Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day!

I was going to blog about another yarn store this week, but my camera broke on Friday, so I could not go to take pictures before we left town...

Once again, we are in Connecticut to visit our friends for Labor Day. This is how our weekend began--four happy kids (two of them mine). Its astounds me that you can rent a big house with a huge garden and swimming pool out here for the same price as our Harlem-two-bedroom with no garden!

The rest of the weekend has not been so happy. Anna came down with the stomach flu and is too sick for the journey home, so we are still up here--waiting for her to get better... :-(

Hopefully we'll be back in the city tomorrow...

Happy Memorial Day to everyone, and Good Health to all of you!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Woolgathering

It was another gorgeous day today, so I swung on my bike and rode through Central Park to The Woolgathering (318 East 84th Street, New York, NY 10028 Phone: 212.734.4747 I was zipping down 84th street when a woman opened a car door and nearly knocked me off my bicycle. I shrieked, and she pulled it shut at the very last second, reassuring me through the open window. “I wasn’t going to open it far.” I wondered whether this was supposed to console me or reassure her, and I got to the store a bit rattled and in need of comfort. Just the right time to visit some yarn! When I entered Woolgathering, I almost thought I had gone to Downtown Yarns by accident. It has the same long, narrow feel with high ceilings, and similar shelves on the wall. A ladder leans on the yarn shelves just like at Downtown. I looked around to see if there was a big golden retriever lying around, but instead I found a bull mastiff hanging on the wall.

I asked for the owner, but Diane, who was sitting at an antique wooden table with a happily knitting customer, told me that Sylvia had just left for the day (this seems to be my lot lately). The happy knitter, who was making a baby blanket for a friend, chimed in: “You can ask Diane anything you need. She is an expert knitter. Any question you have, she can answer it for you.” They chuckled.
“Sylvia makes it a point to tell people that she loves knitting, but that she is by no means an expert knitter," Diane explained. "I usually answer knitting questions.” She handed me a chair.
“That’s great,” I said and pulled out my notebook. I felt instantly welcomed into the round like an old acquaintance. We chatted a bit--about identical twins who kill one another. (The woman with the baby blanket was holding a book called “The Evil Twin” when I came in. I am an identical twin, so it piqued my interest). Then we moved onto more cheerful topics, and I began to ask my seven questions.

Me: When did this store open?

Diane: The store has been here for about 20 years. Sylvia took it over about 7 years ago.

Me: What made Sylvia chose this location?

Diane: Sylvia lives around the corner. She likes to knit. When she heard that the store was available, she took a chance. Sylvia is tenacious, strong, and entrepreneurial. She also likes to support causes. She donates to all the public schools in the neighborhood, and she carries a line of bags made in Africa to help African women become economically independent. I work here because I like Sylvia. I already knew her when the store opened; we were friends.

My phone rang. It was my husband. “Where is the bus stop down here? No, Andor, don’t pick that up, that’s disgusting!” I didn’t dare ask what it was. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I told Adam where to go and returned to my conversation, apologizing for the interruption.

Me: Who is your staff?

Diane: I am the manager. I’ve worked here for six years. I am here Monday-Friday, and Karina is here Saturdays; we are closed on Sundays. Sylvia and I are usually here together. We work with a fantastic finisher. I give her a lot of my garments because I don’t particularly like finishing (she laughed). She was here before when the store belonged to the previous owner, and she has continued to work for us.

Me: How do you guys choose yarn?

Diane: I mainly choose the yarn. I look for specific quality, cost, and “washability”. We specialize in baby items, so I like to have yarns that can survive a washing machine cycle. I also look for length (yardage). We sell some books, but we loan a lot of them to people as well. We carry a little bit of everything. Some Artyarns Cashmere (I saw a really pretty beaded Artyarns Cashmere—sigh), some Karabella, some Manos, Malabrigo, Punta, a little bit of Road to China, some Cascade, Tahki Stacy Charles, Prism, and a few others…

Me: Do you guys teach classes?

Diane: We teach classes for very beginners, but when you become a patron we help you with anything. We don’t charge for that.

Me: Who makes your store samples?

Diane: We very rarely do custom patterns. Most of our samples are from companies. I knit some of the blankets. The baby sampler came with the store (she pulled out a beige blanket with different stitch patterns on it). People really like making this blanket. It’s a really good way to practice knitting different stitches.

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

Diane: People definitely knit more. Maybe they look for a bigger bargain, but they knit more--knitting is soothing.

With that thought in mind, I thanked Diane for her time and grabbed my helmet, ready to brave the New York streets again. I carefully watched for opening car doors until I arrived safely at Central Park, where I enjoyed the car-free zone even more than usual. I nearly took my hands of the handle bars, but I was afraid that the empty children’s bike seat behind me would throw off my balance. I got home safely to two fighting kids who were wearing out their Papa. Turns out they were very tired. Once they hit their mattresses, they were out like little lights.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Yarntopia Revisited

This week I went back to Yarntopia, because I had felt so rushed the first time (and missed such fantastic things as the sockyarnwall--picture above). I thought the store hadn’t gotten its due. It kept bothering me, so I decided to go back to see Dona and take some better pictures. I chose to go on the day of my daughter’s fieldtrip to the Museum of Natural History. I went with her class for the trip, and of course Anna wanted to be with me afterward and begged to be taken along. Initially I was going to send her back to school for an hour, see Dona, and pick her up afterwards, but I relented, even though I was feeling a little hesitant about a four-year-old in a yarn shop and what that might mean. When we got to Yarntopia, Dona was in the middle of planning out an elaborate laceyarnwall (right next to the sockyarnwall). A big shipment of gorgeous colors had just come in.

