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My First Time: The Yarn Shop

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My First Time: The Yarn Shop

(In which I continue the reminiscences that began here.)

At nineteen years old, I stood at the door of a yarn shop for the first time.

I was alone. I had put on my best hat and coat and my good shoes. It was a short walk to the shop from my room in Lowell House; but to work up my nerve I walked around the block three more times. I asked myself whether I truly wanted to keep knitting. I asked myself whether I really ought to spend any money on a new hobby. I rehearsed what I would say, after a stealthy look around.

Then, at last, I grabbed the handle of the shop door and pulled. Nothing.

The windows were dark. Were they closed?

I pulled again, harder. Still nothing.

So I threw all my weight into it–grunting–whereupon the door shot open and I bolted forward with the grace of a seagull being sucked into a jet engine.

It was dark in there, like a mausoleum. Can it really have been as dark as that? It seemed so. For a moment the whole room spun around–a cyclone of hanks and samples–and then the spinning stopped.

I was in the middle of the shop.

There was a wooden table, with two people seated at it. And a counter, over there, with a person standing behind it. They were all looking at me. It was dead silent.

The shop wasn’t dusty. There were no cobwebs on the ceiling or dead beetles underfoot. Yet I had the strong feeling of having stumbled into a forgotten, forbidden place. Everything had a sense of permanence, of timelessness. The people at the table might have been there since the shop had opened. They might have been there, for that matter, since the nineteenth century, or at least the nineteen-fifties.

All the yarn was the color of mud, the color of stone, or the color of moss.

“Yes?” said the person behind the counter.

Why can’t I remember faces? Nobody in this memory is a complete person, with a nose and hair and clothes. Instead I see them all as shapes, dark shapes, looming.

The shapes at the table were still looking at me.

Clearly, I needed to respond to the shape behind the counter, so I said, “Cough cough hi um yes hi um I um I am learning to knit, I mean I need to learn to knit, please, so cough cough I learned a little bit but I want to learn more, so um please…”. Then my voice dried up.

“Yes?” said the counter shape.

“So um, cough cough my um friend who was teaching me, she said come here and ask about classes and, um, yarn.”

“Well, what do you want to knit?”

My blood was rushing in my ears so that I could barely hear my own voice. I imagined running out the door and pretending none of this had happened. Nobody would ever know.

I said I’d done a simple scarf, but I wanted to knit–well, everything. Anything. Mittens. A sweater? I would certainly like to make a sweater. Certainly, some day, a sweater.

“Sweaters are difficult,” said the counter shape.

“Do you think I could learn?” I said.

“Perhaps,” said the counter shape.

The table shapes quivered briefly, like fallen leaves on the lawn.

I remembered to ask about classes. I said,

“Should I take a class? Do you have classes?”

“Well,” said counter shape. “We do have classes. But we don’t really have classes for you.”

I blinked. She blinked.

“Could I…can you learn from a book?”

“Perhaps,” said the counter shape.

“Do you have books?”

“Yes,” said the counter shape.

This meaningful dialogue seems in my memory to have gone on for hours. But it could not have been more than five minutes before I was  pushing (hard) on the door to get back into the daylight and the open air. I had a bag, and in the bag were skeins of worsted weight blue wool, expensive enough to eat half my student aide paycheck for the week. I had a circular needle, suggested by the counter shape, which I now know to have been of a gauge wildly inappropriate for the yarn.

And there was a book on the basics of how to knit–pastel cover, large, floppy, and at first glance utterly impenetrable.

Walking home a few words from the book flashed in my brain. Pick up and knit.  

Pick up? Pick up what? What did that mean? How? Why couldn’t I have taken a class? Why had I wasted all this money?

Clearly, I was never going to understand this book.

But that’s a story for next time.

Meanwhile, where did you first buy yarn? Do you remember?



Stay tuned for the next piece in April!


franklin habit

Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book (Soho Publishing, 2016) and It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008) and proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. His publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Ply Magazine, Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, Twist Collective, and Knitty.com.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, Stitches Events, Squam Arts Workshops, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

Visit him at www.franklinhabit.com.

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31 Comments

  • I do remember my first yarn purchase. It was for lilac and purple dk wool. I bought it from the shop my Aunt always got her yarn , Applebys on Harrow Road, London. It was an old fashioned harberdashery, with things like handkerchiefs and braces, buttons, lace by the yard etc,. on shelves in a glass counter. The counter was on three sides of the shop, with the assistant behind the counter. There was shelving up to the ceiling a d a ladder that was used if necessary if what you needed was on the top shelf.
    Applebys would put aside a couple of balls aside from the same dye lot.
    Alas, they are no longer in business but I loved that shop.
    BTW, I knitted a striped scarf, which I still have!

