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The Yarn Lady

West Ashley Neighbors: Robin Tannenbaum

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March 20, 2013
By Lisa Weatherwax
Contributing Writer

West Ashley resident Robin Tannenbaum is a very fortunate woman. She’s innately creative.

Born in Elmont, New York to Eve and Bernie Bleicher, Tannenbaum was about 8 years old when she spied a basic how-to-knit book in a store. An only child, whose friends lived on the other side of town, she needed a way to amuse herself, since most of the time, “it was just my mother, father, my grandmother [Rose] and me,” says Tannenbaum. Dolls and toys proved boring without playmates, so she put her brain and hands to work. She knit a bright orange woolen vest, teaching herself from the book’s instructions. Now, her childhood hobby includes crochet, is bringing others to the craft, and she’s making plenty of friends. And lately, the colorful ruffle scarves she’s been knitting have attracted growing attention.

“She’s onto something,” says Judith Allen, adjunct professor at the College of Charleston. “Whenever I wear one, everyone asks, ‘Where can I get one?’” The scarves have a unique spiral shape, are becoming popular with her students in the Art Management Program, are fun to look at, and fun to wear, Allen says. She finally urged Tannenbaum to get business cards. “I ordered six as Christmas gifts,” she added. “Robin is extremely talented, and very committed,” says Allen. “She is sweet and loving, and she’ll teach you if you want to learn.”

Over summer break, Tannenbaum’s neighbor, 15-year-old Kelsie Daisley, learned how to build a chain stitch without using a hook. Tannenbaum calls it “finger crochet.”

She also taught Robin Daisley, Kelsie’s mother. They started systematically, with single, double, and half-double crochet. Soon, Daisley was adept, and by the holidays she was prepared. “I made my daughter, Kelsie, a hat,” says Daisley. “How nice to be able to say, ‘I made this for you,’” she adds. “And at Christmas, my aunt, uncle, mom and dad – they all got scarves. My cousins’ little girls got purses,” says Daisley, proud of her homemade gifts. She loves a purple scarf, edged in silver, that Tannebaum gave her. “Since I don’t wear necklaces, it brings a bit of bling to the neckline, and is a nice way to dress up an outfit,” says Daisley.

In the future, Tannenbaum is going to stock up on pink yarn, because next October, she wants to be prepared to sell scarves for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Tannenbaum lost her mother to breast cancer in 1989. Her mother was a professional seamstress, who ran her own alteration business from home, so she could simultaneously raise her daughter. “That was kind of cool, when you think about it,” says Tannenbaum quietly. Naturally, “it got a little tough, sometimes, with just the two of us at home. We got into it a lot,” says Tannenbaum. But how she misses her mom! Tannenbaum did not reach her mother’s skill level at sewing, but the desire to create was instilled.

Above her sewing machine is a long rectangular wooden frame that holds her mother’s spools of thread, artfully displayed above a window, where a valance would ordinarily hang. Tannenbaum has a serious crafter’s room, with every type of media available, including beads, buttons, ribbon, and embroidery hoops in many sizes. From the ceiling dangles a bird house she adorned with jewel-colored beads. In another room is a stunning butterfly needlepoint that represents hours of work. And in the guest spare room is a closet packed with plastic bins of yarn, all colors.

It’s a misperception that only women knit, or crochet, says Tannenbaum. “It’s become modernized.” She taught one of her sons, and he eased some college exam stress by crocheting afghan squares. The rhythmic, repetitive motion is comforting, she says. Another man in Tannenbaum’s neighborhood said he once learned to knit, but admits, “My potholder just got wider and wider and lost its square shape completely!” So the craft takes a bit of finesse.

Since moving from the chilly New Jersey area to Charleston, Tannenbaum and her husband, Marc, are relishing the Lowcountry lifestyle, especially with its art-friendly atmosphere. They attend many craft shows, and perhaps you’ll see her at one of them, selling her scarves. That is, if “Marc doesn’t hog the entire table!” she says. Her husband makes and sells intricate wooden tops and pens at the historic Charleston City Market. They banter, but Marc is clearly proud of her. “If she gets into it, as much as I get into my hobby, she would blow me out of the water. She’s very talented,” Marc says. The Tannenbaums met friends at a restaurant recently, “and Robin was showing them her scarves,” Marc adds. “Then the waitress came over and also asked to buy one.” Meanwhile, a local beauty salon, Charmaine’s Hair Designs on Highway 61, is showcasing her work. If Robin keeps up like this, Marc laughs, “I’ll be able to retire soon!

For more information, contact Robin Tannenbaum at fonemom@hotmail.com

Journalist Lisa Weatherwax is a West Ashley resident who earned the Promise of Excellence Matrix Table Award in Seattle, WA for her work as a community writer. Contact her at weatherwaxwrites@aol.com

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