On the Road:
10 rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles
75013 Paris, France
tel. +33 1 53 80 31 33
Paris has many yarn stores, perhaps the most famous being La Droguerie and the renowned department store Le Bon Marché. These stores tend to stock the Rowans and Phildars of the world, with a deep inventory of the biggest brands and often paired with a healthy sewing department.
What's slightly less common, however, is to find a yarn store that carries those hard-to-find artisan yarns from prominent hand-dyers. In fact it's almost impossible.
Which is why I was so eager to trek beyond the tourist hubs and into the Butte-aux-Cailles neighborhood to see L'Oisive Thé for myself. I'd been long tempted by the colorful Instagram feed that Aimee Osbourn-Gille maintains on behalf of the store. Add the fact that this yarn store is also a tea room? I was sold.
Butte-aux-Cailles is a small neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, just up from the Place d'Italie métro. Its quiet, hilly streets give a distinctly restive feel. Instead of tourists, you're likely to see actual Parisians walking their dogs, playing with their children, or sipping tea at a sidewalk café with a friend. For me, it was a welcome relief after days of fighting the crowds.
L'Oisive Thé straddles the corner of rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles and rue Jean-Marie Jégo, with a colorful mural painted on both sides by a prominent neighborhood artist. It was opened five years ago, primarily as a tea room.
The tiny space is no bigger than my first apartment, but it manages to contain a surprisingly thorough collection of hand-dyed yarns, heaps of samples, a library of knitting-related books, and, of course, tea.
L'Oisive Thé (which translates loosely as "the leisurely tea") is the brainchild of Aimee Osbourn-Gille, a Kansas-born expat who came to Paris to study during her senior year of college.
While there, she fell in love. They tried to maintain a long-distance relationship, and her beau even tried moving to Kansas—but he was a Parisian, through and through. He asked her to marry him and move to Paris.
It was a difficult decision, but Aimee had great support from her family. Her own mother had immigrated to Kansas from Korea. She encouraged Aimee to make the leap. Today, Aimee and her husband are now the happy parents of two young children.
At first, Aimee tried to continue the corporate marketing work she'd been doing in the United States. (When she left, she was managing a large portion of marketing work for Caterpillar Inc.) But she quickly ran into bureaucratic snags, as her college credentials were questioned ("University of Kansas? Is that even a real school?").
Aimee and her husband had been saving to buy an apartment, and one day she had an epiphany: they could buy an apartment and be in debt for 20 years or more, or she could start this business she'd been dreaming about, take out a loan, and be on her feet again within seven years. She chose the latter. Five years ago L'Oisive Thé was born.
Initially, this was mostly a tea salon, with just one shelf dedicated to yarn. Gradually that shelf expanded to another, and another, until it filled a whole wall, turned a corner, and began marching toward the front door.
Every square inch of the space is occupied with something, be it boxes or colorful painted canisters of tea, a knitting book library, baskets of knitted samples, pedestals of baked goods, or skein upon skein of gorgeous yarn.
Aimee is quick to say that the store was modeled after yarn shop/tea rooms she'd seen in the United States. One such shop in Wisconsin left a particularly indelible imprint in her mind.
She was also motivated by the fact that every time she went home, she brought back suitcases of gorgeous hand-dyed yarns from the States—things that were impossible to find in France. Why not create a place that could be that store?
At first, the French were confused. These artisan yarns were so much more expensive than they were accustomed to paying, at first people asked if the price was per kilo, not per skein. But Aimee has persisted, and she has built a strong store with a passionate following.
I was there on a Wednesday afternoon as her TricoThé knitting group began streaming in. The first woman to arrive made herself comfortable and proceeded to pull out a cone of gorgeous yarn she'd just bought during a trip to Norway. Soon we were talking twist and ply, colors, projects past and future, and I felt instantly at home. Through knitting, we really do share a universal language.
Aimee is as passionate and knowledgeable about tea as she is about yarn. While I was there, I listened to her counsel a customer on which kind of tea she should drink for an upset stomach.
In beautiful, fluent French, Aimee proceeded to explain issues of caffeine and acidity, steering the woman toward a nice pot of rooibos tea.
Outside, a late July shower briefly inconvenienced those who were sitting on the sidewalk. I had to rush to meet my family, and Aimee graciously gave me an umbrella that had been sitting, un-claimed, in her shop for several weeks. We hugged and I left, feeling that I had experienced something both universal and completely Parisian.
Aimee currently stocks a full assortment of Koigu and Madelinetosh yarns as well as Socktopus, Old Maiden Aunt, Shibui, Lorna's Laces, Juno Fiber Arts, and Biscotte et Cie. While the shop is currently closed for the month of August (along with most of Paris), Aimee maintains an online shop year-round.
If you are lucky enough to have travels that include Paris, I strongly encourage you to make the journey to L'Oisive Thé. Plan enough time to wander the neighborhood, shop for yarn, and then relax with a pot of tea, casting-on your Parisian project for good luck on the journey home.