Monday, March 23, 2009


My life has been a little hectic lately, or maybe I’m just not so with it these days… Last Tuesday I forgot my cell phone on a bus while picking up my daughter from school. It all got very complicated because we don’t have a landline at home and my husband was out of town. To wake us all up on time for school the next day, I ended up using the kitchen timer and slept with the door open so I would hear it. Anyway, my phone was found, I went to pick it up the next day, and I realized that I had 1 ½ hours before Anna’s school was finished. I have been having a bit of a creative crisis this week so my first thought was to go to the park and air out. My next thought was: Yarntopia is in walking distance from here (I was at 133rd street)! As I walked down to Amsterdam and 108th looking for the store, I spotted a beautiful dress in the window of a store on the corner.

Wow, I thought. When I am done at Yarntopia, I am going to check out this clothing store. Then I looked again, and I realized the dress was knitted and crocheted. Oops! I was standing right in front of Yarntopia (974 Amserdam Avenue (SW corner of 108th Street, NY, NY 10025, 212-316-9276

I walked in and asked the woman behind the counter if she was Dona. She was wearing another dress that I wish I had.

“I know who you are,” Dona said. “I have read your blog.” Now this was a first, and I was very flattered. Then she scolded me for not having come to her store sooner, since I do live in the neighborhood. Well, it’s actually forty blocks away, but she certainly had a point! A proud Harlem knitter should be more supportive of a Harlem yarn store. We got to talking about our days, and Dona told me that she had been in such a rush in the morning that she had actually walked out of her house wearing two different colored shoes of the same make. “I was walking here and people were looking at my feet funny,” she said. “I am used to people looking at these shoes because they are kind of different, but then I looked down and saw that I had grabbed a brown one and a purple one.”

“I used to do that intentionally!” I said. I instantly liked Dona. She is my age, but she reminds me of myself twenty years ago. Not to say that I have become an old fart, but I think my edge is a little bit dimmed these days (perhaps due to lack of sleep). Donna begged me not to put the shoes in my blog, but I couldn’t help it. I thought it looked cool, and I was so relieved to discover that I am not the only one who is frazzled enough to lose cell phones on buses.

I asked Dona how she got started and she told me that she used to be a psychiatric social worker, taking care of severely mentally ill former homeless people who were trying to reintegrate themselves into society. “I worked for a company called Pathways to Housing. The company kept the case load low so we could really develop a relationship with our clients. I started to work on my clinical social work degree but dropped out and opened the yarn store.“ What a change!

When I looked at my clock I wished I had made an appointment, as I usually do. Time was getting tight so I took a look around the store.

Yarntopia carries a wide variety of yarns: three-colored Misti Alpaca, various Malabrigo yarns, Noro Silk Garden, Blue Sky (I especially loved a Blue Sky alpaca/silk blend), LouLou, and Artyarn. You can find anything from cotton to angora; silk, merino, alpaca, cashmere, mohair—you name it. The sockyarnwall itself is something to behold. I severely stretched my yarn budget this month, so I had to be conservative, but I could not keep my hands off this beautiful silk Artyarn:

The colors were simply too beautiful! I looked at my phone again. The time frame had drifted from “calmly getting to my daughter’s school" to “I will have to rush like crazy and get there breathless”, so I asked Dona my seven questions as I ran up and down the store taking a few more pictures:

Me: When did you open the store?

Donna: 2 years ago.

Me: What made you chose this location?

Donna: This is my neighborhood and it is severely under-served. Every other store is a Duane Read or a Chase bank. There are two pottery studios, but that’s it.

Me: Who is your staff?

Donna: I’ve been jealous when I’ve read about some of the stores you cover that have a large staff. Here it’s just me and the instructors that teach my classes. I’m open from 12 a.m.-7 p.m. six days a week, except Tuesdays and Thursdays I open till 9 p.m. , so I work a lot.

Me: I don’t know how you do it! It must be a little bit like being a mom—relentless! What do you look for when you buy yarns?

Donna: I like to have a good spread between price points, fibers, textures and weight. It is actually tricky to buy yarn. If I bought only what I love I might not have much of a spread, so I am careful to buy many different textures and fibers.

Me: What kinds of classes do you teach here?

Donna: Classes range from beginners knitting and crochet to sock, lace, and children’s classes (we teach seven years and up). We are planning a knitting camp for the summer.

Me: Who designs your store samples?

Donna: I do. I used to sell my designs to some stores on the Lower East side and to Barneys. They were doing pretty well. I had samples in some nice places and they sold well. I had to stop that when I opened the store because all my time is now invested in the store itself. But I do still make the samples and I knit custom orders.

Me: I love the turquoise dress you made. It’s really beautiful. What got you into yarns?

Donna: I have been sewing since I was a little girl. My father manufactured high-end custom furniture, so there was always some beautiful fabric in the house. I started knitting 12 years ago. By then I knew what fits the body. I love textures and color. I love putting together pallets for people. It’s so much fun. We have a “show us your masterpiece” board at the door where we collect pictures of our clients’ finished pieces. I really like talking to people about their knitting.

Me: Do you feel the recession has changed how people buy yarn?

Donna: I think more people come in with a plan now. They are searching for things that speak to them. Most people are doing smaller projects like hats, gloves, or scarves.

Before I left I put my foot in my mouth. My father used to say “you talk, then act, then think…” Well, sometimes that is actually true. I complained to Donna that there are no entirely male pattern books out there, and of course she pulled three off her shelf. One that I liked particularly is by fellow raveller Michael Del Vecchio, also known as TrickyTricot. It's called Knitting with Balls. Very cool patterns, especially the “hooded alpaca parka.” So there! I ate my words, then I ran out the door and realized that I was within walking distance of my daughter’s school. I got there on time and only slightly out of breath!

Update 5/11/2009. During my second visit, my daughter dragged me downstairs. I thought I would find a basement filled with yarn, but instead we stood in a funky party room!

"I use this for the knitting classes." Dona said. "I also rent it out for parties, and wedding showers." Anna was ready for the party, but we had to go get a cupcake she had earned herself for being so patient.


Chrissy said...

I was really happy to "meet" Donna through your blog. I just opened the first Pathways to Housing program in Philly, and I knit and spin, love all things yarn related, and wish I could open my own shop. Its a small world.

Susie said...

Isn't this a lovely store? And Donna is sweet and very knowledgeable. Your reviews are right on point!

cici said...

what a great post.I love the interview. I really enjoyed reading it. The photo are also good.I hope things smooth out for you soon♥

Narwhal Love said...

Hi there! Thanks to your blog, I visited Yarntopia today and met Donna, who was lovely. She holds a knitting group on Tuesday evenings, if anyone wants to go! I walked out with 3 skeins of yarn... couldn't resist.