Yarn pilgrimage part one: Habu, Kinokuniya, and Purl Soho

November 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

Last month was one of the busiest months ever, but also one of the funnest, as it was the first time I’ve ever gone on an overnight trip for the express purpose of indulging in a hobby (or hobbies, really), knitting, spinning, crocheting, and sewing (I exclude weaving if only because I wasn’t planning on buying any yarn for weaving, and didn’t. Also, yay! for sticking to the budget there, haha…). The main purpose of this epic yarn pilgrimage was to go to New York Sheep and Wool, otherwise known as Rhinebeck, to hang out with my friends M, C, and J, whom I met back when I lived in Michigan. Ok, and to go shopping and to experience what I think might be the largest wool-based festival in existence — although it is possible that Maryland Sheep and Wool, in West Friendship, might be larger or similarly sized. I’ll find out in May!

But before I even got to travel up the Hudson, I had to change trains in New York City, which meant that I had to get from Penn Terminal, one of the grossest buildings I’ve ever seen, to Grand Central Terminal, arguably one of the nicest train stations I’ve ever seen. As I didn’t have to go to Grand Central right away, or so I thought, I decided to make a pit stop at Habu Yarns, in the garment district. That meant wheeling my little suitcase through what was basically not a tourist area, meaning lots of people stared at me, probably assuming that I was lost. Fortunately I had my “focused knitter” face on (which I suspect is oddly similar to my “death glare” face, according to my boyfriend) so no one bothered me, or at least not until I reached the building where Habu is located and attempted to take the elevator to the eighth floor. I pressed the button to go up, and nothing happened. So I pressed it again. No light, no elevator graunching noises, nothing. I was about to press it again before looking for a staircase — carrying my luggage up eight flights of stairs did not seem appealing, but for Habu I was considering it — when some actors and actresses showed up (I know this because they departed on a floor with some sort of folk theatre there and were carrying headshots and so forth) and one of the actresses was like, “You have to PRESS THE BUTTON to make the elevator show up.” And of course when she pressed the button, the elevator light totally lit up and shortly thereafter the elevator showed up, making me look like an idiot. (I was very tempted to snap, “We do have elevators outside of Manhattan, you know!” But I decided to let it slide, and anyway the one at work does this to me a lot too, so maybe I just make elevators work weird.)

Anyway, once I got to Habu, the sight of beautiful yarns helped me to relax and forget all about the malfunctioning elevator. I am somewhat familiar with some of the Habu line because Woven Art, my favorite LYS, carries some, but seeing the whole collection together was impressive. I agonized over what to get for a very long time, mainly because there was no one in the room and it felt unseemly to yell for help, as if I was going to disturb the yarn. Irrational, I know, especially considering I could hear the staff chatting in the back room, but it was just so soothing in there!

Eventually an employee decided to walk through the showroom, and then later the store owner (M identified her from my description) also answered some questions for me and I settled on purchasing this beautiful linen-stainless steel yarn because I’ve never worked with linen really, and steel not at all. I also chose it because it was decent yardage for one cone, and I thought perhaps Woven Art didn’t carry it, though M later informed me that they do, just not in that color. The whole experience was very strange by American retail standards, but once M explained that the store owner is very shy, that plus knowing that Japanese retail customer service is different from American retail explained everything (read: don’t be afraid, like I was, to talk loudly to get their attention, or maybe they have a bell or something, if you go visit and need help. The staff are great once you realize that they’re waiting for you to ask for help, and of course they know a lot about their yarns).

(Also, for those contemplating a trip to the Habu store, there’s no signage to indicate that the building contains glorious yarn, but the numbering is clear enough and I was able to easily find it with no map, and only some very rough directions handwritten from google maps.)

