|On the Road:
San Francisco, CA
Please note this review was published in 2004. Hours and location updated 12/2011.
San Francisco is full of special landmarks, from Ghirardelli Square to the Golden Gate Bridge. But these pale in comparison to the ultimate knitter's landmark, Artfibers.
This San Francisco establishment was begun many years ago in France by Nyle and Roxanne Seabright, both of whom worked previously on the design faculty at a university. This should be your first hint that Artfibers isn't your average yarn store.
Location, Location, Location
Artfibers is conveniently located in the prime tourist area of San Francisco, between the Embarcadero, Union Square, North Beach, SoMa, and Chinatown.
Its central location makes it an ideal stop for visitors to the city, yet it's also a highly frequented spot for financial district commuters. Lunchtimes can be especially crowded.
Finding Your Way
Getting to Artfibers is an adventure because there's no street-level storefront. You'll enter a small doorway and walk up one narrow flight of stairs (or take the tiny old-fashioned elevator).
Once upstairs, you pass through an open door to the actual business: A large clean well-lit space with walls of colorful yarn on steel wire shelves. At the far end, enormous windows look out over the street below. The effect is a cross between a high-end fashion boutique and 1950s seamstress shop.
click to enlarge
click to enlarge
266 Sutter St. 3rd floor
San Francisco, CA 94108
Newcomers are often taken aback when they visit Artfibers because nothing is familiar. All Artfibers yarns are conceived by Nyle and Roxanne exclusively for Artfibers. They travel to select mills in Europe and Japan to oversee every nuance of the yarn production.
Both Nyle and Roxanne have a deep respect for the textile manufacturing tradition and will go to painstaking measures to keep quality high.
For example, to build the intense red shade of Kyoto I reviewed last year, while maintaining satisfactory softness and luster in the final product, they had to develop a new routine that added dye and modified pH at four intervals over a 16-hour cycle. "This is one reason that you will not find exactly the same product elsewhere," Nyle laughed. "Nobody else is crazy enough to go to so much trouble for a plain color yarn!"
The yarns tend to have strong colors (both solids and multis) with unusual textures and design features that are well-suited to Artfibers' other customer base, small-scale fashion design firms. (In other words, if Intarsia is your game, you may leave Artfibers empty handed.)
A word to the wise: Because they cater to the design industry, yarns tend to be phased out after 12 to 18 months. If you find something you like, get it. (Another word to the wise: Artfibers offers online ordering!)
Besides providing unusual yarns, Artfibers also pays special attention to the person who will use their materials. Toward this end they provide two rare services for their customers.
First, there's a large swatching area where you can test-knit every yarn in stock. You really can't tell how you're going to like a yarn until you begin working with it, and swatching is the best way to do this—yet most yarn shops can't afford the luxury.
Second, Artfibers has a design area where they'll take your measurements and—with the help of a computer program—create a custom pattern for your chosen yarn.
Despite the extra time and energy that go into Artfibers yarns, they are still remarkably affordable. This is most likely because you are buying almost directly from the mill.
Skeins fall in the $10 to $15 price range, depending on fiber content, yardage, and complexity of the spin.
To put this in context, Roxanne custom-designed a ballet-neck pullover for me with three-quarter-length sleeves using Toto yarn, and the whole package cost me $77.
Artfibers is located in downtown San Francisco just a few blocks from Union Square. If traveling by car, your best bet is to park in the Sutter Stockton garage, located just up the street from Artfibers.
The large garage is easy to navigate and priced affordably—and close enough to Artfibers that you can take any purchases back to the car before exploring the area further.
If traveling by Bart or any of the Muni trains, you can get off at the Montgomery Street exit and walk up to Artfibers.
Exploring the Area
If you're really adventurous and have time on your hands, take your knitterly acquisitions down to the recently renovated Ferry Building and hop a ferry across the bay and back—you'll get a gorgeous view of the city and a good spell of uninterrupted knitting time.
If you need a caffeine infusion, you'll find a Starbucks on nearly every corner of this part of town. Also, directly across the street Artfibers is the Crocker Galleria, which has a Tully's coffee on the ground level.
Read about other San Francisco shops:
Greenwich Yarn and Stitchworks