Photo courtesy of Manhattan Sideways.
As are many small businesses, the Manhattan yarn shop Knitty City is a reflection of its owner. Like Pearl Chin, who sadly passed away on October 27, shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer, the space is welcoming, sometimes a little chaotic and always brimming with passion for craft and community.
Pearl opened Knitty City in a cozy space on the Upper West Side in 2006. As a new knitter around that time, I enjoyed losing myself among the cubbies and shelves stuffed with workhorse yarns and colorful skeins from indie makers, some of whom I’d eventually call my colleagues. I remember an afternoon when I was looking for just the right shade of Madelinetosh Pashmina for a sweater, and one of the employees brought out a huge plastic bag filled with yarn for me to dig through. No one hovered as I spent probably way too long trying to find a shade that spoke to me, then finally secured the approval of a few of the knitters and crocheters gathered around the back table.
A few years later, when I was organizing my first Indie Untangled trunk show in New York’s Hudson Valley, I took the subway up to Knitty City and sheepishly asked if I could put a flier for the show on their bulletin board. Pearl’s son, Zac, welcomed the submission and wished me luck with the event.
As my business began to take off, Pearl reached out to talk about collaborating on events together. Her approach to new projects was often to dream up complex ideas — like combining an indie yarn marketplace with a hot chocolate night, similar to one she had hosted at the landmark City Bakery downtown for a couple of years — but then scale back to something more manageable, like the shop’s successful monthly indie dyer trunk shows and a maker’s market in the loft space of a nearby church, after considering the pros and cons.
I cherish the meetings we had to plan what became the Moms and Makers market, held the Saturday before Mother’s Day, which raised money for Moms Demand Action, an organization that advocates for stronger gun laws.
As an entrepreneur, Pearl was a font of wisdom.
Prior to getting hooked by the knitting community, she ran a wholesale business called A Thousand Cranes, crafting intricate origami pieces from Japanese washi paper and creating scarves and quilts using recycled kimono textiles. (I treasure the silk scarf she gifted me after I gave a talk at the shop). So many of the dyers and designers I know who worked with Pearl have stories of how she helped them and inspired them in the early days. As an artist herself, she understood how handmade businesses were different from others. She knew the labor and love that went into such items and always made sure to compensate indie makers fairly.
Pearl and Knitty City also mirrored the generosity of the fiber community by bringing attention to and raising money for important causes. Along with supporting Moms and Makers, they made regular contributions to Heifer International, an organization that provides animals and agricultural training to families in need, and teamed up with Bryant Park in Midtown to co-organize the Found but not Lost Project, an initiative that distributes handknit scarves, cowls, hats and mittens to unhoused individuals and anyone who needs some warmth. On Tuesdays during the summer, Bryant Park turned into an outdoor version of Knitty City, with free knitting classes and people stopping by on their lunch breaks to get in a few rows and chat with friends.
The shop was also a hub for the Pussy Hat and Welcome Blanket craftivist projects and hosted meetups for Knitted Knockers, which provides knit prosthetics for breast cancer survivors.
It’s clear the impact that Pearl and Knitty City have had on our industry. In mid-March, Pearl decided to voluntarily close the shop, days before the coronavirus led to mandated shutdowns. A GoFundMe campaign to help the shop during the closure ended up raising more than $17,000.
Just as Pearl has been the living embodiment of her yarn shop, the spirit of the New York City fiber community reflects her values and character. While there will always be a large dropped stitch in our hearts, I’m certain that Pearl’s warm spirit will live on.
To honor Pearl’s memory, I’m working with a group of indie dyers that Pearl has been instrumental in guiding and championing on The Pearl Project. We have created special colorways and designs, and are hosting giveaways to raise money for organizations she has supported. You can read more here.
Lisa is a freelance journalist in the New York Metro area who specializes in home design, real estate and healthcare. When she’s not writing, or knitting shawls and sweaters, Lisa runs Indie Untangled (www.indieuntangled.com), a marketplace and blog that promotes the work of yarn dyers, pattern designers and crafters of knitting-related accessories.