Mad about Madison...
I've discovered a great fondness for this Wisconsin capitol city. Come with me, DestiKNITters, to find out why! Start your experience at:
Dane County Farmer’s Market
2 E Main St
Madison, WI 53703
Various times and locations
Almost everyone told me the Farmer’s Market epitomized the Madison way of life. From the outdoor version on the square April to November to an indoor holiday market from mid-November to mid-December, and another indoor version January through April, it’s a year-round event where everyone meets everyone else. In short, it’s a whole lot more than just a place to get healthy things to eat. Check the website to see where the market is located during the week of your visit, and launch your Madison adventures like a local.
When you’re ready, head to our fiber find:
NEW location in November:
584 Grand Canyon Drive
Madison WI 53719
This isn’t a yarn shop in the traditional sense. It’s closer to a manufacturer’s showroom—but that’s what makes it so amazing. Because it’s all one vendor, this shop is all about the color—which is exactly the whole point of KnitCircus. Most midwestern knitters know this fiber for the exquisite color combinations owner Jaala Spiro is able to achieve. Honestly, you look at some of these and think “how on earth did she do that?” The technical marvel that KnitCircus achieves is only exceeded by the amazing things you can do with her yarn.
“I still get excited when a color comes out. I always want to knit with it right away,” says Jaala, who looks happily at home surrounded by the riot of colors that fills her showroom. I visited her in the old space in early October, but things will be even more exciting when the shop moves to its new location this month (November 2017). “I love getting a blank canvas of fiber and turning it into something beautiful,” Jaala says.
Her love affair with color and yarn started when she took knitting classes while her children were young. That grew into an online knitting magazine and dying fibers in her basement. It didn’t take long for things to expand, and in 2015 she launched a Kickstarter campaign to open her own space and hasn’t looked back since. The new space should be awesome. I love how the website advertises, “if your local group of friends or your out-of-town knitting/crochet group wants to arrange a hang out in the store, just let us know.” Who wouldn’t want to accept such a friendly invitation?
KnitCircus produces 40 to 60 cakes of color-soaked yarns per day. The majority of their sales come from shows and a vibrant online presence. They’re well known for their design partnerships as well as Jaala’s extensive library of her own designs. “We partner with knitwear designers to create patterns that are exclusive to us for a while. Many of our designs pair specifically to our gradients so that the colors match up in garments like sweaters and socks for a stunning effect.” In fact, I think kits are the way to go with some of the more complicated projects so that the colors sync just right. If you are a shawl knitter, this place is heaven—every gradient begs to be knit up into amazing accessories.
The imagination doesn’t stop at colors, however. I’m particularly tickled by the inspirations and even the yarn names. “The names have to make us laugh before we’ll use them,” comments Jaala. “My favorite is still ‘Vampire Boyfriend’.” It just adds to the charm—I mean, who doesn’t want to knit with Princess Bride themed “As You Wish” yarn, “Thanks for All the Fish,” or “Mischief Managed”?
The best way to get in on the fun is to subscribe to their weekly newsletter or join one of their three clubs: the Gradient Club, the Four Seasons Club, or the Sock Club. These insider’s groups get new colors exclusively before they go public.
Here are a few projects to consider:
Be Simple Variations
Carolyn Glauz-Todrank’s gently expanding asymmetrical triangle shawl pattern gives you the drape you need while making great use of the color changes in one skein of Impressionist Gradient or a matched double cake sock set. Stick with garter, add an edge, or throw in eyelet rows—the spectrum of color does most of the work for you so you can play with any number of variations. There isn’t a yarn in the showroom that wouldn’t look fabulous in this pattern.
Amy’s Favorite Toe Up Socks
As you can imagine, KnitCircus is a huge hit with sock knitters. No more guessing if your sock gradients will match—pre-wound dual pairs ensure your success! Jaala’s go-to pattern is this one by Amy Detjen that comes with access to five how-to videos to take you through every step of the process. Perfect for newbies or those ready to launch their sock obsession (and who isn’t?). Seriously, once you wear these gorgeous beauties, nothing else will ever come close.
