One of the things that I love most about The Baron is that when he’s in the right mood he can make fun out of anything. Most especially this is true of birthdays, holidays and other gift-giving occasions, because he insists that giving yourself presents is a critical component of holiday happiness. In the old days, when he was a lone wolf he used to buy and wrap his own presents, but for the past few years he’s purchased the gifts for himself and then had me wrap them. This year he encouraged me to do the same, and so when I went to New York in early December and came back with an armful of yarn he snatched it away from me and wrapped it up. In fact, I’d almost completely forgotten the trip, the yarn (my name . . . it’s been a little crazy . . .) and the whole idea of giving myself gifts. On Christmas morning I got a wonderful surprise as I opened skeins of Koigu Cashmere, KPPPM and KPM and beautiful yarns from Habu Textiles.
All of this is by way of explanation for why, nearly a month later, I have yet to crow about my GORGEOUS new yarns or talk at all about my whirlwind tour of New York yarn shops.
Since my last trip to New York, over a year ago now, I’ve cultivated the knitting skills and the friendship of Miss V, who joined me this trip. We checked out Purl Soho briefly (10 minutes before closing) and tried to go to School Products but found it closed. With a few knitting projects under her belt and eager to really explore the possibilities of fiber, and with the help of (WARNING: Approaching today’s I-HEART-RAVELRY moment) Ravelry’s awesome New York City Knitters group, we made a plan to visit a few special stores. There are lots of great but basic yarn stores in LA, so we particularly wanted to visit places that had special inventory or were otherwise unique in some way. I also wanted to get the “full” shopping experience so I set aside a little yarn-fund and gave myself permission to make a purchase (here and there) if any special yarns caught my eye.
First stop on the list:
String, 130 East 82nd Street
A few short blocks from Central Park between Park and Lexington, String is a tiny shop on the first floor of a classic brownstone. The shop is basically two small rooms with yarn displayed on the walls and with a large round worktable where a customer was getting a lesson and where another knitter, perhaps an employee, sat working quietly on a project. The staff was friendly and helpful and not at all pushy or intrusive (a sales quality I loathe) but their customer, getting a lesson, took many loud cell phone calls in the 15 minutes I was in the store. She seemed to be oblivious to the fact that she was filling the cozy space with her imposing voice. I found her irritatingly jarring after a few minutes, so I quickly selected my purchases and checked out.
The highlight of the store, for me at least, was the wall of Koigu. Fans of KPPPM (after this trip I count myself as an enthusiastic Koigu-er) may be aware that String exclusively carries a cashmere version of KPPPM (perhaps it should be called KPPPC?) and there were beautiful skeins of the cashmere in a rainbow of colors. A word to the browser: String keeps most of their yarns in the back, leaving just one or two skeins of each colorway out for display. When I asked about multiple skeins, they produced several from the back. Being a bit of a Koigu newbie, I held back . . . sort of . . .
I selected only one colorway of the Koigu Cashmere, a beautiful, rich mid-summer mix of colors that struck me as a more saturated version of the Phoenix colorway of Mountain Colors Bearfoot that I used to make my Mom’s Icarus Shawl:
At String I also selected one colorway from the large wall of Koigu KPPPM, an easygoing pink interlaced with brownish/grey . . . I know it sounds strange, but check it out, I think it’s beautiful:
After String I wandered, somewhat haphazardly and certainly yarn-drunk, around the Upper East Side. In my roaming I found, totally by accident, store number two on the NYC yarn tour:
The Woolgathering, 318 East 84th Street
A really amazing full-window display full of sparkles and sculpture led in to a somewhat lackluster shop. The narrow, one-room store was lined from floor to high ceiling with yarn — a great visual but frustrating to the average browser because I couldn’t reach a good portion of the yarn and I always have a hard time browsing through yarn that’s at foot level. The shopkeeper had stepped out and left the store in the care of someone who was up on a ladder fixing a light fixture, so I didn’t get the chance to mingle with any of the staff. Overall, though, a cute store with a reasonable selection (I did spot/cuddle a few skeins of really pricey but soft cashmere) if not anything spectacular to recommend it. Not sure where a person would take a class or even sit down in the shop, but still clean and nice and cozy.