  • I bought my first yarn at a Walmart in a small town in rural Idaho. I taught myself to crochet from a book. I made my first blanket with Lion Brand Homespun yarn. Lion Brand remains my preferred yarn. I love the variegated colors best. I have been crocheting for 20 years now. I finally set foot in an actual yarn shop on my 12th wedding anniversary. I wasn’t brave enough to buy yarn. I felt like I needed a pattern to justify that kind of purchase. My stashes come from finds at Goodwill or other 2nd hand stores. Crochet has been my therapy while I wait in doctor’s offices. I love that my “wasted” time can become productive.

  • It was in the mid ‘60s on the southwest side of Chicago. The store was a Ben Franklin dime store. I taught myself to cast on, knit, purl, and bind off from a leaflet that I think was put out by Boye. All I had for years was a single pair of size 6 needles that I used for everything, mostly scarves. Close to the same time I taught myself crochet, which I took to and did for years. I rediscovered knitting in the early 2000’s, learned to knit continental, and I love my LYS’s!

  • The first place I bought yarn from was a WalMart in west Nashville. OK if all I wanted was acrylic, and for a while Lion Brand Homespun was a favorite. Then I found Bliss Yarns just a few streets from where I worked in Brentwood. Natural fibers! Darling colors! SOCK yarn!! And even lace weight, which was soooo tempting. Not having any immediate plan for lace weight yarn, I put off buying any until I had a basic lace pattern stole in sight. Then I went to another LYS, and bought a ton of Lorna’s Laces.

  • That’s not a yarn shop. You accidentally stumbled upon the Norns.

  • Well, I am mad at that lady in your yarn shop. Why do people act like that?

    I remember my first LYS, but not what it was called. I had knitted a scarf and wanted to try socks (!!!!!) so my mom took me there. I told the lady I wanted to learn to knit socks. She said, “Well, okay, how about argyles?” I had no idea what that meant. I said, “sure.”

    My mom knitted part of the beginning of one argyle sock. I never touched it again. It blew my mind. I started knitting again 10 years ago. Actually made some socks. Not argyle.

  • I think my first yarn purchase was from a local department store that is long gone, Quackenbush’s. All the department stores had a needlework department back then. I think it was the mint green fingering weight for the first big thing I was making, a baby sweater, hat and booties, from a pattern my mother had from either when she was pregnant with my brother or me (circa 1942-1951). I remember getting yarn from the Brunswick factory store in Paterson, NJ and getting “real” Irish fisherman’s yarn (with the lanolin left in it) from that same department store to make my father a sweater for when he went deep sea fishing.

  • I bought my first yarn along with a teach yourself to knit kit and a teach yourself to crochet kit at Michaels firing a Christmas sale. I still have both kits plus I have my first swatch (yeah that was the first thing I knit) and my first scarf. The first yarn was Paton’s classic wool in grey and in white. I taught myself to knit first because my sister crochets. I figured I would learn something a little different. Then a couple of years later I taught myself to crochet. Not long after that I started working at NorthCoast Knittery. There I ended up teaching a beginning knitting and crochet class on Sunday mornings. A student came in who was left-handed to learn to crochet one day. We managed to get her started, but it occurred to me that morning how rude it was to assume people could learn right-handed. So I taught myself to knit and crochet left-handed, and I also taught myself continental knitting since I initially learned to throw. I’m glad I learned all of that. Even after I stopped teaching when we changed the format of the classes, I was still able to help lefties on the classes. I am so happy I bought those kits and then discovered a whole new world with LYS.

  • Thank goodness for online shopping. My first brick and mortar purchase of yarn was from a gift shop with a side line in yarn. I found the fluffiest, whitest kid mohair in a bargain bin and bought two balls. The yarn forced me to relax my grip or it shredded. I learned spit joining out of necessity. From then on, whenever I have a pattern, I have bought online from the pattern writer’s suggestions.

  • Indeed, if it was a shop one could walk to from a certain elite undergraduate institution, it was my first solo yarn shop visit as well, back in the mid-90’s. I bought yarn and a 1-page pattern from a shop sample. The pattern had a fatal error in the instructions for the ribbing. The yarn is a cotton boucle that is nearly impossible to rip. I spent too much, but had just been hired into my first real job. I don’t think I bought anything else from that store. I still have that sweater stuffed away with other handknits I don’t wear anymore. It didn’t occur to me to ask about classes — I wonder what they would have said.

