Monday, June 29, 2009

P+S Fabrics

When I first moved to New York, Broadway was full of old fabric stores--one after the other. You could get lost in them for hours, or even days. One by one they gave way to boutiques: Guess, Mango, Scoop, shoe stores that sell Timberlands and Uggs... Even Canal Jeans Company closed its doors in 2002 (it has since opened back up in Brooklyn). Since I don't go to lower Broadway often, I still expect to see stores in their old locations--Pearl River, or the American Indian store that has moved at least twice. I get very confused when I suddenly see something on the other side of the street, momentarily questioning if I am going North or South. That's why I really enjoyed walking into P+S Fabrics (360 Broadway, New York, NY 10013, USA
Phone: (212) 226-1534) today, finding a little piece of the old Broadway that I used to love.

(the cash register)
Away from the hustle and bustle of tourists outside, I found some true New York characters at P+S, starting with its manager, Mark. I asked Mark if I could take pictures of the store, and he said, "Sure, no problem." (He himself was rather camera shy.) P+S has an elaborate yarn corner that stretches out on three walls.
The yarns are mostly discount, Lionbrand (basic Lionbrand, not LB collection) and Bernat, but the store is looking to expand it's selection and will be adding a few more companies from Italy and Austria. P+S is a great place for beginners who want to try their way without breaking the bank.

Aside from yarns--and fabrics, as the name suggests--you can find all kinds of useful things here: boas (synthetic and feather), a huge selection of buttons, needles of any kind (crochet, knitting, sewing, needlepoint...), pattern books, pins, memory wire (to make jewelry), beads, bag handles, fabric dye, shoulder pads, velcro in any width, zippers, pipe cleaners, felt, self-sticking felt letters, and ribbons...

...fabric paint, elastic sewing thread, needlepoint hoops, scissors, tassles, lace hems, and a huge selection of sewing threads...

Downstairs I found more fabric, upholstry, pillows, and foam. P+S is also affiliated with a store in Brooklyn that sells sewing machines.

When I finished browsing, I spent some time at the cash register, waiting to ask Mark a couple of questions. The store was pretty busy. Most of the customers were trying to bargain down the already reasonable prices. Not a problem. Although Mark was very clear on what he was willing to do (or rather not willing to do), he gave each offer consideration. At some point, one staff member approached him while he was on the phone and asked what fabric she was holding. Mark ended his call gently, saying "Wir sprechen spaeter" (Yiddish for "We'll talk later," which I understood because it is the same in German). He grabbed the cloth, lit a lighter, burnt a corner of the fabric, sniffed it, said "silk," and then handed it back to the woman. When I asked to pay for a spool of thread with my card (I had foolishly handed all my cash to my husband earlier), he waved me off and said, "Pay next time."

This is how I remember New York, and this is what I have always loved about the city. You can still find these little enclaves, almost like little kingdoms with their own rules. I asked Mark how long the store had been there, and he told me, "About 25 years." The P+S stands for Palatchik and Spiegel, two partners who originally started the store together. It has always carried fabrics and looks like it will continue to do so for another 25 years or more... As I left I wondered if I might walk out and suddenly find myself 15 years younger, on the old Broadway, in some movie where time is turned back inside of a fabric store. But the banner hanging above the exit jerked me out of my fantasy:

So I stepped back out to the stream of people, and made my way back home for dinner...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm featured on the Lionbrand Blog!

Hi Everyone,

I have two announcements:

Very exciting news! Lionbrand Studio just featured me on their blog. I used their yarn for my friend's wedding present, and brought it into the store to show it off. Patty, the Lionbrand manager, took some pictures of me in the sweater (it's a bit short on me, but the pictures show off the pattern nicely), and the store just blogged about it...

Please go and visit, it's beautifully presented.

