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This is my knitting kit: the essential paraphernalia I use on a daily basis. When I am not carrying it with me on my knitting travels, it lives under the couch in our flat. In conjunction with my hands and brain, these are the tools I couldn’t work without. Project specific needles and yarn get called up when needed, as does my ball winder and swift. They have a less cushy life: they live in the Siberia that is my studio.

Plenty of my kit is bog standard and has been with me for years. It’s what I’ve got and I’m happy to make do. There are a few things in there that I am sentimental about, but most of it is purely functional and easy to replace. The selection has been honed down through trial and error; I like it cause it works the way I want it to and maybe I don’t know better. My fantasy is, as I lose bits or give them away, I’ll upgrade them, item by item with lovely artisanal versions. The reality is, I probably already have a back up version found while rummaging through a knitting needle bin in a charity shop or one that was kindly bequeathed by a non-knitters’ grandma.

Recently a horror befell Karen of Fringe Association: she lost her whole pouch while she was travelling. This is the woman who has a regular feature on her blog called Our Tools Ourselves (which I contributed to last year). On instagram and beyond knitters’ have been showing their gear in solidarity with Karen’s loss. They have inspired me to record in detail what is in my kit. I realise I want to share more details than just a picture. Each item has a history and reason for being in there which may be both entertaining and useful to know if you’re building out your kit, couldn’t tell what it was from the tiny instagram picture or are just plain curious.

notions_pouch_nos#1 DPNS – that’s Double Pointed Needles to the unitiated. In addition to their obvious use for knitting cuffs, socks, mittens, fingers, top of hats, willy warmers, i-cord, small creatures and circular swatches to be steeked, I find it useful to have a pair of DPNs around for when I need to reknit a section within my knitting. That is, if I have gone wrong or just want to change something more than 3 rows back. I keep a set of 3.75mm/5US/9UK with me, as that seems somewhere in the middle of the needle sizes I usually use. They are short, 13cm bamboo ones I got from Tall Yarns some years back. I keep them in a corresponding size, vintage Milward plastic pouch from when needles were still made in England. The needles weren’t in there when I found the case in one of the aforementioned tubs of stray needles at a charity shop.

#2 Kiddy Purse – practical and cute. Just like the sort I had when I was little that possibly came from one of those vending machines that are like a giant gumball machine that dispenses plastic eggs filled with a surprise. You too?

It’s where I keep my stitch markers (see item #7) and if I really am paring down my kit to be lightweight, my Chibi case (item #16, containing items #23) and folding scissors (item #22). I must resist the urge to pick off the little decorative plastic blobs masquerading as beads, though like with a good scab or sunburn, the temptation is strong. It was a gift from Lori, who recently started blogging at Nothing Too Ordinary. I’m excited she’s keeping track of her epic gig going and sharing her cool musical knowledge, not to mention her eye for collecting cute stuff.

#3 Cable Needles – helpful for twisting stitches just how you want too. These are from Brittany, the company, not the place in France. They make beautiful wooden needles out of birch in California, USA, that only improve with age (and the application of greasy fingers). I like the way they are straight, but tapered at both ends to keep the stitches on. I used to have the full set of three sizes, but one didn’t return home after a night of pub knitting. Sadly it was the middle size: my most used one. I find this shape stable enough to keep the stitches on till I need them and quicker to use than the curved ones. Wood (and bamboo, which I count as wood) really is the way to go for cable needles (and DPNs) as they don’t slip about as much as metal. Plastic works too, but I’ve not found them in a shape I like. These I bought when my friend Paula Frazer, singer and weaver, briefly had a knitting shop in Bernal Heights in San Francisco. The replacement medium metal needle is probably the one thing in my kit I’m not so jazzed about, probably because it reminds me of the nicer one I lost. I hate losing things.