  • My first yarn shop experience what almost the same, except I came in with an already started project. I was teaching myself how to cable but the stitches didn’t look right. It turned out (after many looks of disgust from the owner) that I was knitting through the back loop. I know that if I wasn’t such an in-your-face person I would have walked out and never looked back because of this but I was determined to prove everyone wrong. I shouldn’t have to prove (as a young person of 23 and at least 30 years younger than all of them) that I was worthy of their time. I was also poor as hell but I made sure to buy at least one skein of purple superwash plymouth yarn to show that I could become one of them. Now, I make sure that if I’m in my local yarn store and someone comes in and the shop owner is busy I’ll step in and make sure that the person feels welcome, no matter what.

  • I’m pretty sure my first yarn came from the top drawer of the dresser that sat in the living room near the front door–the repository for baby clothes long outgrown, my much older sister’s abandoned cross-stitch samplers, gift wrap, and other odd sundries. I know it wasn’t GOOD yarn. I didn’t know Good Yarn existed until I took a weaving class in college. And I started college LATE (my 30s).

    My first lessons were at Kathy’s Quality Yarns in Bowling Green, OH, a place I still miss). My first good yarn that wasn’t woven into a thing was some multicolored gradient, maybe wool, maybe acrylic, from which I knitted my first project, one of those keyhole scarves that is mostly garter stitch but involved increases and decreases and placing half of the stitches on a stitch holder for awhile and knitting separately before rejoining. The knitting instructor was this very old woman (Kathy’s mother) and she was a bit hesitant about allowing this for a first project, but I was so enthusiastic she allowed it.

    It’s a good scarf. I still wear it today. She was quite surprised.

  • I bought my first yarn from a store called Zayres back in 1984. It was like a Wal-Mart. The yarn was Caron dazzle-aire and I was teaching myself from a Boye learn to knit book. I was expecting my first child and I wanted to make a baby blanket. Which I did. A bunch of garter stitch squares sewn together. I still have it.❤️

  • The first yarn I ever used for a crochet project came from my Mom’s yarn stash. The first yarn I purchased came from Goldman’s in the Bronx, NY. It was light green and it was for a vest that I made from a pattern in a “Seventeen Magazine” knitting magazine circa 1972 or ’73. I also purchased lots of yarn at Woolworth’s. My Aunt used to go to a store on the Lower East Side for yarn and I think she used a lot of LB.

  • I remember the first time I went into a yarn shop. Perhaps 12… maybe 13 years ago. I had been laid off. I was unemployed. I had heard that knitting helped to fight depression. It engaged both hands and both hemispheres of the brain. I checked out a book from the library and I wanted to knit. The shop was just north of the University District in Seattle. I walked in. I looked around. I was lost. “Excuse me,” one of the ladies said. “If you’re looking for the homebrew supply store, it’s across the street.” “Actually, I’m looking for Noro Kureyon.” “Oh. Let me show you what we have in stock.”

  • I bought my first ball of yarn, deep blue, from a local department store. I decided I was going to knit an Aran Sweater (having NEVER finished the double-moss stitch scarf I began – THAT was BORING). I was 12 or 13. I got yarn and needles, knitted-up the ball in-pattern, decided that I had WASTED my time/effort, so bought Aran wool from EATON’s (in Winnipeg) with my babysitting money, and happily knitted my way through the cables and honeycomb patterns. It was a pullover. Turned-out TOO big for me, and my Dad wouldn’t wear that style of neck. So, I frogged it, and made a button-front cardigan. Still have it. Wish it still fit me! 🙂

  • Woolworths on 95th St in Jeffery Manor. 1961. I was nine. It was Red Heart “Fiesta” worsted, which I think at that time was called “Mexicana” before correctness kicked in. Stanton Kramer’s mother (Marilyn) taught me, German style.

  • I was nine, and my mom took me to Wal-Mart. We bought Boye aluminum 14″ straight needles, size 10.5, because they were the biggest and my mom, who had knitted as a teen and not since, had a vague memory that it was easier to learn on bigger needles. I remember staring at 10-foot high wall of yarn in absolute awe, and my vote for the hottest hot pink yarn being vetoed in favor of baby blue, because if I gave up as my mother expected me to, she wanted something she could feasibly use for her crocheting and not be blinded by. I still have those needles, too.

