Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.

New Feature: Where to shop

Some colorful yarn found at What’s Needlin’ Ewe, a yarn shop in Mount Airy, N.C./ All photos by E.A. Seagraves

Go check out my feature on What’s Needlin’ Ewe, a Mount Airy, N.C., yarn shop owned by mother and daughter duo, Sharon and Natalie Johnson, on my blog Small Travels and Musings.

Where to Shop: What’s Needlin’ Ewe

Some colorful yarn found at What’s Needlin’ Ewe, a yarn shop in Mount Airy, N.C./ All photos by E.A. Seagraves

Mount Airy, N.C. is a destination for many folks, especially those wanting to see the city the fictional town of Mayberry, made famous in “The Andy Griffith Show,” was supposedly modeled after.

One of my favorite places to visit is What’s Needlin’ Ewe, owned by mother and daughter duo, Sharon and Natalie Johnson, natives of Mount Airy.

Sharon Johnson adjusts some yarn in a suitcase she found at a thrift store and had refurbished.

What it is
What’s Needlin’ Ewe is a new yarn shop, celebrating its sixth month anniversary this Sunday. Happy anniversary, Sharon and Natalie!
The walls of the shop are lined with fluffy yarn balls of color and needles. Some of the yarns are so soft, you’d want to fill a bathtub full and climb in.
A couch and a table with chairs make a comfortable place for knitting gab sessions and classes.
On my visit for the interview, several spinners sat in a far corner. Not only does Natalie knit and crochet, she spins and dyes yarn. “I don’t know how to weave, but I want to learn,” she said. The shop recently hosted the Spin Off Fiber Guild of Winston-Salem.
Sharon is a knitter. “I can crochet, but it’s not my cup of tea.” She’s been knitting since a neighbor taught her how when she was 12.
Although Sharon taught Natalie some of the basics, Natalie is mostly self-taught and started dabbling in fiber arts when she was 10.
Natalie Johnson and son, Parker, 11 months, do a little spinning.
The Back Story
“This was on our bucket list,” Sharon said when asked how What’s Needlin’ Ewe got started.
“I knew we had talked about it, but I didn’t think it would be something we’d actually do,” Natalie said. She was 9 months pregnant last March when they decided to open the store.
“I sat down and said, ‘Let’s do it and stop talking about it,'” Sharon said. They researched yarn shops “from here to Colorado” picking out the elements of each shop that they liked.
Knit-N-Purl of Myrtle Beach, S.C., became their inspiration and model. “I said, ‘This is it,'” Sharon recalled when she first walked into the store. “We felt welcome. It was homey. We walked in at 5:55 p.m. and the store closes at 6 p.m. But they said for us to come on in.”
The Johnsons credit the South Carolina business with providing a lot of advice and tips on their business plan. “They’re very open and wonderful people,” Sharon said.
With their own shop, Sharon and Natalie strive to create a welcoming atmosphere where knitters of all levels can feel free to come in, sit and knit.
Sharon admits their customer base is not what they expected. “We thought we’d get people already knitting, but we found more of our audience is people who didn’t know anything.
“Some (people) come in here and don’t know what a knitting needle is, but want to look around,” Sharon said. “They say, ‘It’s so pretty in here.'”
Because of this, the yarn shop’s first advanced knitters classes didn’t draw any participates. So they went back to the drawing board and offered more beginners classes.
Since then, Sharon said they’ve built up a good group of core customers to whom they’ve taught most of their basic skills. Natalie said that core group is 30-40 people.
“We’ve been accused of classes being social time, but that’s not our fault,” Sharon said, laughing.
Plymouth Yarns are some of the products found at What’s Needlin’ Ewe.
What you can find here
Yarns: Fibra Natura, Berroco, Great Adirondack, Brown Sheep Company, Cascade, Plymouth, ArtYarns
Needles: Addi, Crystal Palace, Kollage square needles, Lantern Moon
Classes: beginners, advanced, sit and knit sessions, socks, spinning
From the Blue Ridge Parkway, head south on U.S. 52 from the Milepost 199.5 in Fancy Gap. Follow the signs to downtown Mount Airy. The store is located at 411 N. Main St., next to Leon’s Burger Express.
From the south, travel U.S. 52 North to Mount Airy. Follow the signs to downtown.
From the north, take Interstate 77 south to Mount Airy/N.C. 89. Follow the signs to downtown.
Here’s a map if you need some visual help.

