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Interview with knitting designer and LYS owner, Aimee Alexander

Today, I’m really happy to share an interview with Aimee Alexander, a knitting designer, publisher, and local yarn shop owner.  Like me, Aimee is also participating in the Indie Design Gift-a-Long.  You can find Aimee online on Ravelry (as getknitty, through the

Aimee Alexander.

Aimee Alexander.

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to knit?
Aimee: I became interested in knitting at a young age when watching my mother knit. I’d help her ball yarn and learned soon after. She taught me the basics, but then dropped me off at our LYS and the owners there shared what they knew.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Aimee: I own an lys and started designing when I couldn’t find patterns for things my customers were interested in knitting. This, of course, was long before the Ravelry In-Store sales program. We don’t have that problem anymore, but I found I really enjoyed designing and I continue to do so.
I also edit and publish other peoples patterns. No long ago, I created Polka Dot Sheep Publications to encompass the addition of designers. Ravelry members can read more about it here.
Aimee's Crisscross Applesauce. (Click to link to pattern.)

Aimee’s Crisscross Applesauce. (Click to link to pattern.)

UC: Most of your patterns are for children’s items (and hats!). What do you enjoy about designing these types of projects?
Aimee: I have three small kids, ages 6, 5, and 3…
UC: Several of your patterns are published through the Knit n Needle yarn shop. Tell us how that collaboration began.
Aimee: I own Knit ‘n Needle Yarn Shoppe/PolkaDotSheep.com in Whitefish, MT. It’s a brick and mortar LYS. We just celebrated our 10th anniversary.
Aimee's Charlie's Sock Yarn Hat. (Click to link to pattern.)

Aimee’s Charlie’s Sock Yarn Hat. (Click to link to pattern.)

UC: What’s your favorite knitting book in your collection?
Aimee: Just one?
UC: Tell me about a designer you discovered through participation in the Indie Design Gift-A-Long. What attracted you that designer’s work?
Aimee: I really admire Jean Clement of Desert Rose Designs. I’ve had the splendid opportunity to moderate a Gift-a-Long thread with her and have appreciated getting to know her more. Her patterns appeal to our customer base, too. We’ve had some success with her Treyi Vest without having knit a shoppe model.
Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Aimee!

Interview with Cindy from Yarn Places

This post contains affiliate links.

Today, I’m interviewing Cindy, the editor of a newish website called Yarn Places.  Cindy is a bit of a Renaissance woman. She was an architect for the first ten years of her career.  She then returned to school for a Masters in Social Work. A few years ago, she stopped working as a social worker.  And, she’s written two children’s books:  Joni and the Fallen Star: Helping Children Learn Teamwork and Harry the Happy Caterpillar Grows: Helping Children Adjust to Change.  Somehow, she also made time in there to found Yarn Places with her husband, Mike.  Oh, and Cindy is a multi-crafter, enjoying drawing, furniture painting, beading, mosaic, and knitting.

Cindy can be found online through the Yarn Places website, it’s Facebook page, on Twitter, and in it’s Ravelry group.

Cindy, editor of YarnPlaces.com.

Cindy, editor of YarnPlaces.com.

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first become interested in yarn crafts?

Cindy: I am kind of a serial artsy craftsy person. I taught myself to knit in high school from a book. I made about four or five sweaters and then moved on to the next thing. Since then, I’ve knitted off and on, but took it up again in earnest when I became pregnant with my daughter, Zoe. It all started with a baby blanket, then I moved onto hats, sweaters, Christmas stockings… then scarves and sweaters for my husband, then me. I love it! It relaxes me- I find yarn very sensual.

 

UC: What inspired you to start Yarn Places?

Cindy: My husband has a website called Map Muse, which maps all kind of niche interests – everything from farmers’ markets to disc golf courses. One of interests mapped on his site is yarn shops. Over the years, the yarn shops page has been one of the most popular.

