Thursday, January 31, 2008

New Yarn City

Last Thursday, I was missing a wedding ceremony in New Jersey. Last Friday, I was shopping for yarn in New York City. I didn't have a specific plan to buy yarn, but I made a list of potential projects (hat for sister-in-law, hat for Katie, etc.) before I set out. Following Carol's advice, I tracked down the location of four yarn stores and I decided to visit all of them—by foot.

The first stop was Habu. However, it was on the 8th floor of a building and I couldn't figure out how to gain access. Oh well.

Luckily, the second stop, School Products, was only a few blocks away. It was on the third floor of a building but I managed to get in. Upon entry I was overwhelmed—dazzled, you might say—by the vast quantity of yarn. It wasn't a huge place but much larger than any other yarn store I've visited. The variety was astonishing.

The proprietor asked what I wanted and I broached the idea of elastic yarn for socks. His gruff response made me feel that I'd made a faux pas. No elastic yarn! (No wire hangers!) Actually, the only acrylic in the whole place was tucked way, way in the back. It was all natural fibers. Also, he was Russian, so that might have been part of it.

If you don't have occasion to visit yarn stores, you may not realize that a gruff, commanding presence behind the counter is unexpected. At yarn stores, you expect the staff to be friendly, help you pick out the right yarn for the project, chat a little and maybe give you tips. You don't expect them to be offended by the mention of elastic.

I bought a couple of skeins of sock yarn (one for me, one for a potential yarmulke for my nephew in Israel) and a circular needle. (Total cost: $31.)

The next stop was a much longer walk away but I warmed myself up with a brisk pace. I was also wearing a very warm (hand knit!) hat.

Knit New York was tiny, more in line with what I expect in yarn stores. The advertised "cafĂ©" was a couple of tables up front and coffee. A woman was sitting and knitting at one of the tables and I said hi when I walked in. She smiled and didn't respond. Whoops—I'd mistaken her for an employee. The selection was great. The walls were lined with white laminated cubbies for the yarn, leaving most of the center space clear. An employee asked if she could help and I picked out a ball of yarn for a hat (for my sister-in-law) and another ball on sale (hat for a niece). I told her about the grumpy Russian guy at my first stop and she laughed. We had the requisite knitting chat and I paid and left. (Total cost: $28 for three balls of yarn.)

At this point, I realized I was starving. I went around the corner and got a bagel with whitefish salad. You really can't get whitefish salad in DC. Yum. While there, I called my dad. I've been thinking about making him a scarf for his birthday and I wanted to get his specifications (color, weight, length, width). Turns out he wants a yellow scarf. I wouldn't have guessed that!

I walked on to the next stop. It was another long walk and I made a stop in a drug store and a stationary store along the way. I also made a stop for a beer around 3pm. I dunno, I had a hankering for a beer. It was just me and the bartender and we chatted a little. I noticed that we were right across the street from the peanut butter restaurant. I asked her if it were any good. She said so-so. I didn't feel like I was missing anything.

After the beer and friendly conversation, I made it to the next stop, Purl. It was another tiny shop with cubbies around the walls to hold the yarn. (Also, they are getting away from carrying balls—only hanks for them. I should have asked why because I have no idea why it matters.) A big table took up the center of the room—good for projects, bad for maneuvering around the shop.

A male employee (a rarity!) asked if he could help me. I told him that my dad wanted a yellow scarf and lives in a medium warm climate. He went around pulling out skeins and suggesting different shades of yellow and different kinds of fiber. I finally chose two skeins of the most expensive yarn I've yet to purchase: a silk-cashmere blend in a golden shade (I think Dad wanted a bright yellow but this stuff is so soft and wonderful, I'm sure (I hope!) he'll like it. We talked about needles, pattern and how best to use the yarn. Very, very helpful.

I sat at the big table while the guy wound about 800 yards of lace weight yarn into balls for me. (This winding into balls business is no joke—it requires special equipment that I do not own! Yes, it can be done by hand—but winding 800 yards by hand would take hours. Seriously.) (Total cost: um, $67. Yikes. You'd pay that much for a cashmere/silk scarf though, right?)

I had one more stop…but I looked at my watch and it was after 4pm. My yarn excursion took the entire day. I took the subway to Penn Station and made in time to catch the 5:10 train back to New Jersey.

In the end, a great day for yarn!

PS Credit to NS for the title--thanks!

Grateful for: knitting.

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