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Pre-Rhinebeck Untangling: Knitty City

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An Asian American man smiles in front of shelves of colorful yarn.
The interior of a yarn shop.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled, taking place on October 20, 2023, in person in Saugerties, NY, and online. Tickets are available and selling fast!

Manhattan yarn shop Knitty City has been a longtime supporter of Indie Untangled and I’m so thrilled that they are a sponsor of our 10th anniversary event! Back when I was organizing the very first show in 2014, they welcomed a flier advertising the event on their community bulletin board, and have since hosted me for events and trunk shows (including one that will be taking place on Saturday, November 11).

Sadly, Knitty City founder Pearl Chin passed away in 2020, shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer. It was a tough blow for the New York City knitting community still reeling from the impact of the pandemic. Fortunately, Zac Chin, Pearl’s son, has taken over and has continued the shop’s community- and charity-focused spirit, shepherding in new products and events.

Tell us some of your favorite memories about growing up around Knitty City.

When I first started working at Knitty City I was relegated to yarn winding duties. This was actually my favorite job at the store. In addition to just being fun to do, you can learn a lot about a yarn from winding it. I’d get a sense of how slippery or coarse certain yarns were and learn how fast to wind them to keep a good tension without having the balls fall apart. I even enjoyed getting the occasional Malabrigo tangle to puzzle through for the next hour or two.

After some time I got put on the cash register once my mom figured out that I rang people up very quickly. Once that happened, my mom never let me leave the register. If I tried to get on the winder my mom would take over and say “Let me do that, you’re too valuable to wind yarn,” and make me sit by the register even if no one needed to check out.

These days, I’ll still try to sneak some time onto the winder or ring someone up at the register every so often, but I’ll be swiftly met by an employee’s “I can watch the winder, you have important Zac things to do.” I guess some things never change, no matter how much growing up you do.

An Asian American woman smiling while standing in a booth of colorful yarn.
The late Pearl Chin, founder of Knitty City.

What are some important lessons you learned from your mom about running a yarn shop?

My mom always taught me to be kind and generous. We’d get the occasional customer knocking on the door when we were already closed for the day and my mom would almost always let them in to shop. At first I thought she just wanted to make an extra sale to bring up the numbers at the end of the day, but her rationale was that the customer would always remember that kindness and come back (hopefully during regular store hours).

As a small business, it’s important for us to make sure our customers have a positive experience from when they step into the store until they finish their project and try it on for the first time. Knitty City isn’t going to be as big as WEBS anytime soon and that’s okay. People still make the choice to shop with us in person and online because they enjoy the whole experience with us and we make them feel good about getting their yarn and turning it into something they love.

A child embraces a small, white alpaca.

Knitty City has raised a lot of money for charities. What are some of the organizations you’ve supported?

If you’ve come to Knitty City, you’ll know we always have WQXR playing. We’re proud to sponsor New York City’s only classical public radio station.

Every year we make a donation to Heifer International. Heifer International gives livestock to impoverished families and teaches them how to raise the animals and create a sustainable living for themselves. You can choose what animals you’d like to gift and we always pick sheep and alpacas. This is our way to grow the knitting industry and get more yarn out on a global scale.

In the Springtime, around Mother’s Day, we would raise money for Moms Demand Action with our Moms & Makers Market where we would rent out a space from Redeemer Presbyterian Church and invite vendors to sell their wares. Moms Demand Action fights for sensible gun legislation to protect people from gun violence. The Moms & Makers Market had to be canceled in 2020 when CoVid struck, and it’s honestly too large of a project for me to take on at the moment. We continue supporting Moms Demand Action by donating a portion of the revenue from our Spring/Summer pop-up shops, where we invite crafters to set up a table and sell their products in front of Knitty City.

Last year we sent support to Ukraine through the World Central Kitchen, which provides food relief to people in the wake of disasters. This fall, our pop-ups will be raising money for the Hawaiian Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund. Stop by on scheduled Saturdays to support local independent crafters and Maui’s long term recovery.

