Woolstock Knit & Sew shop just keeps growing

To say that Leslye Solomon is a longtime and accomplished knitter and seamstress only scratches the surface

She can knit a sweater in a day. She still carries a bag she embroidered a decade ago. She used to sew most of her clothes, including her wedding gown.

To say that Leslye Solomon is a longtime and accomplished knitter and seamstress only scratches the surface. The Glyndon shop owner has turned childhood passions into a thriving business.

So successful is her business, Woolstock Knit & Sew, that last fall Solomon moved into larger quarters at 4830 Butler Road. She stocks yarn and fabric and offers fee-based individual instruction and group classes in both handicrafts.

"I swore I'd never open a store — a big commitment, a lot of responsibility," said Solomon who, in 1998, did just that.

She has since moved Woolstock Knit & Sew two times, always to a bigger space and all in the same Glyndon Square Shopping Center where she is currently located.

The shop is filled with bins of yarn, shelves of fabric and cabinets of patterns. As colorful as the setting is, Solomon, a self-described "fiftyish going on 39," outshines it in one of her own creations on a recent late-summer day.

The short-sleeve V-neck top is the kind of unique, handmade item you find in expensive boutiques. She designed and knitted it in an orange, green and white stretchy yarn, the same material kids use to make potholders. The edges are finished in bright green; colored fringe circles the hem.

Solomon grew up knitting and sewing. Back then, though, "you did it to save money, not for creativity," said Solomon, an Owings Mills resident, married and a mother, who never envisioned making a living, much less a career, out of these skills.

After college, she held a series of administrative jobs while teaching herself design drawing, pattern making and finishing techniques. Knitting companies began hiring her to give seminars around the country.

Solomon's decision to open her shop wasn't accidental. Her timing was impeccable, the start of a knitting trend she predicted when she saw knitting machines being sold in big box stores, not just specialty shops.

"I felt we were going into a good cycle for knitting," said Solomon, whose original shop focused on yarns and instruction.

Her latest move allowed her to expand the shop into sewing. Like her insight about knitting, the decision didn't come out of the blue.

"People began dropping by and asking if I taught sewing or offered sewing classes for children," said Solomon, an interest she attributes to the hit design-and-sew TV show, "Project Runway."

In Solomon's experience, knitting appeals to all age groups. She believes that knitters find the repetitive movement of the needles soothing. Plus, when finished, "you end up with something to wear," she said.

But knitting has changed over time. Thanks to the craft's popularity, the industry has responded with an incredible variety of yarns.

"The colors, textures and fibers are amazing. The techniques are different from the past," Solomon said. "Today, people knit for the creativity."

The same goes for sewing. Today's machines are more technically advanced and yet easier to use than machines of the past, Solomon said. She demonstrates a model in her shop that, when programmed, practically sews by itself.

Woolstock's sewing classes have students as young as 12. Kerry Cameron is one of them. The daughter of Reisterstown residents Kate and Patrick Cameron, Kerry, a seventh-grader at Calvert School, took a sewing class this summer, every Wednesday in August for three hours.

"I didn't know how to sew but I always wanted to learn," said Kerry, whose recent birthday gift of a sewing machine spurred her to take lessons.

In class, she learned how to operate the sewing machine, how to pin and cut out patterns and how to assemble the pieces. She made a dress and a tote-bag. "It was really fun. I learned a lot more than I thought I would," said Kerry, whose career goal is fashion design.

Kerry's mother, Kate Cameron, approved. "Kerry is always making something in arts and crafts. This was a good outlet," said Mrs. Cameron, who doesn't sew herself. "When I asked her what her favorite part of the summer was, she said the sewing lessons."

Marlene Sereboff is another Woolstock customer. An experienced knitter, Sereboff gets together weekly with a group of other knitters around a big table in the center of the shop that serves as their meeting place.

A decade ago, after a series of devastating family illnesses, Sereboff went to the shop she'd heard about but hadn't yet visited. "It changed everything. It was my Valium," she said of the camaraderie she found.

"It's a warm, friendly, supportive environment," said Sereboff, "and Leslye makes it happen. If you make a mistake [in knitting], she says, 'Don't worry. It's a design element.' Or she tells you to take a walk and rips out the stitches" of the mistake.

Solomon works with a staff of nine, from sewing instructors to back office help. "I have incredible employees, some of whom have been with me from the start. I've built the business up over the years," she said.

Woolstock isn't Solomon's only business venture. She is a dealer for Brother sewing machines. She created an iPhone application for complicated knitting patterns. She publishes videos, books and knitting patterns. She represents Knitting Magazine and Vogue Knitting Magazine at shows around the country.

"In the grocery store, no one knows me. But in the knitting world, they do," Solomon said. At a show, "I'll get on the elevator and people will gasp, impressed, 'Oh, you're Leslye Solomon.'"

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