‘Knitting treasure’ of the Valley: Northampton Wools owner spreads passion for ancient pastime

Linda Daniels, owner of Northampton Wools since 1988, works with Pat Bril, a member of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters, on a recent afternoon at the Pleasant Street store in downtown Northampton.

Linda Daniels, owner of Northampton Wools since 1988, works with Pat Bril, a member of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters, on a recent afternoon at the Pleasant Street store in downtown Northampton. STAFF PHOTOs/CAROL LOLLIS

Linda Daniels, left, owner of Northampton Wools, works with Brenda Hannon, a member of the Friday Morning Class  for experienced knitters  at the store on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton.

Linda Daniels, left, owner of Northampton Wools, works with Brenda Hannon, a member of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters at the store on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Items sold at Northampton Wools owned by Linda Daniels   on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton. Most of the knitted pieces are made  by Daniels.

Items sold at Northampton Wools owned by Linda Daniels on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton. Most of the knitted pieces are made by Daniels. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Items at Northampton Wools, owned by Linda Daniels on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton.

Items at Northampton Wools, owned by Linda Daniels on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Northampton Wools, owned by Linda Daniels, on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton.

Northampton Wools, owned by Linda Daniels, on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton.

Liz Ferris, a member of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters, works on a piece during a recent afternoon at Northampton Wools.

Liz Ferris, a member of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters, works on a piece during a recent afternoon at Northampton Wools. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

A side-to-side jacket designed for Plymouth Yarn is on display at Northampton Wools. The jacket was made by store owner Linda Daniels.

A side-to-side jacket designed for Plymouth Yarn is on display at Northampton Wools. The jacket was made by store owner Linda Daniels. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Liz Ferris, a member of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters, works on a piece during a  recent afternoon at  Northampton Wools.

Liz Ferris, a member of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters, works on a piece during a recent afternoon at Northampton Wools. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Linda Daniels, owner of Northampton Wools, middle, works with Brenda Hannon, left, and Susan Grant, right,  members of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters held at the store on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton.

Linda Daniels, owner of Northampton Wools, middle, works with Brenda Hannon, left, and Susan Grant, right, members of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters held at the store on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Linda Daniels, owner of Northampton Wools, talks to members of the Friday Morning Class  for experienced knitters  at the store on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton.

Linda Daniels, owner of Northampton Wools, talks to members of the Friday Morning Class for experienced knitters at the store on Pleasant Street in downtown Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

A piece made by Linda Daniels, owner of Northampton Wools,  on Pleasant Street in Northampton.

A piece made by Linda Daniels, owner of Northampton Wools, on Pleasant Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 05-08-2024 3:48 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Above the rows of shelves at Northampton Wools, amid all of the yarn of different colors, materials and thickness that fill every cubby in sight, sits a famous sweater worn by Charlize Theron in the Academy Award-winning film “The Cider House Rules.”

The costumer on the film scouted Northampton Wools owner Linda Daniels to design and knit the sweater and several other knit pieces in the film. Daniels vividly remembers the moment that Michael Caine accepted the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, because the black vest she knit for his costume was on the screen behind him.

“So I knit the first [sweater] in jade green [and] took it over to them. They hemmed and hawed,” Daniels recalled. “They tried to dye it and they shrank it, and I had to reknit it in a week. I still have the shrunken one; they gave it back to me”

Daniel’s Hollywood knit pieces are just one element in her long history as a sweater designer. She’s knit sweaters for the runways of New York fashion week with nothing but schematic designs and some yarn. She’s designed patterns for wee-known yarn wholesalers Frog Tree Yarns, Berroco and Plymouth Yarn. She’s created unique hat, mitten and sweater patterns for classes and social media.

“I’ve been led down this path because it’s a natural kind of understanding of the knit fabric and how it goes together,” she said. “I didn’t really know I had (this understanding) until I started to do it,” she said.

All of her patterns are tucked around Northampton Wools, either serving as samples, featured in pattern books or residing in a big binder titled “Linda’s Patterns.”

The yarn and fiber arts store on the intersection of Pleasant and Armory streets downtown is more than a home to Daniels’ designs. It’s a resource center for knitters and crocheters of all experience levels guided by the expertise and patient teachings of Daniels, who has maintained the shop’s status as Northampton’s neighborhood yarn store for the past 43 years.

“She is a kind person, she’s a brilliant knitter, she’s a terrific teacher, she loves sharing her passion, and that builds communities,” said Marianne Snow, a longtime student and patron at Northampton Wools. “Linda Daniels is Northampton Wools. She’s a knitting treasure.”

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Northampton Wools first opened in 1981 under owner Jacqueline Severini and began offering evening knitting classes. It was the only yarn store in Northampton, as WEBs wouldn’t relocate from Amherst to Northampton until 1992. The store also sold Guernsey and English Shetland yarn, both specialty materials in the pre-internet era. Since opening, the yarn store’s classes, repair services, yarn options and fiber-arts accessory selection escalated into the two-floor store packed with fiber arts supplies.

“We have always focused on our customer and what they need. We’ve always done classes. We’ve always given help for knitting questions, and through all of that, we have developed a very loyal clientele of all ages,” Daniels said.

Daniels discovered her knack for sweater design while creating sweaters for a knitting pattern book written by a woman in Amherst. In 1982, Severini hired Daniels to help at the store. She read the dozen knitting books released in the store each year from cover to cover, enhancing her talent for design with knowledge of knitting basics.

When Severini wanted to sell the store six years later, Daniels’ personal life inhibited her ability to run a business and a city planner bought the company. Ten months later, she sold the store to Daniels.

“She knew nothing about knitting, and she said, ‘Clearly this is yours.’ And we were able to negotiate. So I was able to purchase it from her in 1988, and it has been the dream I didn’t know I had,” she said.

Over the years, many Pioneer Valley knitters flocked to Northampton Wools knitting classes or dropped in for the owner’s advice on a project and then kept coming back year after year.

Brenda Hannon first visited the store 20 years ago, looking for help with a toddler sweater that went awry. Despite none of the materials originating from the store, Daniels guided Hannon to finish the project.

“What’s amazing to me is in that particular class, we all worked on totally different projects from each other, and Linda can look at our projects and know exactly what we need to do next,” Hannon said. “Sometimes she doesn’t even look at the pattern.”

Daniels’ latest project involved designing three Guernsey sweaters for the 75th anniversary of Plymouth Yarn, a Massachusetts-based yarn company. One design features a pirate ship on the front of the sweater, and another uses a diamond pattern to call attention to company’s diamond anniversary.

Daniels says the internet has changed the knitting industry, providing greater access to tutorials, supplies and tips. But the longtime owner says the world of knitting can be intimidating, which is why she is still here helping newcomers navigate the practice.

Every Monday at 12:30 p.m., Daniels hosts a livestream on Facebook called “Lunch With Linda,” where she shows off the latest merchandise, tells stories from customers and gives some knitting tips.

“We have people across the country who are watching and — this is what always blows my mind — people that take the time to email us or call us or make a comment that they’re enjoying it, they appreciate it and will continue to watch it. That kind of connection is the biggest change — everything is right there,” Daniels said.

Yet Daniels is always a constant at Northampton Wools. She’s in the store greeting customers and helping them with new projects. That’s where she will stay for many more years.

“I don’t want it to sound like it hasn’t been a struggle because it has been, but now the payoff is immense,” she said. “Like many of my customers tell me, I will not retire. I can’t retire, and when I die my cremains will be on the table and you will have to buy something.”

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.