Here is my friend Erin on her wedding day:

(The picures were taken late at night)

I also wanted to share a very beautiful design by Tanis Gray that I just finished. This is Anna with Tanis' Bartlett Cowl. I used her original pattern, but I changed the yarn and color. Because of the yarn change I added a couple of stripes to make it longer. I think Anna looks glorious, and now she can't wait for the fall so she can wear it!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Stitch And Bitch Cafe

Stitch & Bitch Café (147 W 35th Street, New York, NY 10001, Suite 807, (212) 268-4321 is located on the 8th floor of a fashion district building. I had a hard time finding it at first, because I was looking for an actual café on street level. I stood in the building staring incredulously at my piece of paper until a very friendly woman exited the elevator and used her blackberry to help me research where I needed to go. It turns out that Stitch & Bitch Café does not mean coffee and cake, but a virtual café, which is how the store started.

Greg, a partner at Sew Fast Sew Easy, which runs Stitch & Bitch Café, explained to me that the Café at the end of the name was a leftover from the time when the store was in a different location and everyone hung out and worked on either sewing or knitting projects. It was also the name of an online guest book. There was a conflict with knitting author Debbie Stroller over the use of the name, which has since been resolved. At some point, the company moved into its new office, massively increased its sewing space, and—over time—reduced its knitting and crochet space to one long shelf in the entrance room.

Although it is a small corner of yarn, the quality is very good (Punta Del Este wool, Aspen wool, Classic Elite cotton/bamboo, and Twinkle Handknits virgin wool). The selection shrinks in the summer and grows in the fall, so I saw it in the “small season”. (They also sell knitting, crocheting, and sewing needles, sewing machines, string, felt, and many other useful things for both sewing and knitting.)

Although it is not primarily a yarns store, Stitch and Bitch Cafe has a lot to offer its knitting customers. Greg showed me the sewing machines, gushing about the classes, and the principle that any $500 designer skirt can cost $50 if you make it yourself. The store has slightly altered some patterns of well known designers to make them accessible to regular sewers. This principle is very helpful for knitters as well. When I design, I often go through fashion magazines and imagine how some of the dresses would look knitted. I frequently look through my closet and measure clothes I have that I love in order to replicate them with yarn.

Sew Fast Sew Easy has published three books: All You Need To Know When You Start To Sew, Sew On, and Rip It. Rip It explains how to take existing pieces of clothing and turn them into new ones that are more trendy. There is a beautiful wrap around dress in the book Sew On which can easily be used as a pattern for knitters. Instead of cutting the fabric to the right proportions, you just have to do a little math to knit the fabric in its final shape. I love the possibilities. Greg's enthusiasm was contagious. We talked excitedly about zipper shops and accessory stores in the area. He told me that one of his students made it all the way to the fashion show of Project Runway…

I walked out, wondering if I had enough time to squeeze a sewing class into my hectic schedule. Unfortunately, the answer at this time is NO. My knitting time is the only luxury I can afford right now. My main projects are 2 and 4 years old. Anna is moving up to kindergarten in two days. I can’t believe she has already completed her first year in a regular school! My goal this week is not to cry when she walks down the aisle… :-)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mahattan Yarn Wrap Up

Whew! It looks like I finished reviewing all the Manhattan yarn stores (although I will include Knit New York when it opens again). It’s been really fun so far, and I have learned a ton! When I started this project, I was unaware of many American (and Canadian) yarns.

I did not know Artyarns (picture above), or Koigu, or Prism… It has been such a journey of discovery. I have met diverse and interesting women (and two men). I am amazed by all this creativity in our New York yarn community, from yarn store owners, to “yarn painters”, to spinners, fiber artists, knitwear designers, yarn editors, writers..., and of course to all the knitters out there, who have chosen to create a niche for themselves in this world of yarn that seems so small from the outside, yet so large when you are involved in it. I know now that you can actually make a living as a fiber artist. I have been blown away by Xenobia Bailey and Nick Cave. I have had moments of wanting to open a yarn store (only moments—it seems way too time intensive for my current life situation). At other times I wanted to go back to school so I could learn quilting, and crocheting, and sewing, and spinning, and dyeing yarn… Mostly, however, I am so impressed by these individual women (and men) who own or rent these tiny pieces of Manhattan where they try to realize their visions and display their yarns for us to enjoy and purchase. Each of their stores is as different as their personalities, but all of them are united in a mutual love of yarns.