#4 Shorty Knitting Needles – for emergency teaching (when I’m feeling nice). I never know when someone will ask to learn to knit. These fit in my pouch and are easy enough to give away. They are also useful for testing things out and cast-ons or bind-offs that require 3 needles. These are 4mm/6US/8UK. Theoretically knitting goes faster if you use thicker needles and yarn, however I find for teaching that these medium sized needles are actually easier to manipulate. Plus having patience is a necessity when knitting, might as well start straight away. These needles, made by Pony specifically with kids in mind, work perfectly for bigger hands too. I think they are super – short so you don’t have to work out where to put the full length of the needles straight off the bat and they’re stumpy enough to prepare you for the feel of circular needles. And they have little smiley faces. Ideally I’d have the pair they make where each needle is a different colour, but these were from a charity shop. I often use an indelible pen to draw a face on one of the tips – the variation helps newbies grasp the concept as you demonstrate and talk them through it.

#5 Crochet Hooks – for free styling and quick fixes. I carry at least 2 with me, often more. Currently I have a 4mm, that’s G/6 in the US and an old English 8. The other hook is a finer 2.5mm. It says 12 on it, cause it’s an old English one, again from a charity shop bundle. That’s one of those in between sizes that doesn’t exist in the USA, but falls between a B/1 and a C/2. I use them for picking up stitches along edges I am going to knit from, embellishing knitted creatures with crochet extremities, doing a crochet cast-on or bind-off, picking up dropped stitches and very occasionally for straightforward crochet. They also come in useful when mending knitwear.

This is rapidly becoming an epic post as I am not even a quarter of the way through the contents of my bag of tricks. I shall leave you with this for now and flesh out the rest in the next couple of days. Otherwise I shall never ever start blogging.

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Another Round

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 11, Winter 2014. Photo by Fergus Ford for the Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook by Felicity Ford

Anna Maltz on mending the social fabric of Britain – And why knitting at the Pub matters.

In this issue we are celebrating the beauteous British public house, that perfect establishment for gathering to share time, tales and a tipple. Sadly, the current outlook for pubs in the U.K is bleak, much like it was for haberdashers in the 1990s. They are closing down at a rate of knots and, as we all know, knitters don’t like knots. The alarming statistic is that on average we lose at least 4 locals a day. There’s a whole host of reasons why they are on the brink, such as supermarkets selling cheaper booze, and zoning laws that make it easy to convert pubs into housing (generally luxury apartments) or shops (generally local/’metro’ versions of giant supermarkets).

But what has the beleaguered British pub got to do with knitting? And why might we, the knitting community, want to champion the pub and save it from extinction? Well, aside from pubs being convenient and comfortable spaces to knit (and rather splendid locations for photo shoots), I see strong overlaps between pubs and yarn shops. Pubs aren’t just vendors of booze. They’re our social clubs and community centres, where we go for camaraderie and advice, much like a yarn shop. For those of us living in small spaces they become extensions of our homes, a sort of annexed living room with a cast of characters to rival any soap opera. They are where generations mix, advice is shared, opinions exchanged and disagreements entertained. The knitting shop analogy may fall short as our woolly circles are largely underpinned by online interactions (Ravelry, blogs, twitter, instagram and the like) which of course social drinking is not, yet there is something intrinsically different and bolstering to your health about communicating IRL. As social creatures, isolation does not suit us well. There’s a lot to be said for not drinking alone and the same goes for knitting.

While I’m not condoning the over-consumption of alcohol (or yarn for that matter). When you go shopping for yarn of course it’s in the shop owners’ interest that you leave with as much as possible, but they will also guide and encourage you to make the right choices. The idea is that you leave happy and therefore come back, just like in a pub. There’s a sense of community and shared responsibility. Another cheery note on the subject of community and locals, be they boozers or yarn shops, is that when you spend a pound at a small or medium sized business, an estimated 63p stays in that local economy, whereas only 40p of that pound stays local if spent at a big business.

