Knitting it old school
Alex and I had a free day yesterday. There were no appointments and no errands to run for his parents. The only thing on the calendar was a late dinner planned with friends. We told his parents not to plan on seeing us until late tonight and took off into the city with only three relaxed goals: 1) have fun, 2) don’t go home unless we had to, and 3) find copies of two knitting magazines that we have discovered have either patterns in both Italian and English or are Italian versions of British knitting magazines (see, Elena, I remembered!).
We wandered around the center city, casually stopping into any bookstore or magazine stand we found and scoring one each of the magazines that we were seeking. We crossed the Po River to have sushi, and then returned to the center of the center city. We walked and walked until we found ourselves in the neighborhood of a really odd yarn shop we’d visited on my last visit. I remembered that a yarn producer had their office across from the shop and hoped it would be open this time. At three, the yarn shop owner opened the door for waiting customers, and as we made our way inside, the door to the yarn producer’s office was raised. We made a dash out of the yarn shop into the producer’s office. We spent the next two hours having our minds blown.
It wasn’t the yarn that blew our minds. Their yarns were nice and really affordable, but they really didn’t have anything we’d never seen before. Rather it was their business that blew our minds. We call things “old school” in the US, but this business redefines the concept. They moved into their location on what is now a major pedestrian-only shopping district in the heart if the center city right after WWII, and I don’t think they’ve made a single capital improvement to the property since. That’s not a complaint or a criticism; it’s a fact.
OSHA inspectors would have a field day in their warehouse. The property has three stories above the main level and two stories below the main level, connected with spiral staircases that were held together in sections with packing tape. 5 story spiral staircases, patched with packing tape. Seriously. To get to the offices, we went up to the top floor and then took a ladder. A ladder. Yeah, I said a ladder. When the owner showed us the ladder to the offices, I assumed no one used the offices, so he took us up the ladder to introduce us to his sons who were working up there. The ceiling in the office was the original hand-built wooden ceiling from the 1600s. Ladder.
That was just part of the warehouse facility. The rest was across the street above and below the yarn shop run by his sister. Three stories up (and probably another level accessible by ladder) and two below. It wasn’t the original walls on the lower levels that were part of the ancient Torino tunnel system that got me. What got me was the fact that this company was storing 30,000 kilos (66,000 lbs) of stock yarn in warehouses that would be worth millions of euros as retail and residential property. I mean, in a country in which space is an expensive commodity and in a space that is now in one of the hottest locations in town… we were shopping for yarn for Alex’s business.
So it was really no surprise that the yarns in which they pride themselves are classic and very old school. There wasn’t any tightly spun modern Italian yarn there. The only novelty yarns were referred to by the owner rather derisively. Most of it looked and felt like the yarn my mother and grandmother grew up knitting, and while that’s not the most popular stuff today, at least the sweaters they knitted with it still exist and look new. I was reminded that some traditions are tradition because they worked. This guy’s business may not have a modern business card or the mist innovative fiber creations, but he speaks yarn better than anyone I’ve met in Italy (and most of the people I’ve met are yarn producers).
At the end of the visit, after we had escaped the clutches of the labyrinthian warehouse, Alex worked out the business side of things, and I pulled a small project out of my pocket and began to knit. The producer continued to talk to Alex, but his eyes were on my needles. He visibly relaxed while I knitted, and I realized that I was more relaxed than I had been at any yarn producer’s office. Alex had barely had to translate because this guy spoke my language, even in Italian.
Today, I get to put together an order for old school Italian wool. I am looking forward to knitting yarns with an incredible wealth of tradition, experience, and wisdom spun into every twist, and I’m already thinking of a design featuring spiral staircases and ladders.