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Man About Town: In the Valley with one tight-knit group

FestivusTwo and a Half Men (tv program)Elizabeth TaylorDakota FanningTargetBetty White

Don't think of it as rush hour. Think of all those burning brake lights on the 101 as your own little red-light district, as beacons to fun and conviviality.

Follow them to Ventura Boulevard, off Coldwater, then left, to a nondescript storefront, where I'm going to introduce you to a bunch of singing, knitting and wine-drinking women of all ages.

Like knights of a round table, they gather each week, swords in hand, combining the fine art of knitting with the finer art of drinking wine. They call these gatherings sip-and-knits — chatty odes to the ancient art of sitting in circles and blathering about just anything.

As I left the knitting shop, they were singing road songs, I kid you not. I don't know whether it was raw joy over my departure, or whether they were high on yarn.

I'd like to think it was both.

Hey, Betty White, I think I found your next show.

A fan of big whopping non sequiturs (wine tasting and sweaters), I was drawn to La Knitterie Parisienne, a little shop across from Jerry's Deli, where the Olsen twins and Dakota Fanning learned to knit, where the kid from "Two and a Half Men" used to come to escape the madness of a sitcom set.

Not new, not even close, the shop has been here 18 years. Its Paris-born proprietor says she taught Elizabeth Taylor how to knit and is now passing along the craft to Bev and Jeanine and Mary and me, and anyone else who stops in.

Lessons are free — all Edith Eig asks is that you buy the supplies at her shop.

Which is a pretty remarkable offer. Can you imagine asking the club pro at Pebble Beach for free pointers just because you bought a dozen Titleists?

And this is indeed the Pebble Beach of yarn — wool, cashmere, hemp, corn, even bamboo blends are stuffed into cubbies. This isn't so much a store as it is a giant kitty toy.

I find this whole thing amazing, not just for the glib chumminess of the group — you know Valley girls — or the free lessons, or the inherent productivity of knitting, which turns idle time into a scarf, or a blanket, or even a stuffed bear.

I find it remarkable for the sense of instant kinship among strangers, in a town not particularly conducive to such. A well-balanced life has always seemed about 10% luck and 90% camaraderie. The luck, you can't control. The camaraderie can be pretty capricious too. So sometimes you just follow the brake lights.

The free happy juice doesn't hurt either; wine is a pretty reliable rallying point generally. What Edith and her merry band of knitters are really stitching each week is friendship. And you don't find that at Target.

"I never finish anything; I just love the yarn," says Bev Dalton, a regular.

"Everyone here was a stranger at one time," says Edith's husband, Merrill, who helps run the shop. "Now we even have a Festivus."

Festivus happens in December, when the sip-and-knit husbands come along, and the party swells to 60 to 70.

But really, the most charming aspect of the shop is these weekly sip-and-knits or, in my case, the sip-sip-sip-and-knits.

In the spirit of "trying anything once," I do one lousy stitch, just to prove I can roll with the best, then sit back and soak up the conversation, which runs the gamut from movies to marriage to politics (though that's one subject they mostly try to avoid).

"It's not about knitting; it's a slice of life," someone explains.

"No, it's not," I tease.

"It really is," they all assure me.

"I'm a psychologist," says Bonnie Auerbach, "and I totally recommend knitting … because when you're doing this it's hard to obsess over anything else."

These kibitzy seances take place every Wednesday around 6 p.m., and they have proved so popular that they have spread to late Saturday afternoons as well.

Members of the group have started book clubs, even taken trips together to Paris, where their guru Edith first started knitting when she was 5.

Like I said, when I left, they were all singing.

Actually, so was I.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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FestivusTwo and a Half Men (tv program)Elizabeth TaylorDakota FanningTargetBetty White
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