Pubs tend to cater to a specific community (football fans, cool kids, foodies, real ale drinkers, dog owners, old men, suits on a Friday, winos, etc.) in the same way that knitting shops have their niches. I’m imagining what the equivalents would be: your LYS specialising in local ethical yarns is your real ale pub; your international standard bigwig stockist (selling mainly Coates plc products; a large umbrella company encompassing Rowan, Red Heart, Susan Bates, Milward, Schachenmayr, Aunt Lydia, Anchor and more) is a chain pub; your old fashioned multipurpose haberdasher with an extensive range of acrylic colours and crochet cottons is your traditional ‘old man’ pub, and for lovers of cashmere and hand-dyed, you’ll likely frequent your local gastro pub. Knitting remains an undeniably female dominated occupation and pubs are often still seen as male spaces. There is definitely a history of pubs being a male preserve. There were times in British history when women weren’t just unwelcome, they were not allowed in at all, or there was a token section where women were admitted if accompanied by men. There even used to be a gutter running under the bar so you could whip out your todger and take a pee without losing your place in conversation. Times change. For this reason alone, knitting in pubs is a brilliant way of highlighting and perpetuating progress while celebrating and continuing the best of the past. We can foster both an inclusive community and the empowerment of hands-on self-reliance skills.

Plus pubs are fab places to knit. A little drink helps the stitches and conversation run more smoothly. Their public nature means they are the opposite of exclusive. Shy knitters can hide behind both their stitches and their pints, while gregarious ones can rouse the bar in to a spontaneous singing knitalong. They can be a bit dark, as you need less light to raise a glass to your lips than you do to count your brioche stitches. But just as you wouldn’t wear a white wiggle dress to a picnic (unless it had a John Waters theme and you were going as Divine in Polyester, in which case, get your pompom maker out), there are certain projects you wouldn’t take to the pub, and others which are perfect. I like to refer to garter stitch as the social stitch – something you need to pay far less attention to than stranded knitting or, god forbid, lace. Though this will depend on your personal propensities, there’s a time and a place for those things and it might just be called alone time. Our projects to knit in company should be conducive to chatting, drinking and developing a strong girl crush on your neighbour’s handiwork skills.

After a few decades of decline, which brought them to the brink of extinction, yarn shops are experiencing something of a renaissance as we realise the impact of making things ourselves and the importance of shared stitches to the fabric of our lives. Hopefully the half-century decline of the British pub can enjoy a similar turnaround. As much as I can’t imagine my life without knitting, I hate to think what the social landscape of Britain would be without its public houses. Let’s meet for knitting and a pint soon.

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Fingertip Travellers

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 10, Autumn 2014

The term “armchair tourist” has become familiar. It describes someone with a penchant for travel shows on telly and DVD; a follower of adventurers’ blogs, feeds and podcasts. They experience the sights of the world from the comfort of their couch with a mixture of amazement, admiration, jealousy and relief that someone else is doing it. They learn an awful lot. They may even go to some of these places one day.

And here we are: Issue 10 is full of beautiful projects inspired by different folk textile traditions from around the world. These designs originate from times when more discrete communities existed, pre-internet and even mass printing, before trains and certainly air travel. Because there was less movement and connection between communities, patterns and techniques developed that are highly recognisable as anchored to a specific geographic region. But, if there is one thing I know about crafters then and now, it is that we love to learn new things. Perhaps as a way to counterbalance the fact that we maintain ancient skills, we also tend to be early adopters of the new technologies at our disposal. Maybe it’s our innate overactive curiosity and itchy fingers that drive us to be makers in the first place.

It has become so easy to find and adopt designs from around the world, but this makes me wonder who is currently responsible for keeping these folk traditions alive? Does it have to be in your blood? Can you marry into it? Can you move into it? Can it still count as part of a folk tradition if you are geographically half the world away? What if the colours you use didn’t exist at the time when our idea of that particular folk tradition is anchored? Can you and should you use the technological advancements at your disposal? Recently, at a mending get-together (like a knitting circle or quilting bee, but for fixing things), I sat next to a sock knitter who made socks for her family to take part in historical reenactments. Everything had to be specific to the era they were obsessed with. I couldn’t help thinking that the folks they were aping would have jumped at the chance to make their calves less pointy, heels more comfortable and toes less square, but she followed the pattern to the T.

