The Knitter's City: Amsterdam with Malia Mae Joseph of Stephen and Penelope
If you're anything like the Pom Pom team, any trip coincides with a quick recce to see where the local yarn shop is! Our Knitter's City guides do the hard work for you, with our knitty friends taking us on a virtual tour of their city and letting us in on the best kept secrets of where to visit.
We've already pottered around Seattle; Portland; Victoria, British Columbia; Toyko; and Glasgow. Now we're popping over to Amsterdam! Malia Mae Joseph of Stephen & Penelope is leading us through the cobbled streets she loves. After taking us through her favourite spots by location Malia rounds up the tour with a list of the best crafty shops (that is, after Stephen & Penelope)!
You'll know Malia as one of the collaborators of Wool Journey: Shetland.
I’m a Colorado transplant in the notorious city of Amsterdam. So even after 10 years of living here, I still look at it with the eyes of a foreigner. The canals lined with houseboats, the tall, crooked houses with their beautiful gables, the army of black single-gear bicycles parked and ridden everywhere, this will always seem like a perfect miniature city to me.
Sure, Amsterdam is known for debauchery and sinfulness, but it’s equally known for its world-class museums, design, and architecture. You can find countless Amsterdam City guides about our museums and tourist destinations, but you, fair knitter, you want something more local, something with more chocolate and vintage shops. So that’s what I’ll give you. I will admit that the amount of creative shops in Amsterdam is not equal to cities I’ve visited of the same size. We are a small but powerful community, ever growing. That said, creativity is overflowing in Amsterdam and we do have some uniquely European makeries and treasure hunting destinations. So, hop on your bicycle and follow me into the neighbourhoods of Amsterdam.
Nieuwmarkt (New Market) Neighborhood
Photo courtesy of Stephen and Penelope
Stephen & Penelope is a destination boutique for travellers from all over the world. Knitters bounding into the shop with a squeal and a triumphant grin is a regular occurrence. We stock a great variety of hand-dyed yarns, but focus equally on timeless woolly and natural yarns. Stephen and I cover the gamut of both colour and texture preferences, and that shows in our curated collection of yarns and accessories.
Photo courtesy of A. Boeken
For the sewers in the crowd, we are conveniently located beside the oldest and best known fabric shop in Amsterdam, A. Boeken. This mighty little fabric shop is packed to the rafters with thousands of ribbons, feathers, buttons, and at least a thousand different fabrics including specialty finds such as Lycra, sequinned fabrics, leather, and latex rubber. Amsterdam’s stylists, costume makers, and fashionistas make up just some of their clientele.
Photo courtesy of Tinctoria
A more natural aspect of textiles can be found at the Tinctoria, a delightful little natural dye-house located on the sleepy little side street across from Stephen & Penelope. Master dyer Leentje van Hengel is the creative brain behind the Tinctoria, and her previous work as a freelance textile designer had her working with the likes of Liberty of London and Capsicum (see below!). The little shop area gives way to the roomy workshop behind.
Capsicum offers a colourful and tastefully designed collection of hand-woven textiles from India. Silk, linen and cotton bedding, curtains, home decorations, and bolts of fabric make for a feast of colour and texture. Their window displays are always remarkable, displaying dress forms draped gorgeously with their signature romantic style.
Where do the locals go for coffee and cakes? In our neighbourhood, it’s Betty Blue every time. With enough space to spread your yarns out and get knitting, whilst indulging in a piece of red velvet cake - or my favourite, the custard-filled pastel de nata (Portuguese tarts). Betty’s has kept us fed during many meetings, design developments, and relaxing lunches, and remains a favourite. Pro tip: Dutch service is not what you have come to expect in the US or the UK! You might need to get the attention of the server, or go up to order. I’ve gotten used to this in my years in the city, but you might need to go Dutch and get your own menu!
Adjacent to the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood, and a quick walk from Stephen & Penelope, the Staalstraat is a great little shopping hot spot, and in it you’ll find some real treasures.
Photo courtesy of Puccini
Nothing goes together better than yarn and chocolate, right? Well, we have one of the world’s top chocolatiers in our fair city. Puccini is a dream of a chocolate boutique, with mounds of truffles perched on pedestals, beckoning for you to try them. All chocolates are made fresh daily in the Staalstraat location. Be aware: these little nuggets of cocoa gold are pricey, but worth every penny. My personal favourite: Honey. Or Hazelnut. I can never decide, so I just get them both.
If you’re into design houses, you’re probably already familiar with Droog Design. They’ve engineered and produced some sharp products, and it’s definitely worth a wander through their design shop/garden/cafe. You can even stay the night in their one-room hotel. Droog is a meandering labyrinth of eye candy and inspiration. You can get lost for hours in their playful and colourful maze, or do what Stephen does and spend the afternoon knitting in their cafe.
Negen Straatjes Neighborhood (Nine Little Streets)
The Negen Straatjes neighbourhood in Amsterdam is just that, nine short streets in a parallel grid separated by six bridges and three canals. It’s a popular boutique shopping destination for locals and tourists alike, and even though some bigger brands have found their way into the neighbourhood, the area still has lots of little, independently owned boutiques to visit.
