Cheron Santiago-The Orlando Times
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Cheron Santiago sits in her design studio where she creates dresses, hats, masks, and more.
Using her talents in sewing, knitting, and crocheting.
GROVELAND, FL-From a young age Cheron Santiago was introduced to the world of knitting and crocheting. However, it wasn’t until she got older that she found her passion for it. Now, she owns a small business making a variety of fashionable clothing items and, due to the current pandemic, masks.
She is the oldest child of Stanley and Margie Stewart’s four children, born in the Bronx, NY. She and her siblings Tiffany, Stanley (Jay), and Jermar grew up in Brentwood, Long Island. She graduated from Brentwood Sonderling High School in 1988. During her junior and senior years, she went to a tech school where she learned data processing and was later hired by the IRS.
While growing up, she noticed her mother crocheting but didn’t take an interest in it. Nevertheless, her “old-school grandmothers and other older women” in life taught her how to sow and her Aunt Robin- who attended the Fashion Institute of Technology- taught her the importance of doing good finishing work.
It wasn’t until 1989 while she was working at the post office doing data entry that she noticed her coworker crocheting.
“I thought it was so pretty and I was curious to know about it, so I went out to store and bought a crotchet hook and an ugly hunter green and peach yarn, that was very big back then,” she laughed. “I brought it to work and she showed me how to do some stitches. I was drawn to textures and colors, if it didn’t feel good in my hands, I didn’t work with it.”
On Nov. 5, 1994 she married her husband Derek Santiago.
“She has a lot of good qualities; one is that she is very crafty, she likes to experiment and take her craft to the next level,” said her husband. “She puts her heart and love into everything that she does.”
After the tragedy of 9/11 in New York, they decided that they wanted to make their family in a different environment. Additionally, Derek wanted to start a construction company and Florida seemed like the place to accomplish both goals, so they moved to Florida in 2003.
She continued to crochet and knit, making baby booties, hats, and dresses. Her business started after the birth of her twins in 2007. She was put on bed rest and wanted to challenge herself since she was in bed all day.
“I taught myself how to read patterns and challenged myself to make clothes. Magically we have YouTube so I would watch videos, make it and take it apart until I got it right,” she said.
Her business began to grow and then the COVID19 pandemic struck. Working mainly as a school bus driver, her job was severely effected when the pandemic led schools to be shut down. One day an Instagram follower asked her about making masks. She didn’t think much of it but when she looked at masks that people were making, she thought they were ugly.
“I wouldn’t put that square thing on my face,” she said. “I saw a website that had a basic mask pattern, so I printed out and made it and I hated it. So, I played with fabric, I played with the pattern, I took away inches and added inches, I can’t tell you how much fabric I threw away because of this but I got it. My husband was my model and my sons were my models.”
She began following the medical advisories about a proper way of fitting a mask. She even began working until 3am to finish masks and get them out for free to the elderly and nurses in the area. Unfortunately, it began to cost a lot to make them and fabric was becoming scarce, so she had to charge, although she still gave the elderly a discount.
“Cheron's work is excellent. Her masks are definitely helping people stay safe,” said Shawn Murrell. “I would just like to add her customer service and response time are excellent. She will always try to find and fulfill your request.”.
A friend who ordered one of her masks came up with an idea to make them feel more comfortable by creating a strap that tied around the head instead of wrapping around the ears. She thought it was a good idea and implemented it into her design.
“I am not surprised about how good she’s doing. She’s a tremendous talent and always has been,” said Tiffany Borders, her younger sister. “She’s an amazing big sister and she’s really the complete package.”
For Cheron, comfort is the number one priority. She makes sure that her masks are vibrant, 100% cotton, and breathable. She also makes sure that she has size ranges that are comfortable for everyone. Her sport teams and superhero masks are some of her most popular.
“My motivation is the individual, my love for people. My handywork brings joys to people and it just moves me,” said Cheron. “Sometimes I stop and cry- I know that’s a little mushy. At first it was hard for me accept it because it’s something I love to do anyway. It’s not like I did it for attention, I do it because I do it with my heart.”
“Once I pulled a shoe out three times just to get it the way I like it. Even though the person didn’t notice that I put 10 hours into a 2-hour bootie, that doesn’t matter to me, what matters to me is that they love it,” she added. “Even with my masks, I think about what they must be going through and how desperate they are for these masks and I feel privileged that they come to me, it’s an honor.”
While she has the attention on her masks, she is excited to show people what else she can do. One of her newest ventures is working with vinyl, making custom onesies for babies.
“I really love her masks, they are really good quality. I have purchased other ones and they don’t come close to what she could do,” said Jessica Gonzales. “Her crocheting and knitting are also awesome.”
On Oct. 31, 1987 she was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A proclaimed “momma bear” by her husband, they have four children together: Derek (DJ), Elijah, and twins Ethan and Joshua.
“I’m thankful for the support of my family, to Jehovah for the gifts of my hands, and the support from the customers is outstanding,” she said. “My heart will always be with my first craft, which is knitting and crocheting. It’s the heart that goes into it, when you do it with heart your work is going to be impeccable.”
Cheron’s work can be purchased at www.etsy.com/shop/TheKnittyHook or on Instagram @theknittyhook.