There is another crafting and authenticity conundrum that perplexes me: the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do school of craft. Let me illustrate this with a response we got to Ricefield Collective, a project I started with friends. It saw me teaching 25 indigenous women how to knit on the side of a mountain in the Philippines for 5 months last year. We got support from around the world, especially via the online crafting community. There was much excitement and communication about what we were up to and, of course, a couple of complicated questions to field. The most challenging were along the lines of ‘why are you teaching them knitting, don’t they have a strong weaving tradition?’

The question itself didn’t confuse me: it means that traditions should be maintained. It means that people with a direct link to their heritage should be responsible for keeping it alive (sometimes with outside support). And the answer to the second half of the question was a resounding YES. Where it gets confusing to me is in the subtext. Why it is that We – Developed WorId’/’Global North/’Rich People’/(insert your current term of choice) – can take as many courses as we like, be crafting polyglots,find inspiration from around the globe while snacking on ‘ethnic’ food and giving ourselves RSI tapping on our tablets, but we want and expect Other Folks – ‘Developing Nations’/’Global South’/’Poor People’/(again, insert your current term of choice) – to keep their specific traditions alive and unsullied? So we don’t have to? So we can be spectators of their ‘authentic’ lives?

Perhaps if you’re from pure Shetland stock it falls in your lap to keep your Fair Isle knitting traditions alive. And because they are your traditions you are allowed to update them with synthetics, fluorescents and a sprinkling from somewhere else. The same goes for Aran, Navajo, Tuareg, Muhu, T’boli, Masai and Gee’s Bend (the list goes on). There will be fussers and naysayers, but it’s your inheritance to mess with. But what happens to those of us with mixed or multiple heritage? Do we have to choose? Just imagine your grandmothers each came from an amazing knitting tradition: one was half Latvian, half Turkish and other half Peruvian, half Icelandic. Stranger things have happened – and I haven’t even mentioned your grandfathers.

It is the very portability of textiles that has made them so valuable for millennia. Whether you were a nomad, immigrant, trader, soldier, explorer, refugee or bride: textiles were, and remain, essential and easy to carry to your next stop or home. Some started the journey with you and others got picked up along the way as trophies, spoils and souvenirs. Some were worn and others were schlepped. They were vessels of identity and wealth. They still are today, but global fast fashion, made possible by the combined forces of the industrial and digital revolution (reliant on oil to transport it all and huge disparities of wealth) is rapidly changing our visual identities as being geographically bound. What I am curious about is what ‘folk’ means now that so many of us have inspiration at our fingertips. All you need is a good search term and the world is your oyster.

That is not to say that there wasn’t mobility of people, skills and designs before the advent of mass travel and the World Wide Web; it was just a lot slower. The folk traditions we think of as being from THAT place since FOREVER actually travelled there from somewhere else. Here’s what I think. Fashion exists because we are social creatures. We kind of like looking like our family and neighbours. They’re likely to be our teachers in how to dress ourselves. It’s not just an aesthetic concern, it’s survival; there’s a strong chance the people around us have already worked out a good way to dress to suit the local environment. Previously making your own clothes was a necessity for the majority and your community taught you how; it wasn’t a hobby or scholarly pursuit. You learnt directly from someone that this or that was the best way they knew how to spin, weave, cut and stitch to keep you warm, dry, safe and decent.

Then the decorating could begin! Inspiration came from whatever was under your nose, because there wasn’t a library or newspaper stand bursting with publications telling you what’s hot or not, outside visitors were scarce and there certainly was no Interweb. And boy did they come up with some amazing, beautiful, detailed and crazy shit! Folk traditions are testimony that decoration and functionality are intimately bound. By pushing boundaries and challenging yourself as a maker and then sharing those skills, you challenge and push your ability as a community to come up with even more breathtaking things. I could look endlessly at images of ‘folk’.