As I got more into knitting, I talked more about it – the yarns I liked, the local fiber festival, my problems with gauge, the knitting retreat I wanted to attend one day. I guess he was actually listening, because one day at a coffee shop, he suggested we develop a website devoted to all places yarn! I loved the idea! In no time, he had drafted me as editor, and set his staff to work on procuring info on LYSs, fiber farms, fiber mills, retreats, festivals, yarn crawls…you name it!  (UC comment: You can read more about the founding of Yarn Places here.)

 

A screenshot of the Yarn Places Wool and Fiber Farm locator for my home zip code.

A screenshot of the Yarn Places Wool and Fiber Farm locator for my home zip code.

UC: Tell us more about Yarn Places.  What are your current features?  

Cindy: We see ourselves as kind of a one-stop shop for everything yarn. We map and provide information (photos, description, hours, reviews, etc.) on LYSs, fiber farms, fiber mills and knitting events including retreats, festivals, yarn crawls, conferences, workshops, cruises, farm tours, etc. I also write a blog in which I try to keep readers up on the latest events and happenings in the world of fiber – everything from upcoming festivals, to yarn bombings, to charity drives, to yarn shop openings and closings.

We feature a yarn place each week, which includes an interview with the owner of a LYS or fiber farm. Lastly, we have developed iPhone and Android apps of LYSs across the US and Canada, which folks find really useful on travel.

The Yarn Places Android app.

The Yarn Places Android app.

UC: How is it possible to keep all that information current?

Cindy: Keeping information up to date is definitely our biggest challenge. We used multiple sources when we developed our database and cross referenced those sources for inconsistencies. Then we contacted the yarn places and asked them to confirm or update their information. In addition, visitors to the site are encouraged to update information, report closings, and add missing shops through easy to use links. Visitors’ input is reviewed for accuracy then posted the next day. Meanwhile, I actively search the internet for LYS openings and closings on an ongoing basis.

UC: How do you envision Yarn Places expanding in the coming year?

In the next year (and beyond), we would like to increase the scope of Yarn Places. Presently we cover the US and much of Canada, but some day, we’d like to cover the world! Something else we have been talking about is creating a Worldwide Yarn Bombing Map with photos and info of major yarn bombings across the globe. We did a Map of International Yarn Bombing Day this year which was a lot of fun – it will be something like that but much broader in scope.

 

Thanks so much, Cindy, for stopping by to talk to us about Yarn Places!  We look forward to seeing it expand.

Year of Projects, Year 2: Ravellenics and Unveiling the Motif

This post contains affiliate links.

This week I made progress towards two of my most challenging YOP goals.

My sister and I were able to decide on a motif for my mom’s milestone birthday blanket.

(Ignore the fold. It got a bit rumpled in my bag.)

We both had a really hard time choosing a motif, so I made a hybrid.  My hybrid pattern uses the center and final row from Afghan #9 by Valerie Vandergriff with the cluster-y inner border from Crown Jewels by Melinda Miller.

You can see how the first Afghan #9 and Crown Jewels motif patterns relate to the final motif.

I picked the yarn, Cascade 220 Superwash, and my sister picked the color, Banana Cream.

Photo from Cascade Yarns website.

I special ordered a whole bunch of it from my LYS, Knitty City.  I know that the top of the bedspread will be in this color and with this pattern, but I’m still deciding on whether the side drops will be in the same color and pattern.  I’m going to wait until the 42 squares I need are finished and joined before even thinking about borders :).

And now we interrupt this blog post with a customer service rant.  You may remember that Knitty City is my favorite NYC yarn shop.  I have five stories from this week to demonstrate why!  My week started out on a high note – I was able to easily put in my special yarn order to Knitty City via email, and I received all responses via email in a timely fashion.  This shows that the folks at Knitty City are not only responsive but also that they understand that if you send an email, you would likely prefer an email (not phone) response.

I spent most of the week in training for the Ravellenic Games, and I wanted to get a set of size 1 40″ circular needles in case I wasn’t able to get gauge with the needles I had at home.  I had four bad customer service experiences at four different Manhattan yarn shops while trying to get a set of needles!

