Wednesday, October 28, 2009
(image taken from Yarn Tree website)
This week I went to the Yarn Tree in Williamsburg (347 Bedford Avenue, between South 3rd and South 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211, phone: 718.384.8030, http://www.theyarntree.com/). I got out at the Bedford Avenue stop on the L train and walked along Bedford Avenue to South 4th Street. I arrived at the Yarn Tree in a bit of a bad mood. I was tired; I thought, "What's the point of all this work I am doing anyway? Knitting! Who cares about knitting? Couldn't I come up with something more important to do?" My brain was rambling a sort of general existential diatribe that always pesters me when I have had too little sleep.
When I got to the yarn tree, the first thing I saw was the dog in the window. I opened the door and was greeted by a happily wagging tail, which instantly made me feel better.
Then my eyes caught a hanging skein of yarn that looked exactly like the 13 kilograms (29 pounds) of yarn I had just ordered from a German mill: devastated by their decision to discontinue the yarn, I had bought up their entire remaining natural-colored stash. I asked Linda (the owner) where she had gotten the yarn, and she told me she had ordered it from a mill in England. I was so relieved. I love this yarn, and now I knew I could get it again.
My mood thus improved, I explored the store and took pictures. Linda was busy helping customers. The store is separated into two rooms, one filled with yarns, and one filled with fibers. The yarn room is for knitters; the fiber room, for spinners. Both were full of fascinating things I had not seen before, such as these hand spindles:
When Linda had a moment we sat down and I asked her my seven questions.
Me: How long has the store been here?
Linda: We just celebrated our 8th anniversary.
Me: How did you choose this location?
Linda: I've lived in the neighborhood for 18 years. I am a weaver. My fellow loomers and I had lost our studio, and I had to find a place to put my looms. I first had one side of this store, then the person next door moved and I took over her space as well. At South 2nd Street we have another space where we teach; our focus has always been on teaching.
Me: What got you into yarns?
Linda: I have been working in textiles for a long time. I was a costume designer for Matthew Barney's "Cremaster Cycle". Towards the end (I had this space already) I was on location, teaching the principals how to do a five-finger-walking-braid as a magic spell. We were shooting a close up when I asked an assistant to get me some fresh yarn because I didn't like the way the yarn looked in the shot. Someone from the Guggenheim saw me do it and said: "That woman knows her yarn." Matthew answered, "Yes, she does know her yarn!" It stayed with me, and I woke up that night thinking "I'll open a yarn store!" I had very little capital, so I bought yarn form anybody who would sell very small quantities. This led me to very small companies, people who were just starting out... I started with one shelf. Now it's much bigger.
Me: How do you choose your yarns?
(Blue Sky Cotton)
Linda: I stock only natural fibers, no synthetic blends. I don't carry metal needles, only bamboo and wood. I want to support small dyers, farms, and mills. Blue Sky used to be small but it has grown to be a large company. I still carry them. Schaeffer in Upstate New York is an indie dyer that I carry. They do wools and blends and mercerized cotton. She names them after memorable women. Frog Tree is a not-for-profit. In the last four years they have given away 1/4 million dollars.
(Schaeffer Mercerized Cotton)
Me: Given the dog in the store, I love that you carry a yarn called "Wag Tail".
Me: Who is your staff?
Linda: I am the owner. I have one instructor for embroidery, one for spinning, one for felting, one for crochet, and one part-time employee. People often complain that stores close between 5 and 6 p.m., so I chose to be open late instead. It made sense and I didn't mind working later. Our hours are from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., except Saturdays and Sundays, when we are open from 12 noon to 7 p.m. We are a teaching facility, so a lot of people like to come after work to take classes. The store is always open during class time. That way, if anyone needs anything, it's right here. We also sell meat from a small farm (pork, lamb sausages…). It’s high quality meat and very good (I walked home with a good chunk from their freezer in my bag).
Me: What classes do you teach?
Linda: We teach all levels of knitting, crochet, embroidery, wet- and dry needle felting, 3 + levels of weaving, natural dye and low impact dye. Shibory workshops...
Me: What’s Shibory?
Linda: It’s like the piece that hangs on the wall over there…
Me: Wow! That is beautiful!
Me: Who makes your store samples?
Linda: I design them and make them.
Me: Do you think people are knitting more or less in the recession?
Linda: Overall, I think it's less than in the first four years of my business. I think the economy has an impact because knitting is expensive. But in the last 9 months we are finding new knitters...
Me: There were some things you mentioned before that I am curious about. You said you travel a lot.
Linda: Yes, I took three trips in the last year. I traveled to Rwanda, where I taught genocide victims to identify dyeing plants, how to gather them, and to make dye from them. I was there for ten days. They had sheep, and I taught them how to dye and weave. They are baking bread for a living, but now they are learning how to dye as well. They are all HIV positive, but they said, "We are having fun." That's what is important to me.
Me: What were your other two trips?
Linda: I went to Southern India, where I worked with specially abeled youth. I taught them how to work with cochineal, which is an insect that gives a red dye from the acid in its stomach. I was in Munar for about one week and taught thirty kids.
Me: And the third trip?
Linda: I went to Mexico. We had raised funds to bring books to children. We had conducted a few fund raisers at the shop, and collected enough to buy books, shoes, and uniforms. We went to Mexico as a group to present the gifts. This year I'll be going to Honduras. I'll consult with two villages in the coffee region to see what they could make with their hands that they could bring as additional products to the market place. I'll also go to rural Ghana. There is a group of people who make beautiful baskets out of garish colors--not natural dyes. I want to teach them how to identify plants and make natural dyes. When they dye naturally, they will be able to make a product that can sell on the American market.
Needless to say, when I left Linda I was full of thoughts. As a knitter who also cares deeply about things that go on in this world, I was very inspired by her. Knitting (and dyeing, weaving, all things fiber related), I learned once again (I actually learned this before...), is what we make of it. It can be light and fun and playful, and it can be deep and thoughtful. It can help cities, countries, people--it can give them a reprieve from the vagaries of life, bring joy, improve their economies... All those things.
Thank you, Linda, for showing me new ways to connect to the world through fiber, and for changing the color of my day :-)