Monday, June 23, 2008


Another great interview by our Montreal correspondent, Pamela....

Ariadne Knits
Interview by Pamela Grimaud

Mary Jackson and Molly Ann Rothschild, owners of Ariadne

Knitting partners in crime Molly Ann Rothschild and Mary Jackson opened Ariadne Knits in December, 2007 in the hopping and historical St. Henri neighborhood, nestled just south-west of downtown Montreal, in December of 2007. Since then the shop has become a gathering place for crafty sorts and tea drinkers of all stripes. Store happenings range from scheduled classes and workshops to out-of-the-ordinary special events; the June calendar features a "non-wool yarn tasting" and knitting with a strawberry shortcake chaser later in the month. Visit the Ariadne blog for details, and always save room for dessert.

One of the first things that strikes me about Ariadne, both in its physical space and as a community resource, is how open and welcoming it is. Based on the bi-weekly Thursday knit nights I've attended, your shop attracts lots of wonderful, creative people, some beginners and others who are highly skilled and accomplished crafters. Your classes, too, boast instructors who have very diverse and impressive backgrounds. Was promoting the crafts of knitting, spinning and crochet, that is serving as a (place) to bring craft and people together in the community, something you aspired to in opening your shop? Come to think of it, what prompted you (and your partners? Name partners here, if so!) to open Ariadne?

Well, thanks! Absolutely my partner (Mary Jackson) and I really wanted to promote community in the knitting world, and the best way to do that was to create a space where people could feel free to come and hang out. I’m a big proponent of the idea that there is no wrong way to knit, and that knitting is a skill that one will never totally master. I’ve been knitting for more than 25 years and I still learn new things regularly—and what better way to learn new things than to spend time with other people who are doing the same kinds of crafts.

Why open a yarn store? We felt that there was a place in the market for yarns that weren’t available in Montreal and so we brought them in and found a place to sell them. Also, both of us had come to the conclusion that we weren’t really happy having a boss to report to every day. Now we’re our own bosses . . . and we fire each other regularly just to keep us on our toes.


I am curious about how you've you come to learn about the talented folk who teach, offer workshops and design for Ariadne? Is there a Montreal knitting grapevine that led you to them, or vice-versa? I'm particularly smitten with Jennie Eveleigh Lamond and her stuffed zoo creatures patterns...

Mary and I met through the Montreal Knits Yahoo group, and that’s where we met Jennie and most of our designers and instructors. Others kinda found us . . . which is the benefit of having a store where people feel comfortable coming and hanging out. We like to teach and design too, but there are only so many hours in a day so we’re more than happy to share.

You grew up in Vancouver. What brought you to Montreal, and what made you choose St. Henri as a location for Ariadne?

The two things aren’t really related as it turns out . . . I came to Montreal in 1987 to go to McGill (a lifetime ago, now) and just stayed. What’s not to like about Montreal? (Or, rather, what’s not to like that can’t be smoothed over by a really good Montreal meal?) After I graduated, I worked in the film industry for 11 years before Ariadne was even a twinkle in my eye. In there I took a hiatus from knitting, and about four years ago now I reconnected with the craft and found the knitting community in Montreal.

Mary and I opened the store in St Henri mostly because when we were looking around for a location we liked the space. It just feels good in this store—it has good energy. I know that sounds flaky, but it’s true nonetheless. I’ve been known to just hang out long after the store is closed to knit or spin or even read here. It was a grocery store at one time, and we found an old enamel Red Rose tea advertising plaque from the ‘40’s under about eight layers of paint on the inside front door. More practically, the location is close to both main metro lines, and it’s fairly close to where we each live.


How do you determine which products to carry in the shop? How much do considerations such as brand popularity, price point and local availability factor in? How much as trial and error helped in determining which products and services you wish to offer through the shop?

We’ve determined which products to carry based on three major principles: What can we bring in that isn’t otherwise available here, can we find products that are free-trade or organic, and what do we lust over and want to have for our own nefarious purposes. We’re still in the trial phase, I think, so it isn’t obvious what errors we’ve made. No doubt we’ve made one or two, and at some point will be sitting around remarking on what idiots we were.

With the internet, brands are important because people can read blogs or look at Ravelry and find out what other people are knitting with—that said, I won’t stock something that might be popular but isn’t a quality product. We try to bring in a range of prices, but it’s hard to offer really inexpensive yarn without sacrificing quality. In terms of classes, we’ll just keep offering them, and if people are interested we’ll keep offering them. We’re brainstorming some new ideas for fall classes now.

You've been in business for less than a year, and I imagine the learning curve is steep. What have been some of the biggest challenges, delights and surprises of starting your own business? Any words of wisdom to share with those dreaming of doing the same?

The learning curve is indeed steep, but we’ve taken it one step at a time. The biggest challenge so far was honestly at Ikea, trying to choose furniture and load it into a mini-van in the rain with a bunch of professional Ikea-mover guys watching us and not offering to help. We’re still working through the best ways to organize paperwork, display inventory, etc. etc. etc., but the one issue at a time approach is good for us. Mary and I talk a great deal, and have a really good working relationship. If either of us has a concern or a problem or whatever we make sure to bring it up, get it out in the open and work it through.

The best and by far the most rewarding part about opening this business has been the sheer niceness of people in the neighborhood and in the knitting community at large. It’s very rewarding to teach someone to knit and have them come back and learn new skills, come to the knitting meetings and meet other people.

Surprise-wise? I still don’t really feel like a grown-up. Also, I didn’t really believe that one day it would be my job to take pictures of a knitted giraffe. Live and learn!

I’m not sure I have a lot of advice for those who wish to do what we’re doing, actually. Don’t go crazy buying stock, and choose a location you can both afford and want to spend time in. Make sure you choose a good business partner and talk about EVERYTHING before you spend any money.


What are your hopes and dreams for the shop down the line, from the mundane to pie-in-the-sky?

Our mundane hopes are simply to make a decent go of Ariadne, to turn her into a money generating enterprise. Realistically we don’t expect to get rich doing this, but I think we can totally expect to make enough to run a great store. Of course we’d like to continue building community in Montreal, and bringing people together to learn new skills and have a good time doing it.

Crazy pipe dreams? A craft complex. Like a small and selective Michaels plus a small and selective Jo-Ann’s, but higher-end. In a fabulous Victorian mansion, with store space on the ground floor and offices and studios upstairs. And a manservant to make the tea and do the accounting.

What is your favourite ice cream?

Gosh, I don’t know if they have it this year, but Meu Meu on St. Denis made this caramel with black sea salt last year that was so good I couldn’t believe I was eating it. I’m all over the salty and sweet right now, so when in doubt a chocolate peanut-butter does nicely.


After thirteen years in the
United States and one brutally expensive master's degree from New York University, Pamela Grimaud returned to her beloved Montreal, where she works as a costume historian, college instructor, researcher, independent lecturer and writer. She is currently reading everything she can get her hands on regarding the field of ethical fashion, is a fervent admirer of all things crafty and considers herself a junior knitter. She blogs about all kinds of things at Oh, Little Bird!


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