Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Yarn Tree

(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, 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 :-)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy 5,000 Visitors!

Hello Everyone!

Thank you all for coming and reading my blog. I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am... If you have any suggestions or want me write about something in particular, please let me know...


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brooklyn General

Brooklyn General (128 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231, btwn Columbia & Hicks, phone: 718.237.7753, fas: 718.237.4688, is located in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. I took the F train from Manhattan to Carroll Street, got out at the back end of the train, and walked west on Union Street through Carroll Gardens. It turned out to be a fairly long walk by lots of pretty brownstones.

Union Street is in the part of Carroll Gardens that turns into a wonderland from Halloween to Christmas. The brownstones have little patches of garden out front that turn into Ghostlands and Christmasworlds with moving sculptures and tons of lights (and sometimes even noises). It's a huge attraction for the surrounding neighborhoods. Kids and adults alike dress up and walk through the streets enjoying all the holiday hullaballoo together.

After about 5 minutes of walking, I reached the highway bridge that crosses from Carroll Gardens into Red Hook. The store was on the next block. I entered and found an abundance of beautiful, high quality yarns. (Very much worth the walk!)

Brooklyn General carries many yarns that I love: Fiber Company's Road to China, Malabrigo, Blue Sky, Botanical Shades, Manos, and many more. The store also carries fabrics, notions, sewing patterns, felt, some clothing, and dolls. I would describe the feel of the store as "Knitty City meets Purl."

A very nice woman at the cash register (whose name, I am ashamed to admit, I did not ask) told me about the store policy of carrying entirely natural fibers. Only a few yarns have traces of synthetics (namely the sock yarns: a little bit of nylon can add a lot of durability). In the coming weeks, many of the yarns will be available through an internet store as well (on the website).

(photo from their website)
Brooklyn General is owned by Catherine Clark and Katie Metzger. Catherine is also a midwife and works across the street. They used to run the store out of a tiny space adjacent to the midwifery. Everyone was very happy there, but when the space became available across the street, the two grabbed the opportunity and gained lots of room for new yarns and fabrics...

When I took my pictures, I noticed that people seem to enjoy hanging out in this store. The back is very roomy, with a comfortable couch and a large table. Yarn shelves separate the area from the front, creating a sense of privacy. A large selection of books begs to be explored. I was very tempted to stay and hang out, but I had to get going, so I browsed a little, leaving with two skeins of worsted Malabrigo for my nephew's birthday. When I got home, I emailed my questions to Catherine, who answered promptly.

Me: When did you open your store?

Catherine: In 2003

Me: How did you choose this location?

Catherine: We live in the neighborhood. In fact, I live across the street. When Frank's Department Store became available, we couldn't resist the old "general store" appeal. We always wanted our shop to be like the Olsen's store in "Little House on the Prairie".

Me: Who is your staff?

Catherine: We have several part time staff: Heather Love, Laura Cromwell, Jennifer Divina, Esther Rosenberg. Katie Metzger runs the fabric side of the shop, and I run the yarn and fiber side of the shop.

Me: How do you choose your yarns?

Catherine: I choose my yarns with my heart (and certainly not my head!). If I love something, I will stock it. I choose only natural fibers because I love the way they feel and smell.

Me: Who makes your store samples?

Catherine: I make most of the store samples.

Me: Do you offer classes, and if yes, which ones?

Catherine: We offer many classes, too many to list. They are on our website.

Me: What got you into yarns?

Catherine: I have been knitting since I was 5 years old. I don't think being a midwife really has much to do with the yarn business, but there are many overlapping aspects to my two careers. Helping women is the primary mission of both businesses. In addition, I often have customers that become my clients and vise versa. Sometimes I will see a client for a visit and then run to the shop to do some work, and I end up helping the same woman in the shop.

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

Catherine: It seems people are knitting more since the recession. I think people want to occupy their time with handwork rather than go out to dinner. Even though you need to spend money for supplies, you have the process as well as the final product .

After I left the store, I walked back east on Union street to Court street. Court Street houses my favorite bakery, Sweet Melissa, which catered our wedding desserts: madeleines and chocolate covered strawberries. Sweet Melissa is known for its chocolate, pistachio, and hazelnut madeleines (as well as many other things). I would kill for them, so I decided spontaneously to celebrate our anniversary. When I came home I put the bag in front of Adam.
"Happy anniversary," I said.
"But it's not our anniversary."
"Well," I said," it is the 10th anniversary of our being together on a September 21st--so there! Happy September 21st Anniversary!"
We both laughed and enjoyed our madeleines. Later, as I was falling asleep, I thought up a perfect trip:

First, I'd take the IKEA ferry from Battery Park in Manhattan (I think it's still free) over to Red Hook, then I'd walk the couple of blocks north on Columbia Street to Brooklyn General (rather than walking from the subway). I'd go yarn shopping at Brooklyn General, then walk over to Court Street (hopefully during Halloween or after Thanksgiving). Then I'd go to Sweet Melissa and grab a bunch of madeleines. Full and happy, I'd head back home on the F train.

