Sewing stories open up

Regulars at Strands & Stitches on South Coast Highway are a close-knit group — and that includes the needlepointers and crocheters, who like to socialize while working on projects, much like the old-fashioned sewing bees.

Owners Dona Harmon, Cindy Hartman and Lisa Triebwasser sell the yarns, fibers and all the accoutrements needed for the crafts they teach, but the friendly atmosphere is free — and appreciated.

"This has been home to me for years," said Nancy Kreder, widow of longtime Laguna Beach businessman Jim Kreder. "They were very supportive through Jim's heart problems and after he died."

Kreder, who knits and needlepoints exquisitely, often on consignment, assists the owners when the shop gets very busy.

Casual customers or newcomers to the weekly workshops are warmly welcomed, a tradition established by the late Carol Harrison, the original and cherished owner.

"The shop connects me to my community," Harmon said.

Community is important to all three owners. And they use their talents to strengthen that connection.

Starting Aug. 24, they will be teaching students at the Susi Q to crochet or knit "comfort shawls" for patients at the Laguna campus of Mission Hospital.

""The purpose is to gather people in the community to give back to the community," Triebwasser said. "All ages and levels of skill are welcome."

Classes will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on the last Friday of every month.

To register for the class or for more information, call (949) 497-2441.

This will be the second series of classes fostered by Strands & Stitches at the Susi Q. They previously taught knitting and crocheting under the auspices of "Knots of Love," which provides hand-made caps for men, women and children being treated for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

More than 45,000 caps have been distributed around the country since the charity was founded in 2007.

Harmon, who was active in SchoolPower when her children were younger, was first a customer at the shop, then a teaching employee, and finally convinced by Hartman to become an owner.

Hartman formerly worked for Freeman MacGillivray Films. She is the unofficial store manager, doing the chores Harmon happily relinquishes.

Triebwasser began teaching needlepoint at Laguna Needlework on Ocean Avenue where Zinc Café & Market is now located.

"The owner said, 'You look like you could teach,'" Triebwasser recalled.

To her surprise she loved it. Besides classes and private lessons at Strands & Stitches, Triebwasser has taught an emeritus knitting class at Saddleback College for 20 years.

Triebwasser also teaches a monthly class at the shop on Aran Island patterns. A square with a new pattern is learned by the students at each class and when completed will be made into a throw.

"It will take two years to complete," Triebwasser said.

The class was so popular she had to start a second group for a total of 18 students. There is also a drop-in class from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, for a fee of $15.

On Wednesdays, Triebwasser oversees the store's free knitting and crocheting workshop from 10 a.m. to noon.

Regulars include Rosie Hamfler, Pat MacLaren, Anna Feldstein, Jan Scherer, P.J. Kaylor, Cathleen McNally, Nora Higgins, Jean Arovas, Kreder and her sister, Pam Hilton.

MacLaren was an 8-year-old Girl Scout when she began knitting squares to be made into blankets for members of the armed services in World War II.

"But there is still lots to learn," She said.

Feldstein began knitting baby blankets about 6½ years ago as grandchildren came along.

Kaylor was taught to knit by her great-grandmother about 50 years ago and has never stopped. She has been designing her own patterns for more than 25 years. They are available online at Ravelry.com.

"I got 64 downloads in the first 24 hours," Kaylor said. "That may not sound like much, but it was great for me."

Kaylor's daughter, Samantha Piszkiewicz, is perhaps the shop's most loved regular. Over the years, she has won awards for her needlework at the Orange County Fair. However, she just graduated from Laguna Beach High School in June and will be off to college in the fall.

"We are really going to miss her," said Harmon. "Sam practically grew up here. She came to us when she was a little girl and said, 'I am going to work here someday.'"

Her work included decorating the store windows, which last year won the Coastline Pilot's holiday contest.

"Sam came in and said there is a contest in town and I am going to win it," Harmon said.

McNally learned to crochet when she about seven, but dropped it for years. She picked it up again crocheting beanies for surfers. She has been a member of the group for about a month.

"I just wandered into the shop," said McNally, who learned on Wednesday how to reduce the number of stitches she was working on — a useful skill for the bikini she is crocheting.

Higgins turned to knitting after needlepointing as many pieces as she had friends and family.

She is working on a blanket for a social worker at St. Mary's Episcopal Church but plans to go back to "Knit for Kids," for which she has made sweaters distributed by World Vision.

Kreder and Hilton, who revived the skills she learned as a child when she moved to California three years ago, also attend the needlepoint workshop taught by Harmon from 1 to 3 p.m. on Mondays. They are the most regular of the regulars — unless they are off on a cruise, during which Kreder will volunteer to teach needlework.

Hilton's daughter, Erica Morin, followed her mom to California and also attends the workshop.

Cathy Brockington, who also hadn't kept up the skills she learned as a child, used to pass the shop when it was at a different location, each time saying, "I have to go in there."

"And then one day, I did," Brockington said.

Brockington, who also knits, doesn't attend that workshop as often.

"I just [knit] the same thing over and over," she said. "I can practically do it in my sleep, so I only come when I need help or want companionship."

However, Barbara Jamison has been needlepointing continuously since 1980.

Vicki Anderson started needlepointing Christmas stockings when her youngest daughter was 27. It was 10 years before it was finished. She has since completed stockings for her six children and is working on a stocking for the fifth of her eight grandchildren.

Right now most of the regulars are working on Christmas stockings or ornaments. New holiday patterns painted by an exemplary needlepoint artist known only as Liz are on display at the shop and can be ordered.

Strands & Stitches is open seven days a week at 1516 S. Coast Hwy., across the street from the Surf & Sand Resort. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m., Sunday. For more information, call (949) 497-5648.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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