Anna was so well behaved and so helpful that we stayed for nearly 1½ hours (did I mention Dona is really good with kids?). “I can’t leave yet, Mommy, I have to help Dona!” Anna reshelved heaps of yarn, keeping the colors together perfectly, and handed bags and bags of yarn to Dona who was standing on a ladder. I took my pictures and sat down to knit while they worked :-) To make a long story short: please go back to the Yarntopia post and see that I CAN actually take decent pictures of the place (I also added a couple of things in the review that I forgot to mention). After we left I took Anna to "Le Monde" (our favorite pastry cafe).

Happy Mother’s Day!

Monday, May 4, 2009

School Products (Yarns)

I had read about School Products Yarns (1201 Broadway Suite 301 New York NY 10001, 212-679-3516—the store is undergoing a name change and adding the “yarns”) on Jared Flood’s blog, so I might have known that it’s a serious yarn store, but no: I got fooled by the name. I walked in expecting to find a big store with lots and lots of school supplies and a rich array of yarns in a corner, yarns such as the ones Jared uses. NOT! I got out of the elevator and found myself in front of a glass wall with a buzzer system. A tall young man buzzed me in. He told me that Rafael (one of the two owners) was about to come in and that if I had any questions I should wait for him. Minutes later, a man in his sixties walked in and introduced himself. “Do you know Armenia?” he asked me after we shook hands. I was so flustered by the forcefulness of his voice that I totally blanked.

Rafael is from Armenia (which is a country bordered by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran--I looked it up :-). He is Berta’s (the other owner’s) husband. School Products, I found out, is the oldest yarn store in Manhattan (since Lion Brand just opened the studio, I am not counting them as an “old store”). School Products is sixty years old and it did start out as a place to purchase school supplies with a hefty yarn corner. Since the yarn corner was the most popular part, it grew as the rest of the store shrank, so now the store is just one huge space filled with yarns. Berta and Rafael took over the business twenty years ago and have been running the store ever since.

Rafael told me that Berta has worked as a technical knitwear developer for Donna Karan, Anna Sui, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein, as well as Banana Republic and Gap. She also started a yarn company called Karabella Yarns, which carries high quality yarns of many kinds: mohair (lace and mid-weight), alpaca, cashmere, cotton, and metallic yarn… She handed the company over to her son, who now runs it. School Products carries the entire line, as well as all of Berta’s designs, specially created for Karabella. Berta’s most recent accomplishment is a book called Runway Knits, which was published in 2007. I got the book. The dresses, shawls and sweaters are pretty spectacular!

Since I had taken my pictures before Rafael walked in, I had some time to let him lead me around. He showed me large spools of yarn, pointing out that the store served both hand and machine knitters. Only then did I realize that I had never even thought of machine knitters as needing yarn—so silly! School Products sells many knitting machine ready spools of yarn, which are less expensive than the balls in the shelves, and can of course be used to knit by hand as well, thus creating an instant discount :-). The store sells more than just Karabella: Koigu, Brown Sheep, Luxor, and a number of hand dyers and spinners. Rafael and Berta also buy out yarn mills that are closing and sell the yarn at a huge discount. It’s definitely a treasure trove for the creative. You come to this store to find something great-- I found this:

500 grams of handspun silk, thinner than lace weight for $35. I have no idea what I am going to do with it, but it made me take it home... Other cool things to know are that the store carries yak, baby camel, and silk cashmere, yarns you don’t get everywhere. Designers come here as well as tourists to browse and haggle (Rafael can be flexible with prices if the volume is right). The store also carries a vast array of knitting supplies, both for machine and hand knitters. There is a book corner at the end of the store, where one could get lost for a number of hours. But Yoga was calling, so I asked Rafael my seven questions before I headed into the subway to go stand upside down on a slippery mat:

Me: When did School Products open?

Rafael: In 1947. We are the oldest yarn store In New York. We took over twenty years ago.

Me: How did you choose this location?

Rafael: The original store was here.

Me: How do you choose your yarns?

Rafael: We carry the whole line of Karabella, which is mostly Italian with some Argentinian. We also carry other companies. Except for a staple of yarns like Koigu and Luxor, we have a number of changing yarns. You can find something different every time you come here. We have served the fashion industry and FIT for many years. The store is known all over the US. We have special deals and high end fibers like silk and cashmere, baby camel and yak. We sell to many machine knitters.

Me: What kinds of classes do you teach?

Rafael: We have very professional help that can give you instructions. We carry over 500 Karabella patterns, which were all designed by Berta, plus 200 individual patterns for our high end fabrics. Berta is in the store every Monday.

Me: I guess I don’t have to ask who knits the store samples.

Rafael: Berta does.

Me: What got you into yarns?

Rafael: Berta’s experience. She worked for many years in the fashion industry.

Me: Do you feel that people are knitting less or more in this economy?

Rafael: The same, but people are more careful with their budgets. People are still knitting a lot, but they try to spend less.