Have you ever been visiting a city or town and thought, “This place could use a yarn shop?” Well, Jocelyn Songco thought that after moving to Kingston, NY, also known as one of the gateways to the New York Sheep & Wool Festival. She’s in the process of opening Yarn Farm Kingston, a yarn shop and wine bar overlooking Rondout Creek. I’m looking forward to it becoming another must-visit during Rhinebeck weekend!
Tell me about the decision to open Yarn Farm Kingston. Had you always wanted to own a yarn shop?
Owning a yarn shop wasn’t always on my mind, but crafting has been a “serious hobby” for me for decades. Once when I was moving apartments in NYC, a moving guy asked me if “this is what you do” while he was carrying a mannequin and nodding at large clear bins of yarn and fabric. Um… yes?! So much of what I’ve done and who I am has led me to this point at exactly the right time! My career for the past decade and a half took me to remote parts of the world and I’ve always sought out fiber artists and artisans. When you have that personal interest and passion it can’t be suppressed! I’m also an avid class-taker and fiber festival attendee and have learned from many of the greats: Judith MacKenzie, Gayle Roehm, Edie Eckman, Abby Franquemont, Tin Can Knits… as well as more local teachers – Christine Janove, a star quilter in NYC.
So the backstory: I’ve been both knitting and living in NYC for about two decades. I went to my first sheep and wool festivals around 2004 – Rhinebeck and Maryland. Rhinebeck immediately became an annual girls’ weekend with knitter friends. It’s my favorite time of the year – Disneyland for the fiber artist! In 2019, Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I came up to this area to visit my high school friend Sophia, and I had an epiphany: I didn’t have to limit myself to experiencing the joys of the Hudson Valley only in October – I could rearrange my life, downsize my space in NYC, and get a home up here – which I took steps to doing that very weekend.
Fast forward to now, after getting through the pandemic and taking advantage of an opportunity to leave my employer with a bit of a safety net, I’m here in Kingston full time and 100% thrilled to be opening a fiber arts creative space in one of the most inspiring areas of New York state. We are doing everything possible to be fully open by Sheep and Wool weekend! We’ll share updates on Instagram @yarnfarmkingston, and on our website, yarnfarmkingston.com.
What did you do before you decided to become a yarn shop owner?
I was in the Peace Corps after college, then went to grad school and business school and worked in the corporate world for a few years. Most of my “career” has been as an impact investor at a private foundation – 14 years! There, I made investments in small businesses that were both for-profit and generated social impact in some way, such as job creation for low-income people, increasing yields and income for small farmers and improving access to essential services and medicines for marginalized people.
I traveled a ton for my job – every other week or so I’d be leaving for a trip. I’d lose myself in knitting on plane rides, “bush taxis” (beat-up station wagons for public transportation packed full of people, and maybe chickens) and dead time between meetings. My favorite part of this work was connecting with people, and that will be the best part of YFK for me as well.
How did you choose the products that you’ll carry?
I’m still choosing! It’s the beginning of September now and I’m deep in sampling and selection mode.
YFK’s emphasis is on local and/or small batch, hard-to-find, unique and special. This is what will differentiate us from other yarn sellers. I’m reluctant to stock much that is very readily available on, say, Amazon, but rather items that are harder for the average shopper to get, or things that really must be seen in person. My priority has been and continues to be to reach out to local yarn producers, dyers and small businesses. Often things are made to order, so longer than average time is needed. In this way, I think YFK can be a social enterprise. I can help small producers more easily tap into the retail market, both in my shop and with online sales. This could help remove a traditional barrier for them, which is access to markets.
I also learned about specific fiber artists and other artisans during work travel in my former career and plan to go back to those sources as I grow my portfolio of products in the shop. To start, I’m really excited to offer Cowgirlblues yarn from Cape Town, South Africa, this fall. I first learned of the company during a work trip in 2013, and met the founder/owner Bridget at her dye studio along with her team of dyers. Their yarn is spectacular! Then I reconnected with Bridget at the Indie Untangled pavilion at a crafts trade show earlier this year… perfect timing.
All that said, I still plan to stock some commercial/traditionally-manufactured yarns that many of us know and love, because they are very good and meet a gap in my “yarn portfolio.”
We’re also deep into sampling and selection mode for our wine list, craft beer and snack menu. I eventually hope to create yarn and drink pairings, both for our waterfront bar and as gifts for the holidays. Imagine if your knitter friend sent you a flight of New York state craft beer and a skein or two of hand-painted yarn plus a pattern, or pattern suggestions… wouldn’t you be delighted?!
