As spring comes to Collinstown, the village launches a food festival to draw a new group of tourists. Libby, proud owner of Y.A.R.N., has planned a yarn event to provide an alternative option to a foodie weekend. Artisan fiber dyer Julie Wilson—known for her work with animal-friendly, plant-based knitting fibers such as bamboo and hemp as well as her brilliant use of color—will hopefully draw a crowd with a special dyeing workshop.
The festival begins, but it draws more than crowds. First a flock of sheep parades down the street, herded by farmers protesting Julie’s antiwool stance. Then Julie’s celebrity chef sister appears, and the siblings resume a long-standing rivalry. Despite all this, Julie’s workshop has sold out. Libby is thrilled, and they’re preparing for a full house. But the night before the event, Julie is found alone in the warehouse event space—dead. The witty “Watch Julie Wilson Dye” workshop title now has a terrible new meaning—and it’s up to Libby to catch a crafty killer.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My best friend, Margo Payne, was watching me closely.
That's not unusual. Margo always eyes my every bite when I taste a new goody from her shop. I'm used to my role as Unofficial Treat Taster for the Perfect Slice pie shop coming with a side of scrutiny. As friendships go, it's a pretty sweet trade-off.
Margo should know she has no reason to worry. I've loved every new creation she's ever made. In fact, I love the treats in her pie shop as much as she loves the yarn in my yarn shop. It's a marvelous little circle of admiration-perhaps it's a triangle if you add in my English bulldog, Hank, who is as fond of Margo's goodies as I am. Hank may be Y.A.R.N.'s official shop mascot, but the way he stares longingly across Collin Avenue toward Margo's windows, I could make an argument that he's also the official Perfect Slice Pup.
I was sitting in my knit shop, Y.A.R.N., on a Thursday afternoon in April. Surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colorful yarns, amazing textures, and gorgeous needlework, I happily tasted delicious pie made by a good friend. I'd say this was a wonderful day, but the lovely truth is that days like this are delightfully ordinary. The gathering table at the center of my shop is often filled with good food-brought by Margo, myself, my mom, or many of my customers. I'm often surrounded by knitters who are more like friends than patrons, by the historic beauty of my hometown of Collinstown, Maryland, and by the sheer bliss of doing exactly what I think I'm here on earth to do: make beautiful things with yarn and help others do the same.
But I digress-back to the pie. I took one more bite before putting Margo out of her misery. "Relax. It's delicious."
She exhaled as if my rave was ever in question. We've been friends-true-blue-tell-it-like-it-is friends-since high school. She knows I would tell her if it didn't meet my high expectations for Margo's pies (it has never happened). I love everything she bakes, and my dress size-which, no, I will not reveal-proves it.
"How did you manage it?" I asked with my mouth full. In this particular instance, the pie was more delicious than I'd imagined.
Margo gave a victorious smile. "Gluten-free pie-well, good gluten-free pie-is no easy feat, believe me." Her brown eyes fairly beamed. "But you know how I like a challenge. And so many people are asking for gluten-free goodies these days, I wanted to have something really tasty ready for the festival."
"This definitely is really tasty." I indulged in two more bites. "You'll have gobs of customers once word gets out."
I was sure of it. While I have no such dietary restrictions, I have a handful of shop customers who complain that there are too many products out there where "gluten-free" equates to "taste-free." My recent tasting assured me Margo's pie would never be one of those.
"So are you going to go with the mini-tart free-sample thing?"
Margo and I trade clever ideas as much as we trade food and yarn. She's come up with some of the best promotions for Y.A.R.N. since it opened eight months ago. For weeks we'd been helping each other come up with ways for both our businesses to capitalize on Collinstown's upcoming big event. Thanks to the tourism acumen of town mayor Gavin Maddock, our town would be launching its first-ever See More Than Seafood Festival. The eleven days over two weekends would feature different foods to help visitors think of the region for more than crab and crab cakes.
Margo grinned. "You betcha. Bitty tarts to hand out to the first fifty customers this weekend. Then two more flavors next weekend."
"It'll work," I replied. "By the end of this-and for the rest of the season-they'll be lining up outside your door."
