Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Lee Youngman, co-owner of The Knitting Studio in Montpelier, arranges a display of yarns at the store on Friday.Whoever dies with the most yarn wins. I've heard this line from die-hard knitters and even seen it on bumper stickers, but it wasn't until I visited Montpelier's Knitting Studio for the first time that I actually understood it.
In high school, which is a time when a lot of people do stupid things, I decided to knit a quilt. I needed roughly enough yarn to stretch across a football field, so I bought about a dozen skeins of heavy synthetic fiber that, unraveled, resembled a wad of plastic shopping bags after being jammed through a paper-shredder.
Needless to say, I scrapped the project as soon as I realized that the finished product would be about as cuddly as a block of linoleum.
Somehow, despite more than a dozen moves to different cities and apartments, that sack of yarn has survived among my possessions. It is, after all, perfectly good yarn, and it does make great packing material that will come in handy if I move again.
But until then, its bulk monopolizes a corner of my closet that I could use for something functional, like actual quilts. So when I listened to people talk about their passion for yarn and their desire for more of it, I assumed that they were either naïve or crazy.
But then, about a year ago, I walked into The Knitting Studio and made the important discovery that there's yarn, and then there's yarn. I walked around the store, slack-jawed, touching the 100 percent baby alpaca wool and the colorful skeins called Funky Fur Magic, and wondered how much of the store's stock I could stuff into my closet and still be able to open it.
The shop, which first opened a decade ago, was purchased in 2008 by Lee Youngman and Leslie Roth. Youngman had been a mortgage originator for 22 years and a knitter for less than two, and Roth was a graduate student and knitting enthusiast looking for meaningful work.
Although both are naturally outgoing and eager to please their customers, they are also quick to admit that they had no idea what they were getting into when they took over the shop.
The high-quality yarn that has become one of the shop's most winning features presented the first challenge for Youngman and Roth after they bought the shop.
Yarn distributors generally make new products available to ship in August and February only, so the new owners purchased all of their stock at once and put it out on display as soon as it arrived. Over the ensuing months, they observed that shoppers were losing interest in the inventory. Youngman began to wish she had access to fresh new items that would grab her customers' attention.
“We've gotten much better at staggering when things arrive so that at least once a month, we can send out an email that says, 'We've just got the most amazing, shiny, supple silk bamboo,' and that gets everybody in the door,” said Youngman.
Youngman also credits The Knitting Studio's move from State to Main Street in 2011 for the shop's present success.
“People seem to like this space much better,” she said. “It's not as crowded or as cluttered as the old space, and it's brighter, and so we just get a lot more positive feedback.”
Even so, on Tuesday nights when the shop hosts its popular Knit Night sessions from 6 to 8 p.m., space is at a premium. On a given week, up to 20 crafters stream through its entrance, hefting needle-prickled tote bags. On a recent chilly Tuesday evening, I lost count after a dozen people settled down onto wooden folding chairs at the back of the shop. No two were working on the same type of project.
A newcomer mentioned that she'd been turned away from other knitting groups because she only knew how to crochet. Someone replied, “If you use yarn, you can stay.” Then she added with a laugh, “But you'll probably need therapy after what you've been through.”
I've always been a sort of one-trick pony in terms of knitting. My level of skill does not extend much farther than hats and mittens, but at Knit Night I was inspired to try something new. I wondered aloud if there was such a thing as an easy lace pattern, and Youngman jumped up to introduce me to www.ravelry.com, a free Internet database that's always open and available for customers to use on a laptop at the front of the store.
She printed a lace pattern called Feather and Fan and assured me it would be easy. Then, thrilled by the opportunity to buy more yarn for the growing collection in my closet, I selected two skeins of a fine gold- and blue-flecked linen called Seduce by Berroco.
Once I was established with my project, I sat back and listened to the chatter among those assembled, an even blend of twentysomethings and grandparents, beginners and veterans.
The conversation, which wound back and forth between gossip and knit-talk, was peppered with technical terms I was mostly unfamiliar with. One term, the Continental Hold, captured my attention. Was it a romance movie set on a particular airline? A stagnant Continental Congress? Turns out it's just a knitting method that involves holding both the yarn and needle in the left hand.
When I gushed about my new-found fascination with yarn, the others nodded in agreement.
“Yarn quality just wasn't as good 20 years ago,” said Roth. “And patterns in the '80s looked like they were from the '40s. You may or may not want to make that baby sweater that looks like something your grandmother made.”
A woman in the back piped up: “For the last 10 years there have been so many new and different types of yarn. It feels like there's so many projects and so little time.”
And if I'm ever going to be able to open my closet again without getting buried in a yarn avalanche, I'd better get started on something new, like a sweater. Or a quilt.
Marija Zagarins writes Found Downtown, which looks at independent businesses around central Vermont. She lives in Montpelier.MORE IN Vermont News
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