Kaitlin Schreiber: Stitching the fabric of the Newport community [photos]

As Kaitlin Schreiber pieced together a section of a quilt in her Newport fiber arts supply shop, she pointed out a corner stitch that wasn’t perfectly aligned. “That’s the humble stitch,” she said.

The humble stitch, Schreiber continued, is a reminder that the quilt was handmade and labored over by a human being. It’s also the name of her shop.

If you go:

Where: 2 North 2nd St., Newport, 17074
Hours: Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For more on Humble Stitch, visit its Facebook page here.

Housed on the ground floor of the historic Gantt Hotel building, Humble Stitch is in a prominent location on a corner of the main  street traveling through Newport, Perry County.

Schreiber, a Perry County native, held a grand opening for Humble Stitch on July 14. Since then, the 31-year-old has been trying to catch her breath and adapt to her new role as a business owner.

The Central Penn Business Journal caught up with Schreiber to ask her about this new venture.

This interview below has been edited for clarity and length.

How has business been going since you opened?

Really, really well. I was working Monday-Thursday 10-hour days as a home-visiting nurse for an organization called Nurse-Family Partnership, so in order to open the shop, I had to just work with the days I had available. I might expand it as time goes on, but I’m still kind of getting caught up with everything and daily life things that kind of went by the wayside. My house looks like an “I Spy” book.

Did you anticipate phasing out of your job as a nurse as quickly as that happened?

No, not at all. I had a job that I really loved and that was really difficult to leave even though I left for something awesome and that I’ve dreamed about doing my whole life. But I knew that if I didn’t put enough energy into Humble Stitch, it wouldn’t be successful, and I didn’t want that to happen.

What is your background as a fiber artist and as a businessperson?

I have a very long background as a fiber artist. My great grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was five, and then my grandmother taught me how to knit soon after that. My parents always encouraged me throughout high school, too, and I got into weaving on a loom, spinning yarn and dying wool, too.

But my background as a businessperson is very short. I think that what’s made me hopefully successful … is just my connection with the community and really my respect for what people do whenever they come in. They’re making things for their family and for their loved ones, and I think connecting with that and knowing what that is like is helpful with what i’m doing.

Talk about the journey from when you first thought about opening your own business, scoping out the space for it, getting financing to now.

It all happened really quickly. I heard at an event that I was a vendor at on April 28 that the space had just become available that same day, and the next weekend I signed the lease. I went to a few different banks searching for financing, and I had a lot of help from the Small Business Development Center at Bucknell University. They really encouraged me to go to other banks and see who could help me make it a reality. A woman at Orrstown Bank actually contacted me because she had heard about my plans. Mixed together with financing from Orrstown and PNC Bank (which have adjacent branches across the street from Humble Stitch), they made it happen really quickly. Half of my financing is a business loan, and half of it is a personal loan that we use as a business loan.

Was your family supportive of you doing this and making it work financially?

I have a husband and a 5-year-old daughter named Rose. My husband’s super supportive. At one point I thought: Why did you let me do this? (laughs) Starting a business is really hard and tiring, and there were times when I thought: Shouldn’t he be the reasonable one? Shouldn’t he have said, “Don’t do it?” He is a dispatcher for the railroad. His hours vary from day to night shifts, so it was not easy for him either, just picking up the slack.

I think that one of the coolest things about this is getting to have my daughter in here. It’s such a cool place for a kid to get to be because it’s so inspiring to her. Whatever she wants to do, she’ll just ask, and someone here will teach her, or I’ll teach her.

Did you plan to have this community space, too, as part of the business?

Yeah. The community space is just as important to me as the shop. Right now, there are beginner classes taught by community members, my friends and even my mom for knitting, crochet embroidery, tatting, spinning, quilting and sewing for now, and I’m looking at adding more. There are these shared positive experiences where everyone is coming together creating something and just having a good time and feeling like they’ve learned something.

How do you go about sourcing inventory and picking which vendors to work with?

The way that I figured out what I was going to carry was, I took a picture on the day I signed the lease of me standing behind the bar with my daughter and posted it on Facebook with a caption asking: What would you like to see in your local fiber arts supply store? I was intending this space to be more of a knitting shop, but through that post I found out way more people were interested in quilting.

As things sell, I double what sells when I place a new order. The yarn and fabric industries are very different, though, so that’s been difficult to navigate. I knew a little bit before opening the shop because I’ve been doing some wholesale purchasing for a number of years.

I like to get in local things, too, like wool from a local farm. If I’m able to get something locally, and it makes sense financially if they’re offering wholesale, then I go for it.

Why would people shop here instead of a big-box craft store like JOANN Fabric and Crafts?

When they are purchasing my materials, if they’re spending hours and hours making a quilt, the quilt that they’re making for their families and loved ones is going to last. And they can come in and ask a question and get an answer and feel confident.

Community is a big part of the business model. It’s part of what I offer. It’s on my sign. Because we are becoming fragmented as a society, I think people can really come together over crafts and art. It’s neutral. 

Do you aim to change some of the misinformed stereotypes about Perry County? 

I’m very aware that there are negative perceptions of Perry County, and I’m not quite sure where it comes from. If people come to Newport and spend time here, they’ll change their minds.

How will you ensure your prices and space are accessible to anyone who wants to come in?

I carry a range of different price points. I have skeins of yarn that are below $10. It’s still good yarn, I just took the extra time to find that good yarn and that lower price. I have fabric that’s less expensive because it’s not the newest collection. I don’t mark it up. Plus, people can come in here with other materials and work and hang out with people.

Do you think that entrepreneurialism is a defining characteristic of the millennial generation?

Maybe. Maybe it’s just a desire to be in control of your day. But when it comes down to it, I’m not, and I think that’s a misconception about being an entrepreneur, that you can open a business and just stretch in the morning, like “Ahh …” No, it’s so much work, and it’s so much harder than going to a regular, secure solid job where you can be sure you’re doing the right thing. I have to ask myeslf, “Did I get the right fabric?” I don’t know until it gets here, and people either love it or don’t buy it. But it’s fun. It’s definitely worth it.

Do you have any mentors as an artist or in the business community?

I had two mentors at my former job at Nurse-Family Partnership. I think I learned from them how to approach people and the way to really listen to a person and what their desires are. That’s helped me so much with this.

What is your advice for young people who want to start their own business?

Make sure you get enough sleep! I guess my advice would be: Either do it, or don’t. If you’re going to try it, do it as soon as you can because you’re never going to have more energy. Because really that’s what it is. There have been times that I’ve asked myself, “Do I have the energy to continue to do what I need to do?” I think what kept me going is that I had already taken out the loans, and I already signed the lease. There was no turning back. But on days I would come in and there would be seven huge boxes of yarn, that was enough to keep me going any day, just getting to see everything.

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