So that term, armchair tourist – does it sound familiar? How about if we substitute ‘tourist’ with ‘crafter’? There are fewer craft-related telly programs, but what is lacking on one screen we make up for on another with Ravelry, Etsy and an overabundance of blogs. The main difference however is that we are also making, not merely viewing I hope). We may be in our homes, LYSs and craft circles, but we are experiencing and translating our armchair tourism to our fingertips. Rather than tourists we are travellers, prepared to engage with more than a guide book and camera; we like to smell the smells and walk the walk – maybe get a little dirty. We are Fingertip Travellers. Let us travel lightly and share what we know. We may even go back in time as we travel to the future.

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A Lot of Little Bits About Linen

Originally published in Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 9, Summer 2014

Anna dives into the summery and eco-friendly world of linen – the very fibre with which she made her Sceles mesh top.

Last issue we heard from Caitlin ffrench about her forays into growing and processing linen with the goal of making her wardrobe as self-sufficient as possible. Even if you don’t have the chutzpah to start up your own miniature linen farm and mill, linen is an excellent fibre to knit with. It’s anti- bacterial and wicking and it’s especially good in summer when it will keep you cool and airy, whether you are wearing it or knitting with it. If you get in a pickle on a desert island, it’s so tough and strong you can make excellent fishing nets or hitch together a nifty lean-to.

The linen industry in the UK is now mainly part of our bucolic past, but we don’t need to look far to import it. The stuff I am most interested in is grown between Caen and Amsterdam, a short hop across the Channel. Linen derives from flax, a blue or white flowered plant, which thrives in these moderate coastal environments. It is those same fields that produced the linen for the canvas on which artists from Bosch, through Rembrandt to Van Gogh (and beyond) would have painted on. In this soil and climate linen can grow without irrigation. It satisfyingly requires seven times less: pesticides and fertilisers than cotton and that’s before we have started factoring in air miles and such. The eco credentials run strong in this one.

It is useful to make the distinction between woven and knitted linen clothing. Whereas with woven linen you have to worry about ending (or even starting) the day looking like you crawled out of the bottom of the laundry basket and don’t know what an iron is, with knitted linen you only get the benefits of its beautiful drape. The wrinkly nature of linen comes from the fact that it has much less memory/elasticity than other fibres; less than cotton and a hell of a lot less than wool. It can’t bounce back in to shape; it just does what it’s told.

Most natural fibres come from a soft puff (sheep, cotton, bunnies, llamas, silk, and so forth). Linen comes from the stalk of the plant; a stick rather than a puff. Bamboo and hemp might also spring to mind as fibres derived from a stick. Confusingly, bam boo fibre doesn’t actually come straight from the plant; it is turned in to a fibre through a process akin to making synthetics. To get linen from flax you have to whack it a bit. This is called scutching and later hackling, which sounds like a more violent form of heckling. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s back track. The linen plant grows in about a hundred days let’s call that three months and a long dirty weekend. It is then hoicked out of the ground, rather than cut off, to maximise the length of the staple. It is the length of the staple that dictates the quality of the fibre that can be produced from it. More pilling occurs the shorter the staple is. The same applies to all yarns, regardless of fibre content.

Now comes the weird bit. The outside of the fax has to be allowed to rot before it can be separated from the more useful inner fibres. The rotting of flax is called retting, not to be confused with rutting which is what young male deer do during mating season. Retting can happen in the field where the linen was harvested or in water.

Now the whacking bit happens, followed by carding and suddenly it is as if you are brushing long blond hair. Watching the mechanised process is disconcerting as it looks like Rapunzel’s epic tresses are being slowly drawn in to a mill only to come out as yarn.

And hey presto, its ready for knitting with! Unless it’s going to be blended: there are blends with everything from the slippiest rayon to the fuzziest mohair, though cotton is most prevalent. Each combination has different properties. You can count on Habu to mix it with steel (because being the second strongest natural fibre after silk apparently just isn’t enough). If you prefer to consume yarn one flora or fauna at a time, ideally place specific, as far as 100% European linen goes there are excellent choices. Euroflex always gets rave reviews, and Quince & Co have their Sparrow. Kalinka, a DK from Karin Oberg is spun in Sweden and comes in an array of breathtaking colours. If you like your yarn on the cone, try the linen from La Droguerie.

