Thursday, June 01, 2006

Boston Shop Crawl

I do not have pix of my purchase yet because I have been really busy. You know how it is when you've been gone for a week and you get back to work--there's a million things you need to do.

My first stop was A Good Yarn. This shop is absurdly convenient by the T (the Boston subway system). It's probably 100ft from the stop. The women in the shop were very friendly and when I told them I was from Chicago, they asked me about the yarn stores in Chicago and I told them abut the shops and about my knitting group. They let me just wander around without being too nosy and I found several yarns there that I haven't seen at shops in Chicago ('course I can't remember which ones those are, now!). The shop was well-organized and about 90% of the yarns had swatches next to them for you to admire and feel. This was true for two of the shops I visited and I really liked it. One thing I did not like about the store was that instead of having each ball of yarn individually priced, they had a little sign near the yarn with the yarn name and the price. This was not much of a problem since they were so well organized, in most cases it was easy to find the sign with the price on it. In general, I'm not a big fan of this system, though, because it can be inconvenient for the shopper. I can see why stores do it, of course, it's much easier than labeling every skein of yarn. One thing I especially liked about the store was one display they had where the skeins were all hanging from hooks on the wall, sorted by color. This was fabulous because I had bought a hat pattern and wanted to use the yarn they used for the model (a mercerized cotton, can't for the life of me remember the name now) and that brand was all displayed like that. Therefore, I could see all of the different colors at once and could easily compare them to each other and get the exact shades that I wanted. Cross stitch stores do this all the time and it makes it very easy to find the color you are looking for. However, I'm not sure this approach is very practical with yarn which is bigger and will take up more room. And it would be difficult to hang up a large number of skeins of the same color, so I suppose they would have to hang out in the back room and you could go get them if a customer wanted a large number of them. Practically speaking, you could do the same thing with swatches--a swatch from each color of yarn.

As far as accessories, they had several kinds of stitch markers, chibis (I finally broke down and bought one--I could no longer resist the lure of the chibi!), bamboo, metal, and rosewood needles. I was sorely tempted to buy a rosewood circular for sock knitting but decided against it.

Next, I went to Newbury street, to find Newbury yarns (no website) which I had no trouble locating thanks to the excellent directions of Dave Daniels. Sadly, they were closed. There was a note on the door saying that they would open at 10:30, but since it was 11:30 at the time so I didn't stick around.

After lunch, and a stroll through the Public Gardens and the Common, I went to Windsor Button. I really loved this store. It's an independent craft store and has a magnificent selection of buttons--plastic, wood, shell--you name the material, the shape, the color, they have it. I bought a large wood handpainted flower in a soft green. I have no idea what I'll use it for--I'm sure I'll be inspired at some point. They also have a wide selection of yarn from brands you would find at JoAnn's or Michael's to things you only find in yarn shops or online. They had some knitted swatches, but not as many as A Good Yarn. I had John with me by this time and fortuitously, there was a table and chairs for him to sit at and read while I browsed. I decided on some sock yarn, and some Lionbrand Kitchen cotton, and a couple washcloth pattern books because I wanted to make some washcloths for John's grandmother as a belated Mother's Day gift. This was probably one of the best things about this store. If you wanted fancy yarn, there was fancy yarn. If you wanted inexpensive run-of-the-mill yarn, they had it. I know many people eschew Leisure Arts booklets as the kind of stuff that gave knitting a bad name in the 80s and 90s, but if you want something basic like washcloths, there's no need to try to find a Rowan magazine and search for the one or two they've probably published in the last 20 years. As for other craft materials, there was a large selection of ribbons, and a whole section devoted to wedding stuff. I'm very nearly positive there was more, but it didn't register because it wasn't near the knitting stuff. Again, the staff was friendly and asked if I needed any help, but left me alone to browse (I cannot stand salespeople that hover over you). Again, I was asked about the yarn scene in Chicago (one of the salespeople was thinking of moving there) and caused a small uproar when I told them there was a Tender Buttons store in Chicago (they thougt the only one was in New York). For needles, they had metal, bamboo and plastic, and several other notions, but not as big a selection as the first store.

