Kamaca Champion wearing her Miss Purl party shawl.
Kamaca Champion had a dream. She wanted to open a yarn store that would serve Chicago’s South Side and enhance a sense of community there. But it would take her years to realize the dream that would become Miss Purl.
The Start of a Dream
Champion grew up in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago. An aunt taught her to crochet at age 9. As an adult, she took a trip with her husband to California. While he was working, she took a “learn to knit” class at a Michaels store in Santa Monica. Now she really had the bug!
Back in Chicago, she realized that all the yarn shops were on the north side or in the suburbs. At Nina Chicago, she shared her idea of opening a South Side shop with the owner, who was very encouraging.
Champion went to work. Her degree was in communications, not business, so she took business classes at the Women’s Business Development Center. She learned about P&Ls and business plans. Her research showed that her start-up costs were going to be around $70,000, which was completely out of the question for her family at that time. She had to put the dream aside.
Time Goes By
Family life became her focus. She became a stay-at-home mom, with two children spaced years apart. When her youngest child when to preschool, she got a part-time job and started saving the money she made.
She was working for a communications firm, talking about equity and what makes up resilient communities. One of the aspects of a resilient community is having an outlet for artists and creatives. This was the impetus she needed to update her business plan and start looking for a South Side property to serve South Side residents.
Left: The inside of Miss Purl in Chicago. Right: Showing off some newly cast-on knits.
A Dream Revived
Staying true to her vision was difficult. Family and friends questioned her plans, and she herself was often unsure that she was doing the right thing.
It was challenging to find hard numbers. How much inventory did she need? The yarn companies she talked to gave figures that were still out of reach for a start-up. How much square footage should she look for? What should she stock? Her mentor at Nina Chicago gave advice and support throughout, but ultimately it was up to Champion to make the decisions and build the story of the Miss Purl brand.
Eventually she leased a space at 1824 West 95th Street in Chicago. With help from family and friends, they painted, built, and generally re-built the space to fit her vision of a yarn store.
Miss Purl Chicago
Why the name “Miss Purl”? “Miss” is the respectful title that certain communities give their elders. “Miss Cora” might be your Sunday School teacher and “Miss Alice” your mother’s best friend. Purl is the back side of a knit stitch, but sometimes “it’s the ones in the back that are holding everything together” and local yarn shops can hold a community together, according to Champion.
The store’s mission is “craft every fiber of your being.” Nostalgia and community are the themes at Miss Purl. The register is behind a bar; bar stools encourage customers to sit at the bar. There are vintage couches, and a dedicated classroom.
Miss Purl offeres a diverse Community atmosphere to Chicago’s South Side.
The space is not overcrowded, allowing customers space to think. The inventory is carefully curated. It’s a mix of about 50% commercial yarns from companies like Berroco, Noro, Cascade and Blue Sky. Lion Brand yarns provide an accessible price point for customers. The other 50% are small batch hand dyers that you typically won’t find in other stores: Julie Asselin, Old Rusted Chair, Distortian Fibers, and others.
Since opening a year ago, Miss Purl has met with a warm reception, confirming that Champion’s instincts were right. Her customers are mostly crocheters, along with some knitters. South Side residents are mostly Black and Brown, but because Miss Purl is near a main rail line and a Metro station, customers also come from other parts of the city. There is a good mix of new and experienced crafters.
The shop offer beginning knitting and crochet classes, as well as occasional classes in other topics like Shop My Stash. As part of the community mission, customers have donated yarn and participated in a number of outreach projects.
The Realities of Yarn Shop Ownership
At this point, Champion is the sole employee, other than her husband (“Mr. Purl”), who sometimes helps out. She does all the bookkeeping, marketing and purchasing herself. When she becomes overwhelmed, she reminds herself that this is what she is meant to do. She hopes to be able to hire help in the near future.
Left/top: Seniors enjoy drop in knitting at Miss Purl. Right/bottom: Shelves of yarn at Miss Purl.
The Miss Purl label has become not only the name of the store, but the public identity of the owner. This was an intentional choice to protect the personal identities of the family.
Thanks to Champion’s communications background, Miss Purl Chicago has a strong and active social media presence on Instagram. Through that channel, you can really get the sense of the community and fellowship engendered by Miss Purl herself. Champion says that comes from being genuine, speaking about something you are passionate about. That enthusiasm shines through her public presence.
A Dream Realized
Miss Purl Chicago has become a creative gathering place for South Side residents. Champion stresses that “leaving room for others to help” and remaining true to your dream can bear fruit. The journey of 17 years from the seed of an idea to the opening of a store gave her time to think about what was important to her. In her own words,
My advice, whether stitching a pattern, thinking about a project or preparing to make a leap is to make sure whatever you are doing is really “you.” Yes, take an idea or a concept but then take it a step further by putting yourself and your own context in it, your way…In so doing, our projects become a cumulation of our life instead of isolated events. Miss Purl isn’t about just the business plan 17 years ago. The life of the store is about all the life I lived in between. That’s what has made it so hard to succinctly articulate how it came to be – because Miss Purl is kind of like Seinfeld in that way – a story about series of everyday steps.
Edie Eckman is a knit and crochet author, designer, teacher, blogger and technical editor. Since Covid-19 has kept us home, she has successfully made the transition to online teaching. Find her at edieeckman.com.