With size 2 needles, I was at 7.5 stitches per inch, and I was hoping for 8.

  1. I stopped at a new-to-me LYS after work on Tuesday.  I arrived in the store to see three women knitting away feverishly in complete, perhaps tension-filled, silence.  One looked up and said to let her know if I needed any help.  The shelves were a mess and only partially full, and with all three women sitting on the same side of the table, it wasn’t easy to get access to the patterns located behind them.  (I wasn’t looking for patterns, but you get my point.)  There were very few notions in stock, but I decided to pick up some needle point protectors anyway.  (Side note: I come from a family of entrepreneurs and run a small business myself, so I really try to support small businesses when possible.)  It was only at this point that I realized that all three women actually worked there.  When I mentioned I was looking for a specific needle size, no one offered to order it for me.
  2. After work on Wednesday, I decided to stop by a different LYS that usually has a broad selection of needle sizes.  I didn’t see any 40″ circulars in the display, so I asked if they had size 1 in stock.  After being asked about what type of needle I wanted (wood, metal, etc.), they realized they didn’t have any size 1 needles anyway.  Again, no one asked if I would like them to order it for me and by now I was getting really down.
  3. I called a third LYS in another neighborhood and they told me they did have size 1 needles in stock.  Unfortunately, due to commuting times, I wasn’t able to get there before closing.  I decided to stop by the next day (Thursday), and went by about 25 minutes before their listed closing time.  The shop was closed with the gate pulled down.  And, of course, there was no sign indicating they had closed early.
  4. On Thursday morning, I had also emailed a fourth shop to see if they had size 1 needles in stock.  After receiving no response by Friday morning, I stopped by this shop after running errands.  The clerk asked, “Didn’t you call yesterday?” to which I responded that I had sent an email.  Even though she knew someone was looking for this particular size, the woman didn’t know if the needles were in stock.  So I waited while she looked through several disorganized piles of needles before determining there weren’t any in stock.  Again, no one asked if I would like to order this size.  And, about two hours after I got home, they left a voice mail in response to my email saying the needles weren’t in stock.

After all of this, I figured size 1 needles must be extremely rare.  With only the slightest of hope, I dropped by Knitty City on the way home.  Not only was I treated warmly, but there were FOUR different brands of size 1 40″ needles for me to choose from.  I guess the moral of the story is just go to Knitty City every time and don’t even bother with the other places!

And now back to my YOP post :).  I did end up needing the size 1 needles to get gauge.  I finally chose the Graphic pattern from Toe-Up 2-at-a-Time Socks by Melissa Morgan-Oakes.  My thought process went this way: according to The Knitter’s Book of Socks, I should have at least 10% negative ease for the circumference of my sock.  After convincing MC to measure our feet based on the chart in The Sock Knitter’s Handbook, this pattern seemed to be the right size.  And, with my brand new needles, I was able to get the right gauge!

Unfortunately, my first several attempts at making this sock were disastrous.  Let’s just say the combination of poor lighting in my apartment, the small needle size, and my lack of familiarity with knitting socks led to a few issues.  Yesterday I restarted and things seem to be going much better now (perhaps because I have knit this very same section four times already?).

Not much to show for several hours of knitting…

…but at least it looks like a toe!

I’m not too confident that I’ll finish this pair before the end of the Ravellenic Games, but I really hope I do.  Because I have the feeling that if I don’t, these will sit as a WIP until the 2014 Ravellenic Games.

I also forgot to declare how many motifs I wanted to make for the Games, so I couldn’t participate in the Modular Relay :(.  Instead, I dug out stash wool that is over 1 year old, and decided to make more squares for the felted wool blanket I’m making for myself as part of the stashbusting event.  I finished these three yesterday.

For more Year of Projects posts, visit Come Blog-a-long on Ravelry.

Vacation non-yarn haul and LYS review: Finely a Knitting Party

One of the yarn shops I planned to visit during my trip to Pennsylvania was out of business, so I decided to add another shop to my list. Since I was staying just one train stop away from Swarthmore, I planned a visit to Finely a Knitting Party on my way back to New York.

