Monday, April 27, 2009

Annie and Co

I went to Annie & Co, Knitting and Needlepoint (1325 Madison Ave--at 93rd street--New York, NY 10128 NEEDLEPOINT: Phone Toll Free 888-806-7200, 212-360-7266 Fax 212-360-0417 KNITTING: Phone Toll Free 877-289-5648, 212-289-2944 Fax 212-289-2941, on the first really nice and warm day last week. I was so happy about the weather that I took my bicycle and rode through Central Park down to Madison Avenue. Riding through Central Park is one of my favorite things to do. The streets were free of cars and the air was so clean, I felt I was drinking it. When I got to Madison Avenue, I was surprised to find myself in front of a lovely brownstone placed between two larger buildings. I had read on that Annie’s was very small. Annie’s Needlepoint is on the 2nd floor, Annie’s Knitting on the ground floor. The person who wrote on yelp must have been very confused, because Annie’s fills the entire bottom floor, and it is huge.

I had been playing phone tag with Annie. She had spoken onto my answering machine with a very lovely, welcoming voice, so I was looking forward to meeting her. When I called that day, her staff told me that she was still in and out due to some health issues, but that I should chance it. To my great disappointment, I missed her by accident (while I was downstairs, she was upstairs, and when I went upstairs, she had stepped out for lunch). So I am sorry to say that I didn’t meet her :-(

I was, however, very impressed with the store. The inventory has a broad range. Artyarns mingle with Karabella, Rowan, Misti Alpaca, Malabrigo (lace and silky merino). The entire front of the store is filled with various kinds of Colinette. I saw Brown Sheep, Great Adirondacs, Jade Saphire, and Tilly Tomas, which like some of the Artyarns has little beaded pearls. A wall filled with knitting needles stopped me in my tracks. They looked like a wall installation, perhaps a piece by Beuys…

Since Annie was not in, I sat down with Katy, the manager.

Me: When did you guys open.

Katy: We are very new--we opened in August of 2007. Annie’s Needlepoint has been here for seven years. This floor used to be a handbag store, but it moved to a new location and the owner offered Annie the space. She gladly took it and expanded to yarns.

Me: Who is your staff?

Katy: I am the manager. We have two full time employees: Elizabeth and Guggie. Marlene, Mathew, Marcia, and Claudine are here part time.

Me: How do you guys choose your yarns?

Katy: It’s a team effort. We all talk about what we like. We like to have yarns that appear in pattern books, and it is important that we can reorder easily. We look at fiber content, color, and itchiness. We like to add new things and are starting to carry smaller companies.

Me: What kinds of classes do you teach?

Katy: Mostly beginners knitting and beginners crochet. We did a class on knitted wire jewelry. We mostly do private lessons, though. Anna of Mochi Mochi Land will be teaching knitted toys in May. As people ask we look into scheduling things that are requested.

Me: Who knits your store samples?

Katy: Some are provided by the yarn companies, and some by the employees. Some are also made by customers. Because we are so new, most are from the companies, but not all of them.

Me: Since I can’t ask Annie, what got you into knitting?

Katy: I learned to knit at six. Then I crocheted. I have sewed since I was twelve, and have been doing fiber things longer than I can remember. I used to make costumes for children’s theater. I have been knitting consistently for fifteen years.

Me: Do you feel people are knitting more or less since the recession?

Katy: I feel they are knitting more. People are watching their money, but they are still making things. It seems that people are getting more creative now. There’s a little bit of a difference in how much people are purchasing, but not a huge one. Babies are still being born. People who knit with cashmere might switch to scarves instead of sweaters. Altogether I’d say there are fewer sweaters being made.

We ended the interview, and I tried to find some yarn for the edge of a mitten I have been working on, but I was so overwhelmed by the options that I ended up leaving empty handed, except for the charted Barbara Walker stitch pattern book that I had been looking for for weeks! Afterwards I went upstairs to look at Annie’s Needlepoint. Although I know next to nothing about needlepoint, I was amazed by the images hanging from the wall, and the ribbons (is that what they are called?) looked really beautiful in their shelves.