Finally, I went to Woolcott and Co. in Harvard Square. There I met the inestimable Sean who was friendly and asked me if I had met the Chicago celebrity blogger Franklin Habit (I haven't; one of these days, I have to get to the MCA Stitch 'n Bitch and ask him to sign my t-shirt or something). Then, we started talking about Franklin's blog and I told him I also read Dave Daniel's blog and he recommended the store, and he said he had just spoken to Dave on the phone and would have to thank him for the referral. I wandered around the store trying to decide what I really wanted to buy. I have a hard time just buying yarn with no particular purpose in mind. As I had already bought sock yarn, I didn't want to buy more of it. And since it was a beautiful, sunny, warm day in Boston, I just couldn't bring myself to buy wool. I finally decided on some Debbie Bliss 100% silk (although I was sorely tempted by another silk yarn from Alchemy) which I think I'm going to make into a little lace scarf that I may keep or give to John's grandmother (she was a big knitter, btw, before her arthritis got so bad she couldn't knit anymore--it's our little connection, see). Again, about 90% of the yarns had sample swatches hanging next to them. However, they had something the other store didn't have. Each swatch had a tag with the name of the yarn, the fiber content, the price per skein, and how many skeins it would take to make a four foot scarf or a small sweater! Genius! How perfect for the tourist or stash shopper. The store was neat and well-organized. There seemed to be a mixture of pricing systems, with some yarns having just a sign and some yarns having a tag on every ball of yarn. Perhaps he is switching from one to the other. I remember this store had very good lighting, and all of the shelves were of light colored wood, so the store was very cheerful. There was a large selection of accoutrements, and I even spied the yarn strand separator that I bought online because I have never been able to find one in a store! Color me impressed! There was a variety of needles in several price ranges, although no rosewood. I bought a 10" set of bamboo needles so I could make my washcloths (because I hadn't thought about bringing extra needles for just in case). I thought the yarn selection was very good and there were several things I had never seen anywhere else--even online (like the Alchemy yarn, for instance). I also saw Reynolds Saucy Sport which is what I'm making my bolero out of (no, I did not get it done), and I have never seen in a store. I really like that yarn and it is inexpensive, which makes it a plus.

Each of the three stores I went to had something to recommend to it, but if I lived in the Boston area, I would probably go to Wolcott and Co. most often for several reasons. First, because I simply felt the most comfortable there. The salespeople at the other store were very nice and friendly, but hadn't heard (or only vaguely had heard) about WWKIP day, and didn't really seem very plugged in to the modern knitting "scene" as it were (not the "I only knit scarves with novelty yarn on size 17 needles" modern knitting scene, but the knitting group/blogging knitting scene). Second because I really liked the variety of yarns both in price and in quality. And third, because I love shopping in Harvard Square and there is a Tealuxe nearby (which is where I like to buy loose tea), and there is an Au Bon Pain nearby with a huge outside seating area that I used to go to when I was in college and being there reminds me of fond memories of hanging out with friends, and I can go with John and just send him to find a bookstore or something.

All three of these stores are very close to public transit, which also makes tops in my book. They had wonderful selections of yarn--some novelty yarn, but not an overwhelming amount, yarns at both ends of the price spectrum, large brand names and yarns from small companies that do hand-dyed yarns (Bearfoot Mountain Company was popular and I would've bought some at one of the places if not for the fact that it was too warm to buy wool). I really, really love all of the sample swatches and I wish more stores in Chicago would have such large numbers of them. Some stores in Chicago do have them, but they either only have them for a small selection of their stock (for things like self-striping sock yarn, and ribbon yarns that you can't figure out what it would look like knitted up), or they don't have them right next to the stock of the yarn in question, so you have to go look at the swatches, then go try to find the yarn. In the two smaller stores, I thought they did a good job of having their items attractively yet conveniently displayed. They also had sample items (baby sweaters for the most part) on hangers in a little area instead of all over the store. I liked this too. One thing I did not pay attention to were the patterns, books and booklets in particular, so I can't really comment on the variety of books these stores sell in comparison to Chicago. One other plus, the stores did not seem to be afraid of selling lower end needles. I swear it can be difficult trying to find needles that aren't addi or bamboo in Chicago. What's wrong with Inox people? Some of us would rather spend our money on yarn.

Thus ends my Boston yarn experience. I had a great time and will definitely be frequenting these stores whenever I vist Boston.


  1. Sounds like great fun!

  2. What a fabulous review of all my favorite haunts! It's always interesting to read something from someone else's opinion. (We share the same opinions!)
    Glad you had a g reat trip, and found some nice souveniers!