2. The subway:
5. A friend in need–Erin, incidentally, has a head cold:
7. Karma (arrived in the mail, knit by mom from midwestern alpacas!)
By now you may know, that when it comes to downtown knitting shops, I love Purl. But on my way there the other day (as I mentioned at the end of this post), I found a new nook to love on Thompson Street: Wool and the Gang. There’s no question that Purl is precious: colorful, comfortable, and populated with kindly experts to help with projects.
Wool and the Gang, on the other hand, feels stark, modern, and a little edgy at first impression…until one remembers that knitters, by nature, are patient people who appreciate color and craft. And if you, in turn, are someone who appreciates color and craft, then you already have something in common. I had a chat with Jade, their British shopkeeper, who you’re likely to meet again here at Closettour, and picked up a ball of Crazy Sexy Wool for a new hat.
I started it last week at a neighborhood knitting bee, where it was my turn to be the new kid on the block. The group is comprised of three other girls: Melissa, plus two more called Jenny, like me. (One Jenny makes pretty clothing by hand, the other muses about the food she eats.) They watch Twin Peaks while they knit, which would be far too creepy for me to watch alone. It’s sort of nice having a little gang.
As I mentioned the other morning, my graduation gift to myself was an alpaca scarf from the Inoue Brothers, and not a moment too soon. There it is keeping me warm under the picturesque Brooklyn-Queens Expressways as the snowflakes started to fall this afternoon.
I fell in love when I saw a similar one wrapped around the neck of Tomoko Ogura, who knows a thing or two about shopping–she oversees all the buyers for the Barney’s Co-op. When I complimented its rainbow hues she quickly turned over one corner to show me this:
and told me about how the Inoue Brothers, born and raised in Denmark, now based in Copenhagen and London, combine their Japanese heritage and European design sense with the expertise of Bolivian artisans to turn out these wonderful scarves, which she snapped right up on Barney’s behalf.
I resisted for about four hours that afternoon, doing schoolwork before I finally googled the Inoue Brothers and landed on their really lovely website.
I read more about the brothers, got a closer look at the scarves, and decided I better ring Barney’s.
I still liked the grey best, which is what I had seen Tomoko wearing, but I thought the marigold, poppy red, or darker green could do nicely too. But the man at Barney’s told me they only had lavender, pink, and blue left. None would have been quite right for me. It needed to be a cozy color for everyday, and cool colors (as opposed to warms and neutrals) are just not my thing. I went back to the designers’ website, where I found an email address. I sent a message about my crush on the scarf, and asking whether there were any more available.
17 minutes after I hit “send,” on a Sunday, no less, Satoru Inoue–one of the designers, wrote back saying he would check with the stock guys, who were busy with Christmas orders, and see what he could do. Sure enough, he found me a grey one, though in a slightly different size. He sent me a message outlining the difference in measurements (a matter of several centimeters), and offered to send it at a smaller price, for the smaller size. I said, “yes, please,” and asked for some more information about his company.
He sent me their profile, and even better, a link to this interview on Limited Hype, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are great photos of the brothers (Satoru–at least I think it’s Satoru, on the left, looks strangely similar to Rogan. A kindred soul across the pond), as well as the Bolivian knitters, and a nice outline of their design and production process. I thought this bit was a highlight:
LH: Does putting social responsibility and sustainability first hinder your growth as a brand at all?
Satoru Inoue: Both yes and no. It all depends on how you look at it and how you define value. Business is driven by efficiency and profit. If those two principles are valued in only financial means, then our methods are slow in growth. But valued in human development, quality and creativity, then our methods have been very profitable.
The day before graduation, I got a package notice from the post office. An envelope was waiting for me, with my lovely new scarf folded up inside with a hangtag that told me a little more about its production:
But as the brothers note on their website, “talk is cheap,” and they hope their work speaks for itself.
So far, so good.
I had a lot of support in preparing for my presentation on Wednesday, which ended up winning a grant to get CLOSETTOUR off the ground. Dan Shanoff and Jeff Jarvis helped me hone the material, but I had never done a Powerpoint presentation and was a little freaked out by the medium. I thought if I could get some visual cues on the screen, I just might be okay. So, I put Rosa here on the second slide:
She’s a Huacayo alpaca I met a few years ago on a sourcing trip in Arequipa, Peru, and her photo was tacked up beside my desk at Edun for ages. It’s hard to be anxious when you’re eye-to-eye with an alpaca, so I led the presentation with her. She and Michael Pollan served as a sort of tag team, their photos side-by-side illustrating the analog of provenance-focused food journalism, and how I might use his model to unravel a sweater back to Peru, for example, which is where I first met Rosa. There, I got to see how the yarn is hand-sorted for staple length (which effects whether your sweaters “pill”), color, and fineness, as this woman is doing here. Before seeing this, I always thought Baby Alpaca (a content listed in yarn) was shorn from, well, baby alpacas, but it actually just refers to the grade of the yarn.
I love–LOVE natural colored yarns (Is there anything prettier than a natural sweater with jeans?), and it’s incredible all the gorgeous colors alpacas can be–chestnut, like Rosa, warm grey, like this guy, who’s called Pancho, and about 50 shades of cream, ebony, mink, and charcoal in between.
Here are a few more, to give you an idea, all stacked on a shelf at the Peruvian mill.
One of the yarns we saw in processing was Blue Sky Bulky, one of my very favorites. This is the yarn I learned to knit with, on fat plastic needles my mom called “telephone poles.” It is so easy and comes in incredible colors–both natural and dyed. If you have a desire to knit, and have never tried, try doing a scarf with this yarn. If I can do it, you can do it.
Peruvian Blue Sky Bulky Yarn, 50% wool, 50% alpaca
(Alternatively, if someone you love might like to learn to knit, a great gift would be some “telephone pole” needles, a few skeins of Blue Sky Bulky for a scarf, and a copy of this book.) A few years ago I knit myself a foggy-blue hat inspired by the one pictured below, but it became the casualty of a particularly wild Christmas party, and never made it home.
The look that launched 1,000 chunky berets
Marc Jacobs F/W 2006, from Style.com
Soon I’d like to treat myself with a trip to Purl, the knitting shop in SoHo, to see what colors of Blue Sky Bulky they have in stock, and give it another shot. The pattern for the Transformer Hat, which you can find for free on the left edge of this blog looks like it could make for a promising project, and I’m feeling a lot of affection for alpacas these days.