What will make your shop different from others?
Wine! Local craft beer! Snacks! Coffee! A waterfront view! Did I mention? We are a wine bar too, in a fabulous location.
As for the local yarn shop aspect… there’s no doubt that knitters, crocheters and crafters more generally are shopping online, and there are benefits to this medium (breadth of products and sometimes cost). But fundamentally, we crafters are a community and there is absolutely no substitute for being in a community in-real-life. There’s no greater joy than squishing yarn in person, no greater accuracy in choosing colors than seeing them in front of you, side by side with other options, and loving the result, rather than “living with” something you thought was a little different when you saw it on your screen. And I’d guess the former gets cast on immediately, while the latter might get thrown into the stash that we all have.
Since I think many of us are cross crafters, YFK will have a hodgepodge of supplies beyond yarn: fiber for spinning, fabric, embroidery kits, lap looms and weaving supplies. We’ll have a more curated offering of yarn, and offset that with a greater diversity of other crafting materials, from places near and far.
For classes, YFK will have traditional offerings like multi-class courses on how-to-knit/crochet/spin/drop spindle and workshops and trunk shows. Yes to all that. Beyond this, though, we’re super excited about launching drop-in classes for people to do on their own at their leisure (like Julia Cameron’s Artist Date), or with friends, or for date night. Think: playing with watercolors, building a terrarium, weaving on a lap loom… and you take home your finished object and/or tool or resource from the class after your one-hour session. We’re super excited about this, kind of a self-guided “paint and sip” for fiber artists, or curious creatives more generally.
And for wine bar patrons who aren’t knitter-crafters, we’ll have gifts to give loved ones or to treat yourself, like locally-handcrafted charcuterie boards, weekender bags (aka HUGE project bags), lotions and potions. We have a small batch of handknit samples for sale now, and I’d also love to enable connections between local knitter-crocheters to take on commission pieces for shoppers who want custom-made knitwear or home goods.
When and how did you learn to knit?
My Peace Corps friend Almaz taught me on a train from NYC to Princeton in 2003 while we were on our way to visit friends… she’d learned to knit in San Francisco during the surge of popularity in knitting at that time. I learned on metal needles and I used acrylic yarn. New knitters will start off on a better foot materials-wise with us, for sure!
But I actually learned to crochet first, it was either my mom or my aunt/godmother, Tita Baby. This was when I was 7 or 8. I crochet now and love it, but I’m still a beginner crocheter.
And for spinning – I *had* to learn after I went to my first sheep and wool festival in Maryland and Jim from the Yarn Barn Kansas and Gord Lendrum (though I didn’t know who he was at the time) started me off on a few wheels in Jim and his wife’s booth. I was definitely intoxicated by the fluffy fiber and lanolin fumes at the fairground… and ordered my first wheel, a Schacht Matchless (the Lendrum was a very close contender).
Do you prefer knitting or spinning?
What’s currently on your needles and/or spinning wheel?
Needles: All the yarn I’ve been sampling! It’s important to me to work with every yarn that I plan to carry in my shop, with both needles and hooks. I like blending two different yarns together to create something unique and to understand yarns that play well together or don’t, and to expand the options for how to use the yarn I will offer in my shop, which will be relatively small at the outset and grow over time as YFK grows and we learn more and more what our customers prefer.
On my Ashford Joy 2 wheel: undyed Polwarth (spun from the fold from top), started at the recent Woodstock-New Paltz Arts and Crafts Fair where I demoed with the Ulster County Handspinners Guild, and also introduced Yarn Farm Kingston to the market.
On my cherry Schact Ladybug wheel: undyed Rambouillet (also spun from the fold from top) started at the September monthly meetup for the Ulster County Handspinners Guild.
Tell me about one of your most memorable FOs.
I decided to make a cable afghan from Melissa Leapman’s Cables Untangled (the one on the cover) for my parents as a gift. It probably took 2 ½ years because of one reason or another – I ran out of yarn, got fatigued making yet another square, ran out of yarn again, didn’t want to seam, “Oh, let me cast on for another project”… the list goes on. Then I finally finished and it was beautiful and I gave it to them. And they never used it. Well, after maybe a year I claimed it for my own and use it every winter and I love it. My brother covets it. (No, I am not making another. Yes, I would still support anyone that wants to make this blanket. It’s a beautiful pattern.)
Same sort of thing happened more recently. I decided to make my dad and my brother Mr. Rogers sweaters for Christmas. They got them two Christmases later. They loved them… and do wear them!