Sunday, December 11, 2011

Am I the Walrus?

When I was in second grade, my science class did an electricity experiment that went haywire while I was touching the metal end of the apparatus. I looked a smidge odd until my eyebrows grew back; yet on the whole I thought the experience of being briefly connected to a live current was pretty cool.

This may help to explain why I like New York City so much.

I saw it for the first time in the late 1980s, courtesy of a gracious college roommate who invited me to stay with his family in Manhattan during Spring Break. My parents, upon hearing our travel plans, were full of grim foreboding. The words filthy, noisy, crowded, and (above all) dangerous were thrown about. They didn't mean to be wet blankets, truly they didn't; but my great-grandmother got mugged on the street in Brooklyn in 1966 and after that whole place went straight to Hell.

On the afternoon of the first day, I dutifully called home to reassure my mother that I hadn't been kidnapped and sold into white slavery like Mary Tyler Moore in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

"Well?" said Mom, "How is it?"

"I found it!"
I sighed. "I finally found the place where everybody walks at the same pace I do!"

That was not the right answer.

Americans who are not New Yorkers are not supposed to like New York. They're allowed to like certain things about it, maybe. A good musical, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or spotting Yoko Ono shopping at Barney's Uptown. But then they're expected to go home to a split-level house with a two-car garage and complain about the rushing, the crowds, the noise, the dirty streets, the overwhelming muchness of it all. Real Americans (as we were repeatedly reminded during the last election) are supposed to live in the suburbs and like it. Real Americans are supposed to prefer placid, empty, quiet, tidy.

But who would want a placid, empty, quiet, tidy New York? Not me. That wouldn't be New York, that would be Pyongyang. You may have it.

I go to New York to plug in. I love the way it wakes me up, even when it's unpleasant. Take, for insance, the smell of the subway underpass at 42nd Street. I'm not saying I savor that aroma, but you must admit it cannot be taken casually.

This month I went to the city to play with the good people at Lion Brand Yarn Studio on West 15th Street in the Union Square/Flatiron neighborhood. I gave a talk (and people came! and they laughed!) and I taught three classes (and people came! and we all laughed!).

Second Floor Window, Lion Brand Yarn Studio

The Studio serves as a public face for the company and is completely adorable. I don't care if you've never touched a skein of yarn in your life–you cannot ignore a display window that looks like this.

Ice Fishing Window

A closer view of the walrus. They were considering naming him "Franklin." I hope they did.


And the Inuit fisherman.

Ice Fishing

These folks go way beyond the customary yarn store mode of a-couple-baskets-of-yarn-plus-a-limp-sweater. The Studio interior is punctuated by spolia saved from previous installations, so you never know what you're going to encounter when you turn a corner.

I'm afraid I had only a pocket camera of limited capacity, but here are a few snaps of what I found.

In the larger upstairs classroom, spare materials for students who may have forgot something.

Large Needles

The needles are size US 300. Not sure about the metric conversion. Wouldn't want to take them through airport security.

Large Needles

This guy sits in the window of the smaller classroom, looking out to West 15th.

Knitting Lion

Hug it? Knit it? Hug it? Knit it?

Lion Face

On the way into the company owner's office, there's a crocheted Empire State Building complete with a couple of sightseeing tourists.


Inside the office, there's a vintage-style postcard (eight feet wide) celebrating the city's icons.


What you can see a little more clearly from this angle (click to embiggen)


is that the letters are three-dimensional and contain knitted and crocheted versions of (partial list!) Patience and Fortitude, the NYC Public Library lions; the giant Cup o' Noodles from Times Square; the Statue of Liberty; a Yankees cap; the Flatiron, Empire State, and Chrysler Buildings; the World Trade Center in memoriam; the Guggenheim Museum; and a hot dog cart that's half the size of the nearby hot dog. Underneath is the Brooklyn Bridge and a street crowded with a police car, a fire truck, a couple of taxi cabs and a tour bus.

At first I thought the little dude on the Brooklyn Bridge was a suicidal jumper, but it turned out to be the Phantom of the Opera consulting a city map. (Yes, he is so a New Yorker. He's been running in Manhattan since 1988.)

In the same room, there's also a chair/trellis hybrid crawling with butterflies and summer flowers.

Spring Chair

I was trying to come up with a "country seat" joke here, but it wouldn't gel.

Spring Chair

This is a box of something. I don't know what's in it. I was afraid to lift the lid.

Monster Box

Down in the basement, among the yarn storage bins, a friendly bunny keeps the staff company while they sort stock.

