Support your local yarn shop: The knitting sisters

Photo: Merete Teigland Mellingen

What started out as a bit of a joke between two sisters quickly transformed into a business idea when they realised the local yarn shop was up for sale. Nearly a year into the business, we caught up with the new owners of Garnstuen in Bergen, Norway to talk about all things knitting-related, from needle preferences (it’s all about the round needles) to their adventurous customers.

“We jokingly started talking about what we could do together that was also something we’re interested in – how we could have a bit more fun at work,” explains sisters Annicke Lid Helland and Silje Lid Lavik, who previously worked within the security business and accounting when the idea was first born.

“It was pretty scary to hand in our notice and throw ourselves out into the unknown,” says Silje. “But we haven’t regretted a single second,” Annicke adds.

A helping hand

Co-owner Silje Lid Lavik. Photo by: Merete Teigland Mellingen

They both believe that the beauty of the local yarn shop, is being able to pop in and get advice on patterns and projects, and the pair gladly sit down with their customers if they’re stuck. “We’d much rather they come in and ask us for help if they’ve dropped a stitch or if they’re stuck, rather than to give up on the project,” explains Silje.

With a dedicated sofa area, where their fortnightly knitting café on a Thursday also takes place, they assist anyone to their best ability. “If they’ve bought their yarn and pattern from us, we help them with anything, but if they bring in patterns that we don’t know, it’s limited how much time we can set aside to help,” explains Annicke, who quickly adds that they’ve yet to turn anyone away.

“A lot of the patterns that people come in with are from Ravelry, and the people who create them are just normal people, and some of them aren’t great,” says Silje. “The patterns, not the people,” laughs Annicke.

In addition to the personalised help, the fact that you can go in and exchange yarns if you need to, is one of the upsides. “And if you’re short of a ball of yarn for a project, the odds of us having the yarn in the same dye lot are pretty good,” says Annicke, and adds that it’s important to remember that the people who sell cheap yarn online don’t do it to be nice. “They do it to kill off the local shops,” she says. “And in the long-run, no one benefits from that,” adds Silje.

“There used to be butchers and fishmongers on every corner – now, if you want a steak, you find it vacuum-packed in the supermarket,” SIlje explains. “You don’t get the same fresh produce as you used to – and we can relate to that.”

The sisters also add that they’re very conscious of taking in brands that are known to provide good working conditions and quality wool. “It does make you wonder, with these super cheap balls of yarn – what employment conditions they were made under. With Sandnes Garn, which we stock a lot of, 90% of it is produced in Norway, and we know that people are getting paid the money they deserve, and that they’ve used environmentally-friendly colorants as well,” says Silje.

Co-owner of Garnstuen Annicke
Co-owner Annicke Lid Helland. Photo by: Merete Teigland Mellingen

Annicke adds: “People buy a lot of yarn for kids’ clothes, and the materials are being worn close to the skin, so it’s important to know exactly what they are.”

Between 2-3pm, Norwegian yarn manufacturer Sandnes Garn offer an advice line on their patterns, which is something the sisters make use of when in doubt. “Sometimes we get stuck as well,” says Silje. “But quite often, we have people who come in and read the pattern out loud, and then suddenly, without us saying anything, they just get it.”

“And that happens to us as well,” explains Annicke. “We sit at home in the evening and call each other if we get stuck, and as we’re explaining it, it suddenly makes sense.”

The yarn and needles

When it comes to needles, they are all about the round ones. “I can’t remember the last time I used the long straight ones,” says Silje. “With round needles, it’s so much easier. You can knit back and forth, and then you can use them to knit a sleeve or anything else.”

Using both the magic loop technique for long round needles on smaller project, or the brand new 25cm round needles that have recently been launched, they believe the only time you need double-pointed needles is for knitting the heel on a sock.

When it comes to the dreaded gauge swatch, they recommend going a few rows back and forth, to determine the width. “The length is easier to see as you go along,” says Annicke. “A rule of thumb is, if you want to knit looser, you go up a needle size, and if you want it to be tighter, you go down,” Silje adds. “It’s easy to lose interest if you spend ages knitting something that doesn’t fit, so although nine out of ten of our customers say they don’t knit the gauge swatch, they should. However boring it may seem, it’s even worse spending ages knitting something that doesn’t fit.”

Photo by: Merete Teigland Mellingen

Going straight for the fair isle cardigan

When customers who are completely new to knitting come in, they talk to them to find out exactly what it is that they want. Some go for a simple project like a scarf or a hat, but others are more daring. “Some of them come in and say, I’ve knitted a couple of cloths, so now I want to knit a jumper,” says Silje. “We then help them find a pattern that isn’t too complicated, something that maybe has a bit of pattern, but only two colours – maybe not the fair isles cardigan.”

The pair recently did have someone in who went straight for the fair isle cardigan, featuring pattern from top to bottom – despite not having knitted a jumper ever before. “She had a bet with her mother, that if she did it, her mother would pay for the yarn,” says Silje. “She came back in parading the cardigan and she was ecstatic. It was so cool. We love when people come back in to show us what they’ve made. The sense of achievement it brings people is remarkable.”

Head out and support your local yarn shop – and see for yourself.

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