Wild Hand has a yarn to tell

by Stacia Friedman
Posted 3/16/22

When Liz Sytsma opened the Wild Hand yarn shop in Mt. Airy, her goal wasn’t to serve only craftspeople and artisans. She planned to serve the entire community.

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Wild Hand has a yarn to tell


When Liz Sytsma opened the Wild Hand yarn shop in Mt. Airy, her goal wasn’t to serve only craftspeople and artisans. She planned to serve the entire community.

Her objective is a product of Sytsma’s years spent working in the nonprofit sector where she helped create CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia, an umbrella organization providing space, management and resources for the city’s arts community.

“I have used that experience to foster community engagement, equity-building and creativity in my yarn shop,” said Sytsma, who opened Wild Hand in 2019.

The shop on Carpenter Lane supports economic justice through providing free and sliding scale resources to fiber artists and other craftspeople. Sytsma maintains a “Little Free Fiber Library” stocked with fiber donations from around the world that are distributed monthly in free bundles of yarn. 

This outreach goes beyond the Mt. Airy community. Among the many organizations Wild Hand supports is the Black Trans Texas Connection, a grassroots organization advocating Black LGBTQIA+ rights. Wild Hand also is currently promoting a raffle to benefit trans kids in Texas where the governor has equated healthcare that affirms their gender to child abuse. 

“We donate products and skills to local community organizations, and we adjust our margins with suppliers that have just started out or have traditionally been overlooked by the industry,” Sytsma said. 

This is not your traditional “knit-one-pearl-two” yarn shop. While the store carries every type of yarn and kit needed for knitting, crochet, cross stitch, felting, weaving and embroidery, Wild Hand also offers more than 30 different online and in-person workshops. Classes include beginning tapestry weaving and knitting a Teddy bear. Instruction is provided for students at all skill levels. 

“Our teaching artists have done an amazing job. We started offering in-person workshops in 2019, then we closed for six months due to the pandemic before shifting to virtual workshops,” Sytsma said. 

“Last year, our online workshops did very well. In the fall of 2021, we offered a hybrid of online and in-person classes. Now it’s all online, but we expect to return to in-person workshops in April,” she continued.  (Wild Hand requires that in-person workshop attendees be vaccinated.)

Growing up in Kennett Square, Sytsma admits she was a “crafty kid” starting in elementary school when she tried her hand at knitting and crochet. After graduating from Unionville High School, she majored in fine art and business management at Bucknell University before pursuing an MBA. 

“I envisioned Wild Hand as a career change that would give me more time with my children while, by definition, offering more time to think about creative pursuits,” she said. “Wild Hand is right around the corner from my home. It afforded our family the flexibility that was necessary when suddenly we didn’t have childcare due to the pandemic.

“I have always been wired into numbers, analytics and creativity,” Sytsma continued. These skills play directly into her role at Wild Hand where she manages the business’ finance, community partnerships and marketing from her home, while still dashing into the shop at least once a day.

Sytsma’s social media marketing has paid off. “Our online store has grown to from five to fifty percent of sales from all over the world. We use Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and ads …,” she said. “Shops that had just brick and mortar had a harder time during the pandemic.

“I enjoy the problem-solving, all the different parts of the business and thinking about how all those puzzle pieces are constantly shifting,” Sytsma said. 

Describing herself as a knitter, crocheter, weaver and beginner spinner, Sytsma’s latest project is a sweater for one of her kids. 

Timing has, in a way, worked in Sytsma’s favor. Stores that might be competition have fallen away. “About five years before we opened there was the Tangled Web at 7709 Germantown Avenue, and The Knit With, 8226 Germantown Avenue, both of which have closed,” Sytsma said.

“We have a very intergenerational customer base, from kids to grandparents. Children at Waldorf School and Miquon do knitting and crochet,” Sytsma said. “My eldest child, Faye, who is in kindergarten at the CW Henry School, asked me to teach her to knit. She’s picking it up faster than I expected.”

The beating heart of Wild Hand is the team of experienced craftspeople who run the shop. They include talented knitters, fiber artists, fiber dye artists, quilters, spinners and cross stitchers who reflect the shop's inclusive, multicultural values.

“I believe we add to the fabric of the neighborhood,” Sytsma said.