A large table in the middle looked very inviting. I was imagining women sitting around it knitting and needlepointing together.

The staff upstairs was very welcoming. The only upsetting thing was that I had missed Annie by 5 minutes.

So I swung back onto my bike and picked up a very happy child at school. She loves riding the bike as much as I do.

Monday, April 20, 2009


UPDATE 4/28/2010
STRING has moved to a new location:

33 E. 65th Street, New York, NY 10065, (212) 288 9276

First day of school after Easter vacation. I thought my daughter would be excited to see her friends, but no, she refused to get dressed, told me she could not put on her own socks, found a nearly invisible scratch and declared it was hurting so much she could not wear socks or shoes at all... After carrying her out into the rain (without socks or shoes or a coat)--her clothes stuffed into the bag that was hanging over my other shoulder--she pounded me on the head in angry sorrow... When we got to the school, her teacher told me this is not abnormal. Of course, my husband got to pick up a cheerful child after a full day of playing with her friends. I couldn't get her because I went to String (please check above for new location, (212) 288 yarn,

I almost wish I hadn’t gone, only because this store could be my ruin. I met Linda, the owner, a very warm woman whose gold framed John Lennon sun glasses went perfectly with the elegant necklace she wore. She showed me around, and I realized that I had entered a kind of “caviar bar for knitters.” Each yarn was more exquisite than the last. I had never seen so much cashmere in my life, nor touched this much :-). I have to admit, I did not know how light it is. Cashmere from a clothing store is not like cashmere you buy in a yarn store. Yarn store cashmere is much thicker, so I expected it to be heavy.

String specializes in high-end yarns, especially cashmere (in case you haven’t noticed). Linda buys the cashmere in Italy and gives it to Koigu, which dyes it into its recognizable color scheme. Artyarns, and Prism, supply some fibers to her store (some exclusively), like a cashmere and silk blend. Cashmere by Koigu? Artyarns in silk and cashmere? I thought I had gone to heaven. One company (I forget which) has dyed it in neon colors. But String also carries its own brand of cashmere. After our tour through the high-end yarns, I thought I should probably order a very tall glass of champagne (Moet perhaps?). I also thought I might move into the store.

String is located on the parlor floor of a brownstone (think very high ceilings). It looks as if it used to be someone’s apartment and feels as if you are visiting someone in their home. The back room has a round table placed in front of a marble fireplace, which I assume works, but won’t actually be turned on for obvious reasons. Samples made from Artyarns’ sequin yarn hang next to canary yellow cashmere sweaters. Children’s sweaters and dresses are placed on glass tables in the front.

Although String specializes in high-end cashmere, it also carries more “mainstream” yarns (if not to say less expensive): a nice mix of cotton/silk blends, Rowan mohair and Sublime as well as Debbie Bliss, and Blue Sky Royal Alpaca. I’m still on a yarn diet so I couldn’t go wild, but I grabbed a beautiful pink/purple/red/orange Koigu skein to make my daughter some mittens for her “show and tell” on Friday. I talked to Linda a little about her past in information technology (she worked in IT for 35 years, I for 10). She gave me a book she wrote, aptly titled “Luxury Knitting,” which only made me more determined to save some money for yarn fast. The book is filled with information on the fibers she specializes in (how to judge silk or cashmere, what to make from it, how to price it…) and has some very beautiful designs.

Before I ran back out into the rain, I asked Linda my seven questions:

Me: When did you open your store?

Linda: In 2002. We first opened on Madison between 78th and 79th and moved here about two years ago.

Me: What made you choose this location?

Linda: I wanted to be on the Upper East Side. I wanted to attract a clientele that would appreciate exquisite yarns, but I also wanted to be available for the tourists who visit the many museums up here.

