caps for chemotherapy patients and sweaters for a worldwide organization called Knit for Kids.

'I couldn't be where I'm at without a lot of people, so giving back to the community is very important,' she says. 'But I don't want the community to view us as just a yarn shop. I encourage people to come in a see what we're doing. Knitters and spinners love to get together and share ideas. But you don't have to be a knitter or spinner to learn something.'

New yarn shop

What: Andersen Fiber Works shop features hand-dyed yarns, felted hats and finished handmade goods, as well as Moonstruck Chocolates and wine sales

Where: 20 N.W. Third St., Gresham

hours: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday; noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Contact: Call 503-667-6852 or visit afiberworks.com