The shop is conveniently located about a block and a half from the Swarthmore train stop.  Finely a Knitting Party feels quite different from the three yarn shops I visited in Philadelphia.  You can tell it is the only yarn shop in town, because it doesn’t seem concerned with establishing a particular niche.

The yarn is sparsely arranged on cubby shelves and there is plenty of space to walk around.  The selection is dominated by a few brands like Brown SheepClassic Elite, Crystal Palace, and Plymouth Yarn.  There was a good range of fiber types, but most of the yarn seemed basic and no frills – the kind of yarn  that most people would want access to if there was only one yarn shop in town.  Anything that was slightly unusual was also pricey.  The one skein of yarn I was really drawn to was Mushishi but it was outside of my strict travel budget.

I didn’t see any crochet hooks or other signs that the shop might be crochet-friendly.  There was a selection of knitting needles in a few brands behind the counter.  The shop has a large table in the center of the store’s main room for classes.  The schedule online shows that there are daily classes, and there are pictures posted throughout the store of cheerful students holding up completed projects.  This looks like the type of LYS where you can meet new knitting buddies and hang out.

I love handmade soap, so I decided to buy some Sioux City Soap instead of yarn.

These three soaps smell amazing…

but I can’t understand why the brand is called Sioux City, since it is made locally in Pennsylvania?

Since I was on a skin care kick, I also bought this lotion.

I know I’m not the only crocheter/knitter troubled by dry skin.

As I mentioned, this shop carries a solid selection of basic yarns and looks like it has a lot of fun classes.  I’m not sure it is worth a special trip to visit, but if I’m in the area again, I might stop by.

Vacation yarn haul and LYS review: Philadelphia, PA


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Last week, I took my dream vacation and spent a few days at Pendle Hill in Wallingford, PA.  The main purpose of the vacation was to relax, enjoy the silence, (wait, what is this?  some kind of retro pop music playlist??), spend some time outdoors, and live an unscheduled life, and what’s more relaxing than a trip to the yarn shop?

I’ve been on a pretty severe yarn diet since December, so I planned to splurge during my trip.  On Tuesday, I decided to spend the day in Philadelphia visiting yarn shops.  I gave myself a budget of $25 per shop.  Since I wanted to spend time outside, I actually walked from shop to shop and back to the train station (about 5 miles, according to Google Maps, plus the mile to and from the train station in Wallingford).  It was one of those days when it alternates between pouring rain and sweltering heat, so I thank all of the shops I visited for allowing my presumably stinky self inside!

How did I develop my list?  First, I stopped by the Crochet Liberation Front Headquarters group on Ravelry and looked at their list of Crochet-Friendly LYSs.  Though I now knit also, I want to spend my money where crocheters are respected and appreciated!  Then I got directions from Google Maps and wrote them down on a piece of paper.  (Then, I got lost and ended up using the Hop Stop app on my phone, which actually seemed to provide more concise routes.)

Stop 1: Rosie’s Yarn Cellar

 

Rosie’s Yarn Cellar is a small, quiet shop that’s down a short flight of steps.  The staff are very friendly and helpful, but in a quiet way.  There is a store dog (a pug, if memory serves), who makes some very cute little sounds while trying to kill his toy duck.

The store has a great selection for a shop of its size and a broad range of prices.  I saw yarns for $5 as well as yarns for $30.  The prices seemed the least expensive of all the shops I visited, and were certainly lower than NYC prices.

It took me a while to figure out how this store got its crochet-friendly reputation, but it does have an entire shelf of crochet books, and crochet hooks behind the counter.  I was super amazed that knitting needles are out on display for you to browse and right next to the door.  (You can tell you’re not in New York City!)

My favorite feature of this shop is the little signs by each yarn that tell you the details you would find on the label (e.g., fiber content, suggested gauge and needle size, brand name) as well as the price.  This made for much easier browsing.  For people who like to buy patterns in the shop, there had tons of binders listed by project type.

