Warren Street Flood Didn't Unravel This Close-Knit Community

At Whole Foods, Val Chan, left, with fellow crafters Kris Dikeman, foreground, and Kally Aronis. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 02, 2014

Val Chan has always been an avid crafter, but her true gift, it turns out, is for weaving people together.

When Chan opened Stitched Tribeca last October at 72 Warren St., her dream was to have a space where people could come together around the art of different crafts—sewing, needlepoint, knitting, and crocheting, among others—and create friendships at the same time.

“I was really hoping to build a community,” she recalled. “A place to meet other people who wanted to make things. I’m really just trying to foster some face-to-face connections.”

When a fire followed by a flood from upstairs closed down Stitched Tribeca in March—also displacing a family and damaging the Church Street School for Music and Art—it brought to a sudden halt the zipper workshops, the “chat and crafts” and kids sewing and crocheting classes that had just begun to blossom.

But with the help of Chan, one loyal group of regulars to the store’s classes are stubbornly determined to keep crafting together.

Less than a month after Stitched closed, Jane and Doug Smith, owners of  The World Trade Art Gallery on Trinity Place and friends of Chan, opened  their store for the first “knit-along.” A former Stitched teacher held an impromptu knitting class, and children sat on the floor making “friendship bracelets” while their mothers perused the “fire sale”— baskets of colorful skeins of Baby Alpaca, eco-Wool, needles  and accessories that Chan had salvaged from the store.

“This story is about friendship,” explained Lucia Volkova, who said her daughter Katya used to “run” to her weekly class at Stitched because she loved it so much. “This is our community,” she added. “We want to help.”

At the center of this community is Chan, a former statistics teacher and Bat­tery Park City resident, whose true love had always been crafting. After she had children, she decided to open a store,  subletting from the Church Street School.

“I figured, what better way to teach my kids to embrace life than to model it myself,” she said.

Chan said she was touched when she discovered that “whatever people were going through, they came to take a class and it helped them in some way.”

“I’m not looking to work in the aggregate,” she added. “But if I can make a difference to just one or two people, to me that’s worth something.”

Last month, the group met again, this time on the second floor of Whole Foods on Greenwich Street. Chan arrived with an armful of crafting supplies that she placed on two tables that had been pushed together, A half-dozen women gathered around her, sifting through the felt squares, colored thread and knitting yarn.

As hands worked steadily on different projects, conversation meandered from tips about sewing patterns and other hobbies to family life and myriad everyday topics.

Kally Aronis, who was working on intricately patterned knit lace shawl that she had designed, used to go to Stitched for its noontime “Chat & Craft” with co-workers who she had taught to knit.

“It’s just fun,” she said. “We were always laughing or sharing ideas. If you don’t know someone, you just bond with them through love of craft.”

Before she went to Stitched, added Kris Dikeman, who was sitting nearby, she had always done crafts on her own.  “I had never really thought of it as an experience that you do in community with other people.”

Now, she hopes that the groups Chan started will continue to expand. 

“I truly see it as something that is going to keep growing like a ripple in a pond,” she said. Nonetheless, she is looking forward to the store reopening.

“I hope the studio opens back up again. I hope that Val gets to keep living her dream.”