A Knitter's Weekend
A Knitter’s Weekend: Northampton, Massachusetts
Northampton is a small city in western Massachusetts, full of arts and academia. It has a long history of counterculture and inclusivity. Glorious woodlands and organic farms surround, and the Berkshire Mountains are just beyond.
But that’s not how we knitters see it.
Nope. To knitters, Northampton is synonymous with the bricks and mortar home of an online yarn purveyor with lots and lots and lots of yarn.
It’s wrong to leave your visit at just that. Join me for a knitter’s weekend in Northampton.
First Stop, En Route: Osgood’s
Who doesn’t love an old school fabric outlet? Osgood’s, in Springfield, is worth the detour from any direction. It’s nothing pretty on the industrial exterior.
Fabric on bolts, fabric to the ceiling, fabric for clothing, for upholstery, for costumes, for quilts.
The staff is knowledgeable and friendly. By the time I left, we’d redesigned my living room in barkcloth (oh, to dream!). In reality, curtain fabric came home for less than half I’d budgeted.
Makers Gonna Make (Or Shop for Supplies)
Obviously we are stopping by Webs, the aforementioned family-owned yarn business.
Just south of downtown Northampton, Webs is a warehouse sized store in, well, a warehouse building.
Here’s the plan: enter, do not look left or right, avert eyes from display after display…that colorwork hat and kit…NO!
March to the back room. This is the inner sanctum— closeouts and discontinued yarns stacked on barebones metal shelving.
After trawling the back room aisles, retrace your way into the main showroom and revel in the space, the yarn and sample displays, the ALL of it all, including spinning and weaving.
Next, head into town on Pleasant Street, stopping at Beehive Sewing Studio and Workspace — vintage fabric, new fabric, pre-cut kits, and a space to get your sewing going on their machines. (You can DIY on the spot or with a store provided Cheerleader.) They offer weekly project kits and drop-in sewing.
Does your maker heart still yearn? Perhaps the overwhelm of a large yarn store is not your jam? On Pleasant Street in the center of town is Northampton Wools. This cozy, wood-trimmed LYS welcomes with sidewalk baskets of wool.
Inside, the displays charm. I fall hard for the handmade Trash Stash skeins . The owner creates these mixed mystery cakes, no two alike, which come with a cowl pattern (knit or crocheted). A souvenir project, for sure.
Northampton, aka Paradise City
Downtown Northampton is bustling, pretty much all the time. The criss-crossing hilly streets are lined with shops, galleries, and cafes. I see everything from old-school hippie import wear and clogs to upscale linen tunics, to chic shops with white walls and minimalist wares.
Thornes Marketplace, a converted 19th century department store, is a good place to start. There’s handmade, locally-made, and the visible influence of Northampton’s sizable college-age population. In the warmer months, check out the excellent farmers’ market in the parking area behind Thornes. You might meet designer Kristen Nicholas, vending for her family farm.
Balm for the Hands, the Soul and the Belly
A knitter’s got to think of hands, so I head to Joia Beauty, a “Personal Care Apothecary” of natural cosmetics and body products.
Joia herself is at the counter, recommending French hand cream that soaks in fast and isn’t greasy (aka, ideal).
It may be the world’s most photogenic hand cream.
Some nature would revive about now. The Botanic Garden of Smith College is my next in-town visit .
I’m partial to the succulents room, and the towering palms room.
There’s a hidden bench.
Great light, fabulous greenery year round, with the outdoor gardens to explore if weather is favorable.
Maybe I have a one-track mind, but doesn’t that cactus looks like an excellent yoke for a color work sweater?
Northampton offers food for for all tastes, budgets and ethnicities. Choose as you will, but do not skip the Florence Pie Bar.
It’s less than 3 miles to this tiny gem.
I wind down the afternoon with a wedge of homemade pie, and fresh flowers on the table.
Here, I sit and knit with impunity. I want to take the whole joint home with me. Including the sign.
Retreat from the World in Montague
The next day, we head for the hills.
It’s easy to find hiking trails and farm stands, scenic views and historic sites in the Northampton area. I pass all of them driving northeast to Montague, 17 miles through countryside.
At the Montague Book Mill, whimsy and function dance a jig in a hippie-era architectural conversion. A covered bridge leads from the parking lot into the top level of a former gristmill.
Inside are eccentrically shaped rooms on multiple levels, themed by book subject, all with seating.
Nooks and crannies abound. Massive windows look out to the waterfalls, roaring in warm weather.
It’s easy to settle in. I check the knitting shelf—some are tempting, some kitsch.
Along with book browsing there’s the light filled Lady Kiligrew cafe with coffee, good local food and brews.
There’s a lovely restaurant, The Alvah Stone, with patio overlooking the waterfalls. There’s also an art gallery, live music for much of the year, and that rare gem, an indie music and movie store. As the website endearingly says, the Book Mill offers ”books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.”
I’m staying a while.
If there’s a downside to being a passionate knitter, it’s too much sitting on our down sides. Weather permitting, take advantage of the fantastic bike trails connecting the Northampton area through former rail beds. You’ll pedal through leafy corridors that occasionally cross a street. The trail is adjacent to all my first-day stops, threading through the towns. Rental bikes are available at Northampton Bicycle.
Osgoods is not open on Saturdays.
Webs is not open on Sundays.
Many businesses close at 6 pm.
Check for live music and arts events during your visit, there are some great venues, such as The Iron Horse.