It’s Allison here again as Louise is off-the-grid on a camping trip with her family since wrapping up THE BOOK! Today we’ve got a shop profile for you that’s near and dear to my heart, as it’s my own LYS from Toronto, Canada – The Purple Purl. Run by business partners Jen and Miko, the shop is an unabashed celebration of the knitting community, Canadian yarns and creativity. I might not have become a knitter if I hadn’t found this wonderful shop!
Jen took some time recently to answer our questions so that we could share a profile with you of this ‘purl’ of a shop!
You’re the first Canadian shop we’ve featured on the Inspiration Knits blog! Tell us all about The Purple Purl. How long has the shop been around and how did you get started with it? And how did you come up with the name?
We opened our Purl of a shop in November of 2007, and it has been a wonderful, challenging and inspiring ride going on 8 years now.
Settling on the name The Purple Purl was a collection of reasons that created a perfect storm… Clever alliteration, an obsession with the colour purple, and what sealed the deal was being able to get the .com. Our shop is a place to gather, to learn, to get inspired, and to enjoy and share the love all things fiber.
We have a seating area of comfy chairs, we call “the Circle”, which is open when ever we are. People can come with their projects and settle in to work on them, or choose one, amongst company. We have wireless available for that inevitable “Ravelry check” We host a small cafe as well, with a few sweet treats and refreshments to make the stay a yummy one. On any given day you may be amongst 2 or 3 people or 20 people… it is hard to predict, but often bit of a party.
We’ve often heard it said that Toronto has more yarn shops per capita than anywhere else in North America. That sounds like a lot of competition! How do you differentiate yourselves from other yarn shops? What do you do stay fresh and exciting for your customers?
We are who we are. We believe that the knitting community is special and we love that people like to spend time with us and in our space. We focus on being a friendly space that is open to everyone and our yarn collection features natural fibres and a solid selection of Canadian Content from indie-dyers, designers, authors and handicrafters.
To stay fresh we are continually finding ideas, patterns, technical challenges and just plain fun to get excited about. And we tend to working on stuff that we find interesting… and people feed off our excitement. We love seeing what people bring to the shop to work on. What we choose to do for shop events and projects really riff off of what our customers are excited about.
What is your favourite thing about being yarn shop owners? And what is your favourite thing about The Purple Purl?
We love the creativity that we see everyday. We have forged truly exceptional friendships over the years. And we are grateful and feel really fortunate to get to come to “work” everyday and see where the adventure will take us. Oh yeah, and yarn. We love the yarn. Seeing the yarn. Feeling the yarn. Choosing the yarn!
Our readers love to hear about knitters elsewhere. What is the knitting community in Toronto like?
In a word : Diverse. I expect that it may be the same other places as well, but the variety of questions and projects that we field each day / week / month is astonishing. From the utter beginner to the full-fledged-off-roading-making-it-up-as-I-stitch personalities, we never can know what to expect day to day.
There is a lot of social knitting as well. It is not uncommon to see someone knitting on public transit, in a pub or coffee shop. And also you will find a huge array of people that knit… knitting can be ageless, genderless and doesn’t depend on economic privilege. While knitting is not cheap, it need not be prohibitively expensive either. We love that many local schools host knitting clubs and that children have an opportunity to see if their creative outlet may be knitting or crochet.
And what is a customer at The Purple Purl like? Tell us about them (what they’re like, what they like to knit, make, etc).
Our customers love colour and fiber and the sociability of the knitting community. They challenge us and we challenge them to try new things. It is like a good old fashioned Play -Date every time we gather for a stitch night or a Knit-In-Public day in the park.
Our regular customers also understand the importance of shopping local and supporting the shops in their neighbourhoods. And we are really lucky to be involved in our customers lives in ways that mean we get to stay up to date on their lives and watch their children grow up. (We cherish keeping track of the “Purly Babies.” ) Some of these people are “Knitters”, whom need to have a project at all times (just like us), and some of these people are people who knit…whom are going to whip up a project that is for something specific. All of these people make up a wonderful community.