  • I was probably in my mid-20s, so it was the mid-70s. I had taught myself to crochet on cheap acrylic yarn which was all that was available in the small town outside which we lived in agricultural Iowa. I didn’t know any other yarn existed. I’d made lots of crocheted vests out of granny squares, and some ditzy nose-warmers for everyone in my husband’s family for Christmas. I think there are photos of everyone wearing theirs, even the men. My effort at goofy gifts was a hit! I used cheap acrylic yarn to knit myself a vest – I learned the stitches from a How to Knit booklet. But I knew nothing of swatching, yarn weights, or needle sizes, so it would have easily fit one of the young horses on the farm. Then I found a knitted vest pattern I lusted after, and I wanted to end up looking like the svelte model in the pattern, so the next time I was in my mid-sized home town I found this tiny yarn shop and went in looking for that yarn. The yarn was so breath-takingly expensive (to me, then) that I felt like I couldn’t afford to breathe the air in there, but I was determined. I got no help, no advice from the shopkeeper who (obvious to me now) had immediately sussed me as not one of her preferred demographic (rich) and she could not have cared less if I bought anything or not. I bought the right yarn and the right needles and I went home and managed to knit that vest! It even fit! (It won’t now.) I’ve still got the vest and I treasure it as a memento to that ignorant determination and achievement despite the lack of interest from the shopkeeper. (That shop closed its doors a few years later. Pbbt!)

  • My first yarn procurement was Walmart! Rural MO, no shops, no idea what I was doing and more importantly, a poor college student. Red Heart, a variegated blue. The funny thing was, when I went home that summer, a friend’s mom owned the most expensive yarn shop in town, who saw me knitting with acrylic and was scandalized! Sent me back to school with a care package of my first wools!
    Years later, i was back to the acrylic, but this time it made Red Heart in the 2000’s look like cashmere. Rural Africa, you take what you could get.

  • My first yarn was Lion Brand Cotton, bought at a Hancock Fabric, where I took lessons from a lovely lady who has since gone on to glory. I used straight needles I inherited from my aunt, and when I would get to the end of a row, I would (unintentionally) drop the needle! I have since met other people who said they did the same thing.

  • I learned to crochet from my aunt. She provided the yarn and the hooks and a lot of patience. After teaching me the basics, she decided we would make granny squares. My first ones weren’t exactly square. When a friend’s mother found out I could “crochet a little”she started teaching different stitches and different patterns. At the time, I was buying yarn at the local five and dime (during the 1970s). I then learned there was a yarn shop in the town where I lived. I had a similar experience witht he ladies there when they found out I “only” crocheted. The owner of the store was totally different. She tried to teach me to knit but I just couldn’t get the hang of it. I decided to make an afghan for my father and the owner of the shop helped me with the yardage and hook. The yarn was an acrylic called “Berella 4”. I still have that afghan even though my father passed away a few years ago. The shop closed decades ago but I will always remember Betty of Betty’s Yarn Shop fondly.

  • I learned how to knit (crochet and sew too!) from my mom. I started by making clothes for my doll. Perfect starting projects – easy and small. I’m sure the yarn was some cheap worsted from the 5&10. Now I make the local yarn shop my go-to stop whenever traveling to a distant city or country. Kindred folk with a local spin, pun intended. Needlework and the people who do it (mostly, but clearly some exceptions) are so wonderful. Like the side of the pool – calming, redemptive, embracing. I’d like to believe that learning needlework has begotten those qualities in me too.

  • I feel the same way! Not so much about knitting, or going into knitting shop. But, I didn’t with clicking on to my blog that’s about knitting, crocheting and writing. Really, I don’t completely know what I’m doing. I’m learning as I go along. How did you start your blog? I read your profile and your so successful and a man to boot. I’m a man, and it feels good to read about knitting from another man. One that has made it. You’re an inspiration to me and I hope you will visit my blog and say anything about it. If you do, you’ll see how it’s mostly nothing and I have a long way to go. Man to man, you’re a inspiration and I hope to one day achieve your level of success. Wade. Wadescreations, wordpress.wadekitchen.com

  • My first yarn was a multi-colored Wintuk purchased from Woolworths in the early 60’s when I was 7 or 8. My mom taught me on Boye needles I still have. My first project was a pair of knitted slippers from that Wintuk. My mom – an amazing seamstress, crocheter, embroiderer, and all-around crafter – was a stickler who taught me about needle size, gauge, and garment sizing. She never hesitated to rip out any mistakes in any project. After I finished my first sweater after much frogging – V-necked pullover in coral Wintuk – I stopped knitting for 35 years and took up needlework. I began knitting again 16 years ago after Mommy’s death and have knitted every day since.

