A sweater knit-a-long at Cleo's Yarn Shop in East Williamsburg
Owner Cleo Malone leads a sweater knit-a-long at Cleo's Yarn Shop in East Williamsburg | Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Owner Cleo Malone leads a sweater knit-a-long at Cleo's Yarn Shop in East Williamsburg | Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist

Cleo’s Yarn Shop Is the Wholesome Third Place Knitters Needed

The yarn shop where everyone knows your name.

The third place has entered the public lexicon again and it seems like everyone in New York is searching for theirs. A third place is a sociological concept that refers to a beloved space apart from home and work, where one repeatedly spends time in a social capacity. A place where one feels like they belong, a home away from home. To quote Cheers, “where everybody knows your name.” Other famous examples of third places include Central Perk from Friends, Luke’s Diner from Gilmore Girls, and Paddy’s Pub from Always Sunny In Philadelphia. But, not all third places have to be associated with eating or drinking. Your third place might be a neighborhood bookstore, a yoga studio, a barber shop, a basketball court, a garden, or a skatepark—or maybe even a yarn shop.

Sandwiched between a block of nondescript warehouses and industrial-looking storefronts, sits our new favorite third place: Cleo’s Yarn Shop. Owned by knitwear designer Cleo Malone, the eponymous East Williamsburg shop sells skeins (aka bundles) of yarn in addition to offering an inclusive community for knitters of varying expertise.

Owner of Cleo's Yarn Shop, Cleo Malone
Owner of Cleo's Yarn Shop, Cleo Malone | Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist

The yarn business runs in Malone’s veins. A native to Santa Rosa, California, Malone worked at her family’s store, Cast Away Yarn Shop, from a young age. “I heard something once—and I don’t know how true this is—but it really resonated with me. It’s the idea that whatever you were obsessed with when you were 12 years old is what sticks with you for the rest of your life,” reminisces Malone. “I think [knitting] is just what I happened to be obsessed with at that formative age.”

Now, fast forwarding through middle school, high school, college, and briefly becoming a partner at Cast Away, Malone fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving across the country to New York City. It wasn’t long after settling into Bushwick that Malone realized the absence of any nearby yarn stores. Thus, came the idea for Cleo’s Yarn Shop.

Cleo's Yarn Shop in East Williamsburg
Cleo's Yarn Shop in East Williamsburg | Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist

After one year in business, the ethos of the shop can be summed up in the words of store manager, Jessie Wayburn, “it’s sticks and string.” In other words, knitting is not a vain or weighty pastime. “It’s nothing that serious, right? It’s not life or death,” explains Malone. “No one’s going to judge you if you have a little mistake in your hat that you made—and [the mistake] makes it more beautiful in a way. Knitting is an imperfect medium, it’s supposed to be. The imperfection of it all adds to its accessibility.”

The carefree and wholesome ethos can be best felt at the store’s weekly meetups, facilitated by Malone. The linkups offer a range of instructional classes on how to knit apparel like socks, cardigans, horned balaclavas, and bunny bonnets, in addition to craft circles devoted to queer and BIPOC locals. At the latest knit-a-long, a small crew of artisans could be found casually grouped around the shop’s main table. Experts and beginners unhurriedly started on the same sweater pattern, while chatting and intermittently pausing for direction from their neighbors or Malone. By the end of the night, a diverse smattering of partial or complete chunky knits were packed into tote bags to be taken home.

Regardless of the habitual rise and fall of knitting’s popularity in the mainstream, devotees like Malone believe in its staying power, its perennial pull. “Knitting is the perfect hobby. You’re making something wearable, but it’s also meditative. The something that we leave behind, there’s something innately human about that,” Malone reflects.

“I don’t really feel like I’ve done that much. Right? I’ve just set up a time and said, here, come do this. And they do and it’s great,” Malone adds. “I’m so in love with how people are able to find community here.”

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Izzy Baskette is the New York City Staff Writer for Thrillist. Talk to her at izzy.baskette@voxmedia.com or find her on Instagram.