This festival was geared to be the early kickoff to Collinstown's tourist season. Not that we needed much in the way of manufactured publicity. Mother Nature does most of our work for us. This part of Maryland is gorgeous in the spring. Actually, it's stunning in the fall and charming at Christmas, too. Every season-not just the shellfish-gives people a reason to come to Collinstown. The beauty drew me back for a fresh start after my divorce, and it was the best decision I ever made-next to opening Y.A.R.N., of course.
I have to admit, I was skeptical of the big festival idea at first. I didn't think we needed themed weekends to tout our variety. If tourists came to Maryland for crab and such, that was fine. We'd wow them with all our other splendors once they arrived. But Gavin had slowly convinced me that the more we showed we had to offer at first, the easier it would be to entice new visitors to come for a variety of reasons. After all, I have dozens of different kinds of yarn in the shop. People come to explore and discover-why not the same for Collinstown?
So now I was pulling for Gavin to get a big win with his festival. Marketing concepts aside, we were done with a dreary March and our town felt ready to catch a fresh wave of excitement for the coming summer.
I finished off the small gluten-free coconut cream tart, not hiding my satisfied grin. "Your pies need to be part of every food festival. I mean, we can't let the restaurants have all the fun."
"You, too," Margo replied with a wink. "I'd never have thought of plant-based yarn. The cotton I figured, but all the other stuff? It's amazing. Vegan yarn-it's pure genius. How'd you ever get the idea?"
While the festival was mostly about food, I was rather proud of the way I'd devised to tie in with the event. "From a handbag, actually."
Margo raised an eyebrow. "I love a good handbag as much as the next woman, but do you want to explain that?"
"Well, you know the term 'vegan' is mostly associated with food. But it's broader than that. It applies to clothing and other industries." I held up the handbag in question, a very beautiful, very functional satchel bag in a spring-beckoning mint green.
"The day after Gavin announced his festival," I went on, "I was staring at this in a DC department store. I bought it just because I liked it, but the store clerk asked me if I was buying it because it was vegan. Some people don't like the idea of buying leather things, so things that aren't made from leather or another animal product can be considered vegan. In fact, the tag on the bag touted it as a vegan product."
Margo stared at the bag. She'd complimented me on it twice since I bought it. A superb handbag is one of life's great pleasures.
She nodded. "Makes sense. But I confess, I never thought about it that way."
"Neither had I, but it got me thinking. People don't realize yarn can be vegan, too. Sure, everyone's first thought is sheep wool or alpaca or Angora rabbits. And those are great fibers with all kinds of good qualities. But there is so much more out there. Loads of really interesting, beautiful fibers that aren't made from animal products."
"So they might come in for the wool but discover all the other stuff while they're in the shop."
"Exactly," I replied. "By the time I turned off the highway, I had the idea for a Wield More Than Wool weekend to go along with See More Than Seafood."
Always the kind of friend who is happy for anyone's success, Margo smiled and sat back in her chair. "Brilliant. I have a brilliant best friend."
I have often thought the same of Margo. "After that," I replied, "there was only one person to call. I had Julie Wilson on the phone within the hour."
Julie Wilson has been an outspoken advocate for animal-friendly, plant-based knitting fibers for the past two years. She designs patterns and imports plant-based fiber, but she is most known and loved for her gorgeous dyeing of yarn. Nobody, but nobody, creates the incredible colors she does. I'd been reading an article about her just the day before I bought that handbag. Granted, Julie treads the oh-so-thin line between aggressive and abrasive, but her work is extraordinary. Besides, I admire someone with that much passion for their message.
"And you booked her, smart you. But didn't you say she was . . . feisty?"
That was a gracious term for Julie's difficult personality. "She is."
Margo scowled. "Okay, but who needs difficult and feisty? Why would someone as nice as you bring in someone like her?"
I reached over to the counter behind me and picked up a shimmering, luxuriously drapey shawl in an indigo blue so rich, it would make most knitters weep.
"Oh." Margo fingered the luscious fiber in the same way I'd just fawned over her dessert. "That looks as good as my pie. I think I get it now."
I'd had that exact reaction when first seeing the yarn, and it only intensified once I started knitting it into the shawl Margo was now touching.
"It's a silk blend made by a Mumbai yarn company," I explained. "Their whole process is specially designed not to harm a single silkworm."
"That color. Wow."