Me: Who is your staff?

Linda: Lidia has been here since we opened. She is a very accomplished knitwear designer and designs our store samples. She makes patterns and adjusts sizes for people who bring in their own. She’s also an expert at finishing. She can look at any sweater and figure out how it was made. Before she worked here, she was working in the fashion district. Becky is a recent college grad. She works in the store. She has knitted for many years, worked in knitting stores before and recently interned at Vogue Knitting. Some part time staff are students who are studying design. Lisa has published in Vogue Knitting and Sauniell is a published designer who is a grad student at FIT. I have an incredible staff as you can see. I like to hire people who know what they are doing. I offer a high end product, so I believe the people who work here should reflect that, too.

Me: What do you care about when you buy yarn?

Linda: Quality. I collaborate with companies that make very high quality products. I also carry yarn from some very small companies, like handspun cashmere from Tanglewood Fiber Creations. Prism, Artyarns, and Koigu create cashmeres, silk blends, and Angora for us. But I also make sure to carry yarns that people expect to find in any regular yarn store.

Me: What kinds of classes do you teach?

Linda: We do not teach group classes. But we teach people one on one who have never knit, or who never knit lace, or who just need a refresher. If you have a question you can sit here any time and ask Lidia to help you. We are available to help you alter patterns and we give our patterns out for free with the purchase of the yarn. We host some workshops. When certain questions come up regularly from our customers, we tailor workshops to those topics. But we also have community evenings where people can mingle, like the “new moms” night we had recently. We had an OBGYN here who answered questions about being a first time mom, while everyone was knitting.

Me: Who makes your store samples?

Linda: Lidia does, and I make some. We get some samples with the yarns, but most of the samples are made by us.

Me: What got you into yarns?

Linda: I have been into yarns forever. I used to say I wanted to open a knitting store. I said it for many years, and then finally my husband said I should do it now, or never. So I retired and opened the store.

Me: Do you think people are knitting more or less during the recession?

Linda: I think people are going through their stashes more, and some people have “downgraded”. Those who used to buy pure yarns are now knitting more with blends. That said, this past December was the best December I have had since I opened the store, so I would definitely say it has increased.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter Everyone!

This week we were very busy in Connecticut:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lion Brand

Once again, I stand corrected. Initially, I thought I might skip Lion Brand Studio (34 W. 15th StreetNew York, NY 10011 Phone: 212-243-9070 altogether, given that it is not really a “yarn store”, but a company that produces yarn, and--I thought--a chain of some sort. I was expecting a kind of “Woolworth quality”, which in Germany means acrylics and other plastics in garish colors. The window, a knitted New York cityscape designed by Robyn Love--complete with pigeons, taxis, and a crocheted King Kong--finally drew me in, and I decided to get over myself and step into the studio.

(Mayor Bloomberg knitting)

(NYC skyskape)
I was in for a shock. Right behind the entrance was a beautiful display crocheted and knitted out of organic cotton (the yarn of the month). The theme was spring showers. Blue crocheted rain was dripping off of umbrellas into a knitted stream, onto amigurumi birds in a wash basin.

I asked for the manager and met Patty Lyons. She told me that the studio does carry acrylics, but that most of its inventory is natural. In fact, the store itself is made of replenishable (bamboo floor) or recycled (the counter) materials. It is lit only by low-energy light bulbs. “David insisted on being eco- friendly,” she said.

Patty introduced me to David Blumenthal, the current CEO and third generation of Blumenthals to operate the business. The company has been around since 1878 and started on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. Originally it produced yarns and shipped them out to other stores. After many years on the Lower East Side, the office moved to 15th street, where it is today. The CEO office used to be on the ground floor, but as more space became available in the building, the family bought one floor, then another, and finally the entire building. Today it houses the CEO offices, the design team, and the studio, which opened November 2008. Some of the company, including sales (if I wrote that down right), is now in NJ.

