Monday, February 16, 2009
I was apprehensive about visiting the Yarn Company on the Upper West Side (2274 Broadway @ 82nd St. 2nd floor New York, NY, 10024 212-787-7878 http://www.theyarnco.com/). Researching on the internet I had come across a number of old posts that were not very flattering to the store. When I brought this up with someone who knew the store well, she said, "Yes, they had a reputation for being unfriendly, but that's no longer the case." I walked up the long staircase, not knowing what to expect.
What I found was a large table of women, laughing, chatting, and knitting; above them lots and lots of sweaters hanging from the ceiling. Two women sat in the back room talking to a yarn supplier. Color charts were strewn around the table. I introduced myself. Julie smiled and asked me to wait five minutes while she and her business partner, Jordana, finished their order. I took pictures of the store and looked at the yarns and the samples hanging from the ceiling.
There were so many sweaters: small ones, big ones, thin ones, thick ones...
The window sills were filled with yarn from a company called "Naturwolle" (German for 'natural yarn'). Shelves with various kinds of yarns lined the walls (except for one wall full of books). I was stopped by a basket of multicolored angora (I only know angora in solids). I took out one of the skeins and held it in my hands. It felt just as soft as it looked.
"Isn't that amazing?" Julie appeared behind me. "It's such good quality." It felt like I was petting a rabbit. Julie saw me look up at all the hangers. "We specialize in making patterns for our customers," she explained. "You can come in with an idea and we will help you realize it. We'll take your measurements, plan the yarn with you, and take you through the process of making whatever you like. You can knit your sweater here (she pointed at the table of women behind us) or come back any time you need help." I knew Julie and her partner Jordana had published a series of knitting books: The Yarn Girls' Guide to... I liked their books for the simplicity and the cheerful pictures. They are great for beginners. What impressed me was that the samples in their books (as well as the store samples) were not some outlandish display of the authors' knitting abilities, but rather inviting, "do-able" pieces. The knits in the books are very pretty and very well-executed, but not intimidating. Neither was Julia or Jordana.
Granted, the store has a fast pace, which can feel intimidating, but overall the atmosphere at The Yarn Company is very inviting. After I talked to Julie, Jordana spent some time with me. Jordana teaches knitting at PS 87, a nearby public school, to a class of 1st graders, every Friday. The kids learn how to knit with very large needles and make a simple project. Jordana sits with them, guiding each of them through their scarf or purse, and helps when stitches drop. "There are more and more kids coming into the store lately," she said. "It seems like knitting is catching on with a much younger generation." The store has even been rented out for birthday parties recently, where five or six kids sit around the table, and learn how to knit. "The boys really like it, too. We see a lot more parents buying supplies to teach their kids as well."
The yarn supplier had packed up to go, so the three of us sat down for my seven questions:
Me: When did you open the store?
Jordana: We opened in July '97.
Me: What made you chose this location?
Jordana: This store was a yarn store before. It has been a yarn store for 3 generations of owners. I used to work here right after college. I studied law and worked as a lawyer for one year, but then the store came up for sale and Julie and I decided to buy it.
Julie: We met in college, and when this opportunity came, we decided to take it.
Me: When you buy yarn, what is important to you?
Julie: We mostly carry natural fibers. We care about quality, what appeals to our sensibilities, and that we have a nice mix of solids and multi-colored yarn.
Me: What kinds of classes do you teach?
Jordana: We teach beginners and finishing classes. We don't really teach advanced classes. All you really need to know is the basics. After that you can just come in and we work with you individually.
Me: Who is your staff? How long have they been working here?
Julie: Petra has worked here since the previous owner. She teaches some of the classes and keeps the store organized. Then there is Jen, who writes knitting patterns, Leslie, Malow, and Mercedes, who knits many of our samples and helps people with finishing. She's almost always here at the table helping someone out.
Me: Who makes your store samples?
Jordana: Mostly Mercedes, but we all chip in.
Me: What got you into yarns?
Julie: We learned how to knit in college, and loved it.
Me: Do people knit more or less during a recession?
Jordana: There was a huge spike in knitting about four years ago. It has tapered off in the last year or so, but things are still going strong.
I asked Jordana if I could join her during one of her class lessons at PS 87; we made plans to meet the following week. I left, feeling relieved that they were both so nice, and happy to have found another great knitting resource.