As of next week, I will write about stores that are related to knitting but don’t carry yarns exclusively. When we knit, we often need buttons, zippers, collars, or other embellishments. We need to finish our garments, and some of the finishing tools can be found in stores that carry little or no yarn. For the adventurous knitter who wants to design his/her own stuff, or for anyone who is using a pattern that calls for embellishments, I will cover these stores before I move on to Brooklyn. My selection is only a small sample. I chose a few places that I really like (such as Tender Buttons and M&J Trimming), but please e-mail me (or leave a comment) if you have a personal favorite. :-)

If I have forgotten any Manhattan yarn stores (other than stores like P+S, and Stitch & Bitch Cafe, which carry yarn as a side-product, and which I will cover as of next week), please let me know…

Thank you all so much for coming.

I will also launch my own knitwear site soon (at the latest in September), with patterns for men, women, kids, and accessories, some simple and some more complicated.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Habu Textiles

What a great weekend! My husband and I traveled to Lexington, Kentucky to attend the wedding of two dear friends from Brooklyn (the groom’s father was hosting). The wedding, which was beautiful, was held on a horse farm--need I say more?

It turned out to be quite a knitting trip as well. I was surprised to find out that it is actually o.k. again to knit on an airplane (at least on domestic flights). Our plane took off two hours late on wet ground. This was our first trip without the kids EVER (they were at home with a babysitter), and we were flying together, so I was panicked that something could happen to us. First I thought We are not going to lift off and we’ll land in the river. Once we did lift off, I thought Now birds are going to hit the engines. When I saw the fog outside our window I thought And we won’t see them coming. When I finally had the presence of mind to pull out my knitting, I calmed down considerably. We landed in Lexington, safely, welcomed by incredibly loud birds which turned out to be a tape of bird predators, so the birds get scared away from the planes. Someone told me once that the company that makes these super-loud tapes sold them to China, but when they tried them out, the birds were still flocking around the planes--until somebody did some thinking and figured out that the natural predators in China are not the same as in the USA (duh). So they had to change the tapes to scare the Chinese birds in Chinese. …Anyway, let me get back to knitting.

I had gone to visit Habu Textiles (135 West 29th Street, Suite 804, New York, NY 10001, 212.239.3546 telephone, 212.239.4173 fax,, before we left, knowing that I wanted to blog about them today. I have been to Habu before, and it is one of my favorite stores. I had tried to get a hold of Takako, the owner, but she travels a lot. Since I am nearly finished with Manhattan, I decided to chance it and walk in between last-minute trip preparations on Wednesday. I missed Takako, but a very friendly staff member showed me around and asked me to e-mail my questions to Takako, who responded within hours :-).

Walking into Habu feels like entering a Japanese temple of yarn. Everything in the front room is displayed low on the floor in baskets of various sizes. The yarns displayed here look like little flowers growing out of the ground. Bundles of mohair, linen, cotton, paper, and many other fibers (Habu was one of the first stores to carry stainless steel yarn) mingle, most of them adorned with Habu’s own brown-paper wrappers (I found one basket of Fiber Company yarn as well).

But the pretty looking baskets are just the beginning. When you go to Habu for the first time, a person emerges from the side room, which is sectioned off by a curtain that hides some very busy people who seem to be handling some kind of yarn related machinery. The person comes in and tells you to go to the hallway in the back and look at the samples. The hallway is one long wall behind the basket room, where skeins of different sizes hang from little hooks. Each skein is different from the next, and each has a label, identifying the fiber, the yardage, and the price.

You spend as much time as you like (it can take a while) looking at and touching all the interesting textures in front of you. You can find anything here, from linen that feels like paper to actual paper that feels like yarn, to stainless steel wool, or even more exotic things. Once you have figured out what you want, you go back to the curtain and wave at the friendly person you talked to earlier. You tell them what you like, or ask questions if you need to. Since the store can be busy with wholesale orders (many designers order yarn and have it shipped directly to the factory), it can sometimes take a while to get someone’s attention, but don’t despair: you are surrounded by beautiful things, such as these antique hand spindles.