Basement Bunny

A wall map, about five feet across reminds one that there aren't Red States or Blue States, only states that like to play with yarn.

Map of the US

Kind of a nice thing to remember as the political candidates try to convince us otherwise.

While I was there, they caught me on cameras both still and moving:

I'm so happy I remembered to get my hair did. Also, I have a boycrush on Patty Lyons, the maven/doyenne/manager/queen of the LB Studio. She arranged the whole splendid shindig with such mastery that when she told me to stop fussing and relax, I actually did.

It was fun. I woke up. I hated to leave. I can't wait to go back. Hint, hint.


Michelle said...

After that fun and fascinating glimpse into the business behind the brand, I will forever look at Lion Brand yarn with much more fondness!

LunabudKnits said...

Love it! So glad you had a good New York trip:)

penny said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your short time here. I really enjoy the studio and the atmosphere, LB is a great family owned company with a rich and deep history that many don't know about. (i'm a closet archivist). Your talk was awesome and I burnt many calories laughing and and even more plotting and thinking about the patterns. Please come back again soon, all of my penguins want to meet you and thank you for not giving me a source for the fire resistant paper. Not that i'd go there, I have enough dangerous materials here already. Somewhere in the depths of the stash is macrame cord. I think the penguins keep burying it when it starts to get toward the top of the yarn and crafts supplies. ;)

Paul said...

I CANNOT believe she said she was "Excited for your junk"!!! I laughed so hard I may have peed a little...

Patty: Lion Brand Yarn Studio said...


You should have seen what got cut out of the video! What can I say, Franklin brings out the naughty in a gal!


Angela said...

I am so glad I lived in NYC when I was young and poor and when Hell's Kitchens was still hellish. I have that same excitement when I go back. (Flying in is fine, but I love going in through the Lincoln Tunnel--first the view of the city, then the long, anticipatory trip through, and then, boom, you emerge into IT!) Can't wait to check out BL Studio on my next trip. It sounds fantastic.

Angela said...

Whoops--LB Studio.

dragon knitter said...

find it hard to believe no one commented about your new book! SQUEEEEEEEE!

Overstap said...

What an Amazing Displays!!! Love it!!....New Book???

Paul said...


I know exactly what you mean...

Pam Sykes (aka Pretty Knitty) said...

OMGosh! I have never been a city gal (much to the chagrin of my SO), but I'd go to see that studio in person! Thanks for the tour!

Phyllis said...

Franklin is a good teacher, organized, with clear explanation and demonstrations. Take a class if you ever get the chance. We were educated and inspired.
And next time you're in the city, venture across the Hudson to the LB outlet to see more incredible displays.

littleredyarn said...

Just a guess, but I think the box is actually "The Monster Book of Monsters" from the Harry Potter series.

Patty: Lion Brand Yarn Studio said...

The box is the creation of one of our former employees, Gina. It's name is "Muncher", and he was created when I made the simple request "make a ballot box" for a window contest we were running, and that's what I was handed! Now Muncher is the box for class evaluation forms.

Lyn said...

I was in your photography class, and enjoyed it immensely! Not only was it very informative, you are a charming teacher!

karen alho said...

What an absolutely fantastic place that is. Unfortunately, now that I don't live near The City any more -abput 4000 miles worth of not near- I'll probably never get to see it. Thanks for the tour!~

littleredyarn said...

@Patty, thanks for clarifying that!

Sally said...

Thanks for the tour! That was fun.

Charlotte said...

You have just coined my favoritest phrase about this place ever in this: "I go to New York to plug in. I love the way it wakes me up, even when it's unpleasant. Take, for insance, the smell of the subway underpass at 42nd Street. I'm not saying I savor that aroma, but you must admit it cannot be taken casually."

Yes! My first six months living in New York, I was lost and upset. After that, I realized that there's just no place that forces you to be so immersed in the gritty reality of living. There's a reason so much art is created here.

Psst, I'm in your class at Vogue Knitting, yay, cannot wait!

Em said...

Many long years have passed since I lived in New York - thanks for the memories. Grimy, gritty and surreal it may be, but there's nothing on earth like its energy and fizz.

By the way, is it very wrong of me to want to knit a walrus?

Paula Whittaker said...

would love the pattern for the suicidal jumper.

dw said...

Thank you for calling him (her?) an Inuit.

Rocky Moreno said...

That studio looks awesome, need to visit it one day.

Stitchy McYarnpants said...

