@story MARCUS COKER
@images MARCUS COKER AND NAOMI CHAMBERS
Naomi Chambers, thirty-nine, lives in Fort Smith in a house built in 1910. There are antique metal lawn chairs on her front porch, and she sits cross-legged, in her high-waisted jeans and saddle shoes. She’s crocheting, making a hair net called a snood, and it’s similar to the one she’s wearing. Her hands move with ease, loop by loop, like meditation. Crocheting is effortless for Naomi, but then again, she’s been doing it for well over twenty years. Like her vintage look, it’s something she loves, even something she’s turned into a business.
“My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was twelve. She learned from her mother,” says Naomi. “I started with bookmarks, simple things, and then ended up making baby clothes for my younger brothers and sisters.”
At that time, Naomi was living in Pennsylvania. By her mid-twenties, Naomi was married, living in Arkansas, and working in retail management. When she had her son in 2002, she was ready for a change. “I wanted to spend more time at home, so I started doing different things on my own. I sold stuff on eBay that I had crocheted, mostly vintage doll clothes.”
That’s a theme that touches most every area of Naomi’s life—vintage. From the way she combs her hair to the furniture in her den, it’s all decidedly retro. “I’ve always been interested in vintage, probably because my grandparents were the generation of the Depression, and my mom was into older movies. So when my son was younger, I was finding groups who were into vintage clothing.”
One of the things Naomi found while researching vintage was women looking for hair snoods. Snoods are hair pieces that fit over the back of a woman’s head and hold her hair in place, like a net. “Women wore them during the Civil War and Renaissance eras, but primarily in the forties. They came back big due to Gone with the Wind. During the war, women wore them for factory work, like Rosie the Riveter.”
One of the things Naomi inherited from her grandmother was a book called The Complete Guide to Modern Knitting and Crocheting. “It was always on the bookshelf when I was little,” says Naomi. The book had a pattern for snoods—called perky snoods—that seemed to be just what Naomi’s vintage friends were wanting. “I’d seen other snoods, but the quality wasn’t as good. I knew I could make them to really look authentic.”
In 2008, she found a website called Etsy, which is similar to eBay, but specializes in vintage (twenty years or older) and handmade items. “The site does a lot of promoting through Google, and other sellers can suggest your items through something called treasuries. If enough people do that, you can end up on Etsy’s front page, and your traffic will go through the roof that day. I’ve had it happen twice.”
Naomi named her shop, as well as her line of products, Arthelia’s Attic, after her great-grandmother. “Arthelia was her middle name. I never met her, but she was good at this kind of work. And since I use her supplies, which I got from my grandmother, it seemed only fitting.”
Naomi’s snoods cost twenty dollars each. Because each is slightly different, Naomi makes them as they’re ordered, spending about three hours on each one. They come in a variety of colors, and sometimes Naomi makes adjustments for girls who have shorter or longer than average hair.
So who wears snoods these days? Actually, quite a number of people. Naomi has customers in Greece, Switzerland, Germany, and the United States. Mostly, the girls are like Naomi, and love the vintage look. Others are burlesque dancers, including some of the models Naomi uses to promote her products. “One woman owned a candy store and wanted a better looking hair net for her employees,” says Naomi. “And one guy from Hawaii was putting on a show called A Jive Bomber’s Christmas and needed them for costumes. People seem to like them because the style is true to the time period.”
She estimates she’s made over 600 snoods, and she’s expanding her line to include purses. “There’s so much that’s disposable now. I think people get tired of the same-old, mass-produced stuff. People like owning something that’s not going to fall apart, something they can take care of.”
Naomi sets down the crochet hooks that used to belong to her great-grandmother and walks to her den, which also happens to be her office. The lampshades are fiberglass. There’s a picture of Shirley Temple on the wall. On a desk is Naomi’s laptop, with her Etsy page open. It seems to the perfect blend of something old and something new, a great way to mix a love of retro with modern business. And then there’s Naomi, sitting there on her antique couch in her high-waisted jeans and perky snood, looking totally hip—proof that good things never go out of style.
For snoods and more, visit etsy.com/shop/ArtheliasAttic, or Beauty’s Boutique in Fort Smith.