March 6, 2012

Crawling Around Portland for Yarn

My 12 yr old: "Mom, is this your dream come true? Coffee
tea, AND knitting?"
 Portland. We do love our city so with its local crazies (you should have seen the "Ben Hurt Mini Bike Chariot Races" under the Hawthorne Bridge lately... see YouTube) and our truly fabulous handy crafters and artisans.

The spinners, dyers and local yarn shop owners are some of the local faves to those who love wool. To those who revel in the amazing S and Z shapes formed by hand spun yarns. To those who know what plies are and how they dance together to help shape knitted fabrics. To those who think of walls and walls of yarn when they hear the word, "epic..." You catch my meaning.

Inside Knit Purl
In fact, if you recognize terms like gauge, Chibi, bias, kettle dyed, ssk, lacework, Madelintosh and Malabrigo,  you might even have been there last weekend, right along with us.

Last weekend, Portland was the site of the annual Rose City Yarn Crawl. And it was epic (insert visions of yarn mountains here...). It was four days of knitted bliss across the city.

There were 19 participating LYS's opening their doors, providing free patterns, giveaways (unbelievable baskets of goodies!) and general goodwill. The stores could not have been this busy even if it were Christmas. There were people in every corner of the tiniest of shops in this great event to promote LYS's citywide.

And there are plenty.

To give you an idea of the popularity of knitting and other fiber arts in Portland, consider this: There are about 10 LYS's in approximately a 3-mile radius around the Hawthorne area alone, not to mention that there were 3 more within walking distance of each other in the Pearl District in downtown. There were also several outlying shops--which means they were a few miles away, but still close--that were well worth checking out.

The Yarn Crawl event was four days long--Thursday to Sunday--and if you work out the math for time spent driving, time spent in each shop, time spent chit-chatting with other knitters and time spent in front of the fabulous wood stove at Happy Knits on Hawthorne just knitting as if you lived there amidst the books and yarns, it is a wonder that anyone could have seen all 19 shops in any significant way.

Seeking energy and inspiration in the bottom of an Americano
My BKFF, Tina, shares my freakish love of knitting. We both are relatively new to the sport (you guys know what I mean--you all know the likenesses...don't pretend you don't) and yet have taken to it like girls who just fell of the wagon and right into the best liquor store.

Tiny Tina (as we like to call her) and I decided that this was the perfect excuse to do some serious--if accidental--shopping while posing as knitters who just want to support our LYS's. We only had a few hours free on Saturday, five to be exact, so we made the best of it.

Happy Knits' storefront on Hawthorne Blvd
We mapped out a plan of attack in advance, initially hoping to check out all 19 stores. We penciled it out and realized that, even if we could time travel between stores with no driving, five hours would only allow 15.79 minutes (rounded up) in each store. This also did not account for our voracious appetites that would surely come from all that space-time leaping--and knitting. We also needed build in cozy coffee time.

We compromised our plan containing delusions of grandeur to be more like a vision of reality. We decided on five yarn shops that tickled our fancies for one reason or another. I had always dreamed of visiting Knit Purl and, after spending a day sitting next to the manager of Happy Knits (named Melinda) at Sock Summit, I really wanted to go there, too. Tina was more open. She had not really ventured out to the LYS's and was glad to go anywhere.

Tina grins at the thought of yarn
Thus, our other selections were made according to location. We picked the first shop as an on-the-way stop to downtown, and then two more shops blocks away from each other in the Purl District downtown, er, Pearl... The final shop selection was Yarn Garden shop near Happy Knits. This way, we had minimal stops in the car.

After a quad-grande-americano-with-room-and-2-sweet-and-lows from Starbucks early that morning, we hit it.

Setting foot inside Close Knits, our first pick, we stopped short. The tiny store was wall to wall people. We paused, taking it all in. In the far corner, there was an antique table set up with examples of a Portland designer's work with exquisite vintage belts, hats and gloves. We could tell there was also a book for sale on the table, too. Nearer to us was a knitting area with a charming golden-toned rug and vintage overstuffed chairs. The knitting area was surrounded with samples hanging from tall shelves of yarn. Glorious yarn.

Smell the yarn...
I looked over at Tina for a moment. She was inhaling deeply, eyes closed. She opened them and looked at me. We both realized I had been doing the same thing. We whispered loudly at the same time, "That smell! That yarn smell!" It was heaven. We may have died and gone there, but we weren't sure. Nor did we care. We were sucked in.

From that moment on, it was a whirlwind of sock yarns, wildly varied hand dyes, single plies with gentle color changes, bubbly looking double or 4-ply yarns...laceweights, clever yarn names like "Wicked" (I bought that one) and just all around good will from so many knitters.

Everyone was orderly and friendly, in spite of the obvious revelry of so many other knitters who occasionally (and absentmindedly) bumped into each other while dreaming alone in such a crowded room. Such an encounter would each time prompt a story, a shared experience.

After a day of bonding with absolute strangers, it felt good to know that one was not alone in the world. That people like those on Ravelry are real. And they are really nice.

The FOX Tower in downtown Portland
We really saw Melinda at Happy Knits (my fave store of the day, by the way) and enjoyed ourselves there immensely. There is a very large classroom in the back complete with a huge table and a wood stove at one end, as I mentioned earlier. What a great place to contemplate our day and the lofty notions that were running through our heads--notions of people and potential projects for our dreamy new yarns.

As we plopped down on cushy couches and put our feet up, it hit us: we had not really died after all. We were hungry. This made us a little sad because it meant the time had almost come for us to end our journey. We headed across the street to McMenamin's Barley and Brew Pub, defeated by the restrictions of mortals. There really was time, hunger and a life to get back to.

As we sat eating burgers and fries, we listened to conversations all around us, and quickly realized they were knitting conversations, that there were still other knitters among us.

What a day. What a great, great day.

We grinned at each other and took out our needles as we waited for our food.

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