"'Wow' is right. I already sold out the first shipment before Julie even got here."
Not that I make a habit of putting cash over courtesy, but I was hanging on to the notion that somewhere under that prickly exterior was a nice woman just waiting to come out. Really, how else could all the creative beauty flow out of that mind?
"Julie's stuff is amazing," I agreed with Margo. "And you're exactly right-not enough people know how much is out there. I've brought in all kinds of nonanimal fibers, and Julie will help me introduce people to them. So if I have my way, I'll have lines outside my shop that'll be as big as yours."
Margo packed up the little bakery box she'd brought from across the street. "And knitters have to eat. Everybody wins."
"Crocheters, too" came the call from Tina Hanson, nestled in one of the many comfy chairs scattered around my shop. "I don't suppose you've any more of those?"
Margo always brings extras for customers. Sometimes I wonder if patrons hang out in the shop for the treats as much as for the kinship of knitting or crocheting. Who cares? Either works for me.
"You can have the one that's left, but come by for more of those tiny tarts tomorrow," Margo replied. "And send all your friends."
Tina resumed her stitching. "Nobody has to ask me twice."
I share almost all of my customers with Margo. It's a nearly daily occurrence for someone to come in to Y.A.R.N. with a to-go slice of pie from across the street. And despite the full range of coffee supplies my shop assistant, Linda, keeps on hand, "coffee break" at Y.A.R.N. almost always means a trip across the street for pie to go along with that coffee. I think it's the perfect arrangement of friendship and business.
"When does Julie get here?" Margo asked.
"She was supposed to come in this morning, but her connection got delayed in Denver. She should be here in about an hour, as a matter of fact. She told me she'd call me when her rideshare crossed the bay and I'll meet her at the Riverside Inn."
I'd booked Julie the nicest suite at our local historic inn and told Bev, the manager, to ditch all the down pillows, comforters, and anything else Julie might find objectionable. Julie might be a challenge, but I was ready.
What I wasn't ready for was George Barker, someone more prickly than Julie could ever hope to be. George barged through my door just then, red-faced and stomping right in my direction. "King George" had found near-daily reasons to be annoyed with me ever since last October when I'd announced that I, a mere yarn shop owner, dared to run against him for Chamber of Commerce president. George-who isn't called "King" for his exemplary leadership-considers himself a real estate mogul. To call him an unlikable, ever-selling walking ball of ego was an understatement. Peeved was the man's standard operating mode. But I admit, he did look particularly peeved today.
"What have you done now?" he shouted, pointing furiously behind him up the street toward his office.
Honestly, some days I think George is sure he owns every square inch of Collin Avenue. He doesn't.
"I don't know, George," I said with too weary a sigh. "But I'm sure you'll tell me."
George was just pulling in a breath to launch what I'm sure was another of his diatribes when Tina gasped. "Oh, my stars!"
Tina was a lovely lady and a dear customer, so her alarm meant more to me than George's ever-present panic. When Linda added a not-so-calm "Oh, no!" from her spot behind the register, it dropped a rock into the pit of my stomach.
"You're behind this!" George accused me, still not bothering to say what "this" was. "You did this!"
Margo, who was sitting closer to the window, stood up and began walking toward the door. George was on her heels like an impatient tailgater on the DC Beltway. As she looked out my shopwindow, her expression of "there goes George again" changed immediately to startled disbelief.
"Um . . . Libby?"
As I got up from my chair, I began to notice the other people on the street I could see through the shopwindow. They were all staring in the direction of George's pointing finger and Linda's wide eyes.
I heard it before I saw it. A sound I knew, but couldn't associate with Collin Avenue. It couldn't be.
It was. A bleat.
A whole lot of bleating, in fact. And quite a few car horns. And shouting. As if a herd of . . .
By the time I reached the door, my brain tried to wrap itself around the sight that met my eyes.
For some inexplicable reason, a sizable herd of sheep was making its way down Collin Avenue.
Okay," I said, mostly to myself. I tried to draw some connection between the absurd sight and George's irritation. It didn't take long for me to connect the dots. I turned to look at George, who bore a striking resemblance to a near-boiling teakettle. "I didn't organize a sheep parade."
"You think I did this?" In all our promotional brainstorming, this idea had never come up.