I hope I have time to do that, soon! :-)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New York Yarn Crawl

The New York Yarn Crawl starts this Friday, October 9th and runs through Monday, October 12th! It's a great fun event that features many different New York yarn shops. Free instructions, book readings (see the Stitch Therapy post below), and much more... Check out their website.

Happy crawling everyone!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stitch Therapy

Since November 1st, 2009, Stitch Therapy has moved to its new location on 5th Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets (335 5th Avenue)--still in Brooklyn :-).

This week I went to Stitch Therapy (176 Lincoln Place
Between 7th & 8th Avenues Brooklyn, NY 11217, 718.398.2020,, in Park Slope. The store is right off of 7th Avenue, across from a lovely little coffee shop. The walk from the 7th Avenue B train stop was very short, but also very sweet. I love this neighborhood, with all of its brownstone buildings and churches on every block. I entered the store and spotted the owner immediately. Maxcine was standing behind the counter, bent over the computer with two other women. They were passionately discussing something, but ended the conversation abruptly to help me and another woman who was walking in right behind me. I asked Maxcine if it was okay to take pictures and started photographing the store, which was not so easy because it was very busy. Stitch Therapy is a small space, but it is filled with a very nice selection of high quality yarns. I was really impressed with the softness of Prime Alpaca, which is not a brand I have seen before. “That yarn is the softest and the cheapest yarn I have in the store,” Maxcine said. “It has very long yardage and is extremely good quality." I had a hard time putting it down.

Another shelf that magically attracted me was the Punta yarn shelf. I had not seen their lace weight yarn yet. It is very soft, and the colors are truly beautiful. Behind me, Brandy, the store manager, was helping out a few different customers. She was very bubbly and knew her stuff. Maxcine was busy getting ready for an event on Saturday, part of the New York Yarn Crawl. The event at Stitch Therapy is a book reading of the book “The Adventures of Miss Flitt", A 19th Century Mystery in Four Parts, written by Beth Hahn. The book includes a story, knitwear design (patterns), and water colors, and it looked rather beautiful. The reading will take place at 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 10th.

When Maxcine had a moment, I asked her my seven (or rather eight) questions.

Me: How long has this store been here?

Maxcine: 5 years.

Me: How did you choose this location?

Maxcine: There was a store here called Crystal Clover, which I liked a lot. I walked around this whole neighborhood looking for a good location for my shop. One day, I saw that there were boxes in the windows of the store, and I found out that they were moving out. I somehow thought that was kind of meant to be. Before Crystal Clover, the building housed another store named Three Peddlers. I had gone shopping there a lot, so I thought this was a really nice place to start my business. However, we are moving at the end of the month to a new location on 5th Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets (335 5th Avenue).

Me: Who is your staff?

Maxcine: Well, there’s me and there's Brandy, who is my manager. She was here when the store opened, worked part-time during grad school, and has returned full-time for now. Brandy can knit anything I can knit. She can tell any of the customers anything I would be able to tell them. I have two teachers: Kim teaches beginning knitters, although I should probably call that “The Comic Knitting Styles of Kim.” She is so funny. I am always in stitches during her class. Tony, who writes the blog “The Yarn Monkey”, teaches our knitting learning circle. It’s not really a coffee clatsch, it’s serious knitting and instruction. We also periodically teach a series of free workshops (the yarn is purchased here and the classes are free). One very successful workshop was in the entrelac pattern. Our students made all kinds of things in entrelac afterwards. Someone made a whole blanket out of it! We’ve taught 2-at-a-time magic loop, and neck-down. We’ll also be offering a Mommy and Me evening and a men’s night.

Me: How do you choose your yarns?

Maxcine: My mother is a seamstress, so quality is very important to me. I look for softness, price, and purity of color. I search for new fiber and new spins; I am not tied to name brands. Prime Alpaca has a great price/quality ratio. Berroco is a good yarn: it holds up over time and has a lot of yardage in a ball. I like mostly bright colors, so I carry very little dark yarn.

Me: Who makes your store samples?

Maxcine: I do, and Brandy, and my teachers if they teach classes. All samples have to meet a certain standard. They have to look like you could buy them in a store. Sometimes we get samples from manufacturers, but we don’t always use them.

Me: What got you into yarns?

Maxcine: I have been knitting since I was seven. My aunt Rose taught me, and then my mother taught me to go further. After I moved to the United States (I was born in London, with Jamaican blood), I taught my junior high school teacher how to knit in shop class.

Me: Do you think people knit more or less in this economy?

Maxcine: My knitters knit regardless. My clientele are regular knitters. My products are affordable. We put baby clothes first, fashion second, but people make all kinds of things. I focus on offering good quality for a good price, and that attracts people. We started here five years ago and have now outgrown this space. The new store will be a share with a store that offers fabrics and quilting. It has a garden in the back and more space. I think it will be a great fit!

I left the store, ready to knit all knds of new things, grabbed a coffe at the cute little coffee shop, and headed uptown to meet my family. What a nice afternoon!