Valentine's Day often elicits a collective grumble from husbands and boyfriends.
Not that these men don't love the special ladies in their lives, but finding the perfect gift can be stressful and seem impossible.
Michele Johnson thinks what began as her hobby could be the ideal one-size-fits-all, fun and fashionable accessory that any woman would love.
Johnson chooses funky textured yarns for the hand-knit scarves she calls Squirrel Tails. She keeps an inventory of them and will make them with the customer's choice of colors and textures, she said.
"It's nice to give a woman a custom-made thing," Johnson said. "I custom-make them for a lot of people. (When the customer chooses the yarns), they become part of the creative process. It is almost like they made it."
She prepared an inventory of Valentine's Day-inspired red, pink, violet, white, black and mixed-palette scarves.
After 12 years as a television videotape editor in Colorado and another two as marketing director at Aiken Technical College, Johnson quit working to stay at home when her daughter, Ellen, who was born in 1999.
To fight boredom after an active and successful career, she learned how to knit among other domestic arts from Anita Cockrell, a native of the Netherlands now living in Grovetown.
"I didn't know how to sew, or knit, or arrange flowers or even work a glue gun," Johnson said. "She was teaching me to be a domestic goddess."
Hats were Johnson's first attempts. The first was large enough for two people's heads, she said with a laugh.
Johnson always pictured knitting as worsted wool in drab colors with nothing more creative than an afghan until she found wacky-textured yarns with far-out names like "eyelash."
Though she enjoys being a stay-at-home mother, Johnson needed a creative outlet and something to do with the short bursts of quiet time and while watching Blue's Clues for the hundredth time.
"I am a type-A personality," Johnson said. "I can't sit still, I work best under stress. For the first year (of Ellen's life), to watch a baby lie on the floor, it was different for me. (With knitting,) I can put down and pick up no matter what stage I am at. And it's portable."
With larger than normal knitting needles to create looser stitches, Johnson can make an average 48-inch long scarf in 1 1/2 hours, she said.
"I can't work on something too long or I get bored," said Johnson, who loves being able to design a different scarf using a variety of yarns each time.
After dropping Ellen, 4, off at preschool, Johnson often makes her way to a local coffee shop with her basket of knitting supplies. People see her knitting and ask for one, she said.
Johnson began selling the scarves in August, when people would ask about them, and she would literally sell the one off her neck.
But the Squirrel Tail name for the atypical scarves just came out when a grocery clerk asked about the one she was wearing. He bought one for his girlfriend and sales grew from there.
Currently, Johnson keeps a large inventory at home for sale and sells more at Summerville Rags, at 1502 Monte Sano Ave., and The Cottage Collection at 2323 Washington Road.
"They sell real well," said Donna King, Summerville Rags co-owner.
Johnson asked her friend Sue Purcell of Grovetown to help knit the more than 100 sold during the holidays. They continue to work together, exploring new techniques and materials at craft expos, books and classes, Johnson said.
Soon, the pair plans to try felting, a technique of washing knitted wool to shrink it. Though Johnson sells lots of Squirrel Tails, she still does it because it's fun, she said.
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