By KARIN E. SHAH
Editor’s Note: The writer is a resident of London, England, and is a sometimes visitor to Tulsa, a city she enjoys very much, and where she has found time to do some of her knitting.
“Knitting, you say?” Yes, knitting. It has become a fashionable trend all over the world. Many women, and even some men, have picked up needles and started to knit. Well, it’s not just needles that have been picked up; of course yarn is needed too.
New yarn shops are springing up everywhere. New yarn labels are being created and more and more types of yarns are being sold. Some yarns are very luxurious: cashmere, alpaca, merino, soy silk, silk, hemp, angora and linen yarns to name just a few.
The amazing thing about knitting is the way it has evolved from an activity usually associated with a granny in a rocking chair or a British nanny in the nursery to something that can be done practically anywhere by people of most ages. The knitting needles have left the rocking chair and the nursery and have marched their way into the 21st century. Knitters across the globe are meeting each other to socialize, chat and knit. These meetings are affectionately known as a “Stitch n’ Bitch.”
The humble yarn shop has become a mecca of sorts for knitters, to teach and to learn. It serves as a central meeting point to share information about yarns, magazines, patterns and other knitting-related news. The local yarn shop, also known as “LYS” usually has a list of all the Stitch n’ Bitch groups that are holding meetings in the shop itself, or in the area.
But knitting communities are not restricted to the “real world.” There is a thriving virtual world of knitting communities on the Internet. Knitters have jumped into the cyberworld with enthusiasm and gusto. Among the many virtual communities one can find chat rooms; yarn manufacturers’ web sites, patterns and knitters’ blogs.
Blogs have become the primary tool for knitters to tell the world about their craft and display their pieces. A Blog, which is a virtual diary, is an excellent tool for the knitter to write about the progress, the learning curve, the yarn and all other aspects of the knitting craft.
Some knitting blogs have about 1,000 or more daily readers. Readers can interact with the writer via a comment box and post their comments about the articles they read.
Why have a blog? Why tell the world? Well, there is not much point in spending a long time knitting something for only a few to see. Or the worst-case scenario (from a knitter’s point of view) is that people will think it is a store-bought bought sweater! There is no greater joy to a knitter than to be asked: “Where did you get your sweater?” only to respond with “I knitted it myself!”
Some bloggers have even published books. The most famous is Canadian Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. She is known to bloggers all over the world is as “The Yarn Harlot.” So far, she has published two books and done book tours throughout Canada and the USA. Knitting, blogging and writing about it has certainly expanded Stephanie’s world!
Other knitters have met online and opened up yarn shops together. Others have met in a knitting chat room, started a blog together and are joint-publishing knitting books. These are not simply pattern books, but books about the craft of knitting, stories about knitting and the knitter. Other books are fiction with a bit of knitting thrown in, like Maggie Sefton’s popular “Knit one, Kill two.” Then there are the designers who design knitting patterns. Yarn companies publish their own pattern books and these patterns bolster the company’s yarn sales. They either have their own in-house designers or the yarn and designer are one and the same, like Debbie Bliss in Britain or Jo Sharp in Australia.
At the end of this month the new spring pattern books will be published. This is something that knitters all over the world look forward to with great anticipation. But it’s not just new patterns that will be released, but also new yarns. Yarns for spring and summer are usually cotton, linen, silk or mixes. The colors are more vibrant then the winter versions. Sometimes knitting patterns are very fashion forward. Patterns for ponchos, for example, were published about two years before the recent poncho craze caught on with the general public.
This might be due to the amount of time it takes to actually knit something. True knitting takes time, sometimes a lot of time. An average sweater requires about two pounds of yarn. Yarn is either sold by weight or by length. The thickness of the yarn also counts. Thick yarn is faster to knit up but it will take more of it for a project. Thin yarn weighs less but the yardage is a lot longer. Longer yardage takes longer to knit. For a beginner, thicker yarn will bring a faster result and the satisfaction of actually finishing a project.
Personally, I like to knit with most yarns. I do one project with thin yarn and then usually do my next one with thicker yarn. In 2005, I knitted about 40 different projects. Some were small, like mittens and socks. Others were big, like sweaters in thin yarn with lots of different colours. I take the same approach with patterns. I like easy patterns followed by complicated ones that require more than one colour.
I knit the big projects at home and take other smaller projects out and about with me. Doing bits and pieces about town is much more enjoyable when one has knitting needles along with. I can knit while I am in a line, waiting in a doctor’s office, while using public transport or when I am the passenger in a car (but driving and knitting at the same time is not recommended!) Typical “on-the-go” projects are small and portable like socks, sleeves or baby projects.
Knitters like to travel, and while most other tourists hunt for souvenirs, knitters look for the nearest yarn shop and search for new and different yarns. A word to the wise: companions of the knitting traveller should leave some room in the suitcase for all the yarn the knitter will bring home! Knitter-travellers are overjoyed that most airlines will allow knitting needles in the cabins again. There is no better way than knitting to wile away time on a long flight.
Some people collect stamps or coins, the knitter collects yarn. At home all this yarn becomes known as the “yarn stash.” Before I became enmeshed in the international knitting world I used to buy yarn for one project, knit it and then return to the shop to buy the yarn for my next project. Then, one of my knitting friends told me about a yarn sale. Yarn is expensive and an average sweater easily costs US $80 or more. One must never dismiss a half-price sale. After all, one can buy twice as much! Of course, all this yarn has to be stored somewhere at home. I have resorted to storing most of my yarn on the far reached of the upper shelves of my child’s closet. My storage problem is not unique. Dedicated knitters all over the world face the same problem. I have heard, apparently, even unused soup tureens make a good storage space for yarn.
Here in London, the famous department store Liberty’s has a sale on twice a year. Liberty’s is an amazing store and not just for knitters. It is in the centre of London and it has become the centre for London’s knitters and visitors. Knitters meet at Liberty’s on a weekly basis for a Stitch n’ Bitch in one of the store’s restaurants. I feel quite fortunate to live here in London and to be able to go to Liberty’s once in a while. I’ve also met some amazing people thanks to knitting, many of them through my blog, which I started about eight months ago.
People have been quietly “knitting and purling” for centuries. Now, thanks to the Internet, it has woven itself into modern life and captured the interest and enthusiasm of many around the world. Remember, when life gets a tad stressful, a Stitch & Bitch is good therapy!
“Knit one, Kill two” Maggie Sefton, Berkley Prime Crime, New York 2005
“At Knit’s End, Meditations for Women who Knit too much” Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Storey Publishing, United States 2005
“Yarn Harlot, the Secret Life of a Knitter” Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City 2005