Thursday, October 30, 2008

A disappointing yarn

Last year when  I was living on Capitol Hill, I discovered a local yarn shop. It had a varied and beautiful selection, despite operating out of a very small space. It tended toward the higher end (which, as I have mentioned, helps me appreciate Rumpelstiltskin back home all the more for its price-conscious variety) but did it well, with variations on cashmere, alpaca, silk and wool distributed among various yarn weights and colorways. The store was organized well and offered all the latest publications, and displayed beautifully crafted sweaters, scarves and swatches to showcase many of the yarns. During the fall, I taught several of my housemates to knit and was offered the opportunity to teach a beginning knitting class in the event that I stayed in DC.

What a shock then that my visit yesterday was so unfruitful. I had joined the store's stash club, which was to send me one skein of an artisanal yarn and accompanying pattern per month for a year. I picked up my yarn for the first month last December, days before I returned to Sacramento. I received nothing in January, nor February. Thinking it due to a snafu with mail forwarding, I e-mailed the store and inquired about the status. I heard nothing. A few weeks later I left a long message on the shop voice mail, again I received no response. Some time after that I was able to call during business hours and speak with the owner directly, who took down my address and promised to send everything that had not yet been delivered to me, explaining that my address had been lost. I received a skein of milk yarn, which is interesting, though the color I received (peach) was nothing to write home about. No other package arrived containing my missed months' selections.

Sometime last month, I contacted the owner again about the lack of stash, and was offered a continuation of the club for next year or a store credit. Given the troubles I'd had this year, I thought it best to instead take the store credit, looking forward to using it to buy the new Veronik Avery book and to buying enough yarn to make a sweater from it that I've had my eye on for some time. Also, because I'd already paid the money back in December for the stash club, and received at least two installments, I sensed that disputing the charge through my credit card company would be nigh on impossible. My continued communication issues had me worried I'd never see a credit card refund, though at this point I'm not willing to attribute that to any shadiness, just to being busy and focused on other pursuits. I've had enough good experiences with this store that I've never suspected nefarious dealings, just negligence.

I went to the store yesterday, secure in the knowledge that I had a sizeable store credit to use and eager to explore. Sadly, it was difficult to put my credit to satisfying use. I was informed that the store has not received any new books in months, which was evident from the surplus of Teva Durham's Loop-d-Loop and and excess of Noro pattern books. In addition, there were (characteristically for this store) very few needles in popular sizes, so stocking up on supplies was also out of the question. The store's bins were half empty, and there was not enough yarn in any reasonable color to make a sweater, unless I wanted to spend $40 a skein on cashmere (which, if I were made of money, I might have considered). I spent nearly two hours scouring the store for ideas for a sweater, because NaKniSweMo approaches and I won't get back to California (and my stash) until Sunday afternoon. I was, until yesterday, determined to participate fully in this year's event.

In the end, I bought 7 skeins of yarn that I would have admired, but probably not have purchased in other circumstances. There were four skeins of a raspberry tweedy aran from Rowan that is probably discontinued at this point, and three skeins (all that was left) of a grey undyed alpaca from Cascade. This, plus two pattern books from 2004 that I still like and was lucky to find at all, was the extent of my purchase. I may try to construct a sweater from the elements, but the weights and textures are significantly different, and will take some effort to get right. Not something I can throw together for NaKniSweMo.

If the condition of this store is any indication of what's going to happen to yarn shops as the credit crisis becomes an economic downturn, then it's a very bad time to be pursuing a new yarn shop or fiber operation. This is very disappointing to me, because the creative soul of the fiber community has flourished these past few years. The pattern books, the handspun and hand-dyed yarns, the availability of artisanal yarn, the creative experimentation prompted by so many artists sharing their efforts has resulted in such a wealth of interesting options. On the heels of recieving an e-mail regarding Artfibers's closure, seeing this store in such a state seems to be one more indicator of a future filled with acrylic and bad doilies.

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