What makes a good wool shop?

I’ve been considering this – and I’d better fess up, because I work in one, half a day a week, to get me a) out of the house, b) working with all sorts of yarn fabulousness, and c) to give me an excuse to make the most enormous fuss of the individual who really runs Knit one… in Dolgellau, the lovely and somewhat bossy imperious Bramble:

I’m abandoning North Wales briefly next week, as I have a meeting in London. Conveniently close to Loop. I mean, it would be silly not to investigate, wouldn’t it? Even though I have been before?

So, what does constitute a good wool – for wool, read yarn – shop?

First, I suppose, that it exists. There are not as many wool shops as there once were, but I do think the ones which have made it through are an enormous improvement in terms of quality. The first wool shop I remember was a dark cavern of a place in York, where my mother took me in despair when she saw the ‘easy’ object I had picked as my first garment to knit. It was beige. It was a tank top. It was super chunky. I have no idea why, and neither did she. After one horrified look, she stuffed me in the car and drove to a then-notorious area where, in a brutalist block of shops, stood a wool shop. It was stuffed. Stuffed. You couldn’t see in (or out). Ma showed the woman behind the counter what I had been knitting and they both became slightly hysterical. I was allowed to leave, eventually, with a cardigan pattern and some mohair in peacock and jade and purple. I loved that cardigan.

That leads on to the second point: inspiration. Inspiration and colour. Here is Jamieson’s in Lerwick:

and I defy anyone not to be inspired by this. I certainly could not resist, which led to the most complex of my (many, ahem) WiPs, a Fair Isle cardigan, colours chosen to reflect the landscape of Shetland. I am amazed that I managed to restrict myself to enough wool for just one, really.

Texture is part of this as well: you need to be able to fondle those balls (ooo, matron). Even if it is just to stroke them, as on the Oliver Twist stand at Wonderwool Wales:

Which reminds me, it’s Wonderwool next weekend. I will be there, or be square and deprived of yarn, on the Sunday. I have to go, no really I do, because Jamieson’s will be there and I have to collect some more of the yarn for the cardigan. Forced to go, basically. Life is hard.

Next, and maybe it should be right at the top, comes customer service.

I remember a wool shop, now unsurprisingly closed, where the owner spent all her time leaning on the counter and moaning. About the tourists (her bread and butter); about parking; about the weather; about how hard it was to run a wool shop because people would keep coming in wanting to buy stuff (not to worry – they soon went elsewhere); about politics (anyone to the left of Attila the Hun); about the bad service she had received elsewhere – the woman had no sense of irony – and about how the people who went to the local knit and natter groups failed to buy all their yarn from her. Really? You surprise me.

There’s another, too, I’ve encountered. In this one the problem wasn’t lackadaisical service but rather the opposite: you WILL knit this, and you WILL knit it in this yarn. What do you mean, you want to make your own mind up?

Ideally, the service should be just at the right level, and that means being aware of what customers are happy with – some people want to chat, some people want to look in silence (and some people come to see the cat rather than the yarn, but that’s fine). I think it should also involve help where necessary and if required:

(like me being taught magic loop, yet again, yes, I know, I’m blaming my hand surgery). Though there is a fine line between providing help and people who expect you to finish their knitting…

So where, I wonder, will Loop fit in? I’ve not been wildly impressed so far, but I’ve been there with non-knitters – which doesn’t really give you the chance to get a proper impression. We will see. If nothing else, I’m going to enjoy the pattern books. Laine magazine particularly.

And, as a final note, look what we found on the inside of a Zauberball label:

They’re not wrong.

 

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4 thoughts on “What makes a good wool shop?

  1. Maria McKenzie

    Back in the 50s and early 60s my mum used to buy most of her wool from the local shop run by two sisters, the Miss Brooks. They, like many small wool shops in those days, were always happy to lay wool by so customers could buy it as they needed it. They would also buy back any full balls that weren’t needed as long as they still had some of that particular dye lot in the shop. I wonder if there are any shops that offer these services these days.
    Regarding bossy sales assistants, I once had an experience with a lady who was horrified to learn that the 4 ply cotton yarn I was buying was for a baby jacket. She kept insisting that babies should only be dressed in wool and was obviously severely tempted to refuse to sell it to me.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      The shop I work in still puts wool aside, though not on a regular basis – but when it comes to accepting wool back… some people will use part of a ball, rewind the remains carefully, slip the ball band back on – and when you weight the ball that suddenly looks a bit different, it’s 40g, or 35g. To quote Father Ted: ‘down with this sort of thing’!

      Your bossy shop sounds a bit like my bossy shop – what is it with these people?

      Reply
      1. Maria McKenzie

        I’m rather shocked to learn that knitters can be so dishonest, especially when most wool shops must be running on very tight margins. Don’t they know that they are risking losing a valuable resource that they would sorely miss if it was forced to close?

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          I honestly don’t think that the few people who do that think about the consequences. Nor do the ones who come in to check the yarn out before they order it, marginally cheaper, online… same applies to bookshops, record shops, etc.

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