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Sisters of the stitch

Times Staff Writer

For years, newspaper and magazine articles have been calling it “the new yoga.” Knitting -- that former favorite pastime of nubby-knuckled old ladies -- has not only caught on with a new generation, it’s exploded.

Since 1998, the number of 35-and-younger knitters has more than doubled. But as big a trend as knitting has become, it’s still hard for young women to find other young women who share their passion for yarns and needles.

“Nobody else I know gets it,” said Shanita Williams, 39, moderator of the L.A. group Stitch ‘n Bitch, a community of women who like to while away the hours making sweaters, scarves and booties. “I’m a crafty chick. I make jewelry, I knit, I crochet. None of my other friends do that.”

Williams is one of about 150 women in the L.A. Stitch ‘n Bitch -- a group of women who keep secret stashes of yarn in their handbags, who crochet in line at the post office, who take pride in wearing the fruits of their labor, oftentimes high-fashion items that could have cost hundreds but only set them back a few skeins’ worth of cash.

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Every other Tuesday, about 20 of them get together in person to work their needles and swap stories. During a recent meeting at the UnUrban Coffee House in Santa Monica, the back room was abuzz with laughter and conversation that was more about stitching than bitching. Two women compared work on the pairs of socks they were knitting. Another showed off the fluffy pink hat and scarf set she’d made for a friend’s baby.

“I didn’t want to sit around with my grandma,” said Faith Landsman, 32, a limo service owner who is also a rabid crocheter. “I wanted to sit around with women my own age, people I have something in common with.”

The group to which Williams and Landsman belong was formed a year and a half ago as an offshoot of the original Stitch ‘n Bitch in New York, founded in 1999 by Debbie Stoller. The editor of Bust, a magazine for hip, feminist-minded young women, Stoller fell so in love with knitting in the late ‘90s that she wanted to do little else.

She started the group “because if I didn’t find a way to combine socializing with my knitting, I wasn’t going to see anybody anymore,” she said. “I had become so obsessed.”

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Stoller had tried to talk about mohair alpaca blends and cell phone cozy patterns with her boyfriend and friends, but they weren’t interested.

“They knew me as editor of Bust and as a feminist, and they thought it was weird I was so interested in knitting,” she said.

But Stoller, who’s been at the vanguard of third-wave feminism since co-founding Bust in the early ‘90s, doesn’t find anything retrograde in knitting: “It’s a very feminist thing to try to keep these crafts alive that women spent so many hundreds of years engaged in.”

She started to “take back the knit,” as she says, in Bust, writing articles about it “to raise the visibility and value of this really important craft which, along with a whole bunch of other things women used to engage a lot of time in, [was] being lost.” In addition to forming the original Stitch ‘n Bitch at the Java ‘n Jazz cafe in New York -- a group emulated in numerous cities around the U.S. -- Stoller also runs a knitting Web site (www.KnitHappens.com) and recently published a book. “Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook” is a playful introduction to knitting, including tools of the trade, how to get started, patterns for fun and funky items like Pippi kneestockings and marsupial tote bags, as well as knitting’s history.

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“Knitting is something that has gone in and out of fashion in cycles, and those cycles seem to correspond with trends in the different ways of feminism,” said Stoller. “Women are like, ‘We’re not going to knit anymore. We’re going to do important things like ride bicycles!’ Then the next generation says, ‘We’re going to knit again.’

“Clearly, all these things that women were barred from doing became very important for women to get into doing,” she added, “but that doesn’t mean that the things they always did were in and of themselves oppressive and bad.”

Stoller’s embrace of knitting may be an indicator of a softer, less strident form of feminism -- one that’s less about women equaling men and more about embracing “women’s work” on their own terms. No longer obligated to knit for their families, women do it because they want to. Sure, they make socks for their husbands and children, but it’s less for practicality than for creative fulfillment and relaxation.

“The whole thing with knitting and crocheting is it’s something we’re creating ourselves, and it’s something that’s not pressured,” said Anita Goswami at the UnUrban. “It’s getting away from your television, your car, the pressure of living in this society.”

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Knitting picks

Meetings

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Church of Craft, https://groups.yahoo.com/group/lachurchofcraft.; E-mail: Allison@churchof craft.org. Meets monthly. Free.

Jefferson Park Public Library, 2211 W. Jefferson Blvd., LA.

(323) 734-8573. Thursdays, 4-5 p.m. Free.

Midday Knitters Anonymous, Silverlake Coffee Co., 2388 Glendale Blvd., L.A. E-mail: workdayknitters@yahoo.com. Mondays, 1-3 p.m. Free.

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Stitch ‘n Bitch, UnUrban Coffee House, 3301 Pico Blvd.,

Santa Monica. (310) 315-0056. https://groups.yahoo.com/group/stitchnbitch-losangeles. Every other Tuesday, 7-9 p.m. Free. (Next meeting is Dec. 2)

Classes

Knit Cafe, 8441 Melrose Ave., L.A. (323) 658-5648. www.KnitCafe.com. Beginner knitting, $55; beginner crochet, $35; project class, $55; kids beginner class, $55; kids project class, $45; private instruction, $50/hour. Prices exclude materials.

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La Knitterie Parisienne, 12642 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

(818) 766-1515. www.LaKnitterieParisienne.com. Free instructions and classes with yarn purchase.

Suss Design, 7350 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 954-9637. www.SussDesign.com. Tuesdays, 5:30-7:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-noon. Beginners, $89/3 classes. Advanced, $49/3 classes. Project classes, $40-45/project.

Wildfiber, 1453 E. 14th St.,

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Santa Monica. (310) 458-2748. www.Wildfiber.com. Beginning, advanced and special-project classes available. Call or log on for times, dates and prices.

National organizations

and conferences

Knitting Guild of America (www.tkga.com): Hosts regional conferences and offers knitting correspondence courses.

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Craft Yarn Council (www.CraftYarnCouncil.com): Hosts annual Knit-Out events each September.

Knitting Universe (www.KnittingUniverse.com): Offers regional camps called Stitches. Next Southern California Camp Stitches is Jan. 22-26 at the Historic Mission Inn in Riverside.

Online resources

www.knitlist.com. Clearinghouse site.

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www.knitty.com. Online magazine.

www.knitting.about.com. Free knitting patterns.


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