Nickel City Gritty: West Side Stitchery
One of my all-time favorite things about the holiday season would have to be artisan shows. It’s always a tradition for myself and my mom to attend all of the maker’s shows in Buffalo and get most of our Christmas shopping done. I love giving people gifts that are locally made, different than anything you’ll find in the stores, and support those who live in the WNY community. And, of course, I’ll always find one, or two, or three special things for myself.
One show that I’m really looking forward to attending is the Buffalo Women’s Gifts happening on Saturday, November 24th from 10am-6pm at Asbury Hall. This show is run by the three amazing women who make up West Side Stitchery: Jillian Nowak, Heather Nowak, and Carlene Derkovitz. I’ve been a huge fan of West Side Stitchery’s products for a while now. They hand knit and crochet beautiful hats and scarves and have recently branched out into cross stitching. I sat down with Jillian, Heather, and Carlene recently at Remedy House to talk about Buffalo Women’s Gifts, their business, their friendship, and their absolute love of yarn.
Check out their playlist while you read their interview!
This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Heather, Jillian and Carlene of West Side Stitchery.
Tell me about how you got involved in the Buffalo Women’s Gifts event.
Heather: Two years ago we signed up to be a part of it, we knew that it was a great event and it had a twenty year history, and we really didn’t think anything of it- it was another opportunity to sell things and to be together and do what we do. About a month after the event they contacted us. They bought a very specific cross stitch that Jillian made, and I think it let them know how we feel politically and how we feel about other things, so they told us that they felt, for whatever reason, that we would be good to take over the event. What was the embroidery?
Jillian: It said “My body my choice.”
H: And I was openly breastfeeding at the event!
Carlene: And I was just being a bitch, so we were all real! *laughs*
J: I had just started embroidery so I was really playing with the political ones, and we knew it was women’s gifts, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to use as a forum.
H: So we met with the women who ran the event and they said that they were ready to retire and they wanted the legacy to live on and asked us if we wanted to do it, and I’ve never done an event like that before, but we said that we’d do it.
C: I don’t think we really knew what we were getting ourselves into! It wasn’t until a month into it when we kept meeting with them and we had all of the information to go over and were like, oh, we have to do this? Oh, okay.
J: They gave us their old floor plans and it was a lot of hand holding in the beginning in the first month, but I think they recognized during the transition that it needed a younger feel to it. They’ve been doing the same thing since the 90’s, but I think they kind of saw that it was time for something new and different.
C: Just to breathe new life into it. Turn it into more of a party than just a craft show.
J: We’re still trying to maintain that legacy but add a lot more to it, like in terms of diversity - racial, religious, age diversity. We’re also bringing in new and different performers, stuff that people aren’t expecting.
How did West Side Stitchery get started?
H: So during the November storm when everything was shut down and we had a lot of snow days, that’s when we kind of paired up and spent a lot of time together. And we also lived two doors down from each other.
J: Carlene and I were roommates, and we didn’t really know each other that well when we moved in with each other, we knew each other through mutual friends. We would knit in secret, because it’s not something that a 23 year old girl normally likes. I don’t even remember how we found out we both liked knitting.
C: We had two couches, and we were both horizontal and hung over from going out the night before and started doing this, and we were like, “You know what, it’s fun sharing this with you, let’s share this with other people and see if our friends want some hats!” And Heather actually became our first customer.
H: And I’m actually really competitive and don’t want to be left out of anything, so I was like, “Oh yeah, you’re going to do this without me? I’m gonna YouTube this.”
J: Our first hat was called the Heather hat and we made it for her.
C: She went to the Queen City Market and bought some yarn and brought it over and asked us if we could make her a hat. To this day it’s one of our best sellers.
J: And then the York Street beanie is named after the street we lived on.
Describe your personal style.
H: We talk about it a lot that we always wear black. We do try to dress uniformly. I feel like everything that I have is almost like a costume. Like, when I go to work it’s my teacher costume, when I’m here it’s my Stitchery costume, all black and leather. I grew up in a dance studio and doing theater and everything is very costume based. Even before we had West Side Stitchery, we worked to create mermaid costumes and that’s when we realized that we were really into making things together, so I think for me every time I get dressed I think about what costume I’m wearing.
J: I think with the black, a lot of our stuff is very colorful, so like on a black background it really stands out.
C: Believed it or not, we don’t want to steal the show.
J: I do not wear costumes, I just try to get out of bed at a reasonable hour and try not to be covered in cat hair.
What are some small things that make your day better?
C: Yarn and coffee.
H: And music. When I’m on my way to work I have my coffee and I’m listening to music and that sets me up for the day.
