Wednesday, September 30, 2009


When I used to live in Brooklyn, I often went to what was then called Knitting Hands, but is now Knit-A-Way (398 Atlantic Avenue. Brooklyn, NY 11217PH: (718)-797-3305 FX: (718)-797-3431, The store, located in the "Antique Mile" on Atlantic Avenue (before Atlantic Ave and Flatbush Ave cross each other), is easy to get to by subway. The A/C/G trains are two blocks away (at Hoyt/Shermerhorn), and the Pacific Avenue stop (where the B/D/F/N/R/2/3/4/5 converge) is a five minute walk away. On this stretch, Atlantic Avenue is a fantastic mix of Middle Eastern delicacies, Middle Eastern clothing, antique furniture, custom made furniture, oriental rugs, kosher meat, fashion stores, children's boutiques, natural and organic creams, little cafes, and... yarn. I highly recommend getting out at Pacific and walking over to Knit-A-Way. You can load up on Turkish delight and merguez sausage, browse for a wedding dress, buy things for your children, and then go yarn shopping :-).

Seeta, the owner of Knit-A-Way, took over the store from the previous owner (she used to work here). When she bought the store, Seeta was first thinking of moving everything to New Jersey, but was soon begged by her regular customers to stay put. Five years later, she is still happy about this decision. The only complication for her has been her health. "About 6 months after I took over the store," she said, "I found out that I am alergic to wool." How ironic! "I had so much invested in the store already that I had to make it work." She is now stacking all the cottons in the front, and the wools in the back. On days when she has to stock her wools, friends come to help her. "I can't take the allergy medicines," she said. "They make me drowsy, so sometimes I have to step out of the store and breathe in deeply. Then I feel better!"

The store is large, and has a wide selection of affordable as well as some high-end yarns ("I take my cues from my cutomers. Cashmere is not requested very often, but if someone asks for something and I can get it, I will."). It has an extensive selection of knitting and crocheting needles and a good-size selection of books. After taking pictures, I asked Seeta my 7 questions:

Me: When did you open your store?

Seeta: I opened Knit-A-Way in July of 2004. Knitting Hands had been here since April 2001. I used to work at Knitting Hands, and took over the store from the previous owner.

Me: So I guess I don't have to ask how you chose this location.

Seeta: Actually, I was planning to move the store to Montclair, NJ, but upon inquiring I found out that there were four knitting stores there already. I thought of going to Jersey City, but customers were begging me to stay. Crime was rising in Jersey City at the time, so I stayed put. It was a good decision. Two of the Montclair stores have closed since then. I'm still open.

Me: Who is your staff?

Seeta: I am the only one. On weekends 3 helpers, who are my friends, come and volunteer. They help me stock the wool, and stay to knit themselves. I also have one instructor.

Me: How do you choose your yarns?

Seeta: Fiber content, gauge, how clearly the labels are marked (what's the fiber content, and especially are there clear washing instructions?), texture, and--of course--pricing. I carry Barocco Pure Prima, Thaki Yarns, Cascade, Karabella, Classic Elite, Wisdom, Brown Sheep, Misti Alpaca, Noro, Plymouth, Red Heart, Bernat, Peyton, Debbie Bliss, Lionbrand (not the LB collection), and more...

Me: Who makes your store samples?

Seeta: My daughter, my weekend helper friends, and sometimes the fiber companies. Samples from my instructor are for our classes.

Me: What got you into yarns?

Seeta: Working for Knitting Hands.

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

Seeta: People are knitting more.

Another informal service Seeta offers to customers is to appraise their knitting skills. If you want to make money with your designs (like selling them on Etsy), Seeta will talk you through all the different options, as well as adamantly insist that you charge enough for your time and work. A while back, she found a knitting magazine that suggested a way to measure your fabric, time, and design skills to help determine how much you can really charge for your efforts. Seeta and I agreed that many people sell their things on Etsy for way too little, not taking into account the time, effort, and actual material cost. I feel very irritated when I see a scarf being offered for $20, knowing that the yarn itself cost about that much (if not more). It is hard for other knitters to compete with that kind of dumping price, but it also makes no real money for the original designer. It was nice to meet someone who feels as passionately about this subject as I do, but I was getting very hungry, so I packed my things and went to the cafe down the street for a coffee and a scone. :-) Thus nourished, I headed back to Manhattan...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tender Buttons

Looking for the website of Tender Buttons (143 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065, 212 758-7004, fax 212 319-8474, I entered, only to find myself on a Gertrude Stein memorial site. So the first thing I found out about Tender Buttons is that it was named after a culinary essay by Gertude Stein, which intrigued me--I like Gertrude Stein :-). When I did find the website, it confirmed my impression of the store, which is that it is a labor of love, with extreme attention to details. The website links are all adorned with buttons that move into view when the link gets activated. It is less an inventory of buttons, and more an explanation of their history and their magnificence.

