Story by Christina Clark
One booth stands out from the rest at the South Bend Farmer’s Market with its rainbows of colors, textures and designs on display. The booth looks more like a standalone shop. Taking in the many bundles of beautiful yarns, woven scarves, colorful knits and even fragrant soaps as one passes by, they might also notice a woman at work behind a loom.
Weaving a textile, Nancy Brenner Sinotti, owner of A Wee Bit Warped, sits behind her loom at the market happily working away. She invites people to watch her work and engages the curious in conversation as they ask about what she is working on.
Nancy is at the South Bend Farmer’s Market in her company’s booth at least three days a week — four when the market is open on Fridays.
“I’ve been here at the market for five years,” Nancy says.
She celebrated her fifth anniversary in business in September.
Her booth has grown by 8 feet since she began, and in the additional space, she has continued to bring more items, yarns and textiles in for customers to see and touch.
Pre-pandemic, Nancy would invite children and customers behind the front desk of the booth into her shop. There, they could watch her weave at her loom.
She enjoys interacting with her regular customers and meeting new ones. Whether answering questions about what she is weaving or about what she carries in her booth, her enthusiasm for the craft is catching.
“I’ve always liked fiber arts,” Nancy says. “I tell the story of when my husband and I were in West Virginia. We saw a sign for a weaving barn, and we thought, ‘We’re on vacation. We’ll go look.’”
Once inside, Nancy and her husband saw about 30 looms in the space, the largest of which was nearly the length of her market booth.
“I think the youngest person weaving was 8 years old, and there was a 40- or 50-year-old man on the great, big loom,” Nancy says. “Men, women, teenagers and kids of all ages. They’d all been taught to weave by an 80-year-old woman.”
The woman who taught the weavers was, at the time, weaving floor mats made out of plastic grocery bags.
“Everyone was laughing and having a great time,” Nancy says. “It just looked like fun.”
Nancy had studied textiles and was always interested in fiber arts. After trying her hands at it, she was hooked.
Nancy and her husband took a community class with St. Joseph County Parks, taught at Penn High School, on weaving. Her husband was the only man in the class, which caused a bit of a stir with the local news media at the time.
The class taught them the different parts of the loom and different processes during weaving.
Two years later, in 2004, Nancy had her first booth at the annual South Bend artisan market, ArtBeat.
“In 2015, I got the license to do the University of Notre Dame tartans,” Nancy says.
During the same year, she was also accepted into a group called Indiana Artisans.
“It’s hard to get into, but I got in during 2015, and that was the same year that I decided I was going to quit my full-time job,” Nancy says. “I’d been a full-time fundraiser in South Bend for 15 years, and I decided to come to the South Bend Farmer’s Market.”
Since she began her craft, and since becoming a part of Indiana Artisans, her work has taken her throughout the state. With Indiana Artisans having two locations, one in Carmel and one in French Lick, her work is viewed by a larger audience. Although her home base is South Bend, she has work displayed in Chicago as well.
“I’ve been doing art shows, mostly in Indiana, some in Michigan. I now do several in Chicago,” Nancy says. “I’m going to have seven pieces on a fashion show in Chicago in October. It’s a really cool fashion show.”
This year, the fashion show will be hosted online. In the past, the show has been hosted at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. The show she looks forward to the most features all fiber artists.
Throughout her five years in business, Nancy has added more than just 8 feet to her booth. She has added a larger variety of yarns for fiber artists to purchase. Shelves packed with different textures of handspun wools, alpaca, cashmere and more line her booth from front to back.
According to Nancy, as yarn shop owners have retired and closed their doors in the region, she has added to her shop. She said nearly half of her customers who purchase yarn from her are 30 years old or younger.
“[The yarn shops] didn’t go out of business because there was no business. There is business,” she says.
For the holidays, Nancy is excited to get new knitters, felters, weavers and crocheters ‘hooked’ on something new. She sells kits, which she said have won awards for their detailed instructions for beginners.
She also creates custom pieces to order for the holidays, if the orders are made before her fall deadline.
“I order really fine quality wool and alpaca,” Nancy says of her yarns.
She is able to order direct from suppliers for makers who want to ensure a large amount of yarn that is from the same dye as well.
From her detailed and authentic tartans, to the University of Notre Dame tartan products, to kits and handspun wools, Nancy is right at home in her shop at the South Bend Farmer’s Market.
“Learning how to knit and crochet, learning how to weave, making felted critters and jewlery, it’s just lots of fun to expand and have the space,” Nancy says. “People come in and ask where my store is, and I say, ‘you’re in it.’”