Even though the store is not large, I had a hard time putting down my camera. At some point I simply had to tell myself to put it down and leave to get the rest of the stuff we needed for the wedding. I could easily have spent another hour here (and lots and lots of money, which I don’t have right now). I am trying to save up for my website, so I could not go crazy…
I sent Takako my e-mail from the airport. When we got to our hotel in Lexington (2 hours later), I had received her answer.

Me: When did you open your store?

Takako: In 1999

Me: How did you choose your store's location?

Takako: I had a friend, who had an art gallery. She left years ago, but I stayed. It is very close to subways and is a part of garment district, which seems to attract the kind of customers we need.

Me: What got you into yarns?

Takako: I am a weaver. Materials has been always my passion.

Me: When you purchase yarns, what do you look for?

Takako: That is hard to say, but there is always that "extra" charm. I do like subtle beautiful yarns, but do think that "something" must show... This is very intuitive thing...

Me: What kinds of yarns do you carry?

Takako: Many... over 300 kinds. including paper, ramie, stainless steel, silver, etc. etc.

Me: Who is your staff?

Takako: I have 8 part and full time staff.

Me: Who makes your store samples?

Takako: A couple of my staff at home.

Me: Do you feel that people knit more or less since the recession?

Takako: I think people are knitting more!

Me: One other thing I was wondering is about the yarns with your labels on them. Are they Habu yarns? Do they all come from the same mill? Are they all Japanese?

Takako: The label is our design. We deal with 7-8 different mills, and we wind them here in the back room!

The wedding was fantastic, filled with music and musicians (one of them my husband) who played up a storm. I also met a sheep breeder/dyer/spinner, Janice Hemsley, who breeds Leicester Longwool sheep, which were first brought to this country by George Washington. We chatted at the rehearsal dinner about Leicester sheep and Moreno sheep, and how the king of Portugal actually had jurisdiction over who was to receive his prized merinos. Janice told me that there was a heard of merinos that had been handed from Portugal to Spain, then to Germany, and finally to historic Williamstown, in Virginia. The next day, she brought me a bag full or beautiful hand-sheared/hand-dyed/handspun yarn. I came home a happy person, and was greeted by two children, overwhelmed with emotions, who were very relieved that we were back.

But the highlight was getting the bride ready on her wedding day, and seeing her wear the sweater/shawl/vest I made for her...

It's knitted as a square that functions as a shawl, with buttoned armholes so it can be transformed into a vest, and with button-in sleeves that turn it into a jacket... The jacket closes with a shawl pin.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Knitting 321

We are back in Manhattan now. Anna has recuperated and is back to her usual self. Thankfully, we got home without any messy incidents on the train. Whew! One week later, a new camera in my bag, I am ready to head back out into the world of yarns. I was going to blog yesterday (Monday), as I usually do, so I went to Knitting 321 (321 East 75th Street, New York, NY 10021, Phone: 212-772-2020, Fax: 212-772-2077, only to see that it is closed Sundays and Mondays. Oops--that’s what I get for not calling ahead :-). One day delayed, I managed to eke out a 1 ½ hour window for myself. I took the M3 downtown and hopped off at East 75th street, walking and walking and walking, until I found myself in front of a blue awning with large letters (I’m sorry, I totally forgot to take a picture of the outside of the store). I walked down a steep staircase and entered a long, narrow store, lined with diamond shaped shelves on one side and a large table with piles of magazines on it on the other. I introduced myself to Valeria, who was chatting with three loyal customers.

(picture taken from her website)
The three women, who seemed to know each other (and Valeria) very well, were knitting at the table. They chimed in at my questions, got up and showed me store samples, and shared their individual projects: a very pretty cotton baby blanket, a very sexy black glitter sweater with arm cutouts, and a project not yet conceived. All patterns were created by Valeria (the third woman had just chosen her yarn and was making a gauge before she was measured for the perfect fit). Valeria told me that most patterns in knitting magazines look great in the pictures, but end up being too wide because the yarn stretches over time. She takes this into consideration when creating patterns for her customers. Her extensive design background is very helpful for this. “I worked on 7th Avenue for many, many years. If I had made anything that did not fit when it came back from the factory, I would have lost my job immediately,” she explained.

