Needless to say I wasn't just staring at bridges and statuary during the trip to San Francisco. There are knitters and yarn sprinkled liberally about the area, and I managed to visit a few of them.
Of the knitters, I met one. Here he is, delightful Stephen aka Hizknits, in his office with the inimitable Miss Janie Sparkles.
I had met Stephen on this trip to California, when he was taping an episode of "Knitty Gritty." Stephen lives in San Francisco and works in Berkeley in the marketing department of Clif Bar. We had a fantastic Mexican lunch and he gave me a tour of the Clif Bar premises, which I can describe only as the Office Environment of My Dreams.
Imagine: cheerful people doing rewarding work in attractive, exciting surroundings. So different, so very different from my own, dear employer, which takes as its model the workhouse from Oliver Twist (minus the free food).
(Personal to Stephen: have already eaten most of my samples. What the hell do you put in those things? Hashish?)
Then, oh then, there were the yarn shops. I made it to three.
Artfibers (124 Sutter Street, San Francisco • Web site)
When I asked y'all where I ought to go and about half of you mentioned this place, I knew it had to be good. I wasn't disappointed.
If you go, don't look for a flashy storefront. Look up. You'll see this.
Doesn't seem like much, I know. But climb the stairs to the second floor and you'll enjoy an intimate encounter with some of the most seductive yarn you'll ever fondle. Artfibers sells online but they don't wholesale. If you want to touch it before you buy it, you gotta visit in person.
Happily, they are prepared to make you very comfortable during your stay. The showroom is small, but seating is ample and they have samples of what appears to be the entire line ready for you to play with. Just tell them what you want, and they'll put it into you eager hands for a test knit.
The yarn–which includes a lot of ingenious fiber combinations and striking textures–is neatly arranged and clearly labeled. There are patterns and books for sale, plus a reference library and lots of swatches to wake up your muse. The service was impeccably friendly. In spite of a multitude of customers, the sole salesperson (who was, as I recall, also the manager) kept everybody happy. No mean feat, that.
ImagiKnit (3897 18th Street, San Francisco • Web site)
One of the benefits of being a knitter is that even in a strange city, if you have the good fortune to encounter a shop like ImagiKnit you will feel instantly at home.
I made two visits to ImagiKnit. The first was unplanned. We were on our way to the Castro and I spotted the sign,
and my non-knitting companions graciously agreed to stop and let me do a bit of shopping. I liked it so much I went back again on the last day of the trip.
ImagiKnit has two large, beautiful rooms absolutely crammed to the rafters with yarn. The lighting is excellent and there are voluptuous sofas for parking yourself or any non-knitters who may be with you. (If you happen to be gay, you can also send your boyfriend up the street two blocks to Castro, where he can sip a drink and admire the passing show while you cruise the Malabrigo.)
Everybody here, on both visits, treated me with great cordiality. Even the regulars knitting on the sofa gave a cheery nod and a smile. The salespeople were friendly without being pushy, and two of them even posed for me.
Since I was so twitterpated with the place that I forgot to take a shot of the interior, you'll have to extrapolate from those two smiles what sort of experience to expect at ImagiKnit.
Lacis (2982 Adeline Street, Berkeley • Web site)
Lacis is not, strictly speaking, a yarn store. However, if you have even the slightest interest in lace knitting or lace making you need to visit. Seriously. I've been to Brussels and to Bruges, both touted as epicenters of the art, and in neither place did the sheer joy of lace come through as it does at Lacis.
If you've no car, no problem. Hop on the BART and get off at the Ashby stop. It's a short trip, and Lacis is steps from the station.
There are two parts to the establishment: the retail shop and the museum. If you get there and the museum's not open, just ask. They'll open it up for you and even take you around the exhibits. Admission is free, and they allow photographs.
As of this writing, the exhibit in the museum is needle laces–lace made with a single needle and thread. I have only a rudimentary understanding of non-knitted laces, but you don't have to know anything to be dazzled by what's on display.
To give you a tiny sample–there's tons more on the Lacis museum Web site–I was very taken with the relative simplicity of the edging on this shawl from the end of the 19th century; it's the perfect foil to the simple, sprigged center.
And there are two mannequins, one male and one female, decked out in period finery with lace actually made in-house, by lacers who are regulars at Lacis.
To cap it all off, there is a piece of point à Venise, one small part of which is shown here at roughly actual size, which is worked at–are you ready?–10,000 stitches to the inch.
I almost wet my pants.
The only complaint I have about the museum is that after visiting it, all of my lace knitting now looks to me like macramé.
The retail half of Lacis is equally dazzling, albeit in a different way. There are more displays of incredible work–including a case of knitted laces I unfortunately couldn't photograph because of reflections on the glass–mixed into the selection of...everything.
Truly, I didn't know where to begin. The book section alone was staggering; more books on general knitting than I've seen anywhere else except Halcyon Yarn. Books on lace, of course; and books on costuming, fashion, corsetry, crochet, doll making, millinery.
And there are supplies for all of it. A corsetry section, a millinery section, knitting supplies, embroidery supplies, pillows and bobbins for bobbin lace, vintage linens and laces, patterns, notions, crinolines (with hoops) suspended from the ceiling. And, among the cases of jewelry and other bric-a-brac, a selection of silver chatelaines that made me realize if I don't get one, I shall expire.
Were it not for energetic help of Erin, the manager, who took time out from sorting stock to guide me through the selection of antique knitting patterns, I might well still be sitting on the floor in a daze with drool running from one corner of my mouth.
I have to come back. Soon. If this is what I saw in only five days, I can't imagine what I missed.