Saturday, November 27, 2010

Back to the five and dime...well, almost

Jimmy Beans window

They call the East Bay of San Francisco "the nickel-dime" for its 510 area code. Just a few hours to the East, and a few thousand feet up, you're in the 530 area code, which the Reno-based Jimmy Beans Wool calls home. I was staying with friends at Lake Tahoe for the Thanksgiving holiday, so of course I paid them a visit in between drop-offs and pick-ups at the Reno airport, thinking of "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" the whole time...

I've never needed an excuse to go to a yarn shop, of course, but I had a good one for visiting JBW in person: Several months ago, I was the grateful recipient of a "Beans for Brains" scholarship sponsored by Vogue Knitting and Jimmy Beans Wool. It was so great to be able to say thanks in person to some of the people who made it possible--although the weekend's very heavy snowfall made it impossible for at least one important person, proprietor Laura Zander, to make it in to the shop that day! The photo above really doesn't do it justice; we encountered white-out conditions on the highway, and I'm kind of amazed that flights were taking off and landing at all that day. (I should note that this picture was taken from INSIDE the cozy, yarn-filled shop and flipped. It was too dang cold to be standing outside with the camera.) It also doesn't do the store justice--"Endless possibilities" is right. Although it's no more than a few hundred square feet, the retail space is a real wonderland of tempting yarns, with an inviting sitting area next to the shelves of books and magazines. And then behind it, and filling another huge space two doors down, there's the whoa-inducing stock from which their vigorous online and mail-order business draws. Holy smokes, that's a lot of yarn.

Jimmy Beans back room

The lovely Bethany, who was giving me a tour of the operation, was very patient with me while I geeked out and asked all kinds of questions about the organizational scheme for their backstock. (Sorry, Bethany; the librarian training just kicks in and takes over at times like these.) I spent a pleasant, but not nearly long-enough, interval browsing in the store and chatting with Bethany, her fellow cashier-on-duty-that-day Jeanne, and other members of their very friendly staff while knitting a few rounds on my latest project. Snowy weather: Bad for driving, awesome for knitting!

I've gotten spoiled by the great LYSes here in Austin, and thus am frequently disappointed when I visit shops in other towns, but JBW really delivers the goods in their store as well as online--and I'm not just saying that because they gave me a scholarship, I swear. It was really everything I look for in an LYS: nice roomy layout, great selection (including stuff I don't see at home), inspiring samples and swatches everywhere, perusing and petting encouraged. The place was so delightful, I just couldn't resist picking up a few skeins of new yarn while I was there. Guess that de-stash diet will be a New Year's resolution-type thing...because I know the next time I'm in the five and dime, I'll definitely be thinking about going back to Jimmy Beans.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Not necessarily the neutral

Gray yarn

The end of the year is a great time to take stock of the ol' stash. There's holiday gift-knitting to do, and the days between paychecks seem to be lengthening in lockstep with the winter nights, so using what's already on hand feels blessedly thrifty. I could lose some serious amounts of daylight pawing through the bags and bins in that closet I keep hidden from my husband (um, and the drawer under the daybed, which I just now realized has also somehow gotten filled with yarn). It all feels so nice and looks so pretty...and it can also say so much about you, if you're looking closely.

Something I noticed on this most recent trip through my assembled reserves was that they've undergone a distinct spectrum shift. I've never been much of a colorwork person, relying mainly on texture and shaping for whatever visual interest I feel a design needs, but I do love color, and the color I love most is gray. For one thing, it makes my somewhat-indeterminately-colored eyes, which some people say are blue but I prefer to think of as gray, look REALLY gray when I wear it. (There's a certain shade of sea-green that my eyes will totally reflect if I wear it close to my face, too, which is kind of a neat phenomenon, but I haven't see much of this hue in current fashions.) Gray doesn't seem like a neutral to me at all; "neutral" implies passivity, a background that just sits there and lets a real color take the stage, whereas I find gray to be much more protean and responsive than that. It can so easily be two colors at once--blue-gray, green-gray, violet-gray, cream-gray, putty, oyster, pinkish-gray in mauve and lilac, brownish-gray in oatmeal and mushroom. Charcoal, slate, off-black, silver, sweatshirt heathers...gray's got a lot going on. It's been my default color for a long time now--so long that perhaps I've started to take it for granted.

I've dabbled recently with green (see for instance Decimal and Myrtle, and my recent dress design for the new Brooklyn Tweed SHELTER yarn), but that's been more a marriage of convenience than a real, deep attachment. Green yarn felt right for the project, I knitted it, and then I kept on walking. Green is a supporting character, an accent color, not a cornerstone of the ol' wardrobe. (This might explain why I have so many green handbags, I now realize. Like five of them. WAY more than any other color, including gray.) In my mind, green goes with stuff; stuff doesn't go with green. What I saw when I started piling yarn up on my floor, though, was a whole lot of orange all of a sudden. Whoa! How'd that happen?

Orange yarn

Without even realizing it, I've started a love affair with orange. I'm cheating on gray with vermilion, coral, tangerine, and sunset, with carmine and copper and rust. It's not that gray doesn't still inspire me--it does. I'm working on something in pewter-colored Panda Silk right now, and loving it. But orange seems to be pushing a different button in my brain.

Looking back, I guess you could see it coming. First we moved to Austin, where the college football fans bleed orange and you can't throw a rock without hitting something in the UT colors. Then I snapped up a bunch of fluffy coral-rose yarn at a swap my knitting group had a while back, along with a couple of balls of discontinued terra cotta Shine Sport. That yarn drew me to it, but still felt This year's Althea sweater and skirt was my first big fling, though. I actually swatched that yarn in another color called Platinum--a pale gray that just didn't do it for me somehow--and then switched to Tiger Lily when it came to the real knitting. And now, I can't seem to quit this color. I bought some variegated gray-and-blue Berocco the other day, swatched with it, felt meh about the results, and then traded most of it back for store credit. Which I ended up spending on fiery orange-red Regia 4-ply sock yarn.

I think that Regia is going to end up being my trip knitting while I'm holed up over the holiday next week, and I'll be honest--it feels a little like I'm taking my mistress on vacation with me while my wife stays home and looks after the cats. I still love you, gray; I really do. I just needed something new, something that made me feel...alive. I never meant to do this, but I've fallen in love with orange. Perhaps it won't last. Perhaps I'll always be turning back to the colors of cold sea and stormy skies. At the moment, though, it's all about my darling Clementine...