Field trip: Yarn-store indoctrination

Field trip! My buddy Sonya, a self-taught knitter who’s been soldiering through knitting and learning about yarn pretty much on her own, hadn’t been to a real yarn store until today. I finally bullied her and her sister, a novice knitter whose determination to learn about knitting is eclipsed only by Sonya’s, into going to two yarn stores today. Yesss.

I worked in a yarn store myself for about a year, and one of the unfortunate side effects is that the novelty of yarn stores starts to wear off. Most decent stores stock a lot of the same basics, so it’s easy to wander around going “Yeah, yeah, yeah, seen it,” acting terribly blasé in the face of acres of yarn. It also meant I had unholy amounts of access and exposure to the best products and an employee discount, so I just plain got used to being surrounded by yarn and I funneled healthy chunks of every paycheck into my stash.

It’s not uncommon; the same thing happened to my brother when he worked at specialty food places. The pizza-joint job meant he ate so much pizza that he finally stopped being interested in it forever, and the Swensen’s job ruined him for ice cream, something that my twelve-year-old self refused to accept when he told me about it. I’m not that bad — no way no how am I immune to yarn — but clocking in at the store every day did make a dent in the freakout that happens to a lot of folks in close proximity to incredible yarns. I have to get that yarn-store buzz vicariously now, and get other people high by dragging them to the most dazzling yarn stores I can find.

Commuknity, on the Alameda in San Jose, didn’t disappoint. It’s huge and airy, with distinct areas within the store: an entryway, a couple of yarn and book sections, a knitting area with hot tea and flashy couches, and a separate area for lessons and classes. The areas flow together really nicely, giving a really open feel to the place, but are defined enough that you don’t feel like you’ve accidentally wandered into a mail-order warehouse lined with shelving.

It’s also invitingly set up, with the yarn intelligently arranged by content and type, not just brand. There were samples everywhere, all clearly tagged with pattern and yarn information. Man, I appreciate the hell out of that — it’s nice not having to track down staff just to ask “Um, what’s this made of?” And the Addis! Dude, if you’re into them, they have the best selection I’ve ever seen of Addi Turbos. Dang.

I nearly drove Sonya crazy with overload. It was her first time seeing a lot of these yarns in person and I kept walking up to her, sticking balls of yarn in her hands and walking away, which completely threw her off her pace. I just couldn’t help it — I kept getting snared by all these alpaca yarns and new cashmere blends. It seems like yarn manufacturers will put any amount of cashmere yarn into their yarn blends, no matter how puny, just so they can stick “cash-” into the yarn names somewhere, but there are a few winners. Rowan Cashsoft, dude. Wow.

Sonya’s sister had gone in intending to buy a bunch of yarn for presents, and ended up with a bagful of yarn for herself. Exactly the way it should be, I said.

After that, we hit up Knitting Arts in Saratoga. It’s a completely different feel: the store feels teeny, since it’s a long, shotgun-style space with a narrow storefront. The front little knitting area was filled with knitted samples, gorgeous yarns in rich colors, and knitters who seemed pleasantly crotchety. (Sonya and I like our knitters full of humor and bite, like us.) It’s warm and cozy and has fewer of the plain old basics (except Lamb’s Pride, which it has a bunch of). The place reminds me of the luxury yarn store where I used to work: slightly higher prices, superior customer service and a real dedication to stocking hand-dyed and artistic yarn.

Sonya fell hard for some Lorna’s Laces 50% wool, 50% silk in a really stunning colorway, and I think I insisted a little too hard that she get it. She had $40 from her sister to buy herself yarn with, and the one hank would take nearly all of that, but she was way too in love with the stuff for me to let her get anything else. She got distracted by a pretty great deal on a bag of Rowan, but I kept telling her to put it down. “You can justify a deal anytime,” I said, “but you can’t always justify buying what you really want. Buy the one you love.”

And it worked! She seemed a little stunned when she plopped down her cash for it, since she’d never blown this much on a single skein before, but by the time we got out the door she said she knew she’d done the right thing. She fished the hank out of the bag and during the whole drive home, she rubbed it against her face like it was an especially fluffy and amiable kitten and cooed about how beautiful it was. Dunno about you, but that says “right choice all the way” to me.

My local yarn store, Rug & Yarn Hut in downtown Campbell, is gonna be next. It’s a cozy, informal place, not really the best for people who need hand-holding or who insist on artfully arranged yarn displays. You can’t beat the comfortable attitude, though, and the staff are more like actual friends than salespeople. There’s even a kiddie pool full of sale yarn at the back of the store, and no trip there is complete without kneeling in front of the pool with a couple other determined bargain hunters, chucking bags to each other (“Hey, there’s more of that mohair you were looking for!”) and giggling.