After David went back upstairs, Patty showed me around the store some more. She brought me to a corner with two computers, where customers can download free knitting patterns. The archives are extensive and can be accessed by any computer from their website as well (there are also some patterns that are not free, such as some beautiful Nicky Epstein items). We walked by a table where one of the instructors was teaching a beginners amigurumi class. “This,” Patty said, “Is our new LB Collection.”

I was looking at boxes filled with cashmere, stainless steel, cotton-bamboo, organic wool, and merino. There were no mixed colors, but the palette was quite beautiful. “It took two years to get the cashmere made,” Patty explained. “It’s Italian cashmere, not the cheaper one from China.” Given that, the low price was impressive! “It’s the Lion Brand philosophy,” Patty said, “to keep things affordable but to produce good quality at the same time.” She told me that there were over 50 yarns produced by Lion Brand, but only about 25 in the store. “The rest can be seen on these paper sticks over here,” she said. “You can order them and we will ship them straight to your house, even if you order just one ball.”

Another thing that was unusual, and is I guess the luxury of a company that produces its own yarn, was the Sample Wall.

The sample wall was also thought up by David, who wanted his customers to be able to try out the product before they buy it. Any customer can come in and wrap up a sample of any yarn they want. They can borrow a pair of knitting needles and sit and knit a swatch to find the right size needle and to try out the yarn. The store offers an extensive class schedule, including weaving and knitting with a machine. In addition to classes taught in-house, the website has free online instructions.

Once a month (at the beginning of the month) Lion Brand hosts Knit Flicks: a movie and knitting/crocheting night. Each movie that is screened has to contain at least one scene where someone knits. At the end of each month, the store is closed to women for Men’s Night. No women, not even women staff are allowed in the store...

“David loves fiber artists,” Patty continued. Aside from allowing artists such as Robyn to show their work in the window, the store gives over a large red brick wall to a different fiber artist ever couple of months. Well-known knitters such as Nicky Epstein are invited to talk about their craft (and their lives), and to show their designs. Martha Stuart has worked with the store a number of times, and the night before I came, Vogue Knitting held its Spring Fashion show at the studio.

Before I left, I asked Patty my seven questions:

Me: When did the store open?

Patty: Last November (2008).

Me: How was the location chosen?

Patty: The company was in the building already.

Me: Who is your staff?

Patty: David Blumenthal is the CEO. I am the manager, James is the assistant manager, Will teaches, and Tracy helps out with the store and teaches crocheting. Claire and Michelle knit samples and sell yarn, and are available for pattern questions. Anyone who works here has to know how to knit and crochet. Since it is a large company, there are designers and various other departments, including sales and advertising.

Me: What is important to LB when they make yarns?

Patty: We are definitely very concerned with the environment. Quality and a good value is important to us. We will always offer acrylics, but the newer yarns are more and more natural. It allows a large price range although we try to keep the entire line affordable.

Me: What kinds of classes do you teach?

Patty: We have an online tutorial that is free, and we teach a great number of classes here. Our schedule can be found online.

Me: Who makes the store samples?

Patty: The design team and some of the floor staff.

Me: I guess “What got you into yarns?” is not a necessary question since the company has been around for so many years… Well, what got YOU into yarns?

Patty: I was a stage manager. There’s a lot of downtime, so it lent itself to knitting. At some point I realized I liked knitting more than theater.

Me: Do you think things have changed because of the economy?

Patty: I think they have changed a lot, particularly here, because our yarn is so reasonable. I think people feel a connection to their family and it is something that is relaxing. When you make something with your own hands, it just is much more personal.

Me: Thanks, I’ve got to run!

I grabbed some beautiful buttons, some cashmere, and my umbrella, and headed back uptown. I felt very small (at 6 foot 1, that is quite an accomplishment), and from now on I will watch my cynical brain and gather a little bit more information before I form my opinions :-)