Yarn shop fills knitter's dream

Shelly Stilger comes across as the quiet type — not shy, but definitely soft-spoken.

Her demeanor certainly contrasts with the lively gatherings she facilitates for knitting, crocheting and cross-stitching enthusiasts as owner of Twist Yarn Shop in Wichita's Delano district.

Twist, which opened in July 2007, fulfilled the 34-year-old Stilger's dream of running her own business. Her 1,500-square-foot shop features a cascade of colors with different types of yarn lining the walls.

But almost half of Twist's space is set aside as a gathering spot for groups and classes to focus on their hobby. Stilger belonged to a group, Wichita Knit in Public, when she started creating her business plan three years ago.

"That was a really big part of it," said Stilger, who co-owns Twist with her husband, Matthew. "We met at restaurants and other shops. Most places were accepting of that, but we wanted a place where you don't feel bad sitting for three hours at a time and taking up room."

Stilger has two part-time employees who help run the shop. She also tapped into the Wichita Knit in Public group for six instructors who help teach a dozen classes offered periodically throughout the year. Those include beginning and intermediate knitting and crocheting as students work their way from smaller projects like dishcloths and scarves up to hats and sweaters.

Plans are also in the works for a men's knitting class.

"We're always teaching new people who haven't ever knitted before," said Stilger, who estimates 400 people of all ages have learned at Twist. "Other classes kind of come about depending on what people are interested in doing or what's popular."

With room to accommodate 30 to 40 knitters, Twist is a hot spot on Thursday and Saturday nights for Stitch-N-Bitch, a group whose name was inspired by Debbie Stoller's book, "Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook." Stilger said the hobbyists bring their current projects, often eating and listening to National Public Radio.

Movies are shown on a 70-inch projection screen at the group's first Saturday meeting each month.

"There's a lot of talking and laughing going on, and just a general buzz," Stilger said. "There's a lot of regulars who just like to catch up. It's like a coffee shop or barbershop or, to use that sociological term, the third place."

Winter months are the busiest at Twist, Stilger said. The store is coming off a successful holiday season.

"There's been a real sense of community here since we opened," Stilger said. "It's been amazing to me how much that has helped."