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The Berkshires

On the Road: Yarn Shops in the Berkshires

by Claire Houlihan

Western Massachusetts' Berkshire County (known simply as "the Berkshires") is home to many summer festivals such as the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance, and Tanglewood (the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra). It has been the muse of painters Thomas Cole and Norman Rockwell, the sculptor Daniel Chester French, and writers Herman Melville and Edith Wharton.

As a child, my home base for exploring the Berkshires was my grandparents' home in Dutchess County, New York. We would head northwest to see the waterfalls at Bash Bish Falls State Park and continue north to Great Barrington.

But as an adult, of course, I can't resist thinking...hmmmm...I wonder where the nearest yarn shop is? Over the years, I've explored the area and found the gems, which I'd like to share with you now. Join me for a yarn-filled tour of the Berkshires.

Wonderful ThingsWonderful Things
232 Stockbridge Rd.
Great Barrington, MA
tel. 413-528-2473

Harry and Deb Sano have operated this vibrant shop for the past 32 years. In addition to the vast array of yarn (six rooms, 700 varieties!), the Sanos also sell needlepoint, pottery, baskets, stuffed animals and dolls, wooden kitchen utensils, and jewelry.

the needles from Wonderful ThingsHarry makes handsome vertical Shaker yarn swifts copied from a damaged swift he found years ago in a friend's antique shop. The swifts are made of either cherry, walnut, or chestnut. His woodworking talents extend to handmade maple knitting needles, sizes US 10 to 35—the US 35 needle doubles as a nostepinne. Chances are you won't leave here empty-handed.

Lorraine Bulson in front of her storeThe Warm Ewe
31 Main St.
Chatham, NY
tel. 518-392-2929

At this juncture, we take a half-hour detour west to Chatham, NY, a charming town where we encounter The Warm Ewe. Lorraine Bulson, formerly a children's clothing designer, has owned this shop for six years. A pixie-ish redhead, she delights in designing her own patterns, some modeled by her young daughter, Bridget.

Lorraine describes her clientele as willing to experiment, not wedded to a pattern. By appointment, a complimentary half-hour of simple knitting instruction is offered. The shop also holds beaded jewelry classes and offers a selection of children’s fashions as well.

Back to Stockbridge, MA, we stop at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Open year-round, the museum houses the largest collection of original Rockwell Art. Many of his images were modeled on his neighbors and friends. "I showed the America I knew," he said, "and observed to others who might not have noticed."

Colorful Stitches exteriorColorful Stitches
48 Main St.
Lenox, MA
tel. 800-413-6111

Proceeding north to Lenox, the home of Tanglewood and the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, we find Colorful Stitches. Mary McGurn has owned this beautifully appointed two-story shop—a true visual delight—for over 13 years.

The front window display of Colorful StitchesMary collects vintage feathered hats, many of which are on display. Handcarved Indonesian crochet hooks and needles, made from teak and other native woods by a small artists' co-op, are attractively displayed next to Mokuba ribbons and trims. A shower of Colinette hangs from the walls. You'll also find a wide array of buttons of all description, amazing feathered trims, antique swifts, and an astonishing selection of cashmere (including Classic Elite Embrace, investment knitting at its finest—one 625-yard hank costs $280).

Twin Hearts Handworks Gallery
137 North St.
Pittsfield, MA
tel. 413-499-0021

Continuing north to Pittsfield, we reach Twin Hearts Handworks Gallery, a fiberarts studio owned by Cara Carnevale. She offers classes and supplies in rug hooking, penny rugs, needlefelting, spinning, knitting, and crochet. You'll also find supplies for making bears and other dolls as well as beaded bracelets and necklaces, and she also stocks unusual gifts from around the world.

