They have come from places as distant as Texas, Colorado, Florida and Michigan, hundreds of people flooding local shops — not just one day but five days in a row.
What could possibly draw these kinds of crowds?
Yarn. Yup, yarn.
It’s the annual Puget Sound Local Yarn Shop Tour.
With 24 yarn shops spread from Lynden to Kent, it’s considered one of the largest, if not the largest, such event in the nation, said Teresa Wilson of Country Yarns in Snohomish.
“Portland does a nice tour, but nowhere near the number of shops,” she said. “We are unusual in that we have so many in the Puget Sound area.”
The event is similar to the annual Independent Bookstore Day challenge, where customers vie to visit as many bookstores as they can in a day.
This year’s yarn tour is scheduled for May 15-19. Visitors are given a “passport,” which each shop stamps to indicate their visit.
Every shop on the tour is giving out a free knitting and a free crochet pattern, personally designed by each shop.
Mary McKillop of Snohomish has gone on the tour for the last five years. She met the challenge of going to all 26 shops on the 2017 tour.
This year she and some girlfriends plan two days of touring, visiting about seven shops on Saturday and four to five on Sunday. Their stops include shops in Snohomish, Langley, Mount Vernon, Anacortes and Bainbridge Island.
“No person is a stranger in this,” McKillop said. “Getting to know people is lots of fun.”
Some people fly in for our tour. Last year a woman came from Texas to go on the tour with friends. Several people are coming this year from Vancouver, B.C., Colorado and Michigan, said Fontelle Jones, owner of Great Yarns in Everett. The shop has taken part in the tour since its inception 14 years ago, when only 12 shops were involved.
On a typical day, 15 to 25 people come to her shop on Rucker Avenue in Everett. During the tour, more than 200 people may come on a single day.
“It’s five days with extended shop hours,” said Jones, whose shop marks its 35th anniversary this year. “It really is just a celebration of knitting and crocheting.”
Wilson, from Country Yarns in Snohomish, said planning for the spring event begins in September. “It takes a lot of work and collaboration between the shops,” she said.
The tour means extended hours and more work days for many of the shops. Country Yarns, for example, typically isn’t open on Sunday. Wilson has no other paid staff. So volunteers come in to help out on tour days.
“I call it the yarn circus,” she said. “I enjoy it immensely. We like seeing people come in and having smiles on their faces and say, ‘Oh isn’t this beautiful?’”
When asked to describe one of the patterns she will be giving out, Wilson said it is a surprise that only will be revealed during the tour. “We can’t give out the secret before it happens,” she said, adding that she couldn’t join the tour next year if she did.
“It’s like the Academy Awards and the Oscar goes to secrecy,” she said.
This is the second year that Stilly River Yarns in Stanwood is on the tour. Last year, the yarn crawl drew 752 people to the shop in five days. “It’s easily the most important event of the year for us,” said shop owner Lindsey Spoor.
She, too, has volunteers who help staff the shop during the spring tour. Starting in January, she starts hearing the question: When can I sign up?
People come in wearing projects they’ve crocheted, knitted or woven over the past year, many showing off items made from yarn they’ve previously purchased from the store.
Shops try to have something extra for customers during the tour. Spoor said trunk shows are planned every day of the tour, with independent yarn dyers from Bremerton and Snohomish and an independent knitwear designer from Everett.
In Snohomish, Wilson will have own line of hand-dyed yarns for sale, each with 10 to 12 different colors.
In Everett, Jones plans to have a woman at the shop who makes yarn from the goats she raises. Two other people will be there who produce custom-dyed yarns for the store. “You keep taking it to the next level,” Jones said. “It really becomes an art form.”
Spoor said she enjoys seeing the tour-goers who are trying to visit as many shops as they can.
The shops on Bainbridge and Whidbey islands require ferry rides. “For a lot of folks who usually don’t get to enjoy the ferry system, it’s a neat experience to enjoy that part of (local) life,” Spoor said.
“It’s such a nice time of year to see Western Washington in all of its glory.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
The annual Puget Sound Local Yarn Shop Tour is scheduled May 15-19 with shops open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 15-18 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 19. There’s no admission fee. The 24 shops on the tour are each offering a free crochet pattern, a free knitting pattern and a free souvenir pin. Pick up your passport and tour tote at your first stop.
Stamped “passports” from eight shops qualify to enter a drawing for a $100 gift certificate to one member shop, stamps from 16 shops qualify to enter a drawing for a $250 gift certificate to a member shop and enter a grand prize drawing by visiting all 24 member shops for a $500 gift certificate.
For more information, go to www.lystour.com.