Our customers remind us, everyday, that knitting can be what ever you want it to be. From simple and meditative to challenging and focused. From garter stitch baby blankets to complex lace and colour work … it is all beautifully executed and has it’s place in the knitterly life we lead at this point in time.
Judging by the classes you offer, The Purple Purl seems like a multi-craftual space. What other crafty things do you guys get up to when you’re not knitting?
We enjoy all the fiber fun. Our entire team plays with the basics and beyond of knitting, crochet, spinning, some weaving too. But you will also find that we can hold our own in conversations about sewing, quilting, cross-stitching, tatting… really, most crafty goodness!
We listen to what people are hoping to learn and we run regular workshops that help people take the next steps in their journey. And if someone wants some dedicated time … we offer private lessons with the most qualified instructor for the topic.
We periodically run specialized classes like needle felting, knitting with wire… whatever the wind blows our way… we make sure that we know where to find the answers.
People always think that they’ll have more time to knit if they own a shop, but it’s usually less! Is there any split anymore between personal vs shop projects? And how do you decide?
Awesome question. The short answer is No. When you own a shop all stitching is a “shop project” but that is ok. Every thing you work on builds excitement and skill levels and adds to your arsenal of knowledge which translates into the knowledge base we use everyday to help, teach, and inspire.
Do we spend all our time knitting? Oh, to dream a little dream! We do spend time knitting… somehow the projects get churned out. But the decision factors on what to work up tend to have a different skew. There is a tendency to think about what our customers will be interested in making too… with only so many hours in a day, we want to enjoy what we make… What sums it up, though, is that we need to show people what they can do… not just what we can do.
All of that said… we have personal stashes too. And every now and then I put my foot down and cast on a strictly personal project or three. These projects tend to take longer to complete as they get relegated to “when I have/make time”. But, seriously, i need to work something up now and again because it is impossible that I won’t buy any more personal stash yarn and fiber…ever. I definitely do not have that much “won’t power!”
The Purple Purl has also done a lot of KALs with lots of participation. What is your secret, or what are your tips for running a successful KAL?
Make what you love. Use yarns that you love. Excitement about a project is hard to fake. And participation requires people. They need to get excited about it, to want to make it, and connect to what you would like to promote.
Out KALs often begin with our regulars chiming in … sometimes in chorus… “I want to make that!” and if “that” is something we are keen on as well… well the KAL process starts. Often we work with an indi-dyer that will custom dye colour selections. We run helpful tutorials on our Stitch nights over a specified length of time and we have prizes and a photo shoot to show off our completed projects!
Our Audrey In Unst sweater KAL a while back is a good example. The lovely Felicia at Sweetgeorgia Yarns agreed to dye to order for us, so we took colour requests and set a cast on date. We have also run KALs with Tanis Fiber Arts and Shelridge Farms – we do love to support local talent!
If you guys weren’t running The Purple Purl, what would you be doing?
We are too busy running the dream shop to imagine what else to do really. A bit more travel perhaps. But still knitting, spinning, crocheting etc… so I guess we are where we should be.
Any other plans for the coming year that you’d like to share?
More of the same… book launches as they happen… Kate Atherley, one of our regular instructors, has an impeding book release of her Custom Socks Book this summer which we will host an event for! We attend the Toronto Knitter’s Frolic each Spring and dream up fun exclusives for that show. There will be more KALs / CALs … maybe even a SAL. New yarns pop up regularly and sometimes in one-of-a-kind batches. And, of course, our annual New Year’s Day PJ Party. Never a dull moment around here!
It was a pleasure to have an opportunity to chat about these things for this post!
A huge thanks to you Jen for taking the time to answer all these questions. And in fact, I’m planning on being at The Purple Purl this Sunday, 2 August and I can’t wait to see what new Canadian goodies you have in store. See you soon! xx