Marsha LaFreniere has a passion for knitting and crocheting that she recently translated into Harmony’s newest storefront on Main Avenue, Homespun Harmony. Originally from Albert Lea, LaFreniere spent 10 years in the Air Force, where she moved around a lot. She met her husband in Rochester and they looked for a place to set down roots. That place was Harmony and a country home they both fell in love with instantly. “I got married, moved to Harmony, and changed jobs all in the same year!” Those were good changes but they were stressful too, and LaFreniere found that she needed an outlet for her stress. “I love how relaxing knitting and crocheting can be,” she says about her hobby. “Some people de-stress with yoga, others bike, I prefer to sit and create with yarn.”
This is not something she carried with her from childhood. It began when LaFreniere started working in Winona. There was a store there called Yarnology just five blocks from where she works. Walking in, she immediately loved the feel of it and the sense that Yarnology was its own community. “The shop was homey and I liked the vibe. I took a beginner’s class and a lady there took the time to work with me. Soon, the staff recognized me when I walked in and greeted me by name. They would share stories and it became a place I’d go over my lunch breaks to work on a project and relax. It was like my third home.” You live in your first home; work in your second home; and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you find a third home, a special place where you just belong. Homespun Harmony could be that place for fiber hobbyists in Fillmore County.
When you walk in the door of Marsha LaFreniere’s shop, the first thing you notice is the color. Winter in Minnesota can be drab and monochromatic, but stepping into Homespun Harmony you’ll be surrounded by the exuberant colors of a summer garden, the brilliant tones of stained glass windows, the warm shades of a verdant woods and more. Yarn of every hue imaginable rests on open shelves, in baskets or hangs from the walls. Just inside the door is a cozy grouping of chairs and gliders draped with afghans knit or crocheted by the owner’s family.
Even though LaFreniere’s maternal grandmother and great-grandmother both worked with fibers, she did not learn from them. “My paternal grandmother did embroidery and she taught me that, so I have embroidered since I was a little girl. But it’s a meticulous craft. I wanted to do something that I could relax with. Crochet is beautiful. I picked up a beginner’s book and taught myself,” LaFreniere recalls. “Eventually I wanted to make sweaters. I looked for sweater patterns to crochet and didn’t find too many. There were lots of knitting patterns, however, so I learned to knit. That was early in 2018.”
Anyone interested in learning to knit or crochet can take a beginner’s class at the shop. With the class you get your first skein of yarn, a crochet hook or knitting needles, depending on which skill you’re learning, and two 1-hour sessions. In the first session you’ll learn the basics. You’ll go home and practice, then come back the next week to learn additional crochet stitches or learn knitting on and fastening off. With just these skills you’ll be able to make some beautiful, useful items for yourself or to give as gifts. Lessons are suitable for any age. Recently, 9-year-old twins came to the shop for lessons they received as a birthday gift. Starting with some stained glass or bulky yarn, an infinity scarf comes together quickly and these yarns will hide beginner mistakes or inconsistencies nicely.
LaFreniere welcomes knitters and crocheters to come with projects they need help on. She offers coaching and assistance absolutely free. On Tuesday nights you will also find an informal group that meets at the shop to be experienced and helpful. Each group member has her own area of expertise. One makes hats for babies and delivers them to local hospitals. Another specializes in knitting cotton dishcloths. If you would like to make something but don’t have any ideas, LaFreniere can help there too. “When I went to Yarnology,” she says, “the displays of sweaters and other finished projects made me feel that I could do this!” Shoppers will find some examples of finished items in the store and be able to see how a given yarn knits up, how it feels, how it drapes, and there will be more examples to come. A back wall of the shop has a variety of free patterns and if you look in a book and find your perfect pattern, LaFreniere can help you get that pattern for a few dollars instead of having to purchase the whole book.
The appeal of Homespun Harmony for LaFreniere is the creation of a wonderful space to spend time in, to surround herself with yarn, color, and community, to be her own boss and to feel as though she is having too much fun to consider it work. “When I first came up with this idea I developed a three-year plan leading up to opening my shop. But then I talked with Chris Giesen of the Harmony EDA. He knew that the owner of Essence of Harmony was thinking about selling,” she recalls. Chris thought that it might be a good spot for her shop. “I was planning to rent to start,” says LaFreniere, “but I thought I’d take a look anyway. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments. Even though the building was filled with second-hand items, when I looked, what I saw was a yarn store and I’ve learned not to ignore my intuition.” The owner didn’t want to rent so LaFreniere bought. She saw the large windows, the sunlit spaces, the high ceilings, the ideal lighting, and had to have it. Her slow steady plan merged onto the superhighway. The way she sees it, she can’t lose. “I’m a big yarn nerd,” she smiles, “If all else fails, I will have yarn for the rest of my life and I’m ok with that.”
From the welcome she’s received in Harmony, failure is not likely to happen. “The community is special, people talk with each other, and they support one another” LaFreniere says. “People stop by just to tell me they’re happy I’m here and to wish me luck. Kerry Kingsley gave me a table for my classes as a welcome gift. People ventured out in awful weather for my ribbon cutting ceremony – snow, sleet, a cold wind. It’s all heartwarming!”
Chris Giesen at the EDA was very helpful in the establishment of Homespun Harmony. “I would encourage anyone wanting to start a new business to talk with the EDA,” LaFreniere advises. “They are a wonderful source of advice, Chris really knows the community, and all the help is free. LaFreniere has a Master’s in Accounting degree and is a CMA (Certified Management Accountant). She and her husband recently opened the Preston Liquor Store so she, unlike many other entrepreneurs, has already had experience starting a new business. “I had a business plan but if you don’t have a plan, the EDA can give you resources and Chris personally walks you through each piece. Even if you just have an idea, my advice would be to contact your local EDA!”
With the EDA’s encouragement, Marsha LaFreniere has created a business she loves. She wants you to love it too. Studies have shown that there is something soothing about holding soft warm yarn in your hands. It’s a comfort akin to petting an animal. There’s also colors, patterns, the act of creation, and the sense of satisfaction in making something with your own hands. “What we’ve learned through studies is that people, both men and women, need “me” time,” LaFreniere shares. “This is a place to come for an hour or two to get that time.”
Homespun Harmony has a variety of yarns to suit a variety of hobbyists. You’ll find everything from economical and easy-care acrylics to high quality wools. LaFreniere stocks Merino wool that is washable and dryable. Multi-colored Malabrigos have such personality that they are their own accessory – no jewely needed. And what makes LaFreniere really happy are the Superwash Merino yarns. There is no need for handwashing, blocking, sizing, or laying out to dry. What you make with Superwash wools won’t shrink. And if some “helpful” person throws your creation into the washer, no problem. If you used to knit but haven’t in awhile you might want to explore what’s new and experience the convenience and beauty of new fibers. If your new or past handmade sweaters could benefit from blocking to achieve that higher level of perfection, balance, ideal drape and shape, Homespun Harmony provides that service. “Ninety percent of the time a sweater will only need to be blocked once to attain and maintain its ideal shape,” says LaFreniere. Most of all, if you need a little relaxation in a color-filled but still soothing atmosphere while engaging in a productive pastime, stop by Homespun Harmony, 45 Main Ave. N. – open Tuesdays 5-8 p.m. and Saturdays 10-6.