Patty is simply the best, isn't she? I love her a lot. She and all the staff are amazingly warm and friendly and funny. I just love it there. I really want to go back to explore some more.

Karen said...

Spolia. Sigh. I love that word.

marlie said...

My parents had a very similar reaction to yours when I moved from the Philadelphia suburbs INTO the city. While there's not as much hustle and bustle as NYC, there's a vitality and novelty that you don't see in the 'burbs. I see something new/funny/interesting/different every single day as I walk or bus to/from work - something that would never happen in the 'burbs.'

Also, my sister has been complaining for *years* that I walk too fast. Go figure.

Anyway, glad you enjoyed your time in NY, and I can't wait to see you again in Philadelphia!

Summer said...

Lol at finding a place where everyone walks at your speed! I'm the same way. I was in my downtown, Seattle, with family recently and it's amazing how much worse everything smells when you aren't walking quickly past :/

Seanna Lea said...

It sounds like a great trip. I've been to NY a couple of times (and enjoy it immensely despite my love of quiet), but I've only made to Habu, Schoolhouse and Purl Soho. I'll have to try to make it to Lion Brand next time!

anne marie in philly said...

PA is a red state; they got it right (heh heh heh; see what I did there?) much to my dismay, I might add.

OMG, there are so many things to play with at LBS!

Moondancer5 said...

Lion Brand studio is such a wonderful place to hang out. The staff is amazingly helpful and nice, and the space is--well your pix say it all. I feel like I've come to a great party every time I go there, where even if I don't know anyone, I end up having good conversations, squeezing lovely yarn, and admiring the cool art. I loved your photography class--I wish it was an hour longer! I have the best time in your classes, they are always interesting, I always learn something, I have such a good time, and laugh so much, I hate to leave. Franklin, New York wants you to stay!

Nopinkertons said...

Damn, I miss NY. LBS opened just before I left, and I never got there. Now I regret it! The thing about New York is this: if you think of any activity, no matter how bizarre, illegal, mundane or silly, someone in New York is doing it *right now.*

leFiligree said...

they do have nice window displays. cant we call the fisher with the walrus an inupiat? you know, the inuit which live in alaska/the US?

Pat in WNY said...

Are ANY of the patterns of the great items in this great post available? I would LOVE to knit the fish!

Jean Moss said...

What gorgeous images - specially love the lion and the walrus!

Gail said...

You are on honorary NY'er. Your talk was so funny, I needed my (vintage) handkerchief.

Love the photos of the NYC postcard -- that was in the window in late summer, I believe, and I tried to take photos through the glass ... your are, of course, much much better!

Hope you come back soon!!!

Kate B said...

I must not be a real American because I love New York and the hustle and bustle. I live in the NYC burbs, but have yet to make it to LBY Studio, so thanks for the virtual visit. I'm looking forward to my first trip there for a class in January!

Unknown said...

Lion Brand Studio looks amazing! If I ever go to NY I am for sure spending most of my time there.

Jennifer said...

Wow - that's brilliant. Thanks for taking us on a tour. Now I want to plan my own trip.

soxanne said...

Wow, what a studio!

I love NYC too, but am not supposed to as I am from Minnesota.

nelago said...

What a flippin' adorable studio! I love love love that trellis/chair thing and kind of want to make my own!

for the record though, just because someone doesn't dig the city life, doesn't mean that he/she is happy in the suburbs. I hate the suburbs, but also do not like living in the city. Give me thirty acres, a barn, space to hunt and no neighbors in sight, please :) When city folk judge/stereotype non-city folk, it makes it easier to for us to do the same.

Rosi G. said...

CRAP! WHYYY did I think this was in January! I can't believe I missed you. :-(

Will definitely catch you next month at VKL. Email me and we'll do dinner or something, yes please?

Rosi G. said...

PS: Sounds like you just need to up and move here already!

Anonymous said...

WOW! Your posting has changed my opinion of Lion Brand forever (for the better, of course). What a neat place to investigate when we get up to New York.

Rosaura a las diez said...

I live in Topeka, KS. When I used to teach in a neighboring county there were plenty of parents who would not allow their HS-age offspring to go into town after dark- too dangerous. So I'm going "They live in Chicago! There's a big difference between Chicago danger and New York danger?" Well, live and learn. I bet you can get mugged in Chicago if you know where to go.

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angel Williams said...

Patty is basically the best, isn't she? I really like her a lot. She and all employees are incredibly heated and helpful and humorous. I just really like it there. I really want to go returning to discover some more.


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