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Northwest Wools owner Jackie Kraybill discusses yarn's vibrant community in Portland

CONNECTION PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Northwest Wools owner Jackie Kraybill has owned the store in Multnomah Village for five years.

As technology progresses, once useful tools are rendered obsolete.

But due to affinities for all things retro and desires for self-sufficiency, some materials that have existed for centuries can linger.

According to Northwest Wools owner Jackie Kraybill, yarn is one of those materials.

"It's not a dying art at all," Kraybill said. "In Portland, it's huge."

Northwest Wools resides in Multnomah Village, at 2523 S.W. Troy Ave., brands itself as the oldest yarn shop in Portland and will celebrate its 30th anniversary in June. Along with yarn and fiber, the store sells knitting needles, spinning tools, accessory bags and more. For more information, visit the Northwest Wools website at http://northwestwools.com/.

Kraybill says Portland's yarn culture began when pilgrims trekked the Oregon Trail and stitched together their clothing and other goods along the way. After that, the Timberline Lodge and the Oregon College of Art and Craft became venues for yarn enthusiasts to flourish.

Now, Kraybill compares Portland's yarn scene to the city's vibrant shoe culture.

"Just like there are so many shoe companies, the same infrastructure is here in Portland for fiber based companies," Kraybill said.

The do-it-yourself mentality that some Portlanders embrace contributes to yarn's staying power, according to Kraybill.

"I think it's gotten a resurgence everywhere in the world but it's never really stopped being something in Portland just because people in Portland have always liked to make their own things," Kraybill said.

Northwest Wools opened in 1988 after Multnomah Arts Center morphed from a school to a senior center. Since then, it switched owners twice before Kraybill took over five years ago.

While attending a class at Northwest Wools, Kraybill found out that the store's previous owner was looking to sell. Retired, bored and already a yarn connoisseur who had collected yarns across the world, Kraybill decided to buy the store.

"In my small way, this is me giving back to the community in my retirement," she said.

The shop, which was once a house, is relatively small but Kraybill says Northwest Wools has one of the largest yarn inventories in Portland. And in one corner of the store, an enclave of work crafted by local artists resides.

"'What do you have that's local?' Kraybill says customers say. "And so I take them to the local Oregon section. They like to be able to get something they can't get at home."

Northwest Wools offers knitting, crochet, weaving and spinning classes throughout the week and different classes based on skill level.

"The people (teachers) are really kind, don't laugh when you make a bad stitch, and they're very knowledgeable. They know their stuff," Kraybill said.

Kraybill still attends one of the classes.

"People say 'Oh you can help me with this.' And I say, 'Actually I'm in the Wednesday class. You probably don't want me helping you,'" she said.

The store includes materials ranging from angora, to bison, to camel, to bunnies. Typically, the rarer and more challenging the material is to sheer, the more expensive it is to purchase. Because Northwest Wools is running out of room, Kraybill has to restrain herself at trade shows.

"The first couple years I bought anything I wanted and there was room for it but now we have a problem because there's not a lot of room," she said.

The store recently completed the annual Rose City Yarn Crawl — where yarn enthusiasts from across the world flocked to Portland and hopped from one yarn store to the next. Kraybill says the yarn crawl attracts as much business as the entire holiday season and that 2,000 people strolled through the shop this year.

Northwest Wools also donates materials to the Community Transitional School, which provides education to at-risk children. And Kraybill says yarning is a useful stress-reliever.

"It's a really comforting thing and it's a sense of control and ownership that they can have when they don't have much in the rest of their lives. It's a wonderful thing," Kraybill said.

Kraybill has noticed an increasing amount of youthful yarn enthusiasts walk through her shop recently.

"There's a lot of young women and men with tattoos and purple hair knitting up a storm, weaving up a storm, crocheting, spinning," she said.

However, Kraybill says yarning is not an age-segregated activity.

"It's a very active community for people of all ages," she said.

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