A cowl goes from simple to splendid with the right yarn, and this pattern lets the fiber shine. Some end up too bulky and rustic for my taste, but the classic garter stitch border and asymmetrical shape of this cowl adds just the right touch of style. The fine yarn and small stitches (size 3 needles) give it a versatile elegance that can be dressed up or down. If you dislike knitting in the round—and some do—this one is worked flat and seamed up at the end. Go dazzling or subtle—it’s up to you.
Our Knit Along: the Silk Moon Crescent
I’ll be knitting this beautiful garter crescent dotted with eyelets for extra appeal. Again, you don’t want to overwhelm this gorgeous color with a lot of stitch-work, and this simple top down pattern lets the yarn take the lead. I’ll be working with Opulence cashmere/merino blend—oh, so soft—in a lush “panoramic gradient” of blues and purples called The Knit Sky. Tactile bliss, I tell you!
Once you’ve satisfied your color cravings at KnitCircus, it’s time to satiate an appetite of a different kind. Head for lunch at:
Monty’s Blue Plate Diner
2089 Atwood Avenue
Madison, WI 53704
You know me, I go where the pie is…and this is the spot. Of course, some may tell you it’s the milkshakes that steal the show here, but hey, who’s stopping you from sampling both? This is one of those classic diner places where the meatloaf (even the meatless meatloaf!) is grand and the hash browns inspire poetry.
Madison Modern Market
310 State St
Madison, WI 53703
Nifty gift stores are part of any DestiNITions adventure, and this one delivers on a variety of fronts. I’ve become a big fan of Swell Bottles, and they have a nice selection here. There’s a charming little kids’ section, too. Don’t be a gift card grinch this holiday season—stop in here and find something unique instead.
Red Elephant Chocolate
119 State St
Madison, WI 53703
Badger or Packer truffles? Get’em here in this friendly cafe that makes some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Big Cheese truffles? Well, this is Wisconsin, after all. I don’t know how I left without trying the aged cheddar and sea-salt caramel ganache in white and dark chocolates—they sound surprisingly delicious. Slightly more expected is the Brown Cow peanut butter chocolate combo.
A Room of One’s Own Bookstore
315 W Gorham St
Madison, WI 53703
DestiKNITters, you know what to do: an indie bookstore means you’ve got to do your part and give them your business. Author events, audiobook memberships, and new and used books help give this store a great local character. Check out their “Rec Room” of staff picks in loads of inventive categories.
583 State St
Madison, WI 53703
|Colectivo website photo|
In case you didn’t get your caffeine at Red Elephant (or even if you did), this local coffeeshop is tops according to my sources. The skull motif is indicative of the inventive, original atmosphere, even though this qualifies as a “chain” with multiple locations in Milwaukee, Madison, and even Chicago. If the day is fine, the outdoor seating can be as splendid as the brew.
Spend the remainder of your afternoon touring the Wisconsin capitol building. It’s the tallest capitol building after DC, and the granite dome over the rotunda is worth your attention. Make sure you go up to the observation deck to, well, observe the stunning 360-degree view. Or turn your attention to the UW campus—this is a college town as well as a capitol, after all.
If you need a spot for drinks or dinner, I’d recommend nearby:
The Cooper’s Tavern
20 W Mifflin St
Madison, WI 53703
I’m always appreciative when a spot teats me well as a lone diner, and my server was friendly and helpful. This is clearly a specialty beer spot, but the food was delicious, too. I had a tasty salad with crispy goat cheese and chicken, but lots of people rave about their turkey sandwich and cheese curds. All in all, a nice way to end a Wisconsin day.
There you have it: a lovely day of fiber and adventures in the Wisconsin capitol. Up next, I cast on the luxurious Silk Moon Crescent shawl.