321 is clearly a neighborhood store. “My customers shop at Bergdorf Goodman,” Valeria explained. “Some of them are top executives. They knit a lot, and they want me to make them patterns for sweaters that look like they could have been bought at Bergdorf, but can be made at home. I don’t really compete with other knitting stores--I compete with Bergdorf Goodman.” She pulled out a sample of a sweater a woman had made. “This woman only knew how to knit,” she said (not purl). “So she knitted the sweater in only knit stitches, and I did the finishing for her.” The sweater (where was my head today, I forgot to take a picture of that, too), was made out of a shiny gold-woven yarn. Beige leather flowers adorned the shoulder, and beautiful crocheted embroidery made it look as though indeed, you could have bought it at the above-mentioned store. “I bought the leather flowers and wanted to make a bag out of it, but my customers said this has to be a sweater." The three women nodded.
“We told her,” one of them said. “Why waste those beautiful things on a bag? Put them on a sweater!”

My little window of time was getting smaller, so I asked Valeria my seven questions:
Me: When did you open the store?

Valeria: Seven years ago, in April of 2002.

Me: What made you choose this location?

Valeria: I live around here.

Me: Who is your staff?

Valeria: I have part time help on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, but the rest of the time I am here alone.

Me: What made you get into yarns?

Valeria: I have always worked with yarns and color. I designed fashion and sportswear. We made everything from scratch. We would choose a color palette and design a complete line around it: pants, blazers, skirts… it all had to fit together. [She sighed.] 7th Avenue is not what it used to be, so I thought about what I could do as a second career.

Me: What do you look for when you purchase yarns?

Valeria: Color and quality. I buy what I like. I custom order colors from Prism and other companies. I know what my customers like. The key to everything is quality. You have to make a good product.

Me: I assume I don’t have to ask who makes your store samples.

Valeria: I make them, and I have a knitter.
One of the women chimed in: “Valeria is a fabulous finisher.” I believe that, having seen the sample sweater with the leather flowers.
“But,” Valeria resumed, “I only finish what was purchased here. It is so much work to finish. I don’t finish other stores’ products.”

Me: Do you offer classes?

Valeria: I teach classes in knitting and crocheting one on one in the mornings, but I am totally booked up until the end of August. If you asked me right now to teach you, I would have to ask you to come back in September. I design for all my customers. They buy the yarn, make a gauge, I measure them and write their patterns. [She held up a handwritten piece of paper.] This is a pattern. I write everything by hand. People can follow it and not have to think once about what they are doing. All my patterns look like this. [She smiled.] What I make fits!

Me: Do you think people knit more or less since the recession?

Valeria: That is a hard question to answer. I think things are not as busy as they were when I first opened. In the last two years things have gotten a bit more quiet.
“But,” one of the women said, “people are much more serious about their knitting than they used to be. All the mitten makers and blanket knitters have fallen away. The customers that are still knitting are very serious about their projects.” The other woman agreed.

I had some time left, so I took out my camera to take pictures of the store. 321 carries Karabella, Schulana, Katia, Noro, Punta yarns, Alchemy, and Prism. “This is one of the yarns I asked them to make,” Valeria said and pulled out a red, variegated yarn. It was stunningly vibrant.
“You have to take a picture of the baby blanket,” one of the woman said and got up. “Here, I know where it is.” She walked to the back of the store and pulled out a very beautiful and delicate blanket covered with hearts.

And this is the sampler,” she said, holding up another blanket with different stitch pattern squares.
“Show her the bag you did at the door,” the woman with the sexy black sweater said.

Valeria held it up. The bag was beautifully lined on the inside, with an inlay of something hard and flat supporting the bottom. “Oh, and you have to see this,” Valeria said and strode to the back of the store. “Here,” she pulled a jacket off its hanger. “Try it on. Its magnificent! It’s a circle jacket I just made. It is knitted entirely in one piece. “ I felt the yarn. It was very soft and, I could tell, very warm. I tried it on. It felt just as snugly as it looked.