Walking into Pamela Roose is like walking into a nest: the space is warm, soft, clean, and maternal. Yarn and sample knitted items are artfully displayed in wicker cradles and hanging on mannequins. Gentle music plays in the background.
We sat down with founder and owner Pamela Steele on the Middletown store’s plush yellow chairs to chat. She explained that she derived the name of her store by combining her name and her husband Roosevelt’s.
“He’s my not-so-silent partner,” she joked.
Pamela Roose will celebrate its fourth birthday this November, but Steele is no newcomer to the knitting scene. She began participating in craft fairs in 2002, and in November 2010 she opened her first store in the Main Street Market. In July 2013, she moved to her spacious current location at 88 Court St.
Steele’s experience with yarn extends to long before this business venture began: she has been knitting for 50 years.
“My grandmother taught me,” she said. “We made these little crocheted skirts, and then she taught me to knit, and I made these baby items. Then I decided I wanted to follow a pattern, so I got a ‘how to knit’ book, and the first real thing I made from following a pattern was a baby set: a hat, the mitts, the sweater. From then on, it was just the way I went.”
These days, Steele knits not only for family and friends, but also on commission. Lately, knit dresses have been occupying most of her time.
“I just did one for my mother, for a cruise,” she said. “It was black with sequins in it, and it had baubles, and it was very detailed. I’m actually working on one now for a customer.”
Of all the things she crafts, though, Steele is most moved by christening or baptism gowns for babies and children.
“For me, it’s something very, very special,” she said. “I’ve made some for friends, for customers, but for me that’s something special, that they’re baptized or christened with a handmade item and not something from the store. It’s a labor of love for me, so that’s the thing I like the most, I’d say.”
But for Steele, knitting is not simply a means to an end; she loves the process itself.
“For me, it’s a great stress reliever,” she said. “It keeps me focused…. It’s creative…. You can take that ball of string, as some people say, and [then] at the end of it have something not only great but functional. I can’t sit still or sit in front of a TV or movie, without my hands moving.”
Steele’s love for knitting has only grown with her recently acquired knowledge of knitting’s health benefits.
“It keeps your mind active,” she said. “[It] lowers blood pressure. It’s not just a habit that people thought years ago was frivolous.”
At a big oval table in the center of the store, Steele teaches knitting lessons. For her, it is a way to share her passion for counting stitches and casting.
“I personally would rather teach someone to knit than to make something for them because they get past the initial learning curve, and when they sit down and really realize how relaxing it can be…they come back and say, ‘I love it!’” Steele said. “That’s what excites me because it is my passion. It’s nice to share it with someone else.”
If she were forced to choose one type of yarn with which to knit for the rest of her life, Steele would be sure of her answer.
“Cashmere!” she cried longingly, as though pining after a lost love. “Cashmere yarn is the ultimate luxury, and it’s one of the most expensive outside of opossum. It’s the softest, it’s luxurious, it doesn’t itch…it’s like wrapping yourself in—all I can say is luxury. Just luxury.”
And what does Steele see as the future of her business? She’s enamored of Webs, a 20,000-square-foot yarn facility in Northampton, Mass., and dreams of one day operating a similar business.
“My dream is to become the Webs of Connecticut,” she said.
Time will tell whether or not Pamela Roose will expand, but for now, Steele is content to knit together a community in Middletown.
“I want this to be a place where people can come and feel comfortable and warm and like they’ve met a friend,” she said. “I just want this to be like you’ve just walked into my home.”
To that end, Pamela Roose has served as a haven for recent divorcees and stressed-out University students alike.
“I have people who come in from court and say, ‘I just went through a divorce, and I saw your store,’ and they sit for a few minutes and de-stress from whatever,” she said. “It’s almost like being a bartender. You tell a bartender everything, and it’s kind of the same thing. I see a lot of students right after exams. Yes, it’s a business, but for me, it’s more than that. As my youngest says, ‘My mom collects people.’”
Just as every knitted item in the shop has its own story of dropped stitches and countless start-overs, Steele sees every customer as a work in progress.
“I always treat everyone who comes through the door with dignity and respect because we never know what their journey is,” she said. “If somebody’s having a bad day, feel free to come in and sit. I don’t bite.”