Monday, May 21, 2012

Gone, but not forgotten.

It's a grainy Iphone photo, but perhaps that's a good approximation of the mists of time. I was meandering around Harvard Square today and thought I'd stop in at Woolcott & Co., a pretty decent LYS, and the only such one in the immediate area. Well, like so many others of its ilk and of late, it had transmigrated to the Great Yarnstore in the Sky.

Yet the signage remains, even if the store is dark and vacant. Could it be that overhead costs killed Woolcott, inasmuch as the Square, which increasingly resembles a generic upscale mall, commands astronomical rents, and most of the ambient shoppers are either tourists, or highly-focused students, or youthful fashionistas who in all likelihood don't knit much, if at all?

On returning home I did a Web search to see what I could learn about Woolcott's demise after decades in business, and learned that it went belly-up about three years ago. Has it really been that long since I'd strolled around Cambridge?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Yarn as a way of life...

Some loyal readers may recall my post last June about North Light Fibers, the first yarn mill on Block Island and, I believe, the only small business in the state of Rhode Island that produces and maintains an inventory of unique luxury yarns.

After my visit in June, I had hoped to return soon to check on the progress of Sven and Laura Risom's enterprise, but breaking my leg in August effectively put the kibosh on that. However, I was able to realize my hope earlier this week, now that I'm hale, and was happily amazed to note growth in many directions, including not only a refinement of NLF's yarn products, but a measurable commitment to sustainability and the economic well-being of the Block Island community.

What most of us mainlanders don't realize is that seasonal communities, dependent on short-term income, undergo long periods of dearth during off-times. In isolated places like islands, unemployment and attendant social problems may become extreme after the high season ends. A solid business like North Light Fibers not only provides year-round employment security to several locals, it also becomes a destination during the spring and fall margins when the weather is in general pretty nice but tourism has abated. Recently some of my friends in the Hook and Needle Knitting Guild that meets at the Slater Mill in Pawtucket, RI, spent a weekend exploring the knitting scene and beauty of Block Island, and returned with overwhelming praise for the workshop that North Light Fibers had created especially for them. This included a partnership with the charming Hotel Manisses, practically adjacent to the mill, so that not only were the accommodations lovely, they were also convenient.

H and I were lucky to stay in a similarly beautiful spot, The 1661 Inn, run by the same management as the Manisses. Here's a photo of the view from our room, and like the Manisses, the hotel is easy walking distance from North Light Fiber.

An added bonus of the walk from either place to the mill is that one passes by a number of exotic beasts, some of which produce fiber (alpacas, a yak), who hang out on the surrounding grounds.

As for the mill itself, there's much to say and I will do so over time, including a forthcoming article. For now I'll leave you with some images of the mill (second floor of the building) and the retail store (ground floor). If these inspire a visit, I promise you'll have a great time. To come to Block Island for a day from the mainland is easy by the ferry from Point Judith, RI, and NLF, restaurants, beaches, shops, bike rentals and beautiful scenery are close by to the harbor. But if you can, staying over is even nicer. Check the North Light Fibers website for info about knitting retreats, too.

Upstairs at the mill.
Downstairs in the shop.


Hand-knitted hats for sale, by resident knitter Renate Fitzgerald.

The North Light by Sachem Pond.