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September 15, 2011 / whirlingneedles

A trip to the Strategic Wool Reserve


The Strategic Wool Reserve is deep in the bowels of the basement under the Agency Headquarters. To get to it, you have to first find the Agency Headquarters, which is of course classified at a Knit One level. (Knit One = “don’t tell the aliens.”) Once you find the Headquarters building, go to the Visitors’ Entrance, where you must prove to the guard that you know what to do with yarn. (This test involves a quiet room with a chair, a basket of yarn, a selection of hooks and needles, and a very long wait. No magazines, no books, no electronics allowed. If you take longer than five minutes to pick up the yarn and a hook or needle, you’re firmly but politely escorted out of the building.)

Once you’re past the building guard, you’ll be escorted by friendly Agency guides to the door marked “Basement.” To get past this door, you’ll need Purl Two level security clearance (Purl Two = “no, really, don’t tell the aliens.”) To get access to the Basement, a test of your skills will be posed. You had to prove you knew what to do with yarn just to get into the building, but here you’ll have to prove that you can follow a pattern. At the building entrance, the guard issued you a pass with a magnetic strip. Swipe the strip in the reader next to the Basement door, and a hatch will open in front of you. Inside will be yarn, a pattern, and either a crochet hook or a set of needles. Sit down in the chair next to the basement door and get to work. The pattern will be for a small swatch, so it won’t take very long. On busy days, there might be several other people knitting or crocheting a swatch. (The record is 33 swatchers at one time on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend.) Place your completed swatch into the slot and wait for the computer to analyze it. If you followed the pattern correctly, the basement door will open. Go on through, and walk down four flights of stairs to the very bottom.

At the very bottom of the staircase is a decontamination room. After the Horrible Moth Incident of 1937, everyone who enters the Strategic Wool Reserve must be decontaminated and dressed in a coverall, paper slippers, and a hairnet. Visitors wear a bright canary yellow set of borrowed coveralls, while Agency employees wear scarlet. After the decontamination shower finishes and the high-powered jets dry you off, climb into a set of coveralls and exit into the waiting room.

In the waiting room, you will be given a short quiz on yarn, knitting, and patterns. (One year, every single question was about Elizabeth Zimmerman. The Agency employee responsible now lives comfortably in a nice country home with a very high fence and knits lots of garter stitch.) Don’t worry, the questions aren’t hard, unless you’re an alien or a knitting muggle. Pass the quiz to be given K2Tog level security clearance. (“Seriously. No aliens allowed.”)

Finally! You enter the main entrance to the Strategic Wool Reserve! The sight of so much wool in one place has been known to cause severe reactions in those who are unprepared. You may wish to take a few trips to your local yarn store to prepare. It’s best to find out when new shipments come in so that you see as much yarn all at once as possible. Some more sensitive people may wish to visit a knitting conference, as the markets at conferences are generally quite large. Of course, these preparations are like jogging once around a high school track in preparation for a marathon, but some people find that they help. A fully trained nurse is on hand at all times at the entrance to the Reserve in case of emergency.

Are you visiting for something in particular? The Agency recommends that you have some idea of what you want when you visit the Reserve. Browsers tend to get lost in the vast space. Agency employees will attach a locator beacon to your coverall – if you find yourself severely dehydrated from hours or days of wandering in the fifteen foot stacks of wool, just pull the tab to activate the beacon and an employee will dispatch a search and rescue team. Don’t be alarmed, the search dogs are all very friendly.

If you need assistance finding a particular yarn, just ask an Agency employee (in a red coverall). They will direct you to the location of that yarn. A YPS (yarn positioning satellite) is available for rental for a minimal fee and will help you to find your way. If you are truly in need of one and only one yarn, some visitors find it helpful to be driven in an Agency electric cart directly to the yarn and then directly back out. The drivers of these carts are trained to ignore pleas to stop any place other than the indicated destination to help you with your will power. Strapping young people are also available for hire to carry your yarn for you. (Please don’t ask them to carry more than 75 skeins at any one time. Make multiple trips if you must.)

Once you have your yarn, head to the check out area. While your yarn purchase is being entered into the computer, you may wish to view the Wool Museum. This is where the most rare and valuable wool is kept in climate-controlled storage. Please do not touch it, breathe on it, or look at it very hard. This is fragile stuff. You will find historic yarn such as the leftovers from Queen Elizabeth I’s royal underpants, a skein spun by Maid Marian intended for Robin’s hood, a charred piece of Joan of Arc’s stockings, and much more.

Finally, your yarn purchase will be ready. Once again, you’ll have to show that you are worthy of this yarn. I hope you brought your three references from local yarn shop owners and/or Ravelry moderators. If not, you may not be granted the Cable Four security clearance (“SHHH!!!!”) and may be escorted out without your yarn!

The last step is to see the mortgage counselor. The rates are very favorable, and you will find the counselors friendly. Just sign on the dotted line, and you can take home that beautiful cashmere today!

Exit past the decontamination room, dropping off your coverall and having a friendly frisking by the Agency guard to check for contraband yarn, load your yarn into the freight elevator, and exit the building. If you need help loading your car with your new purchase, or need to rent a truck or a van, just let the parking attendant know.

Enjoy your new yarn, and enjoy the lower electricity rates when you use the wool as insulation this winter!

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