The front counter of a yarn shop.

You recently hosted live music at the shop! Do you have any other unique event plans in the works?

The debut concert with the Tealight Trio was so much fun! We’d definitely love to do more knitting adjacent events that you might not necessarily find in a knitting store. On Friday, October 27th, we’ll be having a book signing with Paula Pereira, author of Textured Knits from Laine Publishing. She’s bringing in samples from the book, so it’ll be a great opportunity to see some of the pieces in person.

We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to have special guests in the store, so if you know anyone or have any ideas, we’d love to hear about them. We recently did a little remodeling to open things up in the store, so hopefully we’ll be able to host larger events in the future.

Aqua socks with the orange Knitty City logo.
Two skeins of variegated yarn in deep blue, purple, pink, orange and green.
Aspect of Twilight

What are some new products you’ve brought to the shop that you’re excited about?

Last year I had Knitty City socks made for the store. I know everyone wants to wear their own handknit socks, but these ones are really cute. They’re a light minty turquoise color covered with orange yarn balls and the Knitty City logo. I gave a few trial pairs out to friends and I was told they’re the most comfortable socks they own. Lucky Indie Untangled 2023 attendees will find a pair in their swag bags if they registered early enough.

We started carrying yarn from an indie dyer based in the pacific northwest called Waifu Yarns. She creates fabulous colors inspired by video games and BTS photography. Even if the k-pop bug hasn’t caught you yet, I think her colors will catch your attention. Everyone’s loving the “Aspect of Twilight” colorway and it just flies off the shelves.

A stuffed turtle knit in aqua and brown gradient yarn.

What are some of your favorite customer projects?

My favorite project that’s come into the store is “Happy the Turtle” by Jennifer Chua, seen on Ravelry. We held a contest to promote Circulo’s Whooppee yarn when it came out and we invited several customers to make any project of their choice with the yarn to be displayed in the Knitty City window. At the time, I knew Jennifer was a talented knitter, but I didn’t know she also made her own original designs. When it comes time for submissions, Jennifer comes in with this adorable turtle. The whole day was filled with people hugging the turtle and wanting to take photos with it. When we changed the window, we returned all the submitted projects, but Jennifer very graciously offered to let us keep Happy at Knitty City.

Broadly speaking, my favorite customer projects are usually when the knitter or crocheter tries their hand at something new or adds a personal twist to the project. They’ll come in with their first hat and say “It came out a little big, but if I just roll it up, it works” and they proceed to fold the brim and proudly put it on their head slightly saggy.

When JW Anderson’s Harry Styles Cardigan was the new hotness, we had a couple younger customers buying large quantities of various solid colored yarn. When we asked them what they were making they’d say, “Oh, I’m making the Harry Styles sweater, but this is my palette.” So I know there’s at least one forest green/brown and an ensemble of pink/purple Harry Styles cardigans out there. For me, it’s really cool to see people take a project and make it their own.

I think people too often get caught up in making something perfectly or getting just the right color to match the photographed sample. I’ve always understood knitting to be about creating something that is uniquely yours, but there are a lot of knitters that struggle with adventuring out on their own and embracing the missteps along the way. Often we hear people say “I need help, I’m not a very good knitter,” but I don’t think that’s how we should be looking at our projects or ourselves. The thing is, there’s no such thing as “bad knitters,” just inexperienced ones. Always be proud of what you make and if you can’t do that, at least learn something from it.

What are some favorite projects you’ve created yourself?

I don’t have a lot of knitting projects under my belt, but my most memorable was actually the first project I did completely on my own from start to finish. It was shortly after my mom had passed in 2020. I wanted to make a scarf to donate to the Bryant Park “Found but Not Lost” project that she started, so I just grabbed a skein of bulky acrylic from our donation bin and knit away.

The scarf ended up becoming a cowl. When I was showing my dad, he goes, “This is really nice. What are you going to do with it? Can I have it?” It seemed appropriate to let my dad have the cowl I made for my mom.


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