Windsor Button and the Yarn That Changed My Life

I stopped in at Windsor Button today, the third day of their clearance sale. The store was bustling with folks coming in not only to stock their stash for the fiber-lean times ahead, but to express their appreciation for how much a part of their lives the store has been. I was glad to see Stan and Susan getting such a show of support. I felt bad for the whole exhausted staff doing their very best to help everyone and remain cheerful, knowing that those who are losing their jobs are really the ones hit hardest by the closing.

I also noticed that the landscape of the store was already distinctly different for me.  Many of the yarns I had come to know as friends who kept me company whenever I shopped or taught were missing, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t need more yarn. I am not lamenting the fact that someone else got skeins I wish I had snarfed up. I am, in fact, relieved. But I will greatly miss the opportunity to be inspired by their drapey, cushy, lustrous, haloed, heathered, tweedy, space-dyed, hand-painted or self-striping fiber loveliness.  So I am prompted to pay tribute to Windsor Button by relating the story about how the right yarn at the right time changed my life.

I have already written about getting a job in Downtown Crossing shortly after my husband passed away, and how I would sometimes escape to Windsor Button when things got stressful.  I had already come to depend on knitting to help me cope with the changes in my life, but up to that time I had never bought any yarn I didn’t already have a specific pattern for and a reason to make it. Yarn for me fell into two kinds: Wool and Something Else.  And two price points: Discount and Are You Freaking Kidding? But as I browsed at Windsor Button without any preconceived agenda, a transformation was taking place.

In one particular instance, a new stock of Handmaiden Sea Silk yarn had been strategically placed near the registers. One colorway really caught my eye, who knows exactly why, and I was compelled to touch it. It seemed to snuggle into my hand. Then I saw the price tag and put it back on its hanger. But every time I visited the store, it called to me, until on one really stressful day I decided I deserved a treat and took it home with me.  But what to do with it? It needed a special project. Something worthy. I had no experience matching a project to a yarn, and I wanted this match to be perfect. The hunt was on!

(I also later concluded that to make something that I really thought was worthy, I would need to take the plunge and buy a second skein. But that’s it! No more! And I’d better not waste any of it.)

This is how it came to be that I found Eunny Jang’s tutorials on the structure of lace. This is how it came to be that I unearthed Lucy Neatby’s Faroese Flower Shawl pattern from my pattern stock, and scrutinized it for the details of shawl construction. This is how I learned that there is such a thing as stitch dictionaries, and checked out Barbara Walker’s Treasuries from the library so many times I finally had to buy myself a set. When a vision started to unfold in my mind, it was why I sat down at my computer to figure out how to use Excel to chart up the idea that was forming.

Feathers of the Phoenix - Close Up

And when I had miraculously completed my Feathers of the Phoenix shawl and it was everything I had hoped it would be, with only a couple of yards of yarn to spare, and I pulled the glorious creature off of the blocking board late one evening …. well, that is when I fully felt the emptiness of my house with no one to share my excitement with. So that is how I came to post a picture of my project on the yarn producer’s website. And how they came to ask me for the pattern. Which is never in a million years something I thought of myself as doing but I did it.  Then of course I needed to learn about on-line sales and PayPal and come up with a “business” name: A la Kisala Designs (fully aware that I might turn out to be a one trick pony).

And believe it or not, orders came in. How the heck did they find me? But some of them did, enough for me, anyway.  Which is how a lovely woman named Dixie came to knit my shawl and kindly point out the handful of errors in my chart, unwittingly serving as test knitter and tech editor before I ever knew there were test knitters and tech editors.  When she contacted me, she told me about Ravelry.com, so I checked it out (after first waiting patiently for my invitation to join).  That really opened up a whole new world for me!

After that, life was never the same. I read and studied everything I could about knitting and discovered I had a pretty darn good head for it.  I became a technique junkie. I became crazy for unique and quality yarn to the point that my stash is now the size of a small yarn store itself. (Even if I never knit them all, I am happy to live in their company.)

I  discovered I have a passion and some skill for helping others learn to knit and take it to whatever level they choose. Which is eventually how I came to teach at Windsor Button, and then came to write for the newsletter, and with their closing, to write this blog and whatever else happens from this point on in my life.

So yes, a skein of yarn changed my life. It might have been any yarn, really. But it was the right yarn in the right place at the right time.

Thanks, Windsor Button! You will be missed!

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