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The top 10 things that make a yarn shop awesome: my reflections from the road

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It should come as no surprise that I’ve been to a lot of yarn shops. Aside from being spoiled for choice in New York City, I try to make it to an LYS whenever I’m traveling. Even though many of us have enough yarn in our stashes to open up our own storefronts, there’s nothing like going into a shop even when halfway around the world and feeling like you’re “home.”

Recently, Thao of Nerd Bird Makery asked me to rank my top five shops (how very High Fidelity/Rob Gordon!). It was pretty much impossible to narrow it down, but the question got me thinking about exactly what would put a yarn shop on my list if I could actually manage to make one.

So, instead, here’s a list of the top 10 things that make a yarn shop awesome, and how my LYSs, and the ones I’ve visited while on the road, fit in.

Felicia Eve, the owner of String Thing Studio in Brooklyn, NY.

Welcoming atmosphere

This is perhaps the most important thing on the list. A shop can have the most beautiful yarn on the planet, but no knitter/crocheter/spinner/weaver/pick-your-fiber-crafter should feel unwelcome or out of place.

When I think of a warm atmosphere, two of my locals come to mind: String Thing Studio and Knitty City. While String Thing is relatively new — it will be two years old in June — owner Felicia Eve has created what feels like a second home, just with a much bigger stash. Whether I’m coming for an indie trunk show, for the jam-packed Friday knit night or just to sit and knit in the back garden on an early spring day, it’s clear that this is a community space. Pearl Chin’s Knitty City is a longer trip, but it has the same Cheers-like feeling and commitment to inclusivity. I remember when I first started promoting the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show in 2014, I went up to Knitty City to ask if I could put a flier for it on their bulletin board and they were happy to let me. Thinking back, it was a bit presumptuous of me to ask a yarn shop to support my nascent enterprise, but it just shows their commitment to small fiber businesses and how the shop epitomizes the supportiveness that this community is known for.

Similarly, Mary Ebel of The Perfect Blend in Saugerties, New York, was tremendously supportive with last year’s Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show, helping me find local resources for parking and rallying the local merchants together, allowing space for people to sit and knit during that frenzied day.

The latest location of Fibre Space in Alexandria, VA, makes good use of a fan-shaped space.

Good lighting and organization

When it comes to brick and mortar businesses, a good location with plenty of natural light is hard to find, and supplemental lighting is its own special art form. Yarn shops with the perfect combination of both are the holy grail. There should also be some rhyme or reason to how the yarn is organized.

I’ve been fortunate to visit all three incarnations of Fibre Space in Alexandria, Virginia, and was always impressed with how well lit they’ve been and how they manage to create a nice flow when perusing their inventory. Similarly, Knotty Lamb in Forest Grove, Oregon, seen in the main photo above, arranges its massive space by yarn weight, so it’s easy to know where to go when you’re thinking about knitting a sportweight sweater, or know you need to stay away from the fingering.

Local selection

Since I’m all about the indie dyers, and a yarn purchase while I’m on vacation is the best souvenir, I appreciate when yarn shops highlight their locally-made or dyed products. Retrosaria Rosa Pomar in Lisbon, Portugal, was the perfect example of that, with an impressive array of yarn sourced from Portuguese sheep that made me want to create a woolly colorwork sweater right then and there.

Shop exclusives

Most of us are suckers for exclusive colorways or products, so shops that have these — such as Loop London‘s special pattern books or project bags, or the exclusive Spincycle colorway at Starlight Knitting Society in Portland, Oregon — can just take all my money.

Starlight Knitting Society in Portland, OR, which has since expanded into the adjacent space to the right in this photo.

Room to sit and knit

Whether it’s a long table with room for just one more chair or a cozy leather sofa, a shop needs to invite you to sit and knit for a while, even if it’s just for 10 minutes while your non-knitting partner is at the comic book store. It’s ideal if the seating is communal and spaced out enough so you can look at people while you’re stitching. String Thing’s garden is the perfect warm-weather knitting spot, and I love the big sofas at Fibre Space, Starlight and Knotty Lamb.

Caitlin Hunter’s Time Trades shawl at Knotty Lamb.

On-trend samples

Who hasn’t fallen for a sample, especially when you’re browsing without a plan in mind? I’ll have to call out Knotty Lamb again, as being Caitlin Hunter’s LYS means that there were so many drool-worthy samples.

Just one of the non-yarn goodies at The Observatory Shop. This candle smells amazing.

Non-yarn extras

I know it sounds crazy… but sometimes you’re just… not in the market for yarn. Or, at least you don’t want to get more than a couple of skeins. I appreciate shops that have a well curated selection of non-yarn items, like bags, T-shirts, enamel pins and things you may never have thought of. At Retrosaria Rosa Pomar, I bought a beautiful woven throw pillow, and The Observatory in Hastings On Hudson, New York, has home items, regular bags, jewelry and even clothing.