Other places you can them
Besides the shop’s Web site, you can join the What’s Needlin’ Ewe group on Ravelry here.
Natalie can also be found at Knit Fit Knitting and Handpainted Socks.
Natalie also cohosts the Knitting in the Round podcast with Leslie Shelor, owner of Greenberry House, a yarn shop in Meadows of Dan, Va.
Know of any businesses, interesting people or places near the Blue Ridge Mountains and Parkway? If so, post a comment below or send me information for future feature possibilities.

Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, N.C.

Another park Chris and I discovered recently on a day trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway was the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area in Jefferson, N.C.

We stopped by there yesterday on our way to search for North Carolina’s New River State Park.

Driving up the mount, you wind through a middle class neighborhood. Toward the summit, the homes give way to an oak-chestnut forest.

There are two overlooks on the way up the mountain providing views of North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Although hazy, I could just pick out the outlines of Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, the two tallest peaks in Virginia, located in Grayson County.

The road ends in a long parking lot. Off of that a path winds through a large picnic area, which includes one covered and one handicap accessible picnic areas.

Following the path through the picnic area leads visitors to the park’s hiking trails: Summit Trail, Rhododendron Trail and Lost Province Trail. There’s also an outcrop of rock, called Luther Rock, that gives a view of the valley below on three sides.

The trails are listed as moderate to strenuous and you should except a work out, although the trails are no more than 1.1 miles. The Summit Trail is 0.3 miles, Rhododendron Trail is a 1.1 mile loop and the Lost Providence Trail is a 0.75 mile loop off of the Rhododendron Trail.

It seems that the park is a popular picnicking area for the locals. The parking lot and picnic tables were full of families. We also met lots of people along the trails and on Luther Rock.

Common plants seen along the trail are rhododendron, laurel, oak, chestnut, birch, soloman and false soloman seal, bloodroot and jewelweed.

We also discovered a few new plants we’d never seen before — a type of coreopsis we’ve never seen before, whorled loosestrife and purple-flowering raspberry.

This is a type of coreopsis.

Whorled Loosestrife
Purple-flowering Raspberry

There was plenty of wildlife to see too. We saw a groundhog, a bird that looked like a Northern bobwhite and a large chipmunk.

We met a couple who were peering through binoculars at a bird singing in a tree close to the Rhododendron Trail. I couldn’t see it, but it sounded like a towhee, a black and orange bird. According to several bird guides, towhees sound like they are saying, “pick up your tea,” with the second syllable stressed and the fourth syllable trilled.

Butterflies we saw included morning cloaks and frittilaries.

I think this would be a perfect place to go for a picnic and a short afternoon walk. But parts of the trails are strenuous. So if you have asthma or are not used to outdoor activities, just take it easy.

For more information, visit the Web site or contact the park at (336) 246-9653 or mount.jefferson@ncmail.net.

Linville Caverns and Mount Mitchell, N.C.

Our trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Gatlinburg, Tenn., led us to Linville Caverns and Mount Mitchell, both off of or near the parkway in western North Carolina.

Linville Caverns isn’t state owned, but is still a main tourist destination for the mountains.

Located in Marion, N.C., the business has a gift shop and gives guided tours inside Humpback Mountain. The caves were discovered by a local fisherman over a hundred years ago when he noticed trout swimming in and out of the bottom of the mountain. The stream flowed under the mountain and led to a cave with three levels. On level is completely submerged in water.

Guides share several local legends and tell you about the various rock formations. The cave is a constant 52 degrees, no matter the temperature outside, and water drips from the ceiling of the cave. So wear a jacket!

I’ve wanted to visit the Linville caverns and was excited for this stop on our trip. And I wasn’t disappointed. Although the tour was short (maybe 30 mins.), it was very informative and interesting. The price was reasonable – $12 for two adults. The business’ Web site lists $7. I don’t know if we got an off season discount or a discount because it was later in the day.

I don’t think I’d want to visit the caverns in the summer, however, because our guide said up to 9 tour groups may be touring at the same time. With just 5 groups walking through at the same time that day, we had to wait a few times for other groups to finish and move on or walk by us so we could continue the tour.

Next stop was Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,578 feet. The park is 1,946 acres and boasts fantastic views.

Chris and I saw some nice views, but the observation deck was closed for renovations. So I don’t think we got to experience the whole affect.

Looking in one direction we could see the valley below. Turning to the other direction, we couldn’t see the valley due to smog. I wonder if the observation deck would have made any difference.

After snapping a few pictures and strolling around the small museum, we decided we had seen enough and climbed back into our car for the final leg to Asheville, N.C., where we would stay for the night.

But, the parkway was closed between the park and Asheville, so we had to turn around and drive 11 miles north to take a detour to Asheville. That added an extra half hour onto our trip, but at least I can now say I’ve been to the highest point in the eastern part of our country.