Photo courtesy of Laura Dols
For a true and honest vintage shopping experience, Laura Dols is the best place in the Nine Streets. The classic Amsterdam two-level shop is simply packed with amazing vintage clothing and accessories. Their lower level is a treasure trove of vintage party dresses! Focused on the 1950’s, this is a vintage shop that a woman of a certain age can really appreciate. None of the 80’s and 90’s getups found at modern vintage shops.
Episode is a chain vintage store with numerous locations in the Netherlands as well as Belgium, Copenhagen, and Paris. I’ve found many a second-hand dress in Episode, and you can easily leave happy for under €25! You will find a range of 70’s - 90’s outfits in this vintage shop, but the sheer volume of clothing and options means that you will find something can’t leave without.
Photo courtesy of Exota
The classic indie boutique, Exota was started in 1981 as a market stall on the infamous Noordermarkt, then as a small shop in the Jordaan area, and finally in their current location in the Negen Straatjes. They’ve since expanded to two locations, opposite each other on the Hartenstraat. Exota is the home of the vintage-inspired brand King Louie, a brand known for classic shapes and colourful, upbeat patterns.
Amsterdam Noord (NDSM) Neighbourhood
NDSM was the name of the old shipping company that ran the warehouses in this part of North Amsterdam. The warehouse area was built to fit commercial transportation ships and was the centre for repair and building of ships back when Amsterdam was still the shipping centre of the Netherlands. It has long since been moved to Rotterdam, but the bones of the ship building industry are still quite visible in Amsterdam.
Often just called NDSM, today it has been reclaimed for artists and creative businesses. Sometimes there are huge rummage sales going on here, or festivals in the terrain surrounding the warehouse, but usually it’s just business as usual for the artists whose businesses reside there. Take a nice walk through the building on your way to the Noorderlicht Cafe or Pllek (see below) and just enjoy the eclectic look of the building. It’s also a great place for a photo shoot.
To get to the NDSM neighbourhood, you’ll be taking the ferry behind Amsterdam Centraal Station. These ferries are free and leave every 15 minutes to a half hour, depending on the time of day. For NDSM, be sure to queue up for the left-most ferry line. There are two other destinations leaving from this dock and they go to different parts of Amsterdam Noord.
Photo courtesy of Pllek
Part of Amsterdam’s charm lies in the re-imagining of objects for different uses. Pllek is a contemporary cafe/restaurant that is made with disused shipping containers, steel and glass. It’s an impressive structure with a clever nod to the shipping roots of the area. They serve classic Dutch cafe type food with a twist, and always have several vegetarian options on the menu.
Photo courtesy of Van Dijk en Ko
One of my very favourite places in Amsterdam for home decor is Van Dijk en Ko. The massive warehouse houses an enormous variety of bohemian and Hungarian furniture, brought to Amsterdam, cleaned up and restored. If you’ve ever dreamed of the perfect armoire, this place is for you. The only problem is, how will you get your amazing new armoire back home?
Crafty Destinations (not by neighbourhood)
Central Amsterdam’s oldest standing yarn shop, and the only one that existed when Stephen & Penelope first opened six years ago, this shop carries just about everything from Rowan Yarns and Addi needles, but also boasts an extensive collection of books in Dutch, English, Estonian, and just about any knitting language there is. You’ll find many little treasures in their quaint, typical Dutch shop, and their small upstairs is a heaven for needlework enthusiasts, and they have an impressive assortment of needlework threads.
Many classic Dutch specialist businesses have gone away over the years, but the Knopenwinkel (Button shop in Dutch) remains. Almost a museum of special and interesting buttons, this destination may be a little overwhelming. Most of their assortment is imported especially for them, and they carry a wide range of vintage and end-of-the-line buttons perfect for home sewers and couture designers alike.
Photo courtesy of Bird Blocks
The go-to shop in Amsterdam for quilters! All your speciality quilting supplies and advice in one spot! Make time to visit this jewel in the centre of Amsterdam if you’re a quilter. It’s within walking distance of Dam Square and Centraal Station.
One final tip - Should I rent a bicycle in Amsterdam?
Bicycles have ruled Amsterdam since the 1920’s, and that hasn’t changed. If you’re a confident cyclist, if you can handle the stress of bicycles coming at you from every angle, if you’re an adventure seeker, and especially if you have a local to ride with, then yes! It’s a very quick and efficient way to see the city and the wider neighbourhoods. The freedom of riding a bike everywhere is an amazing feeling.
If you crack under pressure, if loud noises make you jump, maybe go it on foot. Amsterdam is compact and extremely walkable. The trams and metro can also get you just about everywhere you want to go for not a whole lot of money. Pick up an iAmsterdam pass and it will include all your museum visits as well as public transportation.
Want to know more about the bicycle culture in Amsterdam? I recommend picking up a copy of Pete Jordan’s In the City of Bikes, an amazingly well-researched look at the history behind the culture of the Dutch bicycle.
Thanks Malia! Stay tuned for more cities from your fellow knitters coming soon...
xxx Pom Pom