Thursday, September 21, 2006

I think there must be an unspoken rule that when deadlines get tense—not your normal tense but like the serious absolute end-of-the-line deadline tense where you're too tense to even feel your feelings—the universe bites you in the butt.

Last night, just after I sent the newsletter (a lovely piece Lela Nargi wrote about Brooklyn General Store), my Web host had to shut down KR because a script had somehow been triggered and was causing all the other sites on my server to die. I went to bed, blissfully unaware, at around 12:30am. Only to wake up and discover...the site was gone. Which is bad enough as it is, but even worse if it happens right after you send out 30,200 emails.

I won't even describe the road I've traveled in the last 12 hours, the emails, the phone calls, the tears, the bars of chocolate, but new files are being uploaded, which should take several hours, but the site will then be online. [Correction: The site messed up soon after the new files were uploaded, and my host shut the site down again. At this point we've been forced to move to a dedicated server, which will take days to complete, take weeks to figure out, and increase our monthly costs by 30%. But such is life.]

In the meantime, I'd like to share Lela's article with you here. Because she did a lovely job.

But first, won't you take a minute to visit the sponsors of this week's (invisible) newsletter? They're lovely folks and they deserve a hand right now.


On the Road: Brooklyn General Store

by Lela Nargi

128 Union St.
Brooklyn, NY
tel. 718-237-7753

Catherine Clark has a beautiful vision: She wants to see everyone in Brooklyn, New York, making their own things. For the past three years, she and partner Katie Metzger have been doing their best to morph this vision into reality.

the walls of Brooklyn General, lined with goodies

Shop hours
Noon-7pm Tue-Thur; noon-6pm Fri-Sat; noon-5pm Sun

Getting There
Take the F train to Carroll Street. Walk north along Smith Street two blocks to Union Street, then west four and a half blocks, crossing over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, to the shop.

Their locally legendary shop, Brooklyn General Store, in Columbia Terrace—a family-friendly outpost of artists and other creative types along the borough's commercial shipping waterfront—stocks a delirious array of materials for making all sorts of things.

Bolts of vintage fabric, brightly patterned ribbons, spools of thread, needles and notions and milk paint and felt and fleeces and, of course, yarns were previously tucked into a snug, embracing shop a few steps down from the sidewalk on the north side of Union Street. (The back room served as an office for Catherine's midwifery practice.)

New Digs
new digs for Brooklyn GeneralBut Catherine and Katie have just finished moving the whole stash across the street to a 1,400-square-foot former department store, leaving their first locale entirely devoted to Catherine's often-overlapping clientele of craft junkies/new moms and moms-to-be. (It presents the sweetest-smelling waiting room anywhere in the city, redolent of lanolin and freshly washed handknits.)

the interior of the shopThe new shop is as equally inviting as the old, with its wide-plank floors, daytime floodings of sunlight, and the original store's built-in ladders for accessing treasures from the high shelves.

Plans are underway to open up a skylight at the rear to let in even more natural light, and to stick a few lounging couches in nooks here and there amid the cubbies and bins. There is also room for three or four spinning wheels. "We've always wanted to offer spinning classes," says Catherine, "and now we can!"


The fall's roster of classes has begun already: sock, sweater, and quilting workshops; sewing and crochet classes; and special offerings for kids and 'tweens. And yes, one session of spinning is already up and running.

In addition, Catherine and Katie host Friday morning knitting breakfasts and Wednesday evening knitting clinics, as well as the unspoken promise to regulars that any time the shop is open is a good time to come in, sit and chat, get something going on the needles—and sit some more.

Says Catherine, "Our shop is like a community center. Before we opened, I always felt like I was intruding when I went in to a yarn store. I want the main focus of our store to be that it is welcoming." As a result, "We offer a lot of free help, and people come here to make their own projects, and they stay all day." Additionally, and unusually, kids-in-tow are encouraged—they can settle in to small chairs and knead yarn, pull down some Käthe Kruse dolls from the rack, or set themselves up at the spacious table in back to sculpt with modeling wax.

A Personal Venture
on the shelvesUnderstanding the history of the shop's owners, none of this seems at all surprising. Catherine and Katie are best friends, and both women have three kids, who are also each others' best friends. Brooklyn General seems to exude this sentiment, and to extend these personal relationships to all comers.

Catherine explains that the idea for the shop came from "wanting to do something creative—otherwise, I’m miserable." (Although she also admits that, due to her busy midwifery schedule, she often has to live vicariously through the creations of others.)

For years, she and Katie would go out and pretend to have business meetings and discuss what materials they needed to open a store, finally deciding that it should contain "everything we love." Ultimately, she says, "There wasn't much risk to actually doing it. I had a lot of the stuff in my house already, and when we opened, it was with two shelves of yarn we'd ordered from Rowan."

On the Shelves

Their yarn supply has come a long way since then. Catherine goes out of her way to buy an unusual and inspiring assortment, directly from farmers whenever possible. The latest fibers of her fancy include luscious Morehouse Merino, which the shop carries in three weights and a comprehensive collection of colors; silk and wool blend Tess' Designer Yarns, made in Maine by a woman named Melinda; and Decadent Fibers yarns, hand-dyed by two fiber artists in Pennsylvania.

With their new, abundant space, Catherine and Katie look forward to accumulating more supplies for the fabric arts. "Once we make money, we'll spend it," she says simply. Because Brooklyn General, you'll realize pretty quickly after arriving, is not so much about business as it is about having fun and making things.

About the author

Lela Nargi's most recent book is Knitting Memories: Reflections on the Knitter’s Life, an anthology featuring contributions by Teva Durham, Elanor Lynn, Clara Parkes, and a dozen other famous and not-so-famous knitters. Visit her at


Jane said...

We love you, Clara! Hold on, it will be over soon(ish).

Lela's article is wonderful. Thank you for posting it!

Minh said...

<< HUGS >>
Thanks for taking care of all this mess so quickly, you're great! Now you can go back to your writing knowing that all is well :)

rho said...

Oh you poor thing - I have tried sending you good thought all day --

Mary said...

So sorry about the web-hosting troubles, Clara. But don't worry, your readers will stay loyal and return as soon as you're back up and running. Your content is of too high a quality to ignore. We'll be patient for it to return!

I enjoyed Lela's article, too -- makes me want to visit Brooklyn!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you're having such a horrendous time -- but it did introduce me to your delightful blog! Count me in as a new regular. Love the kitty over the monitor, the garden photos,the view, and the knitting.