Recently I went on a short trip to Washington, DC. I was pretty excited about it, but not for the reasons a reasonable person might be excited about a trip to our nation’s capital.
It started a few months ago, when my husband told me his school offered a summer class in DC. He’s a political science major, so he was also excited about the trip for reasons normal people would consider punishment, like meeting Congresscritters and hobnobbing with Capitol Hill staffers. When he suggested I drive up for a long weekend, my first thought was not about the museums and the monuments; it was to search Ravelry for a listing of yarn shops in the DC area. I guess in a way, this trip was all about both of us indulging our respective geekeries.
Like everything else in the DC area, there are a lot of yarn shops; a map of them looks like a kid with chicken pox. A yarn crawl would be fun, but would probably take a week just due to the insane amount of traffic. So rather than wasting valuable “us” time trying to hit a ajority of the stores scattered around DC, NoVa, and Maryland, I planned my trip up to include stops at half a dozen shops.
Due to time constraints (I wanted to leave at 6 am, and most LYSes don’t open until at least 10), I bypassed everything in the Raleigh/Durham area, as well as Richmond, Virginia. The first place I stopped was Old Town Yarnery in Fredericksburg. I liked the downtown, even though I did have to walk half a mile in the sun. The shop itself was small, but bursting with color. I found several yarns that wanted to come home with me, but since I didn’t want to blow my entire budget on the first shop, I wound up leaving empty-handed.
It was especially hard to part with the Araucania Huasco, which was so vibrant it bypassed my eyes and made my ears bleed, but I couldn’t really think of anything I’d want to make out of it except socks, and I’ve already learned my lesson about making socks out of pure merino.
They also had a copy of the pattern book Botany Lace, which I’ve almost bought twice. There’s a scarf/hat pattern inside that I’ve wanted to make, but I couldn’t justify the cost of a book for just the one pattern when I was pretty meh about the rest of them. Especially when I’d already spent $17 on a magazine (from England!) only to find that particular pattern not inside.
Eventually I left without buying anything. I don’t like doing that anyway, just because I figure the shop employees think I’m being cheap. It didn’t occur to me until later that they’re more likely to assume I was only there to examine the yarn in person so I could go home and order it online for half the price. I don’t think it’s fair to treat a small, independent business as a “showroom” for online shopping. Hell, I don’t even like it when people do that to huge chains that can ostensibly afford to lose the sale (like Best Buy). I kind of hate them, but I also think that if your goal is to get the cheapest price, part of the non-monetary cost is you have to get it sight unseen. Going to the nearby shop just to fondle and check the colors seems wrong to me.
However, I’m not going to buy something I’m not sure about, or something I don’t 100% want, just because I’ve guilted myself into it or because I don’t want strangers judging me. There was definitely a time in my life I’d have done that, but I’ve mostly moved past that.
Anyway, Old Town Yarnery is a nice store that I’d love to go back to, they just didn’t have anything that called to me loudly enough.
Next on my list was Yarn Cloud in Woodbridge, Virginia. This was one I had a feeling would be a letdown, given its small size and unusual location (tucked into a corner in a business park which also included a retirement community… although when you think in terms of “knitting = old ladies,” I suppose it makes sense). I was pleasantly surprised to see they had a sizable selection of yarn, a decent collection of books and patterns (if that’s your thing), and a great deal of tools and notions. The only part I didn’t like was the way the knitting group clammed up when I walked in, and barely uttered a peep while I was in the store. It feels like you interrupted a good time, and you should hurry up and buy something and stop inadvertently raining all over their parade.
I have dealt with the same phenomenon in one of my local local yarn shops, so I’ve learned to not let it bother me overmuch. Honestly, I don’t care what they’re talking about; I’m just there for the goods. If my harmless presence as a consumer is bothering them, that’s their problem, not mine. However, some people are already intimidated by yarn shops anyway (especially those who are new to the fiber world), so that kind of behavior could be a real turn-off to potential customers.
After that, the Interstate and I parted ways, and I followed secondary roads to Burke, Virginia, to get to the Yarn Barn. This was my first true disappointment of the day. First of all, when I got to the shopping center, I wasn’t even sure there was a yarn store there. The store was lined with huge display windows, but from what I could see through them, it looked more like an antique shop. It also wasn’t air conditioned, which I don’t necessarily think customers are entitled to, but would have been nice on such a hot day (especially since I have no AC in the car). The biggest letdown, though was the selection of yarn itself.
Nothing about it was enticing or appealing. It wasn’t the same as in Old Town Yarnery, where I saw several things I liked but couldn’t justify the cost-benefit; it was just a lot of dimly-lit “meh.” The sock yarn, which is the first thing I look for, was very limited. There was some Noro, which seems to be one of the main measures of whether or not a yarn store is “with it,” but I’m not really a Noro person. The rest of it was bland and not to my taste (a lot of cotton and cotton blends). I couldn’t bring myself to care much about any of it, so I walked out empty-handed and somewhat frustrated. (Although, in hindsight, I’m not sure what I really could have expected from a place with barn in the name.)
