Fort Worth yarn shop JuJu Knits began as a mental health venture for shop owner Julie Hatch Fairley.
“The healing power of yarn” helped her cope with the untimely death of her mother. When Fairley was 30 years old, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She died about four months later at age 54, a year older than Fairley is now.
“Her death really rocked my world,” she said. “I was really just kind of empty for a long time.”
She tried to move on, continuing with her career in media relations at the time and purchasing a house in Fairmount. From an outsider’s perspective, it looked as if she was thriving.
But her mental health was failing. After about two years, she still felt “stuck.”
A therapist asked her what she did as a child that gave her joy. Fairley used to dig in the dirt with her mother, who was a master gardener, or she would play with yarn. The therapist prescribed the activity of digging in the dirt or playing with yarn for an hour per day to help bring joy back into her life.
Fairley relearned how to knit, a craft she had practiced throughout her childhood.
About Julie Hatch Fairley
Spouse: Husband, Bill Fairley
Residence: Fort Worth since 1985
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communications from Texas Wesleyan University
Job history: 30 years in media relations; JuJu Knits shop owner since 2019
The act of setting down technological devices like her cellphone and doing something repetitive with her hands has become as important to her as her medication or her faith.
“It can be healing, and I believe that I learned to heal my heart with yarn,” Fairley said.
About 18 years later, she opened JuJu Knits, which functions not only as a store but as a safe space for mental health conversation.
“The shop is a community gathering space first and foremost before it is a retail space,” Fairley said.
After hosting various pop up events and operating in a vintage trailer, the storefront opened Oct. 30, 2019, just 20 weeks before the pandemic hit.
Operating a startup business during the pandemic was difficult, Fairley said, especially when they were forced to close during lockdown orders. To stay in business, she made and sold knitting for beginners kits. In April and May 2020, she sold enough of the $25 kits to pay for a month and a half’s worth of rent.
But now that JuJu Knits is able to operate at full functionality with COVID-19 safety measures in place, Fairley is able to hone in on her mental health mission. The shop offers various knitting and crocheting classes, as well as Fiber Fellowship, a weekly meeting for yarn lovers to come and knit or crochet together socially.
Fort Worth resident Beverly Watkins, 67, attends Fiber Fellowship because of the friendly atmosphere.
Watkins also visits the shop at least twice a week outside of Fiber Fellowship. During each visit, she’ll knit for hours, often creating socks and sweaters. Like Fairley, she learned to knit as a child and picked it up again later on in life.
“It calms me,” she said about the craft. “I don’t know how I would have survived the lockdown if I hadn’t had knitting.”
Pre-pandemic, about two dozen people would fill the shop for Fiber Fellowship, but now that number has dwindled to about seven or eight. The gathering has one rule: no discussing politics. Fairley said the only thing attendees are allowed to debate is patterns of yarn.
The fellowship program is designed to foster positivity.
Many people’s mental health has declined, especially in the past 18 months. Although many crave fellowship and community, people often may not feel comfortable trying to make new friends or seeking help. But JuJu Knits provides a safe space for everybody, Fairley said.
Fort Worth resident Katie Davies, 25, started visiting JuJu Knits this year after she picked up knitting during the pandemic.
“I have a lot of restless energy, so being able to do something with my hands is really nice,” Davies said. “It’s nice that I can move my hands and then I get something nice at the end of it.
As an already avid crocheter, she decided to try her hand at knitting and found the craft and the shop as an outlet for pandemic stress and loneliness. Because she works from home, she said, her only coworker is her dog. She described JuJu Knits as a “refuge,” and she’s thankful for the opportunity to meet new people with a shared interest.
The growing usage of social media and constant plugin to electronics has led to an emotionally and mentally worn out society, Fairley said. But she thinks there’s value in being intentional with your actions, and working with yarn is one way to do that.
Once even the shyest people have a crochet hook or knitting needle in their hands, they’re much more likely to feel comfortable in a group space and start opening up about their struggles, Fairley said.
“It’s really important for people to have a place where they can gather with other like-minded people to talk creativity, to not get into negativity or debate or judgment and to be able to put down their screens,” Fairley said.
Fort Worth Report fellow Cecilia Lenzen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.