Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Chicago’s North Shore might be the first place you’d wander if you were looking for fancy houses, but it also houses some lovely yarn shops.  As a graduate of Northwestern University, I spent a lot of time on Lake Michigan’s spiffy suburban shores, but hadn’t yet had the chance to wander back in search of yarn.

Once a year I try to feature stores close to home, so this summer’s Chicago Yarn Crawl pointed out a quartet of North Shore stores that just begged further exploration.  As such, we’ll start out way up top and work our way back toward the NU campus.  Day one will feature Highland Park and the charming MiaBella, Day Two takes us a bit farther south to Northbrook’s Three Bags Full, Day three tucks us a bit east to Winnetka’s inventive Stitch(es), and our final day lands us in Evanston for CloseKnit.  Each store offers a unique neighborhood and some exquisite non-fiber finds, so come along.

The neat thing about our Highland Park store is that can make this a rail excursion if you so choose (actually, that’s true of three of our stores--head to Metrarail.com for details).

There’s really only one way to start your day, and that’s at this iconic breakfast place:
Walker Bros. Pancake House
620 Central Ave.
Highland Park, IL
Yes, there are those who will tell you the famous Apple Pancake is the only way to go here, and it would be good advice.  This thing is as yummy as it is massive.  Me, I’m rather fond of their omelets--I’ve never had fluffier ones--and their excellent coffee.  Added to the beloved franchise in 1992, this place has breakfast down to an art form.  Most locals consider this the “must eat” morning meal, so a mid-week visit is recommended as the weekend wait (albeit worth it) can be daunting.  And yes, they’re open in the evenings, so you can eat breakfast for dinner here (hooray!).

Central Ave has some lovely shopping if you’re inclined to walk off your carbo-coma, otherwise, turn south onto a charming block of St. Johns Avenue that will comprise the rest of our adventure.  If you still need some time to digest, pop into

Titles, Inc.
1821 St. Johns Avenue
Highland Park, IL  60035
A real, honest to goodness independent bookstore is an endangered species, and this is one of the area’s finest.  Owner Florence Shay has as much character as a shelf-full of adventure novels, but her stock is what sells the establishment.  Thanks to her photographer husband (equally notable, it bears saying), the store boasts a strong collection of art and photo-related titles, but I had fun browsing through the impressive collection of signed and first-edition volumes.  Yes, I know the likelihood of any of my romance novels ending up in here is infinitesimal, but it’s fun to dream anyway.

Just for now, skip over the yummy sights and smells from ArrivaDolce, we’re saving that for later.  A few doors down you’ll find our featured yarn store:

MiaBella Yarn and Accessories
1815 St. Johns Avenue
Highland Park, IL  60035
You’d think an “insanely organized” yarn shop would feel stark, but MiaBella achieves such a sense of quiet calm that you wish you lived here.  
Owner Sarah Iosue, who left a corporate marketing career to meet the community’s need for a yarn shop, creates a soothing space with calming colors, cushy couches, and delicate music.  

It has that community feel DestiKNITters crave, the “sit a spell” quality that lets you know the customer next to you is just as likely to help you find your dropped stitch as a member of the staff would come to your rescue.  Highland Park hosts its share of doting grandmothers, so you’ll find loads of inventive and stylish baby gifts as well as the new discoveries Sarah loves to showcase.
Spinning has found a home here, too.  When asked for her favorite gadget,  Sarah crowed about her Louet Victoria Spinning Wheel.  Sara is implementing a new shop section devoted to the much-loved close-cousin to knitting, and the store hosts a spinning night on Tuesdays.

Some featured projects include:

The holidays are coming, so prime season for this adorable Sock Candy Bag is on its way.  Designer Adriene Ku’s creation takes two balls of Louisa Harding Aimee dk weight.  I love the stitch texture and the squat base that gives it such a marvelous shape.

There’s nothing utilitarian about Sublime’s Vintage Utility Vest when you knit it up in KFI’s adorable Indulgence.  You only need one ball to make the 6-12 month size.  Anyone who’s tried to wrestle a baby into a sweater will appreciate the generous neck buttons on this sweet garment.  If you’re looking to achieve Most Favored Grandma status, this one’s a shoe-in to keep you at the top of baby’s list.

Knitters love shawls.  I love shawls.  Our Knit-Along from MiaBella also comes from designer Adriene Ku.  Her Schmetterling Shawl (“butterfly” in German) takes full advantage of Ella Rae’s lace merino’s stunning colors and drape.  I’ve become very fond of mid-sized lace shawls for their sheer versatility, and this one promises to be enticing.

They’re saying it’ll be a killer of a winter here in Chicago, so this Afghan may be in dire need.  Done up in five skeins of Thick and Quick Merino by Eruo, it won’t kill your fingers in yards of tiny stitches, either.

Blown your yarn budget but not your craft budget?  No worries, this really is the block to get your craft fix.  Right next door you’ll find:

Fired Works
1813 Saint Johns Avenue
Highland Park IL  60035
No, you don’t need to make reservations, you really can just walk in and paint your way to pottery happiness (I asked).  While they don’t yet stock yarn bowls, I bet we could convince them.  I loved the tiled mirror.  I had a dozen friends make me a set of mugs for my 40th that I still use daily.  Since I’m turning 50 next year, this mirror seems like an ideal encore.

Still not satisfied?  wander a little further down and say hello to Bob at

Chelsea’s Beads
1799 St. Johns Avenue
Highland Park IL  60035

How can you not love a guy who’s card reads “Division of Smart Creations?”  This super-friendly store has been in the family for three generations.  The “chain room” alone is worth a look, but be brave and ask to “go down the dungeon (the basement)” for a really fun experience.  Like most yarn shops, the crowd is as fun as the merchandise. 

If you’re ready to consider the prospect of lunch now, wander just a bit farther down the block to:

City Park Grill
1783 St. Johns Avenue
Highland Park, IL  60035
I love places like this, where the front table features a bunch of grandfather-types hotly debating movies or politics.  Ted the owner ushered me in like I was one of the family, as friendly as the spot’s welcoming messages on the bottom of the menu.  This place is balances the dual atmospheres of post-shopping lunch and go-for-drinks with delightful ease.  The Sesame Ahi Tuna seared salad, served on pad tai noodles, lived up to Sarah’s recommendation--outstanding.  Enjoy the wonderful, attentive service, but don’t linger for desert. We’ve got plans.

Back up the block, walk your sweet tooth into:

Arriva Dolce Gelato and Coffee Bar
1823 St. Johns Avenue
Highland Park, IL  60035

Yes, you could eat food here, but why would you when there’s coffee and gelato??  Even before my server revealed she’s a relative of famed knitting author Sally Melville, I liked this place.  I tasted five flavors and loved them all:  Cappuccino with Chocolate Espresso Beans, PIstachio, Dulce de Luche, Tripple Dark Chocolate, and Mango Sorbet.  Wow.  I went to Rome & Florence’s best gelato spots this summer and this stuff is just as good.  They make a wickedly good hot chocolate, too.  The absolute perfect way to top off a great day.

Sugar, yarn, art, books, coffee--we hit all the buttons on this adventure.  And guess what?  Next episode there’s more....

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