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More Than a Free Ride: Bus Time Parlayed into Future Career

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
October 29, 2008

Anyone who regularly takes Wildcat transit to or from Portsmouth knows Jane Wickey. They may not know her name but if you were to say, “You know, the woman who’s always knitting” heads would nod.

Four days a week, Wickey drives from her Stratham home to the bus stop at the Plaza 800 on Islington Street and hops the bus to Durham. She’s been riding the bus ever since she figured out what she will do when she finally retires from UNH.

And that’s what the knitting is all about.

Wickey recently opened Sweet Baby Janes, a Hampton Falls boutique where she sells custom-designed knit baby hats that look like fruits or animals or flowers, with bootees or mittens to match. Creating the one-of-a-kind sets is something she discovered she had an eye for when she began looking at how she would spent the second half of her life.

“Somewhere around mid-life you start thinking toward retirement and being able to do what you love; what you’ve always dreamed of doing,” says Wickey, an academic counselor at the Advising and Career Center. “I knew I wanted to be my own boss but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do beyond that so I started thinking about the things I’d done in my 20s.”

One of those things was knitting. After learning as a girl from her mother, she took classes when she was in her 20s during what she calls her “creative period” when she also began to paint, do embroidery and macramé.

Time passed; she got married; had a child and was busy working at UNH and raising a family. Every winter, Wickey pulled out her knitting, making afghans and hats, and then put it away again come spring. About a year ago, she began her quest for a second career and her seasonal knitting changed to year-round.  

“I thought, ‘okay, I do hats, what would sell?’ And then it came to me: babies. So, I started playing with yarns and patterns and ribbons,” Wickey says. “One day, someone asked if I could do a blueberry and I said ‘I don’t know, I’ll try’ and it came out great.”

Wickey doesn’t use a pattern. After she made the blueberry hat, she found herself in the supermarket studying strawberries and slices of watermelon so she could create a realistic design.

While working on a hat on the bus (that’s part of the reason she takes the bus; so she can knit), someone asked what she was making and suggested she do a piglet. That, too, was a big hit.

“I get all these great ideas from people,” Wickey says. “That’s what’s so much fun. I’m halfway through a hat and I’m already designing the next one.”

She hadn’t really planned on opening her own storefront. But, last fall, when she and her husband bought a condo so he could have space for his private practice, the unit had an extra room that he wasn’t going to use. Wickey thought about taking it for herself but at that point, she still didn’t know what she was going to do.

Now, Sweet Baby Janes, which opened earlier this month, is full of Wickey’s hats and bootees and a line of quality blankets, books and toys. The knit items are for infants to 18 month olds and the other merchandise is suitable for children up to three years of age. For now, the shop is only open one day a week. When she retires in a few years, Wickey, who has been at UNH for almost 20 years, will expand the hours.

Until then, she’ll continue her knitting on the bus.

“I go home at night and knit. It’s my reward at the end of the day,” she says. “I work on what I started on the bus. It’s fun. That’s the big piece for me: it’s fun.”

For more information email Wickey at sweetbabyjanes@verizon.net.

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