A Story in Every Skein - Portrait of a Yarn Store
Here at Darn Good Yarn we get the opportunity to sell yarn to many great individuals, but we also get the opportunity to wholesale our wares to some truly great and unique yarn stores across the country. (Interested in setting up a wholesale account? Click here.)
One such great yarn store? Purl's Yarn Emporium in Asheville, North Carolina.
Elizabeth and Rik and their young son moved to Asheville in 2008 without a definite plan in mind. Elizabeth's mom owned a yarn store when she was growing up, so she grew up among crafty folks. She was always an avid sewer, but hadn't had the time to learn to knit yet. Being in a new city without a job to immediately go to gave her the time she needed, and she and her son started learning together.
Meanwhile, Rik was a middle school teacher, but wasn't finding that to be a great fit. He got bit by the knitting bug as well, and they both found themselves well on their way to that healthy level of knitting obsession that so many of us experience.
They both visited Purl's and spoke often with the previous owner. When she wanted to sell in 2010, they decided to go ahead and buy it.
"We can even walk in to work!" Rik enthused.
Elizabeth & Rik with their sock monkey alter-egos
When they took over Purl's, Liz and Rik both wanted to stock really special yarns.
"We want to have yarn with a story," Rik explained. Telling a customer the story of the people behind the yarns, where it came from, who's hands produced it - it makes it so much more special. The story and energy gets imbued into the project the yarn is used for, and makes it much more exciting to work with as well.
"We are very critical about where our yarn comes from." They told me. "The term 'fair-trade' is not yet well-defined for the textile industry. We would rather carry 'family-trade' or 'direct-trade' - we want a personal relationship or a 'chain of trust' that connects us with the yarn."
As a member of the board of 10,000 Villages, Elizabeth learned to think globally - asking important questions about where products come from and who produces them. She and Rik are both big proponents of "conscious consumerism".
As they already held all of these beliefs, carrying Darn Good Yarn products was a natural choice.
"The previous owner had carried some recycled silk - and we really liked the transparency of how Darn Good Yarn obtains its materials."
Darn Good Yarn is in some excellent company among the yarns at Purl's.
They feature several companies that support micro-enterprises worldwide, just like Darn Good Yarn does. The other yarns they feature are all American-made, and they are looking to expand their local yarn selection as well. They eagerly described their continuing talks with local farms about obtaining fleeces for a wool/alpaca/mohair blend they want to produce at their own mill. They do their own dyeing in-house as well. Among the locals, however, they are most famous for their fabulous store-window displays.
"The sock-monkeys became iconic." Liz tells me. Liz was part of a fun group that sent sock-monkeys across the country to each other, each person adding a fun detail - a little sweater, a knitted hat - to the sock-monkey before they send it along. She put some of the monkeys in a window display as "Dr. Knit and Professor Purl" and they took off immediately. Since then, they have had all kinds of sock-monkey fun.
Their most current display? Dowton - sorry, "Yarnton" Abbey sock-monkeys!
I love these guys!
Overall, they say their "nerdy" windows are the most popular. Personally, the Doctor Who display they did was my favorite!
When I asked the silly question in my interview, "Knitters and crocheters - enthusiastic hobbyists or insane yarn hoarders?" They gave it due consideration. Liz theorized that there are whole ranges of insanity, and that folks' hidden yarn passions (or insanities) tend to emerge through conversations while yarn-shopping. If anything, she said that she wanted to get people more engaged.
Purl's certainly has many ways to do just that. Along with several different "Sit & Knit" type meetings throughout the week to which all are invited, they also have "Purl Scouts". As a "Purl Scout" you pay a basic joining fee, and then you get access to all of their beginner classes for free, and all of the advanced classes at half price! The most fun of all, you get to collect badges for every new technique you learn! I love this idea! I would oh-so-proudly display a sash full of knitting or crocheting badges if I had one. I may have to start one soon myself.
Elizabeth and Rik are proud that Purl's is a very welcoming and inclusive store. They have rainbow flags alongside Doctor Who stickers, they sat with around 150 knitters at a local baseball game, and they encourage everyone of every age and skill set to build up their crafting arsenal little by little.
If you are ever in the Asheville area, come stop by Purl's. Marvel at the sock-monkeys. Stock up on some Darn Good Yarn and other yarns with great causes around the world. Want to check up on the fun without leaving home? See pictures of all the great sock-monkey window displays? Check out their Facebook page here, and make sure to "Like" them for all the great stuff they do!
Many thanks to Elizabeth and Rik for taking the time to sit and talk with me. I may have to come in and join the Thursday night Sit & Knit!
- Nicole Snow