In search of a yarn store..

With April Foolery nonsense safely behind us (and our dreams of a 4 storey wool shop on Oxford Street still  floating around on a cloud for someone else to make real one day), I’m happy to say that this week’s newsletter is firmly anchored at feet-on-the-ground-street-level. 

There’s very little I regret about the change I made when I decided to open a wool shop. But there is one thing as a knitter that I’m increasingly aware of having lost..

Before I became a shop-keeper, I could eek a visit to a yarn store out of most weekends. If you’d asked me for advice on where to buy wool in London, I could give you the ups and downs on range, helpfulness and transport links to shops rght across the city. My knowledge of wool shops was all bound up with knowing about knitting, and visiting the shops was an integral part of my life as a knitter.  Unplanned encounters with new yarns and  patterns – these were journeys that revealed fresh sources of inspiration and often resulted in new directions for where I wanted to go making-wise. But it will come as no surprise that becoming a permanent resident of one yarn store, doesn’t leave much time over for exploring other people’s. And over the years, I’ve just resigned myself to exploring wool shops vicariously through the stories of my customers.

But on a recent holiday to New York that got rescheduled after being cancelled back in 2020, I couldn’t quite let go of a hankering for a real visit to a legendary US yarn store. We’d been indulging our cliched take on NY must-see sights all week – walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, a ferry trip to Staten Island and back, pastrami on rye in Katz’s Deli, and even Mozart at the Met. The yarn store trip though. it wouldn’t leave me alone. So after 4 days of family touring I announced my intention to split up and look for clues (or a yarn store anyway). 

I worked my way from the Carroll Street Subway around and along a grid of Brooklyn streets, trying to keep the rain from splashing the map on the phone screen. I walked past tatty pizza joints, cafes with urban creatives drinking cortados amongst the yukka plants, and rows of delapidated-now-regentrified terraced houses. The pavements were shiny with rain and if it hadn’t been for those steam vents in the road, you could be forgiven for thinking that there wasn’t an Atlantic Ocean between Lower Clapton Road and Union Street. My digital shadow on the phone map finally bumped into the red destination pin and I looked up to see the shop front of the Brooklyn General Store.

Is it ok to admit that my heart leapt a tiny bit? I’d arrived and I was properly excited – in a before-i-ran-a-wool-shop kind of a way. I wanted to stand and take it in, but the rain was getting heavier and this wasn’t the time. I pushed open the door to a welcoming smile behind the counter.

I looked around and saw a floor-to-ceiling wall of wool, navigable with 2 library ladders on rails. Now I was smiling too.  This sense of familiarity and difference – where things were all new and unknown but also strangely recognisable, made me feel like I was in the company of newly discovered family members. There was a pleasingly gentle disorder to the order of the yarns. The cubbies called out for reaching into. Skeins of wool with labels I’d heard of but never seen – written in serif type-faces that echoed a slightly antiquated US home-spun style.  Amongst the shelves of wool, were nick-nacks, US humour badges, project bags  and haberdashery. Rails of beautiful colourwork samples hung with the promise of what the wool could make. The yarns were different because local meant something different here – but the local-ness and its consequential foreign-ness to me, made this part of my travel adventure into something unexpectedly reassuring and novel all at the same time – like I belonged even though it wasn’t my place.

Don’t forget the Local Yarn Store when you next go travelling. If you need a reminder about what’s special about not shopping online, it will be there for you to see and feel from floor to cieling. Make the trip. You’ll be pleased you did.

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