Wednesday, 12 July 2006

In pursuit of yarn

The number of times I’m disappointed by the colour of yarn that arrives in the post would make you wonder why I never buy my yarn from a yarn shop, and I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. In the city where my parents live, there are two yarn shops. One sells cross-stitch kits, baby clothes, mounds of neon acrylic DK and eyelash yarn, and cuts keys. The other is a gift shop, with Turkish slippers, Moroccan leather handbags, handmade soap and mosaic-framed mirrors at the front, and a corner stuffed with skeins of Colinette and shelves of Debbie Bliss yarn, never with more than five balls of any colour, at the back. In London, there are yarn concessions in three major department stores (Liberty, John Lewis and Peter Jones), and a few yarn boutiques. As far as I know, there was only Patricia Roberts until last year, when Loop opened, followed by Stash Yarns a few months ago. And it is why I’ve never made it to either of these that I’ve been asking myself recently. My excuse, of course, has been time, and while I had exams looming it was probably a good thing I didn’t spend hours traipsing across London in search of wool.

Now, of course, things are different, and this morning I realised there was nothing between me and a bus journey to Oxford than a trip to Stash Yarns. I didn’t imagine it was on my way, but I vaguely thought of it as local. After all, it is south of the river, and since it opened I’ve felt much greater loyalty to it than to Loop, all the way up in Islington. It was time I voted with my feet (and my Oyster card). So I set off on the yarn trail (carrying as always the kitchen sink, i.e. my usual handbag stuffed with knitting, book and water bottle, plus my laptop and a bag packed for a weekend away).

My journey there comprised a twenty minute walk to the Walworth Road, and then two buses, one to and one from Clapham Junction. Stash Yarns is indeed right next to the bus stop for the Number 37. It has a very crisp, clean shop front, painted white with the name in a lovely curly bright blue, so you can’t miss it – which is a good thing since I’d been slowly sautéing by the window, peering out and gradually losing all concept of time. The TfL website told me it would take twenty-seven minutes on the Number 37, ignoring the fact that Upper Richmond Road is also the South Circular, and therefore a car park divided by stretches of traffic jam.

Stash Yarns is nice. I always make the mistake of thinking that somewhere that sells yarn will be my spiritual home, that the people who work there will practically offer me a cup of tea, smile and laugh and be interested in why I’m buying their yarn. I ought to erase this dream from my mind, to stop myself from being disappointed every time. Stash Yarns is a boutique. You have to ring the bell to be buzzed in. It has two little white tables with a pair of neat little chairs apiece, but the luxurious Clapotis draped over the back of each assures you that these aren’t really for sitting. Or at least, assures me. People in boutiques usually wonder politely what on earth I’m doing there. A bell is usually a good indication of polite wonderment. At Stash, this might have been because I was wearing shocking pink plimsolls and carrying my house on my back, or maybe because I look about sixteen. (I get asked for ID almost every time I buy alcohol, which means that most people think I’m at least six years younger than I actually am). I have since remembered Kathy's preparations when going to buy yarn, which I now realise were very sensible, necessary precautions.

Stash have some lovely yarn. As well as the obligatory Debbie Bliss and Rooster they stock Lorna’s Laces and Artyarns, and they’re the only UK stockists of Koigu, Brown Sheep and Fleece Artist, I think, all in beautiful bright girly colours. I was looking for some good solid masculine shades and didn’t come up with much, but apparently they’re ordering some good ‘guy colours’ soon.

None of this deterred me from buying yarn, you’ll be pleased to know. I spent ages perched on a kick-stool prodding the Koigu and sighing at its in-the-fibre loveliness. I liberated enough for two pairs of socks:


Plus some Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Worsted in foresty shades of slate, sandstone and moss:


My onward journey included a very long walk to the train station, because I overshot by miles in the broiling sun and my jeans and had to retrace almost all of my steps (Stash Yarns is very conveniently situated near to the overland train station), followed by two trains to Victoria, changing of course at Clapham Junction.

Loop doesn’t seem quite so far away now. Next time I go yarn shopping, I’ll take a friend with me, or failing that, wear high heels and foundation. And before I go, I'd better knit something very impressive that I can wear.

A Backyard Leaves scarf seems like a better and better idea.

11 comments:

Laura said...

This is hilarious. It's totally true, for some yarn shops you have to be ready to demonstrate your credentials. Ludicrous.

I LOVE reading about other people's yarn crawls. And yours made me really long to visit England, too. :)

Mary said...

Sorry to hear you didn't have the best time. I found everyone really helpful when I went and they do have gorgeous stock. My experience of visiting Loop wasn't so good - in fact it was similar to yours at Stash!

knitties said...

I love the colours you chose! Lorna's Laces are absolutely beautiful :)

Fiona said...

Nice yarn you got there... and you've answered my main question about Stash, which was 'do they do solid koigu?' Marnie Maclean has a cloche hat pattern written for solid koigu. I'm sure lots of other things would work too but there's something reassuring about looking at a pattern and knowing 'yes, I could walk out and buy that yarn'. I agree with Mary re Loop.. I felt a bit out of place there. It's completely ridiculous that we should feel that way, of course. Especially as you look young.. isn't the 'knitting revolution' supposed to be the province of the young and cool (pink plimsolls are cool in my book)? I felt rather old at Loop. Or maybe it was the overland trek to get there that did it.
By the way, do you have to get off the 37 before it turns left or does it go right past the shop?

Marie said...

You need to be buzzed in at the shop?! Good lord! It's only yarn, for goodness sakes! I'm so sorry the experience was not the best. I always dislike shops that make the customer feel completely undeserving of even setting foot in the shop. I'm always torn when I'm in a shop like that between walking out in disgust or buying something to prove them wrong. Sigh. At least you came away with some lovely skeins! I'm envious that there is Fleece Artist there...no one around here sell it at all...

Ashley said...

Oh how I laughed. I always expect yarn store emplyees to be much more excited to see me than they ever, ever are. It's a little irrational really--I don't expect the staff at bookstores to fall over themselves because I'm a lit professor. and yet the illusion persists.

Tusa said...

Thanks for the warning. I have wanted to visit Loop but to far to do in my lunch hour. Wondered about Stash Yarns but now I know...

Kath said...

I know the feeling. I visited 'Stash' in Chester (no relation I think!) and got funny looks for being excited at seeing all the ggh and Louisa Harding. Shouldn't it be the way that the staff love the yarn and are excited as you are. If you can ever get up to the Colinette Millshop they at least seemed as excited as I was at all the yarn!

Claire Louise Milne said...

Thanks for all the details - now I know where to visit in London this fall. I will be sure to bring a buddy and wear a handknit item!
sometimes when I have colours of yarn I'm not crazy about I like to blend them with something else - two so-so colours can make one great one. And you can add in texture too!

Marie said...

I loved this post! Maybe I shop stop whining about having to buy my yarn online! Thank you for the very nice comments in my blog.

Michelle said...

Sorry you feel this way. The only time I have the door locked is when I have to go to the loo, or have lunch. If you came at one of those times, I'm sorry. Its difficult to be in a shop alone sometimes. I don't know what gave you that impression about the tables, they are for sitting, we encourage you to do so. Our shop is supposed to be your yarn haven away from home. Sorry you didn't get that idea.