You don’t have to travel far in Amarillo to find a business transformed by the pandemic. Some changes, of course, were painfully negative. Others, as revealed in this issue, ended up being surprisingly positive. But one of the most dramatic and unexpected transformations becomes clear the moment you step into Marcella’s of Amarillo.
Located in Wolflin Village for two decades, the former Marcella’s Furs & Leather—the business simplified its name last year—is no longer just a shop selling high-end clothing and accessories. Since October of last year, a major portion of its interior has been dominated by another luxury product: yarn.
Marcella’s now shares space with a knitting business. And business is good.
Marcie Rea owns both Marcella’s and the new Papillon Knittery. The yarn side of her venture has become a knitter’s paradise, stocked with highly sought-after alpaca and sheep fibers, bamboo knitting needles and other specialty products. Rea has always sold furs from all over the world, and now she imports yarns from places like Japan, Norway and Turkey.
“I specifically chose knitting because we have always carried natural fibers within the [Marcella’s] store,” Rea says. “Not just fur coats, but also cashmere and precious fibers. I had been thinking about the idea for more than a year, but when COVID hit, that solidified it.”
People were stuck at home, and like everyone else, Rea found herself longing for community. “I wanted to bring people together and create a space for artisans. Knitters like to be around each other,” she says. It just so happened that the pandemic lockdowns had elevated knitting from a grandmotherly pursuit to an activity enjoyed by a broader population.
Maybe it was the extra time created by a lack of socializing. Maybe it was the repetitive, meditative motion of the needles, which keep the hands busy even while watching TV. Maybe it was just another pandemic obsession, the next stage after sourdough bread baking and TikTok scrolling. But knitting definitely had its 2020 moment, and a new generation of people began seeking out merino wool yarn, sourcing needles made from driftwood, and teaching themselves techniques like the “longtail cast on” or the stockinette stitch method.
“People first started coming to us wanting fur pom-poms for the beanies they were knitting,” Rea says. She wasn’t a knitter herself—she still isn’t—but she saw an obvious connection between the fur products at Marcella’s and the natural, high-quality yarns that are preferable to knitting with synthetic materials. “Knitters in this area didn’t have a place to get really good yarn. They are all about natural fibers anyway, so as a furrier it seemed an obvious thing to do,” says Rea.
She came up with the name first. Papillon is French for butterfly, and the symbolism was intentional. “It’s an in-your-face COVID thing,” Rea says. “We felt like we were in a cocoon during the shutdown.” She dreamed of her business re-emerging from the pandemic “like a butterfly out of a chrysalis.”
Rea then created a website. “It took off from there,” she says. Before long, the shop was hosting a weekly, in-person knitting group, which then went virtual when cases began to surge this past fall. (The group now meets again in the store.) Rea hired Meagan Snyder, a local knitting expert, to lead classes. She partnered with Dawn Barker, an Amarillo-based artist and independent yarn dyer who’s quickly developing a national reputation for her artisanal hand-dyed wool.
“It’s brought me a new generation of customers,” says Rea. She acknowledges that younger demographics don’t often frequent the fur business, but are central to the knitting scene. “We have a saying: ‘This ain’t your grandma’s knitting,’” she says, laughing. “It’s like a fever. These are really young knitters, especially in their teens and 20s or 30s. They love creating.”
And it’s not just locals finding their way into the shop. “Just the other day a woman was traveling to California on I-40 from Minnesota. If you google ‘yarn shops,’ Papillon Knitters comes up. People going across the country stop and buy yarn here. They’re from all over the place,” she says.
The Papillon website has also fielded orders from far outside Amarillo. While Papillon and its products now take up around 40 percent of the shop’s square footage, Rea is already eyeing a new, standalone location. “It’s been the most pleasant surprise,” she says. “We determined in our hearts that we would emerge from this thing better. But I didn’t realize how good it was going to be.”
Beyond surprise, she’s inspired by the transformation. “Knitting has been around as long as the fur industry. It was considered something older people did,” she explains. “But what we have seen is a beautiful marriage of the generations coming together on this—the older people teaching the younger people, and the younger knitters are loving it. It’s a precious, precious thing we’re witnessing.”
Like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, it almost feels magical. And at the same time, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.
Sidebar: Perfect for a Pandemic
The growth of knitting during the pandemic may be more than just a fad. Research indicates that the rhythm of knitting needles—and the concentration required to manipulate them and the yarn—has a naturally relaxing, therapeutic effect. In fact, knitting is sometimes recommended by therapists for people who suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A Cardiff University survey of 3,500 knitters in the UK found that 81 percent of respondents reported feeling happier and calmer while knitting. The tactile, repetitive movement of the activity may have made it the perfect pandemic pastime.