Also in Pittsfield is Herman Melville’s home, Arrowhead, now a museum that's open to the public. Here's where Melville wrote Moby Dick. It's is speculated that the mountain view from this beautiful home reminded him of the whale.

fiber tools at Shaker VillageNorthwest of Pittsfield is the historic Hancock Shaker Village, a living museum of the Shaker way of life. Twenty historic buildings, including a remarkable round stone barn, attest to the innovative design of this now-defunct group. The School for traditional Crafts and Trades offers eight week-long programs for those eager to learn traditional methods of woodworking, textiles, blacksmithing, and the like. Spinning and weaving weekends are scheduled. The gift shop offers a great selection of woodworking and textile books, as well as Shaker baskets, oval boxes, and furniture.

Continuing north, we pass by Mt. Greylock State Reservation (the highest point in the state) before reaching Williamstown, home of Williams College and the Williamstown Theater Festival.

Stitch in Time
45 Commercial St.
Adams, MA
tel. 413-743-7174

Adams, the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony, is also the home of Stitch in Time. The shop specializes in quilting supplies, quilts, and cotton fabrics but also has a selection of yarns, patterns, and books.

From Adams we travel southeast to Northampton, home to not one but two notable yarn destinations: Webs and Northampton Wool.

Steve and Kathy Elkins in their Webs storeWebs
75 Service Center Rd.
Northampton, MA
tel. 413-584-2225

Some 32 years ago Barbara Elkins started Webs in her Amherst basement, teaching weaving and renting looms. It has since blossomed into a 25,000-square-foot fiber-filled paradise and is now run by Barbara's son Steve and his wife Kathy. Their business backgrounds—Steve in finance and Kathy in marketing/sales for the fashion industry—has helped expand the Webs franchise. With a goal of keeping things fresh and new, the Elkins now oversee classes in everything from dyeing to needlefelting.

The store is packed with more than 300 yarns, including approximately 24 sold under Webs' own Valley Yarn label. Special appearances by authors and designers such as Jo Sharp, Debbie Bliss, Norah Gaughan, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee are free of charge, but merchandise donations are requested for specific charities. Recent recipients include a Food Bank and a domestic abuse shelter.

the inside of WebsAlthough the shop was begun for weavers, the Elkins reckon that the majority of customers today are knitters, with perhaps 20% weavers and 5% spinners. Toward this end, Webs also offers a wall of coned yarn (mostly for weavers and machine knitters), roving and fiber of all types, looms, hand cards, spinning wheels, drop spindles, and a vast assortment of needles, magazines (old and new), and books. Closeouts are offered in the "Pixie Corner" (named for a longtime employee), and a warehouse attached to the back of the shop offers fantastic yarn bargains.

the front entrance to Northampton WoolsNorthampton Wools
11 Pleasant St.
Northampton, MA
tel. 413-586-4331

Linda Daniels is the current owner of this lovely shop located in the heart of town. While many people recognize Linda’s name from the knitted wedding dress in Interweave Knits' Summer 2003 issue, her design talents have also been featured in several recent movies. She knit garments for Charlize Theron and Michael Caine for Cider House Rules, and Halle Berry will be wearing one of Linda's designs in her latest endeavor, Perfect Stranger (the pattern is available at the shop).

the inside of Northampton WoolsIn September 2006, Linda’s book, Northampton Wools: The Shop Book will be published by The Countryman Press. The shop carries some of the finer yarn brands including Rowan, Karabella, Manos, Schaefer, and Alchemy Yarns. An adjacent shop, Northampton Wools Too, features yarn suitable for children’s fashions.

Creative NeedleCreative Needle
233 N. Pleasant St.
Amherst, MA
tel. 413-549-6106

Our final stop is the beautiful college town of Amherst, home of Creative Needle. Elaine Barker has been in business for 24 years, selling yarn, needlepoint, counted cross stitch, crewel, and other supplies. Open seven days a week, Creative Needle stocks lots of books and patterns. The clientele runs the gamut from college students to moms and tots. A great proponent of knitting with cotton, Elaine also encourages her knitters to sample the new soy and bamboo yarns. Brands carried include Jaeger, Artful Yarns, Online, Berocco, Debbie Bliss, and Dale.

About the Author
An inveterate knitter, Claire Houlihan has added weaving to her repertoire in an effort to further justify her ever-expanding yarn stash.

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