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Knit 'n Knibble owner weaves together business and pleasure

Caroline Rose Kerr knits with a group at her store, Knit ’n Knibble. She left the corporate world to pursue her passion for knitting. Now she uses her math skills and eye for detail to calculate patterns and intricate designs. She recently took up weaving.

KATHLEEN FLYNN l Times

Caroline Rose Kerr knits with a group at her store, Knit ’n Knibble. She left the corporate world to pursue her passion for knitting. Now she uses her math skills and eye for detail to calculate patterns and intricate designs. She recently took up weaving.

SOUTH TAMPA

As her husband, Jim, showers and shaves, Caroline Rose Kerr sits on the bed and knits.

She knits at breakfast, watching the morning newscast, then all the way to work.

Jim's behind the wheel, Kerr says, "because driving is a waste of time. I'd rather knit."

Soul-searching eight years ago awakened Kerr to the possibility of turning avocation into vocation.

"It's the first thing I want to do in the morning and the last thing I do to wind down in the evening."

In 2004, after a dozen years commuting the East Coast as an information technology analyst for Edy's Ice Cream, Kerr opened the original Knit 'n Knibble in Palma Ceia.

Central Florida's yarn community and visiting snowbirds flocked to the small shop. "Home crafts grew after 9/11 as people looked for instant-gratification projects, like easy fashion scarves," Kerr said.

Five years later, she expanded into a strip center 2 miles south, across from Britton Plaza. Now Kerr stocks 6,000 kinds of yarn and more than 250,000 skeins of wool, acrylic, silk, soy, linen, bamboo and cotton in 60,000 colors.

"So many shades that one customer's grandson sent a handful of Sharpies in his favorite colors so she could select yarn to make him a hat for college," Kerr recalled.

• • •

The small-business owner is no less driven to succeed than in the corporate realm. Classes, help clinics, coffee and snacks promote loyalty and learning.

"I try to teach people how to really read their work, to understand the math behind the stitches, to create the prefect fit."

She's yet to encounter a pattern too intricate. With Jim's help, she was uncowed assembling a 76-piece loom with 100-plus screws.

Perhaps it was nine years serving in the Air Force. Or raising three boys and grandparenting three grandsons — all knitwear recipients, not participants, she notes.

"I'm a puzzle solver, a process person," said Kerr, 54. "I enjoy the discovery." She was 7 when an aunt taught her to knit in Cranston, R.I.

• • •

One big difference from her previous careers: Mistakes are acceptable. Indeed, she says, missed stitches can be a design element.

"I have to convince them not to rip out something that comes out differently than intended," she said. "No one knows that except the designer."

Again, those corporate communication skills come in handy.

"I feel their pain because I am a perfectionist," she said. "I help them understand that sometimes they can live with it."

A recent role reversal brought home frustrations when Kerr took up weaving last year, spurred by an advertisement for a loom that specifically uses knitting yarn.

Now she's the one turning to an experienced mentor to help "measure the warp, slay the reed, thread the heddles and tie up the treadles."

It's like learning a new language, says the very fast learner, who has woven blankets, scarves and shawls, delighting in combining colors in unexpected ways.

"And kitchen towels," she adds. "Art that you can throw in the laundry." She estimates 10 percent of Knit 'n Knibble customers are weavers.

• • •

Kerr, like many knitters, suffers from what she calls "Startitis," a burning fever to start something else just as soon as she begins a project. Wall-to-wall cubbies — two at the shop and another at home — hold projects in varying degrees of doneness.

Her helpful rationale? Any of those unfinished scarfs, sweaters, skirts or socks might help a customer visualize her own project. "Yarn doesn't look the same in a ball, you know."

She's not alone in her obsession. On a reporter's recent Thursday afternoon visit, the store buzzed with 10 chatty women, six around a long dining table and four on denim love seats. Ages 22 to 75, they sipped cappuccino, munched on lemon crunch Bundt cake and wagged their tongues.

"It's our therapy," says Nancy Haugen. "We save a lot of money coming here, believe me."

The women celebrate holidays, comfort those with illnesses and travel to annual knitting conventions.

"We're the South Tampa ladies version of Cheers," said Jan Myers, who took a road trip to New England with one of the younger women, stopping at knit shops along the way.

"We pulled out our knitting when we got stuck in traffic," Myers said.

Come closing time every Saturday night, Kerr will pack up as many as six projects before Jim comes to lock up and drive her home to West Tampa.

"On Sunday, I'll flit from one to the next, letting myself be moved by whatever inspires me."

About this series

Our community revolves around a diversity of jobs, some more unusual than others. Throughout the summer, we'll introduce readers to a variety of creative, hardworking people who have made interesting, some might say quirky, career choices. Suggestions are welcome; email [email protected] or call (813) 226-3332.

Knit 'n Knibble owner weaves together business and pleasure 08/23/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012 4:30am]
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