Crafting with a conscience

Julie Saviano, owner of Etui Fiber Arts, a Larchmont yarn and fabric supplier, aims to make a statement in changing the way people shop. Saviano only sells ethically-made and sustainable products.

Julie Saviano, owner of Etui Fiber Arts, a Larchmont yarn and fabric supplier, aims to make a statement in changing the way people shop. Saviano only sells ethically-made and sustainable products.

By KATIE HOOS
Focusing on promoting conscious consumerism and sustainability, Julie Saviano, owner of Etui Fiber Arts—an all-in-one gallery, workshop, and retail space dedicated to the art of quilting, knitting and sewing—does more than just sell yarn.

Celebrating its official opening on Feb. 26, the store, which houses artwork from local fiber artists, is itself a work of art.

Located at 2106 Boston Post Road in Larchmont, Etui Fiber Arts boasts lofted ceilings, exposed brick walls, rich wood floors, punches of bright paint color and an open floor plan that, Saviano said, attracts all types of visitors.

“A lot of people who don’t knit and sew are just coming in because they hear the building is beautiful and they want to see it finished,” she said. “I really wanted to have that loft feel, lots of open space.”

Saviano, 53, and her husband Ed purchased the historic building, which was once Hughes Pharmacy—Larchmont’s first ever drug store—last year and began top-to-bottom renovations in August, gutting the entire ground floor level and basement, and transforming the space into its current polished form.

Enhancing the attraction of the physical space, the products sold inside Etui evoke a sense of beauty, not only through their vibrant colors and silky textures, but also through their unique backstories that Saviano, a Harrison resident, tells so passionately.

The yarn suppliers Saviano chooses to stock on her shelves are all ethically produced, meaning the workers are paid fair wages and the fibers are chemical free, organic and mostly American-made, perpetuating Saviano’s belief in the importance of conscientious shopping.

“Your purchases affect someone else’s life,” she said.

Saviano said, by purchasing cheaply made clothing, shoppers are essentially supporting poor factory conditions and the unfair wages factory workers earn.

Shelves of brightly colored, 100 percent cotton fabric line the brick walls of the Etui Fiber Arts shop, which opened Feb. 26. Photos/Bobby Begun

Shelves of brightly colored, 100 percent cotton fabric line the brick walls of the Etui Fiber Arts shop, which opened Feb. 26. Photos/Bobby Begun

“If you’re supporting these terrible factories, you’re just perpetuating it. So I won’t buy certain yarns, even though they’re big sellers, if I don’t know how they’re produced,” she said.

Although knitting is now her favorite fiber art, Saviano, originally from Harrisburg, Penn., who moved here 23 years ago, got her start in sewing at the age of eight, saying she can still remember every piece of fabric she’s ever bought for every project.

 

 

“My mother used to drop me off at the fabric store and I would spend hours in there,” she said, noting she used to make all of her own clothes and her children’s Halloween costumes. She considers knitting to be a relaxing activity due to the rhythmic movement of your hands and concentration of the mind. That’s the atmosphere she wants filling Etui Fiber Arts.

“Some people have said this is a Zen space. When people come in here they’re happy, because it’s their hobby. I don’t feel like I’m selling someone something they shouldn’t have,” Saviano said. She said crafters are welcome to come into Etui to ask questions, seek advice or just hang out and knit.

Lining the walls of Etui are shelves stacked high with yarns of different fibers and 100 percent cotton fabric in a variety of colors, all of which is conscionably made. On each shelf that holds the different types of yarn, a small card describes where the yarn originated and some information about the manufacturer.

Popular brands Saviano sells include Imperial Yarns, a family-owned Oregon-based cattle and sheep ranch; Glenfiddich Wool, a Pennsylvania farm that hand-dyes and hand-spins its yarn; Mountain Meadow Wool, a small Wyoming-based factory that processes eco-friendly wool from the western portion of the U.S.; The Green Mountain Spinnery, a Vermont producer of chemical-free alpaca, wool and mohair fibers, and Artyarns, a local White Plains-based ethical yarn manufacturer and dyer.

Saviano said some of these yarn producers “could probably tell you the name of every sheep they shear.”

Advocating the “field-to-needle” movement, a term Saviano uses to describe the connection between the crafters and the farmers, growers and manufacturers of the yarns and fabrics they purchase to create their crafts, she sees Etui as more of a mission, rather than a business venture.

“I’m not doing it to make money,” Saviano said. “I’m doing it to make a statement.”

While she’s trying mostly to support the American yarn industry, Saviano also sells international yarns that are consciously made, including Reywa Fibers, a Tibetan Yak fiber manufacturer whose profits benefit educational sponsorship of impoverished Tibetan children, and Frog Tree Yarns, a non-profit yarn producer that pays fair wages to its workers.

“I want people to be conscious with what they’re knitting with because these fibers were alive at one time,” she said. “You’re knitting with something that was alive; you’re knitting with wool.”

Including the wide selection of fabric, yarn, thread and notions—needles, pins, and other essential bits used in sewing and knitting—offered at Etui, the store is also home to a rotating monthly art gallery featuring American artists working in the fiber arts. The current exhibition, Bird:House by Bridgeport, Conn., artist Jane Davila, is a multimodal showcase of birds depicted through different types of fiber. The exhibition will run until March 31.

Besides being a retail shop and an art gallery, Saviano wanted to spread the joy of fiber arts by hosting workshops and classes on-site. Intended to accommodate all types of skill levels, the classes range from Quilting 101 to Intermediate Knitting. Saviano said, for the sewing classes, students should bring their own sewing machine, but if you’re a novice and want to get a feel for sewing, you can rent a machine for $10 per hour.

The store has been open for just three weeks, but Saviano said business is already doing well. Friends of hers from The Quilt Cottage, a Mamaroneck fiber arts store that closed in 2010, and others in the local fiber arts community have stopped in to admire the space and make their purchases.

As Michael’s, Jo-Ann Fabrics and other large discount chain craft stores attract crafters on a budget, Saviano admits that the items in Etui typically come at a higher cost due to the way they are made and the higher quality materials used. When asked about how the higher prices of the yarn she carries might affect her business, Saviano shrugged.

“Maybe that’ll do me in, honestly, I don’t know,” she said. “But I have to live consciously.”

Etui Fiber Arts
2106 Boston Post Road, Larchmont
Tuesday to Thursday
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday and Saturday
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 CONTACT: katie@hometwn.com