Town and County Knitting in England: A Trip to Two Very Different Yarn Storescomments (1) December 16th, 2008
On my annual trek to London, I had the pleasure of experiencing two distinctly different yarn shopping experiences. In central London I took the underground to the new location of I Knit London in the Waterloo neighborhood. A hundred miles outside of London, I made my way to Busy Fingers in the small town of Hinckley. Two shops couldn't be more different!
Surrounded by the venerable Old Vic Theatre, quaint bookstores, and funky boutiques, I Knit London is not to be missed. Owner and knitting activist Gerard Allt has built his yarn shop/social hub from humble beginnings with the help from his partner Craig Carruthers. Starting out with a Web presence selling a few skeins of yarn as a hobby, they soon moved on to a weekend stall at Spittlefields, one of the most famous outdoor markets in London. During this time they organized social knitting activities around central London at many unlikely places including cozy neighborhood pubs. These knitting meet-ups became famous around town and were responsible for drawing many new knitters into the fold.
Two years ago they opened up the first brick and mortar yarn store stocking some of the loveliest yarn from the local naturally produced yarns to the finest commercial yarns on the market. I have never seen so many knitting titles in a LYS as they display on their wall o’ books! But what is really offered cannot be physically stocked or individually priced. All those who enter the shop find a sanctuary, a crafty pause from the hustle and bustle world. It’s a place to express creativity, to share knitting with the community both local and worldwide with social knitting activities and for just plain fun on movie night where you can sip on a beer or wine from their licensed bar. Yes, I said beer and wine! Last Monday afternoon when I visited the shop I did not witness any tippling, but I did notice that there was a line six deep to get to the register and a constant stream of customers pouring through the door. I Knit London has clearly discovered a magic formula for LYS success!
Gerard’s first book, KNITS TO CARE AND SHARE, was published in November. The book is packed chalk full of lovely and practical gift projects designed to bestow upon a special person in your life as an expression of appreciation and love. From the simple Happy Hat to the more challenging Aran Cardigan you will find the perfect project for all occasions. Gerard’s caring personality comes through loud and clear in the descriptions of the projects as well as his passion for social knitting that cares for others as well as for the earth. Gerard believes that social knitting is a major force behind much of the rapid growth in the knitting movement involving both new and experienced knitters alike. "We get together for fellowship and companionship to knit for ourselves and for various causes." Gerard purports that knitting groups are a true haven, even a sanctuary.
From the hip London metropolis to the sleepy village of Hinkley, Busy Fingers is miles away both physically and theoretically. Walking through the door into Busy Fingers is like a step through time. This quaint shop caters to all needlecrafts from needlepoint and cross stitch to sewing and knitting. The front of the store is dedicated to needlework canvases, thread and a wide range of sewing supplies. In the back room you will find the yarn, knitting supplies and tons of pattern leaflets. Busy Fingers carries mostly the basic workhorse yarns from Pattons and Sidar with a dash of Rowan thrown in. Easy-care acrylic and acrylic blends are in abundance in a wide range of colors and styles and priced as low as 60 pence (under a buck) a skein!
Maureen minds the shop three days a week with her very friendly and helpful demeanor. I was happpy to see a steady stream of customers including Grandmothers looking for yarn for their newest grandbaby and young hipsters working through their first fun novelty yarn scarves. A crafter sewing cuddly teddy bears even found a length of yellow ribbon to tie around his neck in style!
Busy Fingers is a branch of a larger outlet in a nearby town and has been open for eight years. Business is brisk mostly selling tons of baby fiber, sock yarn and still lots of novelty scarf yarns. Even without a web presence, organized events or liquor license they continue to thrive in their knitting/craft community.
I see a similarity between both shops in that customers are always greeted warmly and left alone to pursue the shelves of yarn and patterns/books at their leisure. Assistance is offered and given without hesitation when requested. There is a sense of peace and comfort common in both stores that transcend the differences in location and inventory selection. A good yarn shop doesn't have to be hip and trendy to be a haven. It just needs to be there for us unconditionally.