By Ellen Spitaleri
Even with the advent of vaccinations, COVID-19 is still with us and pandemic depression is a real thing.
Bratcher is the owner of Ritual Dyes, a yarn and fabric shop at 1117 SE Division St. and when pandemic restrictions began a year ago, she set up the Free Fiber Library outside the store, with the idea of helping new crafters get started.
The idea was to keep the box full of free yarn, crochet hooks, knitting needles and instruction books. People were encouraged to take what they wanted and to bring finished products to put in the box for give-away.
“We had learned of the idea from another yarn shop – Wild Hand in Philadelphia – and I instantly wanted to make one for Portland, “ Bratcher said. “I know that knitting, and making in general, lowers my anxiety and it felt like a good thing to share with our community, especially during this time.”
She added that she hoped the community would appreciate an opportunity to try fiber crafts without having to make a financial investment.
“We thought we would have to keep it filled, but I had no idea how incredibly self-sufficient it would be. People take things and leave things every single day and it’s so inspiring to see,” Bratcher said.
In addition to yarn and maker tools, she has seen completed handmade garments, like hats and shawls, and incomplete items for people to finish.
Chelsea Slaven-Davis lives in the neighborhood and said she and her children visit the Free Fiber Library often, leaving extra knitting needles and skeins of yarn.
“My kids are also big knitters and love having a project going. This was especially helpful during the holiday season in December, when they were making gifts for family and friends,” she said.
It is important for the community to support the Free Fiber Library, Slaven-Davis said, because there are therapeutic benefits to handwork.
“In a time when we’re all staying home more than usual, it’s so helpful to have some sort of creative activity to keep our hands and minds engaged; to see progress in something when everything feels so stagnant.”
“Crafts like knitting and crochet require very little in materials to get started and having access to those materials in a community fiber box means that truly anyone can participate, regardless of financial resources,” Slaven-Davis said.
“Rachel has done such a beautiful job creating a space that is welcoming and warm in Ritual Dyes,” she added. “The Free Fiber Library feels like the perfect extension of her shop, but always open and full of surprises.”
With the coming of the pandemic, Bratcher noted that the shop’s business model changed.
Previously, she had used the space as the business’ office and to dye yarn, and only opened up as a retail shop to the public for the first time about a year ago. Since that time, she has seen more people experiment with and give more time to hand-made crafts during the pandemic.
“It has given us an opportunity to meet the needs of our community and we were so excited to see how many crafty neighbors we have,” Bratcher said.
Ritual Dyes is open 12-5 pm Wednesday and Thursday and 12-6 pm Friday and Saturday. Only a few people are allowed in the shop at a time, everyone sanitizes their hands and air filtration runs constantly.
“We offer contactless curb side pick-up too, which has helped get materials into makers’ hands,” Bratcher noted.
The shop is stocked with yarn from independent dyers as well as hand-dyed yarn made on-site at Ritual Dyes. Other items include fabric and patterns for sewers, and materials for punch-needle, embroidery and crochet projects.
“We have a line of project bags, namely the Knitter’s Backpack which is produced around the corner with our friends at Spooltown,” Bratcher said.
“We are so grateful to our customers and vendors for making this a true community space.”
1117 SE Division St.