Q: Altman’s Needlearts is such an unusual store, with so many yarns, tools, and finished products. There’s nothing like it for many miles. How did you get into needle arts?
A: I got into needle arts when I was a tiny kid, because I always loved to make things, but that wasn’t how I made my living. I was a production designer in film and an interior designer. I had my own company for 35 years. My interior design specialty was renovating brownstones, particularly the kitchens, bathrooms and libraries. I studied fine art (painting) at Cal Arts and Art Center in LA, but the solitary life of an artist didn’t suit me. I really love to be around people.
Q: Film production design and interior design is an unexpected background for needle arts. What is film production design? What does that kind of designer do?
A: The production designer is the head of the art dept, and works with the director and cinematographer to create the visual elements in the film, the style, as it relates to the screenplay. I designed a film called Paris, Texas, directed by Wim Wenders, that won the Palme d’Or in 1984. That was the best art experience I ever had, a beautiful collaboration of talented people, and I’m very proud of it. That’s what my daughter does now. She designs music videos, commercials and film from her base in LA.
Q: Wow that’s cool. So how did you get from a film and interior design career to needle arts shopkeeper?
A: I was living in Brooklyn, and when my daughter was two I opened a little fabric shop in Park Slope called The Sewing Circle. I loved that store so much. It was going to be a fashion shop—I love making clothes—but it evolved into a quilt shop because that’s what my customers wanted. We made a lot of quilts! It was great fun.
We had wonderful classes and there was always moms and kids in the shop, which was nice for my little one. The customers made beautiful things, and I loved seeing what they created. I loved everything about it.
After four or five years, the landlord raised the rent too much to make the store work, so I shifted back to interior design. But that experience was important because it proved that that kind of store was a perfect fit for me.
Q: How did you get from Brooklyn to Love Lane?
A: I was imported to the North Fork by my husband, Rob White. His mother was born in Mattituck in 1914, and their family goes way back. He spent a lot of time here growing up, then came here to live full time in ‘72. He was well known here because he was the editorial cartoonist for the Suffolk Times for twenty years.
When I first got here eight years ago, I was doing interior design, but that had become exhausting. I wanted a job, but there weren’t many of those here, so I made one for myself by opening my store.
Q: That’s funny—you became a shopkeeper because having your own store would be less exhausting than being an interior designer?
A: Well, yeah it really is a lot of work, but I love being a shopkeeper, so the work doesn’t feel so hard. I was inspired to open a needlearts shop because I missed the Sewing Circle so much. This time yarn seemed like a better idea, so that’s the main focus. But we do also sell notions, buttons, ribbons and different things for sewing, and embroidery and needlepoint kits for kids. I still love to sew, and I give lessons, mostly to kids after school. Teaching is one of my favorite things to do.
Q: What do you like about knitting?
A: I’ve always enjoyed knitting because it feels good. The thing about knitting that I especially like is there’s a huge range of things to make—to wear, for your house, for gifts; big things, tiny things—it’s very practical and it’s very tactile. Seeing the color and feeling the textures is soothing to me. It’s funny, but I think knitting is kind of like gardening, how the feel of the soil, the air, the colors and textures, all help release something positive and soothing. It’s all kind of magic.
Q: Love Lane is such a unique little place. Does being on Love Lane impact your business?
A: Love Lane is really important—location location as the saying goes. Drive by exposure is important, but walk by is doubly important. This street is so terrific, it’s really a little village. We have a post office, a bank, a hardware store and a barber shop, plus lots of food and wine, gifts, clothes, chocolates, flowers, toys—such diversity really makes it a whole community, and a destination. It’s so inviting and walkable. It has expanded around the corner to Pike Street, too.
The merchants here are very friendly and super supportive of each other. We have an association, and together have created First Fridays, that is kind of like a block party with food and beverage tastings and live music from spring through early fall.
For me, personally, it’s as close as I can get here to the urban village I loved in Brooklyn, and the comfort of a small town like the one I grew up in in California.
Q: Anything else we should know about Altman’s Needlearts?
A: The reason I’m here is to provide inspiration, education and great supplies. We encourage people to finish their projects and to continue learning, and are very happy to help. We have a good range of yarn, and it certainly is colorful in here! We have supplies for cross stitch and needlepoint, too. And we even have greeting cards, soaps and lotions, baskets and other things that are fun to give. But I especially like the education and encouragement part. You can’t sell encouragement, of course, but it’s really important. Helping people make their visions come true is my dream come true.