Cheryl Potter, of Barton, is a quiet celebrity with seven books under her belt and a novel that has just been released. There is even a Cheryl Potter doll kit that fans can buy. However, if you don’t knit you may not have heard of this well-known and respected producer of hand painted yarn and knitting pattern books.
Potter has made a career of lecturing and teaching workshops around the country to pass these skills and her aesthetic sense on to others. She has made a wonderfully successful business hand painting yarn and selling on the Internet. It is not the most conventional path to success, but using her passion as her compass has worked well.
Cheryl grew up in rural Maine. From an early age, she showed talent both as a writer and a knitter. Starting at about age five, Potter says, “I used to make up stories and turn them into plays that I would put on for my friends and family.”
By the time she was in high school her talent for writing was recognized and she was put into a “gifted and talented” program that would put her in touch with novelist Stephen King as an advisor.
“This was just before Carrie, the novel that rocketed King to fame was published so he wasn’t famous yet,” Potter said. She graduated from high school a year early and applied to Middlebury College because they had an exciting writing program, including a summer of workshop called the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, which allowed students to learn from masters of the craft.
Knitting has also been a part of Cheryl’s life from an early age. At seven years old, she knit her first sweater. “I remember it was from yellow and green yarn with sparkles on it that was from the local five and dime,” she said, remembering with a smile. From then on, knitting was a part of her life.
She earned her Bachelor’s Degree and moved to Tucson, Ariz. to take advantage of the University of Arizona’s MFA writing program. It was in Arizona that she discovered hand-painted yarn and was hooked for life. Potter said she loved multi-colored knits, but hated all the bobbins of different colored yarn that knitters have to keep track of. With hand painted yarn, the color is right in the yarn and the pattern comes to life as you knit. The store where she bought her yarn lost their hand painter and, not one to sit by while her favorite knitting material disappeared, she taught herself the craft and began selling her yarn to the shop. It was also in Arizona that Cheryl discovered the Brown Sheep Company, which sold natural fibers from the back of a pickup truck that pulled up while Potter was visiting a Native American fiber artist in her studio.
After Arizona, Cheryl moved to a family farm in East Montpelier, which she turned into a bed and breakfast. She continued to create her hand-painted yarn that she sold in her gift shop and eventually filled her barn. When the barn could no longer contain her creations, she quit being an innkeeper to sell yarn.
Serendipity brought a national knitting magazine, Interweave Press, to Montpelier for a photo shoot and the writer and photographer stayed at the Cherry Tree Hill Bed and Breakfast. They saw the yarn that Cheryl was producing and asked if they could do a feature article on her work.
“I didn’t take it seriously at the time,” she said. “I had people come in and rave about the yarn and promise things but they would leave and I wouldn’t hear from them again.” She was surprised when a writer and photographer did show up later to do the feature article. She was asked to write articles and create patterns for the magazine.
Her first book Hand Paint Country, published in 2000, is a lushly illustrated coffee table book which came out of her relationship teaching and writing for Knitter’s Magazine. As Cheryl grew to be more and more recognized and sought after for her skills as a knit designer and hand painted yarn crafter. She began lecturing and teaching workshops around the country. It was at this same time that she began to think about moving away from her farm on Cherry Tree Hill. She put the house on the market and it sold in two days.
“I found myself homeless” she says of the startling speed of the sale. She had to find a place for her yarn and her business quickly and Barton was welcoming.
She renovated the Ben Franklin Building in downtown Barton and outfitted it to supply her customers, which had grown to a few hundred. In 2005, she built a production studio on Cherry Tree Hill Lane next to her farm. Plans were scrapped for a new warehouse next to her present facility when the Hanson farm went up for sale last year.
“We did not want to see the barn torn down and the land developed,” said Cheryl. This new barn complex will be the site of Cheryl’s newest venture which combines her knowledge of the hospitality industry with her long experience as a lecturer. She will host her own seminars and retreats at the site. She has already renovated the milking parlor attached to a historic barn adjoining the Orleans County Fairgrounds.
Cheryl’s new novel, The Broken Circle: Yarns of the Knitting Witches, weaves a tale of fantasy and magic. It features 12 knitting witches who normally keep to themselves, but who must learn to band together if they are to save their home from war. This is the first book in a three-book series called the Potluck Yarn Trilogy. There is a companion pattern book and kits that fans can order so that they can knit the garments from the book. You can learn more about Cheryl’s books, yarns and kits at www.potluckyarn.com and www.cherryyarn.com