Tender Buttons opened in 1964, when Diana Epstein bought an old button store on a whim from a collector. She was joined by Millicent Safro, who helped her organize the buttons into a new shop. It was originally an artist hangout, and became a proper store only over time. In 1965, it moved to its current location.

As I entered the store, the seemingly endless wall of meticulously arranged gray paper carton boxes beckoned me to dive into this world of buttons and get lost in it. Each box had its own little inscription, explaining the content and naming its price.

There were leather buttons, copper buttons, buttons made out of shells, painted buttons, woven buttons, monkey see/monkey do buttons, glass blown buttons, calder/picasso/matisse inspired buttons, old buttons, new buttons, verrry expensive buttons, and also quite affordable ones. In other words: Tender Buttons has it all. I met someone at a knitting group once, whose friend had spent a small fortune on buttons here. "But he made the sweater for his mom," my acquaintance explained, "and he wanted it to be the most beautiful it could be." Walking along the wall, I wondered which ones he ended up picking. It could have been a number of them, and yes, I was tempted to spend a small fortune, too. Perhaps on these blown-glass envelope buttons...

I passed the button wall and began staring at exquisite but completely out-of-my-reach blue stone cufflinks (my husband’s birthday is on Valentines Day--cufflinks anyone?). But the high price end in the store really IS high! They were over $5,000. I passed by a few baskets holding a tiny book. What could that be about? You guessed it: buttons. It was written by Diana Epstein, and--like the website—provides clear and intriguing insights into the land of little round things. I grabbed the book and walked on to the “Wall of Frames”. Yes, while one wall of the store is all boxes, the other is all frames of rare and antique buttons. One set in particular caught my attention:

These buttons were made exclusively for Tender Buttons. Replicas were available and affordable. They wandered into my hand immediately (I have a child in kindergarten). After I had taken all my pictures, I talked to Shelly (who sat behind the counter) for a while, about the Internet, and blogs, and topics unrelated. I got the feeling that the staff is very friendly, but that the atmosphere can, at times, feel a bit fast-paced. One can, however, spend oodles of time browsing, discovering little gems, unhindered by anyone. It’s a bit like a museum, except that you can, and want to, buy everything.

I limited myself to my little book and those beautiful school buttons, grabbed my little paper bag, and headed for the bus. After I found a seat, I took out my book and started reading. Just like anything else associated with this store, the book is beautifully edited down to every last detail. Even the bookmark is a button on a string.

I’ll share only a few button gems here:
- Button man (American slang for a rank and file member of the mafia)
- Taking someone down a button hole
- Button your lip
- Cute as a button
- Bursting your buttons
- Button Gwinnet was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
- Button is also an island in Hingham, Massachusetts.
- The earliest buttons are from 2000 BC, found in Egypt.
- The first buttons made in the USA are from 1750.
- The reason why men wear buttons on the right and women were them on the left is that men used to dress themselves. Buttoning buttons (for those of us who are left-handed) on your body is easier with the buttons on the right. Women, especially those who could afford expensive buttons (and therefore tailors), were often dressed by servants. Since the servants were standing in front of them facing the garment, women’s buttons were attached on the left.
- In 17th Century Connecticut, anyone who wore gold or silver buttons was taxed.
- In WWI, the British Army spent the equivalent of $500,000 per year on paste used to polish buttons.

Tender Buttons was the perfect place to visit before I head off to Brooklyn next week, and back to pure yarn stores. I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion into yarn-related shops. I could go on and on about them, but it's time to return to spun fibers now. :-)

(These buttons have animals drawn on them in meticulous detail. The names, beginning with whatever letter the animal is drawn on, are written on the buttons.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

M&J Trimming

Although I could go on indefinitely, I will cover only two more knitting-related locations in Manhattan before I head over to Brooklyn (and back to pure yarn stores). The two last stores I have chosen are both New York institutions.

