Expertise in wool, knitting & fabrics
Bare Naked Wools may be one of the most unique businesses in Stark County. Located at 211 15th Street NW in Canton, it is wholly dedicated to the use of natural yarns for creating woolen, hand-knitted clothing and accessories.
Their expertise in wool, knitting and fabrics has earned co-owners Anne Hanson and her husband, David Whitfield, a devoted following of customers and students around the world.
The couple started Bare Naked Wools as an online home business after moving to Canton from New York City in 2006 while still “telecommuting” to their publishing jobs.
“We were looking to leave the city,” said Hanson, who grew up on a farm in upstate New York. “We had some friends here who we visited often.”
A lifelong knitter and garment designer, Hanson has worked in the fashion business as a tailor, pattern maker and costumer on Broadway.
“I’ve been a passionate knitter ever since I was a toddler,” she said. “I’ve always liked playing around with design, sewing and embroidery.”
They moved Bare Naked Wools to its current space in 2013.
After moving to Canton, Hanson learned how to “hand-spin” wool into a wide variety of yarns that are free of chemicals and artificial dyes. She also began to make custom-spun yarns.
“There are 1,400 breeds of wool,” she said. “You get to work with a lot of unique breeds. I’m totally fascinated with how they work. Because they’re not spun on mill machinery, I wanted to give our customers the feeling of working with a handmade materials.”
To introduce and educate customers, Bare Naked Wools also offers a type of “yarn of the month” club, to showcase the particular aspects of the yarns.
“Making yarn is really challenging as a product, to make it competitive enough to be viable,” Hanson said. “People love it when they use it, but it can be difficult to sell online.”
Hanson said Bare Naked Wools purchases its material from small farms and suppliers from all over the country, including Ohio, though “there’s not a lot of farmland left.”
Buying from small suppliers, she said not only reduces the cost of shipping, but also the carbon footprint.
“They procure the yarns that are local to them,” she said. “It’s just easier for everybody. Millers can see the wool before they buy it … In commercial yarns, there are lot of chemicals. Ours are washed with soap.”
From stripping them of their natural colors to making them machine washable, Hanson said commercial mills use chemicals to break down wool and fibers to appeal to consumers.
“Then, they use more chemicals to get rid of those chemicals,” she said. “We just don’t do that.”
In recent years, knitting has enjoyed a resurgence. Hanson, who also teaches classes locally and around the country, said she thinks she knows why.
“I think the technology revolution has put everyone in place, sitting at a computer all day, with no real evidence of having done something,” she said. “With knitting, it’s tangible; you’re creating crafts. It’s something you can touch and wear. It’s something you can admire as you’re doing it. It really feeds your self-esteem. It gives people something in life they can really feel good about.”
In addition to wool and alpaca, Hanson said numerous animals provide fiber for yarn that many people may not be aware of, such as bison.
“They have a soft, rare undercoat under their exterior coats,” she said. “It’s akin to cashmere.”
Others include musk oxen, New Zealand possum, goats (from which mohair and cashmere are made) and mink, which can be acquired without killing the animal.
Also, some wools, such as Merino, can be worn year-around, particularly when it’s blended with cotton, silk or hemp, Hanson said.
Hanson, and Whitfield, who also knits, travel around the world to teach and showcase at knitting fairs and fiber shows. Plans for this year include Edinburgh, Scotland and shows in Wooster, Maryland and upstate New York.
Bare Naked Wools also will be one of the stops for the Yarn Discovery Tour for Northeast Ohio in September.
For people interested in learning more, Bare Naked Wools hosts a Knit Night from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, an open class on Saturdays and a lace pattern club (by subscription).
“Taking a class is a really good way to begin,” she said. “I know there’s instruction on the internet, but classes have more structure and hands-on experience.
Her advice? “Practice every day.”
Bare Naked Wools also is a strong supporter of the Foster Care to Success, a program that raises tuition money for college bound children in foster care. From mid-November through December, the store offers a red, hand-dyed yarn Hanson calls “Festivus.”
Proceeds from the sales benefit a single-student scholarship.
“We’ve raised between $3,500 to $7,000 and seen our third graduate through college,” she said, adding that donations also may be made via Bare Naked Wools’ website.
“I feel so lucky I’ve been able to make a career out of my passion,” Hanson said. “Not many people can say that.”
To learn more, visit barenakedwools.com.