Fortunately, Virginia redeemed itself when I got to Nature’s Yarns in Fairfax. (Which was doubleplusgood, given how hot and aggravating the drive was from Burke.) I liked this shop so much that if we do end up living in the DMV, it’d be my preferred LYS. Obviously I couldn’t decide for sure until I’ve visited them all, but this trip has helped me realize which ones I could cross off the list without feeling like I’m missing much. I already have a shop like that where I am now.*
The employee was friendly, as was the other customer in the shop (who was actually so enthusiastic I thought she was an employee at first). They have a “yarn bar,” which is a table that has that month’s featured yarns on needles or hooks, so you can sample them for yourself. (The featured yarns are also on sale during that month.) The selection was great, and there was a decent stock of fleece and spinning supplies. The overall atmosphere just seemed much more… inviting than any shop I’d been to so far. Even the location was a plus, in the middle of an upscale shopping plaza. (Does it make me a yarn snob that I’d rather be walking past an ice cream shop and a sushi restaurant than a payday loan and a liquor store?)
Right after I left Nature’s Yarns, my husband called to tell me he was finished with the day’s meetings and he wanted to meet up. I still had two shops to visit, plus one in the city I wanted to go to after we got together, but since I hadn’t yet checked into the hotel, I knew I’d have to leave off at least one shop since it was out of the way. As it turns out, I could have skipped straight to checking in, because Aylin’s Woolgatherer was kind of a waste of time.
I’m not saying it’s not a nice store. It is, and it has a nice selection. It’s a total pain finding it, though, because it’s in the Loehmann’s Plaza on Arlington Boulevard.
Arlington Boulevard was a bigger mess than I thought it would be. It didn’t look that bad on Street View, but at 4 pm on a Friday, it seems all hell breaks loose. Google told me to take the access road to get out to a light, but I took a different way that I thought would be easier. Of course, I was wrong; it was a little two-lane that was impossible to get into turning left, because a long red light kept it perpetually backed up. That’ll learn me to second-guess the Googles.
It wasn’t just the traffic, though. The plaza consists of several freestanding buildings, and to get to the shop, you have to go into the building where the 7-Eleven is, then up to the third floor and down the hall. No one was immediately visible when I entered, which doesn’t really bother me. But again, nothing really reached out to me, plus I was feeling a sense of urgency from my husband’s call – misplaced, as it turned out, since I ended up waiting 45 minutes for his train to arrive.
And then I saw the Epiphany.
I love Epiphany. It’s beautiful and sumptuous and I would love nothing more than to spend November through March wrapped in a sweater made of it. I didn’t even know it existed until my last Yarn Road Trip to Asheville, and now my love for it is matched only by my disappointment that it’s discontinued, so getting a garment’s worth of it would be difficult and expensive.
As much as I love it, though, I didn’t buy any. I guess something like that, I don’t just want to buy one skein of and hope I get a scarf out of it, it’s going to have to be a substantial purchase, and it’s going to have to be planned well in advance. I couldn’t afford to spend $150 on it, and I couldn’t bear to spend only $30.
All told, it took about 7 hours from the time I left home until I checked in at the hotel, which wasn’t terribly bad. If I’d come straight up on the Interstate, it’d have probably taken almost as long, given the traffic. In the end, I missed out on the one shop I’d wanted to see most (Looped on Dupont Circle), but I’m not too worried about it; I think we’ll be DC-proximal soon enough. And I got a few more stamps in my yarn passport, and some lovely new string to play with, so I consider this trip a much bigger win than the Asheville trip, even considering the barbecue. (The whole being-in-our-nation’s-capital thing probably helped.)
* Maybe even two shops; the first is the aforementioned one with the reverse-Cheers effect, where you walk in the door and instead of everyone going “Norm!” everyone just shuts down. The second actually used to be my favorite, but I got a bit of a jolt from a rude employee. I’d been in there many times, just to buy things, rarely asking for help. I’d met the owner and liked her a lot. The other employees were appropriately friendly. But this time, I just felt like I was intruding. I was there on a Sunday afternoon, which I know is no one’s favorite time to be working, but if you’re open and I need something, I would like to be treated with the same basic courtesy I extend to you, not greeted like you caught me with my hand in your purse.
Actually, I wasn’t greeted – I was glared at. She didn’t say a word to me until I checked out, and then it was just a guess as to what I was going to be making, as though she belatedly realized she should at least attempt some sort of conversation (or maybe she had decided that since I was actually a paying customer, I was worthy of acknowledgement). I was tempted to say “sorry for bothering you” as I left.
Fortunately I’ve discovered a new favorite. It’s a little farther away, so I tend to only go there when I also need to visit the feed store. But the staff is nicer, the selection is better, and they have a shop bunny.