Stops three and four were right next to each other:
School Products, 1201 Broadway, Suite 301
The crushing disappointment of my last trip to New York was looking for School Products on the last day of the trip, then finding the place closed and pressing my sad, cold little nose up to the glass, silently thinking “open, open, open” and looking miserably at all the cones of yarn I would never be able to touch. This trip it was my first stop, and having found it once, I beelined to it on our second day of yarn-touring. The address, 1201, is on the corner of Broadway and 29th but you have to walk south on Broadway past several cheap-stuff storefronts, go into the unmarked and mysterious lobby, and take the elevator (which smelled like Uruguay, according to Miss V) to the third floor. They don’t make it easy.
I don’t know exactly what the story is with the place, but I think it’s an outlet for a particular yarn line (Karabella maybe?) and it certainly has a no-frills outlet feel. It’s a big, square room with cubbies for yarn on the walls and big tables of unmarked, off-brand yarn marking off aisles. The huge cones of cashmere, silk, merino and so on usually came in single colors with enough yarn to make a full project. Demarcated with handwritten signs, the yarn appeared to be of high quality and exceptional value, with large cones (some looked as big as 5 lbs) in the $40-70 range. They also had smaller skeins of high-end fibers and oddball colors in the $7-20 range. Not everything was a steal, but if I lived in New York School Products would be on my short list for yarn-bargain hunting.
Not everything in the place was off-brand. They had a whole wall of Koigu KPPPM and I was tempted by a skein in hues of blue. I also picked up some KPM (the solid version of KPPPM) in a teal/jade color:
Although the man working the register was friendly, he wasn’t particularly helpful as far as knitting goes, and I heard him suggest to another customer that she come back another day when a more knowledgeable knitter would be in the store. On the whole it was a cool place to visit, and nothing at all like the upscale, boutique yarn stores I’m used to visiting at home.
Habu Textiles, 135 West 29th Street
Just a short walk from School Products, the Habu Textiles showroom is a different universe. Although it’s also in a virtually unmarked building and an elevator ride up from the street, Habu feels more like an Asian-inspired art gallery than a store. A large white room is hung with beautiful fabrics, and when we visited a large number of “sale” yarns were spread out in baskets and boxes on the floor. In a small hallway behind the showroom, every Habu fiber hung in skeins from a dowel rod. Behind another wall must be an office and warehouse of some kind, because we could hear several employees enjoying their lunch (some kind of yummy-smelling curry) and a very helpful woman emerged to wait on us briefly before letting us browse in the serene space. Honestly, I felt creative and elegant just hanging out there, even though we were tired and hungry and ready for lunch as we made our final selections.
I picked out a red silk, labeled “Item A-1, 2/17 tsumugi” and an incredibly soft lilac Bamboo:
I was thinking of some small but delicate lacework for each of the two yarns and decided to limit myself to one skein each.
From the garment district we walked south through Washington Square park to a highly recommended yarn store:
The Point, 37 Bedford Street
The Point is a clean, bright cafe with a unique yarn display: baskets of yarn that hang from the walls, invitingly colorful. The majority of the shop is taken up with aluminum-topped tables of various sizes, and half of one wall is dedicated to their coffee/sweets bar. We wandered around touching all the yarns and hoping that a table would open up, but the place was quite busy so after a few minutes we headed off to our final yarny stop . . .
Purl, 137 Sullivan Street
Purl is a small shop but somehow manages to feel jam-packed and spacious all at the same time. Both long walls of the store are lined with floor-to-ceiling yarn in cubbies and, my favorite part, there are piles of swatches on the long table that dominates the room. A small corner for needles and notions and a neighboring shop, Purl Patchwork (at 147 Sullivan Street) full of beautiful fabrics make Purl a fun stop for color and inspiration.
The best part? We stopped in at the next-door bakery, Once Upon a Tart (135 Sullivan Street), and finished off our day of yarn and city exploration with hot chocolate and biscotti.
All in all, a great day in the city.