Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gotham Fine Yarn

Rebecca, the owner of the newly opened Gotham Fine Yarns (148 Orchard Street, betw. Rivington & Stanton, New York, NY 10002, phone: 646.863.3504,, is by far the youngest owner of any New York yarn store. She opened in the middle of October in a district that used to be a garment center. Today this part of the Lower East Side is a very trendy hangout, still home to Katz’s Deli (where Sally had her fake orgasm). The Tenement Museum lets us know how people used to live when this neighborhood was in its heyday. Arthur Miller grew up here (his father was in the fur business).

Stanton street between Clinton and Attorney has a soft spot in my heart because it houses the first apartment I lived in after moving here from Germany. I moved in during the night of the Tompkins Square riots and saw the helicopters fly over my rooftop.

Last Friday, I walked through a neighborhood much more peaceful than it was back in the eighties. American Apparel has taken over the corner where I used to buy my bagels with melted cheese. Giant snowflakes hung between the street lamps. Since Gotham is open until 8 p.m, I was out in the dark during one of those nice fall drizzles that make you think of upcoming cozy winter nights. I found Gotham easily. It is so new that the awning isn’t up yet, but the handknit sweaters in the window gave it away…

Inside, I found a young woman teaching another young woman how to knit at a cozy, large wooden table in the back of the store. I recognized Rebecca as the owner because of the way she said hello. While they were talking, I looked around the store and found a lot of very nice yarn. Having followed some of her comments on Ravelry, where Rebecca is known as “yarndarling”, I knew that she originally wanted to carry only environmentally conscious yarns. I found many of those, and lots of other very nice yarns as well. When I asked her, she explained to me that she had thoroughly looked into carrying only organic yarns, but found that they were often a little more rough than chemically dyed and treated yarns, and so she decided to carry a bigger variety. We got into a long conversation, so I decided it was time to whip out my book and start to write things down.

Me: How long have you been open?

Rebecca: This is my fourth week.

Me: Why did you choose this location?

Rebecca: I love to hang out in this neighborhood at night, and I thought if I worked here, I’d be down here a lot. Then I found out that this neighborhood had a lot of yarn stores 20-30 years ago (Lionbrand used to have its offices around the corner). A lot of people have come in and said that it’s great to see a yarn store here again. They used to come to this neighborhood for yarn with their mothers when they were little.

Me: How do you choose your yarns?

(Ella Rae sockyarn)
Rebecca: Yardage, price, colors—basically value. Mostly everything I carry is under $10 a skein. It invites people to explore more. I carry about 20 different companies. Malabrigo, Ella Rae, Debbie Bliss, Araucania, Louet… the details are listed on my website (

(Louet alpaca)
Me: Who makes your samples?
Rebecca: Mostly me, but sometimes I get samples from the company. I only put out the ones I like, though.

Me: What made you want to open a yarn store?

(Debbie Bliss camel)
Rebecca: I’ve always wanted to have my own store. With the economy being what it is right now, I was able to negotiate a number of costs down, but yarn is generally a business you can start with very low capital. I planned it for 6-8 months. Then I had dinner with a couple of friends in the neighborhood and saw the empty store, and I kind of had the feeling that this was it. I called the landlady the next day and signed the lease soon after.

Me: What kinds of classes do you teach here?

Rebecca: I offer four classes at the moment. There is a sock class (taught by one of the Ravelry moderators); by the end of the class you can make five different kinds of socks. The others are basic beginners classes that I will teach. I will cover knit, purl, casting on and binding off. I teach a number of basic scarves (some with pockets) and how to finish a piece (sewing).

(Louet Kidlin mohair)
Me: This is an extra question. Since I saw you on the Ravelry forums, I am curious how much Ravelry helped you with figuring out your business.

Rebecca: Ravelry is great! The support, the idea that people out there cared enough to get back to me to answer questions I put into the forums, really helped me. A lot of people have been very supportive. I use it now to look up a pattern when I have a Raveler in the store. They can get the wool here, I give them the links, and they can download the pattern themselves. Many people have come in and introduced themselves by their Ravelry names. There’s also a Whole Foods knitting group that meets at the one on Houston street. They love that they can come in here and buy yarn and then go grocery shopping around the corner.

(Ella Rae)
Me: And my last question, although maybe this is not something you can answer. How do you think the economy has affected the knitting world?

Rebecca: I can answer that. It has made my having a business possible.

It was now 8 p.m. Time for Rebecca to be released into the wild, and time for me to turn in at home…

Good luck to you!


Code Purl said...

Thanks for checking out this place. I've been meaning to see it for myself and now will have to after all those pics of yummy looking yarn!

Anonymous said...

It's so great to see a yarn store opening rather than closing in this economy, and I especially appreciate the idea of a small business being owned and run by a young woman. One thing that seemed a bit of a question to me was her reference to the whole foods knitting group coming there- I understood that to be a group pretty well affiliated with Downtown Yarns. Not sure her intention with the comment, but this stood out to me.

Sinje Ollen said...

It would be nice if there was room for both. I myself frequent a number of different yarn shops in the city. I would not want to limit myself to just one...

Both stores carry different yarns and both have a lot to offer.


JANIS said...

Hi - We met at Erin's wedding. I was the photographer. I can't wait to visit this store in the LES!

I would love your advice on finding a good knitting store/group in NYC or Brooklyn. I'm about to embark on a project and am looking for a place I can find affordable wool and where folks hang out and knit.

Also, if you have any advice on where I can find southwestern knitting patterns I would love your advice.

Sinje Ollen said...

Hi Janis,

So nice to find you here!

I'd love to help. e-mail me your phone number and I'll call you.

Happy Thanksgiving