So yesterday, I did a little bit of yarn tourism. My husband suggested earlier in the week that we make the drive to Hendersonville, NC to pick apples. There’s an orchard there called Sky Top, and as a kid I’d been there many times with my family. Even though I don’t have the fondest memories of my youth as far as my family is involved, that’s one of the few things I truly enjoyed doing with them.
Hendersonville is about 20 minutes south of Asheville, NC, which is kind of a mecca for artists of all kinds. As such, there are half a dozen locally-owned yarn shops there, which I’ve been wanting to check out for a while. Our area has two in the city, and four more in a 40-mile radius, but I’d haunted these places to death. I thought it’d be a fun little trip, especially since I’d spent a lot of time wandering around in Hendersonville and Asheville in my teens and twenties.
We had an excellent lunch at a barbecue place in Flat Rock – really much better than I’d expected, and not at all generic like a lot of barbecue places tend to be. We went up to the orchard, which was nice, but the road up the mountain has been paved in the intervening 15 years, so a trip that I remembered as being bumpy and taking forever (which was probably only 10 or 15 minutes in adult time) was smooth and quick – less than five minutes and we were there. I was fairly stunned.
After that, we headed to Asheville to find the first LYS. This one was in the Biltmore Square Mall, which appears to be about the saddest mall in America. My husband brought his laptop to entertain him while I went to feed my addiction, but when I got back to him he was surfing on his phone – there was no public wifi signal. Hardly surprising since there were more employees than customers there, half the stalls in the food court were abandoned, and the bathroom, while not unclean, had a half-rapey/half-Saw vibe to it.
The yarn shop itself, though, was impressive. They did have a pretty big selection of novelty yarn, which I’m not used to – the shops here carry some, but a small amount that I generally ignore. There was a lot of everything, period. There was a lot of locally-produced yarn, every color conceivable, every fiber under the sun, and a lot of pretty knitted objects like hats and shawls for sale. But I left in only 10 minutes, with nothing more than a small bottle of Eucalan. I didn’t even get a pair of needles (which had been one of my goals – I need a pair of US1 that isn’t bamboo) – their selection was mostly Addis, which seems to be kind of a trend with LYSes. Aggravatingly so, because while they’re nice to knit with, I don’t like the shape of the taper between the join and the tip – or the fact that my skin reacts to the metal and produces a smell like a fistful of pennies. This store did have a good selection of Knitters Pride needles also, but the Dreamz seemed to be mostly 29″ and 32″, where I need at least 40″.
It’s not that I disliked Friends and Fiberworks. I just felt incredibly out of place in a yarn shop that was in the middle of a mall, with the typical décor you’d see in a mall store, and the requisite inoffensive pop music that all malls seem to play. It was like shopping for yarn in a Claire’s.
That feeling of being incredibly out of place was, as it turns out, the theme of the day.
After that, we went downtown. We managed to find a parking spot on the street and set out looking for a place where he could sit with his laptop while I looked for the yarn shops; while I am pretty familiar with downtown Asheville, I hadn’t been there in 8 years or so. Luckily we got to the Grove Arcade first, which had some café tables inside where he could sit while I did my thing.
The first shop was Asheville, NC Homecrafts, because it’s actually in the Arcade. A name like that made me think it would have a focus on wallpaper or scrapbooking, but it was purely a yarn shop, and while small, a very nice one. It had a small needle selection (again, mostly Addis, some Knitters Pride), but I did see they had highlighter tape, which I had been wanting to try. They did this thing I had noticed in Friends and Fiberworks – they had a section where it was just grouped together by colors, irrespective of the type of yarn. While it was visually interesting, it was odd to me because I’m more used to (and I guess prefer) that yarn be separated by fiber, brand, or weight. I’d rather look through a basket of all one type of yarn to find the color I want, than look through a bunch of purple yarns for the specific type of fiber I want to buy.
This store is where I discovered my new favorite yarn ever: Cascade Epiphany. It’s a sport weight blend of alpaca, cashmere, and silk, and it’s about the most luxurious yarn I’ve ever felt, although to be fair, I don’t get out much. I would have blown my entire yarn budget on just two skeins of it, but I eventually settled on some Jojoland Melody sock yarn. The Melody is also very soft, and it’s a superwash wool, and it was only $13 for both balls, so I would actually have money to spend in the other yarn shops. If I did buy the Epiphany, I’d want enough to wrap around myself in a sweater, and there’s no way I could have afforded that. So I put that on my wish list and moved on.
Next I found Purl’s Yarn Emporium. I found this shop to be a lot homier than the other ones I’d been to – more like the LYSes I’m used to. It was practically bursting at the seams with yarn, with shelf cubbies stuffed full, baskets on the floor, and even a section in the middle for local yarns. Again, they had the color wall (although they did separate different brands and types into different cubby holes); they also had one wall that was just Noro and Malabrigo. (I didn’t even bother with this, because I don’t like Noro, and I just bought some Malabrigo.) Like the first store, they had a wide selection of yarns, and mostly Addi needles. I bought a skein of Natural Ewe, a fingering-weight merino dyed several shades of blue.
Finally, I stopped at Earth Guild. This store was kind of what I expected Homecrafts to be – they had yarn and knitting supplies, but that was probably only 1/3 to 1/4 of their selection. They also sold spinning and dyeing materials, and some other stuff I didn’t even look at because at this point I was exhausted and wanted to get home. Again, I didn’t see any yarn that really drew me in. They did have a basket full of HiyaHiya needles and accessories, so I finally found my size 1’s. Unfortunately, it was a 60″, but I suppose I’d rather have too much cord than too little. And it’s not like I’ll be using them overmuch, as long as I still have my 1.5 KnitPicks.
Ultimately, I drove out of Asheville disappointed. Not by any one place, just by the overall mood. The vibe I picked up on was “thanks for your money, now go back to suburbia.” The motto there seems to be “let your freak flag fly,” but I’ve never really had a freak flag. I’ve always been sort of a wrong puzzle piece – I might eventually squeeze in and fit somewhere, but I’ll still obviously be out of place. But I’ve never felt like I needed to give a deliberate middle finger to convention, either. I just am, and I just don’t care, and I’ve gotten used to being judged by those who are more conventional and fit into society more easily.
It’s a weird feeling, being judged for being different by those who are intentionally unconventional. But given that being weird in Asheville is the norm, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised.