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Welcome to Philadelphia, a history nerd and textile lover’s paradise.

As early as the 1690s, there is a record of good woolen weavers working in Philadelphia. In 1691, William Penn mentions good linen being made in Germantown—the 1691 name for the entire Northwest section of what is now the city of Philadelphia and where we will start our ramblings.

Don your sturdy walking shoes for our first adventure.

A favorite Northwest Philly day begins at Wild Hand, a beautifully curated LYS in the Mt. Airy neighborhood, catering to all manner of fiber enthusiasts.

Stock up on a portable fiber project and then head next door to High Point for coffee and pastry or catty-corner across the street to Weaver’s Way, the neighborhood co-op grocery store, for some snacks/picnic provisions for our next stop: The Wissahickon Valley Park.  (If you need more fiber prior to a hike, Kelbourne Woolens’ storefront is minutes away!)

The Wissahickon Valley Park is the verdant lungs of Northwest Philly, a 2000-acre woodland running along the Wissahickon Creek. The creek used to power dozens of mills along its length.

The main path through the park—Forbidden Drive—was an early toll road that made it easier to bring goods from the mills into the city. Cars have been forbidden on this path since 1899 thus the name!

You can stick to the drive or explore the paths through the woods, where you will find hidden statues, a covered bridge, Kelpius’ cave, an old coaching inn, and a horse stable. Or you can just settle on a nice bench in a beautiful location and knit for a while.

Skirmishes during the Revolutionary War-era Battle of Germantown also happened in these woods. One of my favorite local “yarns” involves Mom Rinker, who hid encoded messages containing British troop locations in balls of yarn and dropped them off a rocky promontory in the Wissahickon for the American spies waiting below. That rocky promontory is now home to the Toleration Statue.

Down towards the southern end of the park is what remains of Rittenhouse Town, which was the first papermill in North America. I like to think of them as part of the lifecycle of textiles, as they made paper from linen rags too worn to be reused.

Next stop: Fishtown. Bring your appetites.

This is one neighborhood full of some great places to eat and drink: Kalaya, Suraya and Laser Wolf are all family favorites. Advance reservations are usually required.

Also in the neighborhood is Modest Transitions, a jewel-box of a shop whose owner is passionate about sharing their love of plant dying and has filled this lovely wee nook with yarn, natural dye materials and a selection of beautiful books.

Almost next door is Gilda’s, a Portuguese cafe that makes their delicious Pasteis de Nata (a pastry treat that is hard to find outside Portugal) in house. A cozy place to stop for a coffee and a Pastel or try some of their lovely lunch options.

It’s now time to turn towards Center City and choose between the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the Museum of the American Revolution.

With every visit to the former, I sit mesmerized by Rogier van der Weyden’s color saturation in the Crucifixion Diptych and then spend some time with Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam. Your art museum ticket will also get you into the Rodin Museum just down the street.

At the Museum of the American Revolution, my favorite textiles are George Washington’s canvas campaign tent and the handmade little baby shoes that one family made out of a British soldier’s uniform.

If you are down by the Museum of the American Revolution, walk the few blocks to the Franklin Fountain for their handmade ice cream. The ice creams as well as all the mix-ins and flavorings are made in-house. Best pistachio ice cream ever.

Center City is also home to Loop, a larger yarn shop stocked full of colorful treasures. It will always have a special place in my heart as it is where I learned the magic of turning a sock heel.

Last but not least, head to the Bok Building, an old Vocational High School that has been repurposed as studios for local makers in South Philly.

The Machine Shop on the ground floor is an award-winning bakery and perfect for a treat as we head upstairs to Weaver House, a yarn and weaving supply shop and studio. The Bok Building also hosts a great rooftop bar with sweeping city views.

Cheers, Philly! We ate well and our stashes are refreshed! So much more to see and do, but perhaps a wee rest before another adventure.

About The Author

Always curious, “library technician” is Gretchen Wright’s fourth or fifth career, all in service of funding her true calling: crafter. She began knitting and sewing at age five, and along the way added basket weaving, bookbinding, spinning, and dyeing with plants to the mix. Her next craft dream is rug weaving on a floor loom.

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39 Comments

  • Wild Hand and Weavers House, two of my faves!

  • I visited Kelbourne Wollen on our local yarn crawl and found it delightful. I plan to go back. Thanks for the highlight of local Philadelphia places of interest. I live in The Philadelphia suburbs.

  • Such riches! Thank you for the tour!

  • Another Philly yarn shop is Yarnphoria on Pine St. I visited on the Philadelphia Yarn Crawl and they had a nice selection.

  • Thanks for these great suggestions and some of the local history! I plan a road trip this summer!

  • Oh my! I will now have to add Philadelphia to my bucket list! What a wonderful adventure you’ve taken me on in my head!

  • Gretchen, what a great overview of everything that’s wonderful about Philly (and my neighborhood–Fishtown)! And thanks so much for the photo of my caddies and bins at Loop!

  • Don’t forget Fabscrap! If you are a sewist.
    https://fabscrap.org/shop
    A treasure hunt of textile remnants.

    And eat a pretzel! Maybe from Reading Market.

    • I just checked out their website, thanks! I use scraps to sew patchwork tote bags.

  • All those yarns can also be woven on looms during learn-to-weave classes offered at the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers’ headquarters on Main Street. A 70-year-old organization open to all.

    • Do you know if there’s also a spinning guild? One of the knitters in my knitting/fiber group (Art Museum Area) was looking for spinning/weaver’s groups, but was finding it hard to get info.

      • The handweavers guild has “special interet groups” that meet regularly, and I’m fairly certain that have at least one focused on spinning.

  • Wonderful article. Is this a group tour that one can sign up for or an individual adventure. I would be lost without a guide.

    • Hi Pamela,

      With Gretchen’s links this is a great self-guided day or two in Philadelphia!

      Kay

  • What bell?

    And for anyone in town the first weekend of December, the Galbraith & Paul open studio which Gretchen and I never leave empty handed.

    • Really…I’ll have to make a note!

  • Portuguese yarn and portuguese pastry, you made me happy!!!

  • The Fabric Workshop and Museum is also worth a look – they often have excellent exhibits.
    https://fabricworkshopandmuseum.org/

  • Nice profile of our great city!

  • Thank you for the insider’s tips. Philadelphia is now on my travel list!

  • That was lovely! I’m homebound right now as a caregiver, and not getting out too much. What a lovely treat to wander at least in my imagination through these lovely spaces. Thank you.

  • When I see the “goodies”in craft stores/LYS, it’s the yarn that I always like to touch. I buy the yarns that “speak” to me. I may not know what project they will be knitted in, but eventually the pattern shows up.”If you buy it, the pattern will come.” I just have to remember not to buy yarns that have blue and purple in them all the time. I also like shades of green.
    Loved the craft tour.

  • I live in London, UK and my favourite cafe’s specialty is Pastei de nata, I love them!

  • I grew up near Forbidden Drive (Chestnut Hill) but sadly was not a knitter at the time. I have many fond memories of jogging with my dad on the trail. Thanks for sparking those memories and for the inspiration to go back for a visit!!

  • THANK YOU! I am a part time Philly resident ever since my two sons chose wives from the local population and put down roots. We will be back in two weeks for birthdays and the fabulous 4th of July celebration. I will certainly use this guide while there. Also agree Yarnphoria is a terrific store in a most walkable part of town.

  • When I lived in Colorado going back East was manageable but now that I’m in Oregon, not so much. But if you ever get the notion the North West has yarn shops and unforgettable views

  • What a great tour! Thank you. Philadelphia sounds like a place I would like to visit.

  • Thank You!! I am going to be in Philadelphia for a wedding in November and am hoping for decent weather so I can do the touristy thing!! Can’t wait to visit as many yarn/craft places as possible! I missed the Rodin museum my first visit because it was closed for renovations. Now I am even more excited to go!!

  • What a lovely walk. I loved every step of it. Thank you. At age 91 I don’t suppose I’ll ever get there. Thanks again

  • I love Philadelphia! Dinner at the White Horse Cafe is a must for me every time I visit.

  • For Monika Riggs if she ends up reading this far: Granted I don’t know you and your particular circumstances which might be quite intense, but as a caregiver, Please be good to yourself as regularly as you can. An hour’s walk a few times week at the very least. Too many caregivers ruin their own health attending to the care of others. Please don’t let that be you.

  • I am going to be down in Phila end of next month for the soccer/proper football (English Premier League teams doing their summer tour) so this comes at just the right time.

  • I moved to the Philly suburbs about 18 years ago and never heard of most of these places. So, thank you for the info!

    There is also Hidden Valley Yarns, although the website now says “Temporarily Closed”.

  • Love this little trip, some of my Philly Phaves! But a stop at 4th & South Sts for the newly renovated Jim’s Steak’s South Street with an expanded shop that includes original Isaiah Zagar (the same designer of the Magic Gardens a few blocks away) murals, walls, ceilings…a true treat! Right in the midst of Philadelphia’s Fabric Row a treasure for over a century.

  • How could you skip or forget Yarnphoria?

  • Thank you, Gretchen! Beautifully-written and making me long to go to Philly! Many thanks!

  • Can you take the train from NYC to these attractions. I would love to make this a day trip.

    • Amtrak will take you from NYC to Philadelphia’s 30th St. Station in about 1.5 hours. It’s a rather spread-out city but there’s plenty of public transportation. And it’s a great city to explore on foot as well. For a day trip, I’d concentrate on Fishtown and Center City, and save Wissahickon for a more leisurely stay.

  • I grew up in South Philly, on the street where Bok Vocational High was. Interesting to note that it’s become a creative incubator. I go back from time to time to visit my old neighborhood and to see how it’s changed in the decades since I left. Mr. Duvinsky’s corner grocery store is now a banh mi sandwich shop!

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