Clara Parkes reading from A Stash of One’s Own at Knitty City in fall 2017.

Classes and events

Trunk shows, workshops, maker presentations and author talks are a big part of what makes a LYS a community space. The HereNowSpace run by Paola Vanzo of mYak has many of these special events, as does Knitty City.

Weaving represented in the window at Woolyn in Brooklyn.

Enticing window displays

Since fiber folks are so creative, most shops I’ve been to take special care with their window displays. Woolyn in Brooklyn has had some of my favorites.

Pull up a chair and knit at Brooklyn General.

Something “Grammable”

Especially when you’re visiting a shop as a “yarn tourist,” you want a cool way to document your visit. Aside from having an enviable selection, Brooklyn General provides that with its charming, homespun atmosphere that seems made for social media.

Tell us about your favorite yarn shop, and how it fits the criteria of this Top 10 list, in the comments!


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10 Responses

  1. What a great checklist for shop owners! I’ve never had a local yarn shop where I currently live, mainly because the two shops that were open missed out from the start: they didn’t have a welcoming atmosphere. When you walked in, the regulars eyed you while they continued to chat, with no friendly greeting or invitation to join. I’m convinced that’s why they’re closed now.

    On the other hand, I’ve visited so many lovely stores: both online and in person. They make me feel like it’s a home.

    1. Thanks! I realize I left out the Yarnover Truck, which definitely checks off many of the boxes. ???? Can that technically be local for you?

  2. I absolutely agree with you! I’m in Chicago, and we have a good number of LYS, but I live on the far NW side, so most shops are at least a 30 minute drive (and I greatly dislike driving in the city). I was excited to find one less around 10 minutes away when we moved to the neighborhood 11 yrs ago, but both times I visited the shop, I felt so unwelcome. The communal table was located in a tight space where most of the yarn was displayed, and I felt like I was burdening the knitters by looking for yarn.

    Even though I made a purchase, I swear there was a collective sigh of relief from the shop as I walked out. They closed a couple years ago, and I’ve since found a LYS (Knit 1) that hits all the points noted in the post, and bonus, they’re on the route to my acupuncturist. I’ve taken classes there, participated in an LYS yarn crawl they led, and while I’m not a regular, I don’t feel awkward when I go in!

  3. So enjoyed receiving newsletter from Indie Untangled found article of interest seeing when I travel love to visit fiber art store along the way. Living in Indiana we so many to choose all very lovely.
    Hamilton Country: Black Sheep Fiber Art, Always in Stitches, Village Yarn Shop Zionsville friendly Yarn Harlots eager help.
    Marion County: Mass Ave, Broad Ripple Yarn Harlots friendly eager to help.

    Created in the year 2000, The Sow’s Ear is the Midwest’s first combined cafe and yarn shop. We proudly serve local coffee, food and yarn to nourish your body and creative spirit.
    Near Madison Wisconsin
    Dane County Wisconsin.

    Thorp, Wisconsin
    Has world best Gouda Cheese Plant created by Dutch Lady and family few miles up the road from this lovely Yarn Shop mentioned. Look forward visiting and hope if your in area you stop for visit.
    Home of Farmstead, Artisan, Raw Milk, Authentic Dutch Gouda made from our own rGBH-free milk.

  4. This is a great list of attributes for any LYS! Just imagine! I’ve visited many yarn shops, and can’t agree more about the welcoming atmosphere and place to sit and knit for a bit. It gives visitors a chance to get past that rush through the door, and take it all in. I have had the pleasure of having fibre space as my LYS since it opened, and watched it adapt to ever-changing trends while building and supporting a vibrant and strong community. I can’t say enough about the support provided for furloughed federal workers during the recent government shutdown and the opportunities for people to connect with each other. ????

  5. Great article and I couldn’t agree more with what you said. Wish I could visit all of the shops that you listed. One thing I would like to add is about the shop samples: I would like for the shop samples to have the pattern named and available as well as what yarn was used for the sample and make that yarn available as well. If the yarn has been discontinued, mention on the tag attached to the sample (yes, please make sure that tag is there) what alternates – that are sole in the shop – could be used.

  6. I’m from Hamilton County, Indiana, and agree with Lou Ann about Black Sheep and Always in Stitches in Noblesville, and the Village Yarn Shop in Zionsville. We spend some time in Myrtle Beach, SC, and Knit n Purl checks all the boxes, too, with gorgeous yarn, lots and lots of samples labeled with the yarn and pattern used, and a friendly vibe.

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