Let’s roll through some steps that will make working with linen a lovely experience from beginning to end. If your linen is a bit tough, soak it in a solution of water and hair conditioner before knitting with it. The term flaxen hair comes from flax, so it seems fitting. Do make sure to tie your skein in MANY places. It doesn’t cling like wool does and will spring in to a big old knot given half the chance. Wind it slowly if using a swift and ball winder – if it flies off you’re in for hours of trouble. If you’re in a patient frame of mind,I highly recommend you hand wind your skein in to a ball. Winding a skein of madder-dyed lace weight from Artisan Yarns once entertained me on a train journey from London to Brussels. There was the synchronous thrill of travelling through linen country and it resulted in the most pleasant ball of linen I have ever knit from.

If your linen is a bit tough, soak it in a solution of water and hair conditioner before knitting with it. The term flaxen hair comes from flax, so it seems fitting. Do make sure to tie your skein in MANY places. It doesn’t cling like wool does and will spring in to a big old knot given half the chance. Wind it slowly if using a swift and ball winder – if it flies off you’re in for hours of trouble. If you’re in a patient frame of mind,I highly recommend you hand wind your skein in to a ball. Winding a skein of madder-dyed lace weight from Artisan Yarns once entertained me on a train journey from London to Brussels. There was the synchronous thrill of travelling through linen country and it resulted in the most pleasant ball of linen I have ever knit from.

Having wound your ball, start it from the outside rather than the inside, as it will be less likely to end up in a tangled mess. If you insist on starting from the centre pull, place it inside an odd sock or the cut off foot of a pair of stockings (a pair that has recently moved beyond being fashionably laddered perhaps) as this will keep it snugly contained. Whichever way you like to unwind, keep a close eye when nearing the end, so you don’t suffer from infuriating tangles. Play around with your needle choice. You’ll enjoy knitting more on metal or wood/bamboo depending on how humid it is (and how clammy your hands are). Wood or bamboo will have a little grip that might bug you in dry climates, but will be beneficial in steamy conditions – the slight texture will actually stop the yarn sticking as it would to metal, helping it move more easily.

It’s important to remember that, when working with linen its lack of stretch will put you utterly in control of tensioning the yarn. Be aware that there will be some drop – stitches will ease downwards as it is worn, making rows longer with little change in the stitch count, so it is good to get your tension sorted. Your knitting might also be a bit biased. Most linen yarns are stranded (laid together) rather than twisted, which means they have a stronger inclination to lean. Knitting the lace patterns that linen is often used for will tend to sort this out: the k2togs and ssks pull things this way AND that, rather than this way OR that. However, if you’re subbing linen for wool when working a circular knitted garment with lots of stockinette you might consider changing it to a seamed piece. Alternatively, Shibui Linen, which is chain spun rather than stranded or twisted should be a safe bet.

When starting another ball, ensure the join happens in an inconspicuous place as it can be a bit tricky to hide. In other words, not bang in the middle of your bosom. You can’t spit-splice it. Just sayin’. Secure it ASAP, as otherwise it will sneak around and throw off your tension. I would even suggest loosely knotting it until you have knitted further enough along to sew in the ends, making sure to double back. Don’t try to break off the remaining yarn by hand. You will not succeed. You will hurt yourself and you will regret it. The damage you do will be part way between carpet burn and a paper cut, Anyhow, don’t you have a small pair of golden scissors in the shape of a stork just for taking care of such matters?

Linen is the S&M yarn in the knitter’s closet. You can beat up on linen and it will love you for it. Throw it in the washing machine, even the drier and it will come back begging for more. All the things that would shock animal fibres in to a shuddering pile of soft, supple bliss. Save on water and electricity and don’t give it a private load in the washer. Being bashed against jeans and rubbed by frisky towels will give it the rough treatment it desires. One thing to watch out for though is that linen can shed a bit, so keep an eye on what you wash it with. You don’t want the rest of the load coming out looking like a gerbil crept in with the hot wash.