M&J Trimming (1008 Sixth Ave, New York, NY 10018, 1.800.9MJTRIM,, which was founded in 1936, carries products from all over the world: ribbon from France, lace from Switzerland, Swarovski crystals from Austria, buttons from Italy...

The store has a huge inventory of trims, fringes, lace, ribbons, tassels, buttons, rhinestones, beads, buckles, clasps, and more, both online and at the New York showroom. The MJ website is an institution in and of itself. It's extremely well-organized and very much like the actual store: you really see every detail and know exactly what you are ordering.

MJ's founder, Michael Cohen, started out selling linens, but when a patron left some lace in his store as collateral for a loan, Cohen found out that there was great potential in selling trimmings: so many of his customers wanted to know where he had gotten the lace that he forgave his friend the loan and asked him to get him more lace instead. The rest is New York history.

A family business, the store was taken over in 1956 by Joel Cohen, Michael's eldest son, who made the window displays known all over town. It is now run in part by his grandson, Michael J. Cohen (the current Executive Vice President). With 5000 square feet of merchandise, it can take a good two hours to digest everything. The white ribbon wall alone can leave your head spinning!

MJ Trimmings is full of useful items and extremely well-organized. The staff is very knowlegeable and friendly. All items are on display and easily accessible. There is a whole section in the back for brides. A Bridal Specialist will present you with samples of veils and gloves. You can work off of the samples to make decisions about style, cut, color, length, lace, crystals, and edging. The customized veils and gloves are then hand crafted by MJ Bridal Designers. (I had to throw this in, because I am still--after seven years of marriage--obsessed with weddings!)

What I missed at this store is the "small store feel" of some of the other locations I've visited. MJ is a huge place, where the staff wears uniforms (MJ t-shirts, which make them easily identifiable, but also give a bit of a corporate feel to the place). It is, however, unbeatable in terms of what is available and how easy it is to find things.

And there are lots of pretty, shiny Swarovski crytals!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tinsel Trading Company

This week I went to the Tinsel Trading Company (1 West 37th StreetNew York, NY 10018, 212-730-1030 phone212-768-8823 fax,
It's a beautiful store. Although it has been around since 1930 (the current owner Marcia's grandfather opened the store), the old location was recently lost because the old building was torn down. The new location has an elegant kind of "roughed-up-Whole-Foods-cement-floor-feel" to it, which is simultaneously simple, and unobtrusive.

On her website, Marcia's own description of her grandfather's business starts like this: "A long time ago, on the small island known as Manhattan, there was a man who was attracted to shiny and bright, gold and silver threads. He grew up to own the most extraordinary inventory from all over the world, having never traveled outside the United States..."

Shelves line the outer walls, filled with trims, flowers, tassels, ribbons, appliques, jewelry, the Martha Stewart craft line, and more. I walked by these pretty bubble ribbons, which I immediately imagined on all kinds of garments, wondering if I might actually be able to knit with" width="360" height="275" />
Marcia was in the back of the store, standing in a room right behind a shelf filled with silver ribbons.

She explained to me that some of those had been around since her grandfather owned the store. Some of them were made of copper with (if I remember this correctly) a stainless steel finish. There was a whole shelf full of old metal fabrics:

and some beautiful antique ribbon:

After talking to her for a while, I walked around the whole store to take my pictures. Just when I thought I was done, I turned around and saw this shelf:

It was filled with something I had never seen before: strings of beads attached to ribbons. The ribbons allow for the beads (glass, pearls, and wood beads) to be sewn into things, such as jeans, bags, curtains, coats, or knitted garments :-). Some of the strings looked like they might be heavy in a piece of clothing, but some of them (the wooden ones especially) actually felt very light. I imagined them as a decorative border on the bottom of a coat, or a beautiful drape around a knitted collar. I would probably attach them with snap buttons, I thought, so they can be removed for washing (although all the pearls looked like they could be washed carefully in the sink)... My mind was going into such overdrive that I had to step back. They were all so pretty, too, that it was impossible to pick just one, so I'll have to go back to the store when I have time to really browse.

The staff at Tinsel Trading was super nice. I could have stayed all day to chat with them. They also seemed to have a sense of humor, or perhaps it was a customer who had placed the two tinsel lobsters on top of each other in one of the shelves:

Thank you to "Donnag" at Ravelry, who told me about the store. I nearly skipped it, feeling like I had covered too many non-pure-yarn stores now, but I am so glad I went!