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Knitting isn’t just for grandma anymore

on February 11, 2011

Cherrie Tan, a high school senior, has been going to Oakland’s Lakeview library every week for the last year, but she’s not there to check out books, surf the Internet or read—she’s there to knit. For her first project she made a knitted stuffed animal rabbit, for her second she made house slippers; now she’s working on a collaborative blanket for her knitting teacher with several others who gather at the library each week.

Part social, part class, this library knitting circle, called “All Knit,” is one of several knitting groups to have popped up in the East Bay over the last few years. There’s also “Knitty with Kitty” with KALX DJ Kitty at Mama Buzz Café in downtown Oakland, “Stitch ‘N Bitch” at Article Pract yarn store in Temescal, “East Bay Chicks with Sticks” in Clayton, and “StitchedTogether” in Berkeley.

Cherrie Tan works on knitting part of a blanket.

These are not your grandmother’s knitting groups. “At my school, tons of kids knit in class,” Tan says. “Knitting is popular now.”

Lisa Ellis has been a volunteer knitting instructor at the library since last summer, and says the group runs the gamut of skill levels and ages, including elementary school kids and people who have been knitting for more than 30 years. For this group, there are a couple of volunteer instructors and anyone can drop by, get help and knit for free; needles, yarn and patterns are provided. “We get together and knit and teach,” Ellis says. “When new people come in we see if they’d like to learn.”

Across town, at Article Pract yarn store, the isles are filled with different textures of yarn, from soft ecologically friendly cotton to knotted wool to fuzzy mohair. They come in descriptive names like Colorado spruce, smokey grape, goldilocks, and doe skin. Jennifer Silver Reed, who works in the store, says that the clientele isn’t what you’d expect. “It’s certainly not the little old ladies,” she says. “We have lots of kids and tweens who are learning how to knit.”

Reed leads the store’s “Stitch ‘N Bitch” group and says that the idea of stitching and bitching is longstanding. Originally conceived in a 2003 book called Stitch ‘N Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook written by Debbie Stoller, the idea is to popularize knitting and encourage these types of groups all over. “It is kind of like our bible,” Reed says. “We get together and chat. It’s a way to open it up and make it less formal than paying for a class.”

Regardless of where people may be knitting, the reasons for taking up the hobby seem to be universal— it’s both soothing and fun. Ellis, the instructor at the library, says she knits during work meetings because it helps keep her focused. “My hands just go on autopilot,” she says.

Knitter Bob Baty works on a new hat.

Another regular at the library, Bob Baty, started knitting seven months ago and says it helps him concentrate. “When I was in junior high, they’d teach the girls to knit,” says Baty, who is middle-aged now. Although he never tried it, knitting always intrigued him. When he saw the flier in the library about “All Knit,” he decided to give it a try. It turned out he had a natural talent for the craft.

“We brag on him a lot,” Ellis says. His second project was an intricate hat that had six different types of stitching with cables, braiding and one stitch he invented himself that he describes as a bobble pattern. He says he enjoys the creativity of knitting, and says, “it’s a type of art work.”

“All Knit” is every Thursday at the Lakeview Branch library from 3:30-5 p.m., and is free. Beginners are welcome and needles and yarn are available. “Stitch ‘N Bitch” is every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Article Pract; it’s free and people should bring their own supplies. “Knitty with Kitty” is the third Sunday of every month at 1 p.m. at Mama Buzz Café; it’s also free, open to knitters of all levels and people should bring their own supplies. More information on “StitchedTogether,” “East Bay Chicks with Sticks” and other nearby groups can be found here.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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