All this talk of easy laundering is not to say that blocking won’t make it shine, especially lace. Feel free to block the proverbial hell out of it. This will help it come in to its own. The aim here is to fill you with confidence rather than trepidation. An equivalent set of guidelines could be given for wool, but we are all far too familiar with wools peccadillos to need it. For all of the times linen is referred to as not as forgiving as wool, think about the way wool felts, shrinks, sticks to Velcro, makes you itchy and attracts moths – things you won’t have to worry about with linen. Plus its summer; time for an adventure!

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Yarn Stores in Paris (Revisited)

I’m getting ready to spend an afternoon in Paris on the way to and from the South of France in a couple of weeks. In preparation, I’m looking back over my list of addresses from the now deceased blog I had with my friend Meredith Talusan a couple of years back…

I might revisit some, but there are also a couple of new ones to stop in on, such as L’Oisive The and Le Comptoir, which I have since found out about. Do let me know if there are other favourites – or just other things to do. If it is gorgeous weather, we might just want ice cream rather than yarn. Sadly we won’t be able to visit Denis Ocabo at her wonderful chocolate shop L’Etoile d’Or as it got blown up in a gas explosion!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dear Meredith,

As you head off on your work/summer adventure, I should wrap up my Paris adventure report. I feel like I didn’t do too much yarn related tourism in our brief stay in Paris, but perhaps I was wrong. I checked out some promising addresses I’d sleuthed out beforehand and others I just happened upon. They fitted around much walking and eating, a boat tour of the Canal Saint Martin, a pilgrimage to Berthillion for a cone, a long queued for viewing of the Manet exhibition at the Musee D’Orsay, a morning wandering the Marais art galleries and of course an Eiffel Tower viewing. All of that around the most relaxed few days outside of Paris visiting with my cousins and their kids; eating, drinking, talking, playing and visiting the gardens at Versailles and France Miniature.On our first day in Paris itself, straight from the Eurostar (at 8am: we were on the earliest and cheapest train), after consuming our first croissant of the trip and with a baguette under our arm (from the bakery that won this years prize for best baguette no less), walking down through Montmartre (having taken the funicular up to the Sacre Coeur), we happened upon matière active, a general craftiness store with workshop space for classes and hire for parties.

matière active

Rather than their minimal selection of yarn, it was these decals for sewing machines that caught my eye.

sewing macine decals at matiere activematière active
59, rue Mont Cenis
75018 Paris
Tél: 01 53 28 14 05

La Droguerie is on every Paris yarn store list and rightly so. It was on mine, because I happened upon her sister store when I was in Tokyo 7 years ago and had to see what this one was like.

La DroguerieYou enter through a rainbow corridor of hanks of yarn. As tempting to run your hands along as a stick along a fence. It would have been impossible to chose a colour if I was in the market for some.

Hanks at La DroguerieHere, it was the linen I was most interested in, as it’s a fibre I’d like to be using more of. It has a pretty good environmental profile, especially if you can get some grown localish and certainly in comparison to cotton.

Linen at La Droguerie

La Droguerie
9-11, rue du Jour
75001 Paris
Tél: 01 45 08 93 27

Apparently, the yarn department at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche is related to La Droguerie. There is a wide range of textile related stuff and it’s the most respectable yarn department I’ve seen in a department store for a long time. And the building is beautiful.

Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche
3rd Floor
24, rue Sèvres
75007 Paris
01 42 22 81 60

It was travelknitter’s list of international yarn stores that tipped me off to Entrée des Fournisseures, with it’s beautiful entrance down a courtyard. A bit of an all rounder, it stocks buttons, ribbons and a lot of Liberty fabric (though lovely, I don’t need to go to Paris for that). The yarn selection was limited and behind a counter, not encouraging touch and feel. All in all, a little spare and chic for me, but it did introduce me to Claire Garland‘s book on knitted animals. The cover of the French edition looks much cuter than the (older) English one.

