Sunday, February 22, 2009

Knitty City

I have to thank Pearl and Phyllis from Knitty City for opening up a whole new world to me. Knitty City (208 West 79th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam, (212) 787-5896 sits near a very windy corner on the Upper West Side. The day I went there it was pouring like it hadn’t in years. I fled into the store, away from the weather. I felt like a mess: my coat was soaked, my hair stuck to my head, and I was totally rattled. Cold, windy weather is just not my thing… So I was thankful to be surrounded by warm, fuzzy yarns. I took a peek around the store while Pearl got something sorted out, and I saw many things I loved: silky Malabrigo, three-colored Misti Alpaca, cuddly soft kid-mohair by Rowan, and lots of Colinette. One table in the front had a bowl with jewelry-embellished Artyarn. If I only had the money…

When Pearl came over she introduced me to Phyllis, who writes the newsletter and maintains the store’s website.

We sat down at a small round table in the front of the store while some staff members gave knitting advice at another, larger table in the back.

Pearl had to leave shortly, so we were a bit rushed. She started by telling me that she had envisioned the store to feel as if you were in her studio or home: “inviting, with carefully chosen mismatched chairs, to work against a kind of school-room feel.” “I like artists,” Pearl continued. “My focus here is on books about knitting, and especially about knitters, but not just regular knitters.”

“We really love fiber artists,” Phyllis chimed in. “Do you know Xenobia Bailey?” I shook my head. I actually didn’t know that there even was such a thing as a knitting artist, someone who would actually be exhibited in a major museum (like Xenobia Bailey). I only knew Faith Ringgold, a quilting artist, but I had always thought she was unique. Knitty City was hosting a store party for Xenobia. “She makes tea, too!” The evening was going to be filled with tea. Everyone was to bring her favorite cup, and the store would serve up Xenobia’s wonderful African imported flavors while she talked about her work.

Phyllis continued. “There’s also Kathy Goldner(author of the Knitting Out Loud audio books), and Sabrina Gschwandtner, who wrote the book Knit Knit--do you know it?" I didn’t. "It’s right here. Sabrina will be here February 21st." I leafed through the book and saw knitted mushrooms, tiny knitted boots, and gigantic knitting needles held by two actual bulldozers. Given my frame of mind that day, this was about all the information I could handle, so I asked Pearl and Phyllis my seven questions (or rather six, because I forgot one) before Pearl ran out the door.

Me: When did you open your store?

Pearl: We opened in January, 3 years ago. We actually knitted a cake for our anniversary. Did you see it in the window?

Me: How did you choose this location?

Pearl: I knew people in the building who told me the space was available. I feel this is a great community for knitting. People in this neighborhood love books, and we carry a good selection (she even carries a Japanese book—written in Japanese—with thousands of graphed stitch patterns).

Me: Who are your staff?

Pearl: We have a large staff. (I can attest to that. When I was there, there were at least 5 people working in the store.) Some of them were with us from day one. Very few people have left. I think it’s about 10-11 people.

Phyllis: I write the newsletter and maintain the website, and Aryn [photo above] is in charge of the Ravelry group. We also have a Google group that has over 1400 members. We want the store to be an artistic resource. We book people who are fiber artists, writers of knitting books, and sometimes artists from other fields who knit.

Me: What kind of classes do you teach?

Pearl: We teach beginning knit workshops, beginning crochet, sock classes, lace classes, knitting for babies…there will also be a double knitting workshop with Alasdair Post-Quinn (where you learn to knit so that both sides of your knitting look great).

Phyllis: Our website has a detailed calendar.

Me: Who makes your store samples?

Pearl: Everyone contributes--mostly people who work here. They get the yarn for free and take home the sample after it has been displayed. Sometimes yarn companies send us samples as well.

Me: What got you into yarns?

Pearl: I had enough of a stash thirty years ago to open a store. I started with Barbara Walker’s book when I was pregnant, and made an afghan out of all these squares. I actually had just gone back to making those squares when I opened the store, except this time I didn’t make an afghan out of them. We’ve had great customers. Word of mouth has been great for us!

My phone rang. It was my husband: “Honey, are you coming to yoga class today? It’s already 12:15. Where are you?” WHAT? I dashed out the door into the pouring rain and grabbed a bus (that is, after I scooped up a bunch of yarn, needles and a bar of chocolate, which I was very thankful for).

When I got home that evening my head was still spinning from all the art talk. I started surfing on the net and discovered some truly mind-boggling work. Xenobia Bailey for one is an amazing artist, and so are her friends. Her blog led me to Nick Cave (not the musician, but the dancer/fiber artist), and my world is not the same anymore. Go visit Xenobia’s blog, or look at this youtube video, and you’ll know what I mean…

So thank you Pearl and Phyllis, for this wonderful new world I am entering.

p.s: I am sorry that I did not get to post this piece before some of the events mentioned here (blame it on my kids :-) ), but for those of you who would like to meet Xenobia Bailey, she will be celebrating her birthday at Knitty City in a few weeks…

There is also a reading coming up with Franklin Habit, author if "It Itches, a stash of knitting cartoons", which promises lots of laughter.


regina said...

Thanks for this thoughtful review. I love this store, and patronize it as often as my budget will allow! One question: do you mean Barbara Walker? Or Elizabeth Zimmermann? To my knowledge, there's no Elisabeth Walker who writes knitting books, but both Barbara Walker and EZ are quite famous in the knitting world. There are also a number of other fiber artists whom you might want to check out: Althea Crome, Sara Lamb, Deb Menz, Sarah Swett, Michelle Loughlin, etc.

Sinje Ollen said...

Thank you Gina, for pointing this out to me. I'll check with Pearl (I grew up in Germany, so American knitting literature is not yet that familiar to me)... Also thank you for the fiber artist names. :-)

Von said...

Beautiful, but doesn't she crochet, not knit?

Sinje Ollen said...

Yes, she crochets. I fixed it. I'm still working from my blackberry (my internet is down) so I can't proofread the way I usually do. Thank you for mentioning it.


Anonymous said...

I was in the store for the Tea Party hosted for Zenobia Bailey. I was like a drug addict and all the yarn were drugs. It was so hard to sit amongst so many colors and textures. I was not there to shop but will definitely return for a major purchase.