Shannon Gresham finds escape in knitting

Andy Downing
Shannon Gresham

When the pandemic hit Ohio earlier this year, shops struggled to keep shelves stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizing wipes and, apparently, yarn.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was a little harder to come acrosseverything,” said Shannon Gresham, who sells her hand-knit wares via her Etsy shop,Livnloop, and is one of 60-plus makers taking part ina Craftin’ Outlaws virtual holiday market on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5 and 6. (This is the third virtual market of 2020 for Craftin’ Outlaws, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.) “You’re staying out of stores, so I was doing a lot of curbside pickup, and a lot of finding places that still had supplies left. So I’m going online like, ‘OK, I can get this from this location, and this from this location, and then I’ll have to go somewhere else for the other five.’ So there was a lot of driving around town early on. Thankfully, it’s gotten somewhat back to normal.”

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Prior to stay-at-home orders, which clearly created a spike in home crafts like knitting and a subsequent run on related supplies, Gresham could visit a single store to obtain needed materials, consisting mostly of chunky yarn that she transforms into colorful, textured winter hats, cowls and coasters. “I thought it looked cool and different,” Gresham said of the chunkier product, which requires additional concentration while knitting, since the thicker threads can become more easily snagged. “Looking through Etsy, it was different from what I was seeing [made by other crafters]. … It stands out a bit more.”

Gresham, a business analyst by day, first started knitting in 2017 after stumbling across a Pinterest page displaying images of an arm-knit blanket. (With arm knitting, a crafter’s arms stand in for knitting needles, creating a bulkier finished product.) The Sunday after discovering the process, Gresham purchased some yarn, and within a few hours she had crafted her first blanket. From there, Gresham immersed herself in YouTube tutorials, in addition to self-experimentation, knitting in the nighttime hours after her children were asleep, often while binging on TV programs. “It is an escape,” Gresham said.

After a few months, Gresham said she had a clear grasp of the basic techniques, at which point she settled on the thicker yarns that have become a hallmark of her style. The same year, in October 2017, she opened her Etsy shop, which followed a stretch during which most of the things she knit were gifted to family members and the occasional close friend.

“And it was mostly to my mom and sister because it was like, ‘Uhh, are people going to like this?’ And so I kept it close,” Gresham said. “And then it was like, ‘You know what? This is good. Their reactions are pretty good. Let me put it on Etsy and see what happens.’”

Before long, Gresham logged her first sale, which took place after someone spotted her wearing one of her creations in public. “They were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I really like your hat.’ And I was like, ‘Thanks! I made it,’” said Grisham, who exchanged information and returned home a couple of hours later to her first order.

A year later, Gresham made her initial appearance at a Craftin’ Outlaws market, first displaying as an “Emerging Outlaw” at the convention center Downtown in 2018. And while the knitter will miss the camaraderie of in-person events, she’s excited by the potential reach of this weekend's virtual market, which is open to anyone, anywhere with an internet connection.

“I did a virtual event [from Cincinnati] in July and it went really well because I was able to talk with people in California and New York and just all over,” Gresham said. “I’m bummed it’s not in person because I do like meeting the customers and talking to people face to face … but Craftin’ Outlaws is already such a huge event that it’ll be interesting to see how many people outside of the area that I’ll have a chance to connect with.”