On the way back from Rhinebeck (yes, I am totally skipping Rhinebeck for the rest of my Manhattan visit, Rhinebeck will be the next post), I walked from Grand Central to Bryant Park, as there’s a new outpost of the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya there, and I have a slight obsession with Japanese knitting and crochet books. It’s a pretty easy walk, and the staff are more than used to tourists, because they have a bag check system that’s very handy; you trade bags for tags. The knitting and crochet and other craft books were on the lower level, plus Keito Dama, despite having the rest of the craft magazines upstairs on the newsstand. I saw the two “Felt your cat’s hair into awesome projects” (not a literal translation) books, and was sorely tempted to buy them, but then since I remembered that the English translation of one is due to come out soon, I held off. I ended up purchasing two stitch dictionaries, one for knitting and one for crochet, and opted to not buy any more pattern books as I really need to knit more from what I already own, and also because I really need to focus more on designing.

I then admired the Sukkot in Bryant Park, caught a cab down to the hospital-y area of Manhattan, and visited with my friend S, who is studying for his M.D./Ph.D. at NYU. We went to lunch at a nice Thai place (sorry, I forgot the name) and made various stops in food-filled places such as Kalustyan’s, Eataly, and a local food market that apparently moves around the city. One of the stalls had treats from Momofuku Milk Bar, so S and I bought two cookies to share, one compost and one blueberries and cream. (I am planning on making the blueberries and cream cookies just as soon as I can order some of the stranger ingredients online, and will post that recipe at my cooking blog). Eventually S had to go back to the lab because he had been playing hooky for too long, and I took a taxi down to SoHo, for Purl Soho.

Purl Soho (their blog the Purl Bee is linked on my sidebar) is a beautiful store. I was too embarrassed to attempt to take photographs as the store was really full. Surprisingly, I ended up not buying any yarn there because either it was way out of my budget, or I can get it at home. I decided to buy Liberty of London fabric, which is hard to get where I live, and a fabric yo yo maker, for scraps of fabric I have already. The staff there is very helpful, and they too will hold luggage, though they don’t have a tag system, they just stick it behind the counter. I learned that despite a book being in stock online, the store didn’t have it because there’s a Purl Soho warehouse in California that stocks the online merchandise. I will have to order the book later on, or perhaps hint at it for the holidays or something. The yarns they do carry are beautiful, though I must admit that the fabric is really what captivated me — they carry Lotta Jansdottir, Liberty, some Japanese lines, and I believe Amy Butler fabrics too, among others. After that I hauled my sad, borked suitcase to Penn Terminal and hopped on the train back to DC.

Anyway, the Manhattan portion of the trip was certainly a whirlwind of adventure, but Rhinebeck was even crazier. Stay tuned for part two: Rhinebeck, coming soon!

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§ 4 Responses to Yarn pilgrimage part one: Habu, Kinokuniya, and Purl Soho

  • meg says:

    I can’t wait to see what you make out of your cone of Habu! It was great to see you, hope to see you in MAY!

    • k.m. says:

      I have no idea what to make out of it, but I think maybe a cowl? I just read your post on the Kusha Kusha scarf, and that might be a contender too, though it might tempt me into buying more yarn…!

      Also…YAY for May! (though I might be back in MI before then, we usually go after the winter to restock my great uncle’s fridge and drive him to see his sister, my great aunt.)

  • Nicole says:

    I’ve wanted to go to Purl Soho for ages, not only for the Liberty fabrics, but to see the Pixie Dust yarn that makes the mythical $250 lap blanket. Why, yes, I am a rube.

    • k.m. says:

      Haha, I did see that yarn, and in person I have to admit I was kind of underwhelmed. It just looks like big, fluffy yarn. No $50 bills spun in it or anything 😉

      I also saw the yarn for this crocheted rug: http://www.purlbee.com/the-purl-bee/2011/9/29/big-stitch-crocheted-alpaca-rugs.html

      I remember thinking after reading that post, “Oh, neat, I can crochet a rug, I bet that would be a great Christmas gift for my aunt and uncle!” Then I saw the price for one “bump” and nearly fell off my chair, because no way I’d let anyone even breathe near it, let alone walk on it. Admittedly the alpaca yarn is really cool in person.

      So basically, we can be rubes together!

      Fortunately most other things are reasonably priced for what they are (I’d never call Liberty fabric or madtosh, for instance, inexpensive!).

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