  • I loved the story, well written and I’m looking forward to the next installment. I learned to knit in school in England. We were a bunch of poor kids and after the war there wasn’t much but the basics., so they only gave us this gigantic ball of string like yarn to work with. All semester we knitted up a scarf sized piece in a variety of easy stitches. The teacher was truly out of the Victorian era style of teaching, you could hear a pin drop in the imposed silence. But we learned to knit and knit well, probably more from helping each other in recess than daring to ask a question.. At the end of the school term, we were told to pull it all out and rewind it for the next class coming through. sigh. Some time after that my grandmother took me to a yarn shop to get some yarn for my first cardigan. We had to wear cardigans to school and the color was navy blue, a color I hated. Anyway, after much drama the cardigan was completed, the yarn was soft and comfy and kept me warm, plus I wasn’t too embarrassed to wear it because other girls had about the same experience as I did. . I love knitting, find it comforting and peaceful. I take my knitting everywhere I go, it’s amazing how much you can get done while waiting for appointments and such.

  • I grew up in a small town in Ohio. There was a nice shop downtown that carried all kinds of nice glassware and other gift items. At that time, our town had a lot of nice local shops that carried just about everything you needed and if they didn’t there was Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs. In the back of that shop was a small room that had yarn in it. I took classes from the shop owner and learned to knit. She let me put yarn for a sweater on layaway and I made a Norwegian ski sweater. I was in high school at the time and had a part time job. It actually turned out fine and I wore it for a long time. It still amazes me that I made that sweater as a beginning knitter. I wish I still had it.I bless my mother who encouraged me and the shop owner who must have been an awesome teacher, for getting me started on a lifetime of knitting.

  • I didn’t get started with bought yarn. For some reason, when I was a kid all the ladies that crocheted in town would give me their scraps. I have a hard time throwing away things that “might be useful, it’s still good, don’t waste it” (thank you, depression-kid grandma) so I wound up hauling a 30-gallon bag of yarn scraps around with me for years. I stumbled onto a “How to Knit” type DVD at the local library, stole some chopsticks from a local Chinese restaurant, and sat in front of the TV learning to knit a washcloth. I am now addicted.

  • I found my first yarn in my mother’s hope chest. She had steel crochet hooks and 2 sizes of celluoid knitting needles, as well as a “How To…” book for several crafts. I asked her about it and she taught me to crochet (at the tender age of 8). All we had on hand was baby yarn (smaller than sport yarn), and I crocheted miles of chains with it until I ran out. Then I found that Aunt Lydia’s Rug Yarn was only 25 cents a skein at the local discount store (within walking distance of the junior high school I attended). So that was my first yarn purchase, and my go-to yarn for several years. Until I learned how to crochet more than chains and toy-horse-blankets and bridles.

  • In the late 60’s, when I was in my teens, my family visited Detroit, Michigan. There they had, wonder of all wonders, a “mall”. Odd word, unknown to me , that meant lots of shops in one place. Cool!! There was a yarn shop there with a vast array of colors and fibers and feel. What a wonderful place! I got an off-white worsted weight, my older sister a nice olive green. Since the yarn was in hanks, I wrapped mine into a ball with her help; she wrapped hers with my help. I made a v-neck pullover and wore it proudly, even with a couple “glitches”. My sister rapidly lost interest – so I finished hers, too. Good memories of a great trip

  • It was the 80s, I was 15 yo. I wanted to move past garter stitch scarves and doll garments made with my mother’s leftover yarn. My Mom showed me her sweater knitting books, but nothing there really appealed to me – they were ski sweaters from the 50s. I would love them today, but back then…
    My Mom completely understood and took me to our (then) local yarn shop. The lady there was super helpful. She showed me pattern booklets that were more appealing for a teenager. I made my choice of pattern right there and then in the shop (ah! the spontaneity of youth!). The lady then took me through a process that would become extremely important in my knitter’s life: yarn subsitution. She replaced the yarn suggested in the pattern with one that was more into our budget – my Mom was buying. I went home and made a shocking pink sweater with bat-wing sleeves*.
    This lady was truly wonderful. She knew how to get me interested in knitting garments for myself and others : she showed me a booklet, something that is not as expensive as a real knitting book, but still holds interest. She told me about yarn substitution and how knitting beautiful stuff for less was possible. She really helped me shape my knitting life.

    *That bat-wing pink sweater never made it past my mid-20s: it turned into a baby blanket for my first born. He was a boy, but he never complained about the colour of the blanket.

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