C: It really is yarn for me. I work full time and I go to school part time so I’m driving from work to school and I maybe have 45 minutes in between and I’m in my car knitting for like 20 minutes. If I didn’t have that I would go in and be absolutely insane.
J: I think every person I’ve known has struggled with some kind of anxiety or stress and I feel like knitting is really well known for its stress relief, so there’s something to that. It just gets you through some of the most stressful times.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
H: Her dad actually has always taught both Jill and James that it’s about the people in your life, it’s not about anything else but it’s about the relationships that you build. I’m very introverted and I’m kind of a loner, so I feel like before I met them I always did my own thing by myself, but since meeting them I’ve realized that yeah, it’s about the relationships. I could never do West Side Stitchery by myself, it wouldn’t feel the same at all and it would look a lot different.
J: For sure, I would have nothing to sell!
C: Now you see, that’s what your dad says. I have an uncle who says, “beer is an acquired taste so you might as well acquire a taste for cheap beer” so that’s the only thing that comes to mind. That’s the only advice I’ve been given in life!
J: My dad also instilled in us that if we commit to something, we have to really commit to it. You don’t get to back out. So when you take something on, you’re doing it.
If a theme song played every time you entered the room, what would it be?
J: James Laid.
H: Yeah and I feel like that may be a Buffalo thing but it’s like, “Oh you like that song? Oh my god!” So it’s definitely James Laid.
What is your spirit animal?
H: We’ve talked about recently that our next tattoo is gonna be cheetahs or a panther eating an ice cream cone, so I feel like my spirit animal would be like a wild animal that has sort of been tamed for the benefit of everybody else but deep inside is still pretty wild.
C: I am a straight up trash panda. I feel like nobody wants raccoons around but there I am *laughs*
H: I didn’t know what you meant by that but I figured that I just wasn’t young enough to get the reference!
What topic could you spend hours talking about?
H: Definitely yarn, and patterns.
C: Jill and I used to have multiple conversations when we first started doing this, and we were still going out on Saturday nights and crocheting on Sundays, and we would be at the Pink on Saturday talking about our favorite crochet stitches.
J: We’d be in the corner talking about which stitches we were using!
What’s on your playlist?
H: I’m really into Sophie Tucker.
J: I’m a very big Tragically Hip fan.
C: If you’re from Buffalo you have to be. I really don’t know how to answer this question because my playlist is so diverse and random. It’s got 90’s R&B to Led Zeppelin to James Laid and everything in between.
H: Our favorite karaoke song is Closer by Nine Inch Nails.
What are some of your favorite bars or restaurants in Buffalo?
C: Remedy House.
H: Remedy House we love, it’s where we come to do business.
C: We either have coffee, tea, or Negronis, depending on how much work we have to do and what the week’s been like and they let us stay here until they have to kick us out at ten o’clock, which they always do.
H: We like to give a nod to Hotel Henry, and we feel like we would have been there at some point if it was a different time.
J: It’s such a beautiful space. We’ve done shows there and the food is fantastic. But usually when we go out, it’s the trashier the better.
C: So, I’ll go for one of two things. I’ll go to Vera and stay there until we should definitely go home, but then I’ll be like no and go to The Pink or some divey bar.
If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with your extra time?
H: I would read. I guess, you know what’s sad about knitting is that I have to choose between knitting and reading which sounds awful. I kind of miss reading.
C: Like, you could get audio books but it’s not the same thing. I would maybe exercise for once in my life.
J: I wish I could invent a way to knit and run.
If you could have one super power, what would it be?
H: Go back in time and erase thing that I said, like immediately. I wish I could leave a social situation, go back in time and be able to analyze it and erase certain things. Go back, edit, and move on. Time travel, I guess.
C: I would like to be invisible because whenever I’m wearing my glasses and I start to people watch, I quickly realize that I’m not wearing my sunglasses. If I was invisible, I could do whatever I wanted and laugh when I want to and nobody could hear me, that would be great.
J: I would want to be able to create resources indefinitely.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
H: That was the hardest for me when I looked at all your questions.
J: I want to be retired with health care.
C: I’m just honored to be asked when I grow up because that means that I still have time. It’s okay that I don’t have it figured out yet.
H: I really kind of want to freeze time and enjoy it more. There’s never enough time to experience all of the things that I want to experience with people. So I guess when I grow up I want the same life, I just want to be a little bit more zen. I think that comes with experience and age.
C: Ever since my sister and I were kids we had relatives and friends and would go to their cabins. I want to get to the point where I can separate myself and get to a cottage and be in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and that’s the end goal. Just a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of it all.
J: I think we’d all value that a lot.