Coming Full Circle

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had careers as an attorney, a stay at home mom, and a high school English teacher.  Throughout each, the pleasure I’ve found in writing, conversation, and knitting have remained constant.  Now that I have the privilege of owning a yarn shop along with two wonderful partners, I’m going to indulge those interests by writing this blog, which I hope will foster a sense of community and spark conversation.  You – and your comments – are an essential ingredient in its success.  Please take a few minutes to share your stories and thoughts.   -Brenda

A few weeks ago my husband (a real estate lawyer) and I were driving down a commercial street lined with “For Lease” signs, and he commented on the fact that the internet is really killing “bricks and mortar” businesses.  Of course, when he said this I cringed, immediately thinking of our small knit shop, not because I’m now an owner, but because of all that would be lost if our “bricks and mortar” business – and small local businesses generally – don’t survive this internet age.  I thought of how easy it is to buy yarn online and watch Youtube videos demonstrating new techniques, and I wondered about our small shop’s future.  I thought of how creative we’d need to be to survive in this internet age.  But I also thought of all the knit shop offers that the internet doesn’t.

Twenty-five years ago, when I first walked into the shop and told the women sitting at the table (If you’re a long-time Baltimore knitter, you’ll know it was probably Doris, Rochelle, Susie, and/or Lou) that I’d tried knitting in high school, hadn’t gotten very far, and wanted to try and knit a scarf.  They replied in a chorus: “Oh you don’t need to start with a  scarf.  If you can knit and purl, you can knit a sweater.”  They assured me that they’d give me whatever support I needed and, since I could start with a toddler-sized sweater (I had a 2-year-old daughter and a year-old son), I decided to give it a go.

Neither of my children ever wore that first sweater, a chunky red cardigan with tube-like arms sticking out at right angles.  But the women in the shop, who had supported me every step of the way, encouraged me to keep going, and soon I was knitting sweaters for my children that I was proud to share.  Here’s my all-time favorite:

Since that time, I’ve found much more than yarn and patterns at the knit shop.  I’ve found practical help that enabled me to try increasingly difficult patterns and techniques.  I’ve found inspiration for new projects.  I’ve found someone to help me think through cryptic instructions, and, when I’ve been uncertain about my color choice or gauge, I’ve found expert advice.  I’ve found knitters who commiserate with me as I rip out my work, people to “ooh and aah” over my finished projects, and folks who make me feel less guilty about the size of my yarn stash.  And, finally, I’ve found things that can’t be precisely labelled or measured; I’ve found conversation, friendship, and a sense of community.  When life has seemed challenging, I’ve always known that I can pull a chair up to the yarn shop table and find the therapy I’ve needed, whether it’s a sympathetic ear or just some good knitting chatter.  At the knit shop, I’ve found time out from the periodic craziness of everyday life.

I know it’s a cliche, but many mornings when I slip my key into the shop door I need to remind myself that I’m not dreaming, that it’s a day in which I’ll have the opportunity to work side by side not only with extraordinary partners and staff, but also with customers as they contemplate colors and patterns, correct their mistakes, or figure out a set of instructions.  I’ll watch customers squeeze skeins and run the yarn between their fingers, imagining how it might be to knit or wear.  I’ll see someone hold a skein up to her cheek to see how it feels and arrange and rearrange skeins of yarn on the table to find the perfect color combination.  I’ll laugh together with like-minded knitters as we play “true confessions” about our stashes and unfinished projects, and on a really good day, someone will come in to share a beautiful finished object.

Since walking into the shop over 25 years ago as a new knitter I’ve come full circle, and while the internet has emerged as a challenging force, the essence of our small shop – much more than “bricks and mortar” – endures.



Fair Isle Friday

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There’s a lot to be said for fair isle, that lovely stranded color work technique that produces shock and awe responses in the uninitiated.  Even intermediate knitters who have not tried fair isle can be intimidated by its polished and impressive look.  While it looks daunting, it’s not as tricky as it seems.

In traditional fair isle, only two colors are used per row, with additional colors added or alternated in subsequent rows of a fair isle pattern. The other saving grace of many fair isle knit pieces is that they are done completely in the round, as in a yoke of a pullover or a hat.  Circular fair isle utilizes only knit rows, making the alternating of colors much more accessible and easy.  Fair isle knit back and forth requires knit and purl rows and, believe me, it’s just not as fun.

The truly hardcore fair isle knit is the one that is “steeked” to make a cardigan or armhole openings in a top-down knit sweater.  This endeavor is for the knitter with a sewing machine, scissors and no fear!  Steeking lets you knit every round of a fair isle motif, but allows for extra stitches within the body of the piece at the front where the cardigan will open.  Generally these extra stitches are not patterned and are reinforced with vertical lines of machine sewn seams after the knitting is complete.  The machine stitching on either side of the extra stitches locks the knitting on either side and allows you to CUT through the middle of the extra stitches.  Once this leap of faith has occurred, raw stitches are picked up on either side to knit cardigan bands.

In the end, the beauty is obvious.  Fair Isle and steeking aren’t for everyone, but Karen Brehm makes it look easy. Here is the progression of Karen’s baby sweater from Dale Booklet 142, Design 6 using Canopy Fingering from the Fibre Company.  Sleeves were knit first on dpns, then body from the bottom up.  Sleeves and body are then joined when it’s time to knit the color work yoke.  In this piece, the picked up button and buttonhole bands fold over to the inside to provide a completely finished look.  Bravo KB!!!

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