The Super Bowl for Knitters
Photo by Nanette GonzalesLibby Gluck, center, talks yarn with fellow knitters Miki Ohara, left, Wendy Scholl, Ricky Whitman and Ashlynn Wright.
The knit crawlers are coming. Yarn Crawl Los Angeles planning committee chairwoman Stephanie Steinhaus and veteran knitter Libby Butler-Gluck are sitting in Steinhaus' Burbank store, Unwind, taking stock of the progress they've made in preparing for the city's biggest knitting event, now in its third year.
For four days in April, knit crawlers will visit 30 yarn stores, one after another, covering a 2,000-square-mile territory, from Santa Clarita to Long Beach, Santa Monica to Claremont, scoring deals, window shopping and generally solidifying one another's devotion to the fiber arts. "It's like a bar hop but, instead of getting drunk on beer, you get drunk on yarn," Steinhaus says.
Today is one of those rare cool, misty, overcast days that hardly ever occurs in the Valley, and both women are wrapped in warm, cozy scarves they knitted themselves, even though they are indoors."We're in the final home stretch," Steinhaus says. "It's a lot of work. We have to recruit the sponsors, the wholesale vendors who provide the gift baskets, the shops. Coordinating 30 entrepreneurs who are used to running their shop their own way? It's like herding cats, trying to corral them into a joint effort."
The first year, no one knew quite what to expect. Steinhaus figured maybe a handful of newbies would stop by. Instead, it turned into the biggest sales day of the year for every store involved. More than 1,500 crawlers participated.
"It's the Super Bowl for knitters," Butler-Gluck says. "Everyone goes crazy."
What is crazy? Crazy is the 30 people last year who drove to all 30 stores. "That is not enjoyable," Butler-Gluck insists. "Because I know I was racing to get 15 stores done. You'd see a car pull up, five women would run in, buy one ball of yarn, then fly out."
Crazy is crawlers traveling in packs. They assemble in teams of five or eight or 10, with matching T-shirts. Perhaps they met at previous crawls, or on Ravelry.com ("like Facebook for knitters," Butler-Gluck says). They skip work, or call in sick.
Crazy is renting minivans, carpooling routes that have been planned via Excel spreadsheet, and taking turns behind the driver's seat so that no one loses a full day of knitting time.
Slightly less crazy? Booking a hotel room each night so you don't have to drive home: Los Angeles traffic is formidable.
Crawlers are insatiable. "It's up to each store to create something special," Butler-Gluck says. "You'd better have your really great thing to promote, otherwise they're on to the next store."
Both in their 40s, Steinhaus and Butler-Gluck are longtime friends who got to know one another after Butler-Gluck started coming to Steinhaus' store. Now, their young daughters play - and are learning to knit - together. Both women feel it is their duty to get the word out about the awesomeness of yarn.
Last year, Steinhaus worked with Stephen West, a super-hot designer in the yarn scene. "He's, like, our Marc Jacobs." West, who was attending ballet school in Amsterdam, couldn't be here for the crawl. But he sent over the next best thing - a scarf pattern he designed specifically for the event. "I sell it, and he gets the money for the sales of the instructions, and I get the money for the sales of the yarn," Steinhaus explains.
"She merchandised some colors that went well together," Butler-Gluck says, as a woman winding yarn at the other end of the store gets a wistful look.
"Those colors sold so fast," the woman says softly.
All in all, Steinhaus sold 291 balls of yarn associated with the special scarf.
"Which is," she adds, "kind of crazy."
To the uninitiated, visiting 30 yarn stores in four days may sound boring and repetitive - perhaps like the act of knitting itself. Not to a knitter. "Each store has its own personality," Butler-Gluck says.
And by "personality" she largely means "yarn." Steinhaus' store, in landlocked Burbank, is big and airy. Burbank gets hot in the summer, and her clients prefer thin, lace-weight yarns to the thick, chunky stuff. Steinhaus' clients, Butler-Gluck says, are "very shawl-y."
"Then you go to the beach, where it's chillier. The stores there only have soft, warm yarn." Jennifer Knits, for example, in Brentwood, carries the most cashmere in Southern California. "They're making cashmere sweaters and baby blankets out there," she says.
From cotton to silk, bamboo to alpaca, vicuña to $40-a-skein yak yarn, there are endless fibers, colors, patterns and weights, a yarn to suit every aesthetic, geographic and socioeconomic situation.
"We call it our 'stash,' " Butler-Gluck says. "People who knit, we're collectors. There's always new yarn coming out. I have enough yarn to last me the rest of my life. But I'm still constantly buying yarn." At home, she has a closet filled with buckets of the stuff.
Oh, she just remembered the buttons - tiny, 1-inch, store-logo badges given out that weekend as promotional freebies. "My God, we got more comments about the buttons! OK, I guess we're doing the buttons again. Last year half the stores did them. People were so upset when they went to a store and they didn't have a button."
Retailer motivations are less of a mystery. "Last year, sales-wise," Steinhaus starts to say, then grabs a calculator from the register. "I just wanted to check my numbers," she explains. "The four days of the crawl last year? We did 95 percent more business than any other regular four days. That's not an exaggeration. Everyone I can get to be friendly and smile, I put to work."
She is cautiously optimistic for this year. "We don't know what will happen." But she expects another crowd: "Because as soon as it was done last year, people emailed me asking when the date for the next one was. One woman was going to be living in Japan and wanted to schedule her return flight in time to come back for Yarn Crawl," she says. "And that was crazy."
Bottom line aside, Steinhaus and Butler-Gluck hope to continue "demystifying" knitters for the general public. "Knitters get a bad rep," Steinhaus says. "Not bad rep like we're evil. But like we're crazy gnome people who live underground. We're not weird. We're normal!"
Butler-Gluck nods. "We're fun! We like to go out! We drive! We like to party!"
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For stores, Yarn Crawl will require more than simply staying open late. It will call for pom-pom demonstrations, knitting classes, scrumbling lessons, crochet lessons, book signings, free pattern giveaways, yarn discounts and raffles. A yarn truck will sell yarn on-the-go, and will travel to a different location each day.
"Didn't someone spin yarn from their dog last year?" Butler-Gluck asks.
"Yeah," Steinhaus confirms. "One of the shop owners has a little dog, and they sheared the dog. And then made yarn out of the dog's fur."
"Yeah," Butler-Gluck says, getting a distant look in her eyes. "Yeah."
There is still quite a bit for the planning committee to do. There are store name spellings and addresses to be checked, and canvas tote bags to be printed. In March, their big public relations push commences: Every day, they'll be featuring a different shop and sponsor on the website.
"We're very control-freaky," Steinhaus says. "I guess that's not the best word. We're very organized."
Asked if they've considered doing Yarn Crawl more than once a year, the women sigh simultaneously. Now, that would be crazy.
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