15 June 2011

Yarn Crawling Portland, Part 1: Downtown

I spent last week away from the searing heat and sunshine of the Atlanta summer. This was my first trip to Portland, Oregon, and I must say I won't mind an excuse to visit again. The Cuddly Hubby was attending a conference, which meant I got to enjoy three days without adult supervision. In that time, I visited six yarn shops.

Let me say at the start that one of my rules was, as much as possible, not to purchase items I could buy in Atlanta. Also, I was looking more for books, especially Japanese pattern books, than for yarn. I love yarn, but I am trying to keep myself on a yarn diet until I can get the stash to fit back in the boxes.

If you are attending Sock Summit, be aware you can easily take MAX, the light rail, from the airport to the hotels. It will set you back all of $2.35 -- you aren't going to find cab fare at that rate. Plus, from the Sock Summit hotels, you can ride the train into the city for free.

In the downtown I followed a three-shop hop up 11th Avenue that included Knit Purl, Urban Fiber Arts, and Dublin Bay Knitting Company. I did not visit Angelika's Yarn Store (in the south end of town) nor Gardiner Yarn Works nor Black Trillium Fibre Studio, both over near Chinatown.

Begin by taking the red or blue line MAX into the city. Exit the light rail at Galleria/SW 10th Avenue, which is one stop west of Pioneer Square. Your first stop will be Knit Purl, which is at 1101 SW Alder on the northwest corner of Alder and 11th Avenue. I love the modern art-inspired fiber work in the windows. And jazz music played quietly over the sound system while I shopped. This shop has a nice selection of good quality yarns (list here) including Shibui, Habu, Kauni, Madelinetosh, and Koigu. If you are looking for an Oregon-themed memento, check out the Pendelton needle cases. There were several out of the ordinary book choices in this store. I chose a Japanese stitch dictionary, and this shop had several Japanese pattern books. They also had a line of German felting books that had adorable felting projects and several serious German lace books. And for those of you who do not have a comfort level with Japanese or German, Knit Purl carries back issues of the wonderful English magazine The Knitter. Clearly this is a shop that caters to capable knitters.

If you do this yarn crawl, do not do it on Monday. Why? Because your next yarn stop, Urban Fiber Arts, is not open on Monday. (I had to go back on Thursday morning.) But first, food! After you are done at Knit Purl, walk east one block on SW Alder Street. Near the corner of Alder and 10th, you'll find a food cart called Savor. There are other food carts on Alder, and I'm sure many of them are good as well, but I can personally tell you that the soups at Savor are awesome! For $6, I got the soup fight, which is three different soup selections. All were as good or better than what I would get as a soup appetizer at my favorite high-end restaurant here in Atlanta. So bring a little cash and find yourself some lunch at Savor or another food cart. Food hunting tip: if people are standing in line, join them. If the locals are willing it wait for it, it must be good.

I headed north by walking. If you can't do that, you can take the streetcar up 10th Avenue. Powell's City of Books is within the free zone. Urban Fiber Arts is one block west and around the corner from the last free stop at NW Glisan Street. Dublin Bay Knitting Company is outside the free zone, so you'll need a little pocket change for the ride.

After you eat, head north on 11th Avenue (or ride the streetcar on 10th). If you are game for a dangerous side trek, duck in Powell's City of Books, using the corner entrance on Couch St & NW 11th Ave. The hobby section, including weaving, knitting, and crochet, will be on your left as you enter. You'll encounter weaving first, just continue a couple bays beyond to find knitting. There are many, many knitting books. You have been warned. (I purchased a copy of The Weaver's Companion. Weight limits in my flight luggage prevented me from being more badly behaved.) And I must admit to a moment of amusement, as a young person asked the nice man at the information desk for the location of H. P. Lovecraft titles. Are you sure you want to open that book? Okay, but this way leads to madness!

Exit Powell's through that same corner entrance and head about four blocks north on 11th Avenue. Keep to the east side of the street. Just before NW Glisan Street you'll encounter Urban Fiber Arts at 428 NW 11th Avenue. This is a small, sweet little shop. I walked by on Monday when they were closed, but did notice that both Knit One, Knit All and knit, Swirl were in the window. Those books had both been recent purchases at my home friendly local yarn shop. Of all the shops I visited, this one is the most spinning-friendly. Then again, the local spinners do meet here the second Tuesday of each month. Cindy said she'd been open for about nine months. She was also wearing a recently completed Damask! I was short on time and didn't take a good look at the yarn (see what she carries here), but I did look at the rovings and batts. There is a wonderful selection with a specialization in local independent dyers or dyers who have some connection to Oregon generally or Portland specifically. After much internal debate, I chose a gorgeous yak, merino, and silk roving from Abstract Fiber. Urban Fiber Arts also had baskets of undyed natural fibers and a couple Schacht and Louet spinning wheels. If you wish to extend your interest in locally-sourced sustainable food into your textile practice, then Urban Fiber Arts is where to go. I can also report that Cindy was amongst the most upbeat of the yarn shop people I encountered -- a delightful person! I will be sorely tempted to call and order more Abstract Fiber when I find my spinning stash depleted.

If you have obtained your shop hopping map by searching on Ravelry for yarn shops in Portland (instructions here), be aware that Knit Knot Studio, which should be just a block away, is no longer in business.

At this point, you are about ten blocks north and one block west of where you left the MAX train. Remember, blocks in Portland are rather short, so it takes only about one minute to walk one block. If you walk another eight blocks north, you'll arrive at Dublin Bay Knitting Company, 1227 NW 11th Avenue. It will be on the west side of the street and about a block north of a lovely location for knitting in public, Tanner Springs Park. There were two busy ladies working the shop the day I visited. This is a nice roomy shop. I was pleased to see they stock Lucy Neatby dvds. Yarns (list here) included Three Irish Girls, Sweet Georgia, Rowan, and Lorna's. They had a full selection of Addi needles, including the really short circulars for working sleeves or socks. They also have their own line of yarn called Solstice. These are beautiful yarns made from beautiful fibers -- I saw a skein that was a whopping 45% cashmere, and it was soft as a lover's kiss. Alas, there wasn't a lot out, as they had stashed quite a bit of it away for Sock Summit. In the good selection of book -- and well-organized by type -- I found the booklet Patterns for Art of Lace Knitting: The Complete Works of Rachel Schnelling. Her work reminds me of Herbert Niebling or Marianne Kinzel.

So here you are at the northern end of the Pearl District. And you are laden with purchases. You will probably want to catch the streetcar back down 11th Avenue, exit near Knit Purl, and walk a couple blocks south and then east to catch the MAX train on SW Yamhill Street. Alternatively, you can walk south to NW Hoyt Street, then east several blocks to NW 6th Avenue, then south a block to find a MAX stop. Be sure to board a green line not a yellow line train to take you back to your hotel.

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