Entrée des Fournisseurs

Entrée des Fournisseurs

Entrée des Fournisseurs
8, rue des Francs Beourgeois
75003 Paris
Tél: 01 48 87 58 98

As is often the case, I think my favourite places were those I stumbled across, with no expectations (and sometimes even no website). Seeking shelter from the rain, we popped in to Book Off, the Japanese bookshop. I’ve been meaning to write to you about all the knitting books I’ve been ordering. A couple of the new ones (they’ve mainly been older, secondhand ones) have been from Japan. The Japanese bookshop in London isn’t nearly as extensive as this one, so it was super to come across – it even had one of the titles I’d ordered in it’s extensive craft section. The most exciting part for me was the sale section, which turned up some very entertaining titles from the 80s!


Librairie Japonaise
29, rue Saint Augustin
75002 Paris
Tél: 01 42 60 04 77

Just around the corner from where we were staying in the Marais, we found one of those amazing Paris shops that sells just one thing – sticky tape. Not yarn, or even haberdashery, but inspirational none the less. One to recommend to our friend Joshua Pieper, should he ever be over that way. Did you ever get to see the drawings of tape he made with, well, tape?

Adhésifs Rubans de Normandie

Adhésifs Rubans de Normandie

93, boulevard Beaumarchais
75003 Paris
Tél: 01 42 71 31 61

Along similar lines, around the corner was a shop that sells lampshades and everything needed to make them. How great is that!? When I made one for Helena Keeffe a couple of years ago, along with a knitted sheep, as part of a little piece exchange, it took me ages to track down a vintage lampshade to use the frame of. It used to be standard to buy the frame to cover/decorate yourself (as indicated by a heap of vintage craft books), but they are nigh impossible to find in London now. I made her one with a knitted cover from white tarn, as our mutual commission was to find its home in our bedrooms. She painted a beautiful set of pillows with California wildlife with an accompanying alarm (with all the little animal noises), which has revolutionised my mornings and facilitated a happy marriage.

G. Poublan & Cie

Also note the very traditional Parisian “FERME EN AOUT”: closed in August. How civilised.

G. Poublan & Cie

G. Poublan & Cie
70, rue Amelot
75011 Paris
Tél: 01 43 38 43 43

The real treasure trove I serendipitously uncovered was ULTRAMOD. Just my sort of place: ancient, lots of drawers, and with stock from across decades. No yarn to speak of, but trimmings galore. Their storage boxes and slightly haphazard nature reminded me of those at K Trimmings when they were on Broadway, in your neck of the woods.




As well as some beautiful wooden nautical anchor buttons that I would have bought, if they had enough for a cardi, this giant rik rak was what most caught my eye. My inspection says it’s hand made, but I couldn’t quite work out how. Another project in the offing!

ULTRAMOD - rik rak


3, rue de Choiseul
75002 Paris
Tél: 01 42 96 98 30

The last and final address to be added to my list of places to return to was the chanced upon I.D.M, by Les Halles, down the road from fabulous kitchen gear window shopping in the catering trade shops and J. Detoux (where we picked up dijon mustard and other yummables to take home). Having been very restrained in the purchase of none consumables this trip (instead saving our pennies for copious tasting), this was the only place I actually bought something: a medium sized spool of fluorescent pinky orange elastic, which I am hatching plans to use in combination with colour work on the knitting machine. It makes great textures.


8, rue Francaise
75002 Paris
Tél. 01 42 33 95 67

And that was it!After that we returned to say our goodbyes to Denise in the best sweet shop ever, it’s greatness rivalled only by the proprietess and her amazing descriptions of each chocolate and what it will do in your mouth. Then there was just time for a crazy poo debacle in a bar we stopped in at for a pastis, buying bread and the most incredible souvenir gift cork screw from the fromagerie owner to open our bottle of wine on the Eurostar home.Let’s go to Paris together one day!


Mikal Ann said…
Wow, you found some places I didn’t know about – I’ll have to check them out next time I’m in Paris. But you missed one of my favourite shops – Le Comptoir on rue cadet. The blog is