It was great to see yarns that I haven’t found locally like Araucania, Bijou Basin Ranch, Mountain Meadow Wool Mill, and O-Wool.  In the end, I decided on a skein of Ella Rae Lace Merino that was on sale.

The colorway is 126.

I still haven’t decided if I think it is more black or more blue.  I hope it will one day work itself into a project for me – perhaps a pair of socks?  (Sock people, tell me now if this is a good choice or if I should move on to another project idea!)  I’m still dreaming about that Mountain Meadow Wool Mill yarn, but I didn’t want to go over budget by getting two skeins.

I was somewhat bewildered by this sign in the window.

Where do they fit the classes???

Stop 2: Sophie’s Yarns

I decided that my next stop should be furthest from the station and that I would work my way back.  I guess I should have done more research, because after a very long walk, I discovered this shop was closed.  I was surprised because usually Yelp seems to be updated when a shop shuts down, but it was still listed.

Stop 3: Nangellini Gallery

After briefly mumbling to myself, I continued on my journey and went to Nangellini Gallery.

This shop  is in an artsy looking area and has a very funky vibe to it.  When you enter, the first room is more of a gallery space with freeform, funky, artsy wearable projects on display.  I’m embarrassed to say that I had a great picture of this room, but I accidentally saved over it.  (D’oh!)  You can find hooks and needles on a display rack on this floor as well as some notions like shawl pins and stitch markers.

On the upstairs level, you can find yarn as well as some spinning supplies like drop spindles and batts.  The yarn selection completely fits the vibe of the store, and there is a lot of novelty and highly textured yarn, as well as chunky, multicolor yarn.  There is a very small collection of crochet books, but it includes some freeform books that really fit into the store’s theme.  There’s also a section of crochet cotton.

I don’t use novelty yarn or very bulky yarns too often, so for a while I was debating whether I should buy anything.  And then I saw this.

Of course!

I ended up with a skein of Nancy’s Hair by No Two Snowflakes.  I confess I picked it because it was superwash merino and had the most yardage of anything in the local section.

They asked me if I wanted it wound, and I said why not! (I then realized that the folks at Rosie’s Yarn Cellar didn’t ask, but I couldn’t imagine where they would fit a winder anyway.)

I think this will probably end up as a gift for my best friend from high school, CG.  She is an artist and wears a lot of bold colors.  Also, she would actually find the story of how I got the yarn entertaining.  (And, she’s already on my Holiday Stashdown Challenge list.)

The staff at this shop are very friendly in a more conversational way.  While I was in the shop, an older customer came in with a wedding dress her mom had made her in acrylic yarn (insert large number of years) in the past.  Everyone oohed and aahed and I could tell you can get as much attention as you want in this shop.  There are also some comfy chairs in the gallery area.

Stop 4: Loop

Almost there!

By the time I arrived at Loop, I was tired and a bit nervous about catching the train back in time for dinner, so I didn’t browse for as long.

Loop reminded me the most of a New York City yarn shop.  It has a large table in the center (presumably for classes and hanging out) and I was familiar with more brands of yarn being sold in the shop, like Berroco, Brooklyn Tweed, Malabrigo, and Spud & Chloe.  It was a bit pricier than the other shops as well.

When I saw the display of Addi Swing hooks near the counter, I immediately understood why this shop was labelled crochet-friendly.  And, I gave myself permission to go $13 over budget since I only visited three (instead of four) shops.

It’s always hard to pick a hook size when you are buying just one new hook.  In the end, I decided to go with an I, which is probably what I use most often.

As for the yarn, since a lot of the brands are available at my LYS, Knitty City, I decided to get two skeins of Sheep 2 from the Sheep Shop Yarn Company (now defunct) which were on sale.

The colorway is Brown.

This should match my winter coat, so I see some winter accessories in my future!

Loop also has a rewards program and $5.95 flat rate shipping for web orders.

Do you have a favorite Philadelphia yarn shop?