Music-filled knitting shop is a real pearl

The Christmas Sweater Festival at the Echoplex music club was holiday programming for the tongue-in-cheek generation. The Echo Park venue was awash in appliqued snowmen, flashing pompoms and teal-colored squirrels.

One of the bands on the bill, Pity Party, showed up the other revelers. Chunky red-and-green striped with chubby "Ps" -- the band's initials -- on the front, their sweaters were hand-knit by lead singer Julie Edwards and guitarist Marc Smollin.

It really wasn't fair. Edwards is not only a wizard knitter, she also teaches needle craft at her own shop, The Little Knittery, tucked behind a frontage road in Atwater Village. Los Angeles has thousands of musicians -- and most have day jobs. Edwards has taken hers to another level, weaving her life as an artist and as a small-business owner together into a modern-day salon.

On a given day, crocheters, a costume designer and semi-famous band members, most in their 20s, huddle on the vintage furniture in her tiny store, discussing bunko psychics, crafts and band shake-ups. Baskets of yarn arranged in color groups line the wall, and Edwards' handiwork is scattered about: hand-warmers, knitted owls and Fair Isle hats.

The mix of people makes for incongruities: a middle-aged woman advised Edwards on her romance with a world-famous rock star. Male hipsters exclaimed over scarf and sweater projects by women their mothers' ages. And this reporter batted around mother-daughter issues with a teenage knitting prodigy. I've been going there for a year and I've learned as much about aesthetics as about knitting.

"This is the best thing ever for touring," Orfeo McCord said earlier this month, working on a birthday scarf for his mom.

McCord, percussionist in the bands Fool's Gold and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, met Edwards at a music festival and soon was launching his first knitting project.

"It's meditative," he said. "Bands can do it when they're waiting, instead of smoking cigarettes."

Against a sonic backdrop of custom playlists -- lately, obscure 1960s soul, John Lennon and the Strange Boys, an Austin, Texas, garage band -- Edwards makes everyone part of the flow.

"Sometimes it's hard to make everybody feel like they're in here together," she said, but it usually works. Two of her customers met in a knitting class, had their first date at a Pity Party show and later married, she said.

The daughter of veteran Los Angeles broadcaster Steve Edwards, and sister of Greg Edwards of the L.A. band Auto Orchestra, Edwards met Smollin when they were 12, doing musical theater. They took the leads in a production of "Little Shop of Horrors" at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks. Edwards went on to film school at New York University, forming the band with Smollin after her return to Los Angeles.

Pity Party's fierce performances inspire such rock critic comments as "artfully skronk-ish guitars and malevolent, beats-driven soundscapes" (Time Out London) and "angular, drone-punk racket" (New Musical Express, also of London).

Basically, the band produces an amazing volume of sound for only two people. Edwards (whose stage name is "Heisenflei") plays drums with "three limbs," as she describes it, two legs and one arm, while the other hand plays the keyboard, knocking out contrapuntal rhythms. Smollin ("M") plays the guitar and foot-controlled Autolux Orchestra. Edwards' ethereal vocals float above the fray.

"We're exploring the infinite within the finite," she said. "How the limitations of the two of us create something new we didn't intend."

In performance at the Echoplex, Edwards, wearing green gym shorts and boots beneath the DIY sweater, was a wild froth of pumping limbs and copper-colored tendrils.

"What you represent for a lot of young women is breaking stereotypes to play drums or do rock 'n' roll," McCord said later. "I can see their brains fantasizing what it would be like to be up there."

Edwards is as calm at her shop as she is wild in performance. But she displays the same polymathic tendencies. In the space of five minutes, she oversees a beginner's crochet project, races through her own scarf design, unknits a student's mistakes, welcomes new customers, chats with friends and answers e-mail.

"You're on Row 3," she said one afternoon a week before Christmas, saving a knitter from veering off pattern. How did she know that? McCord wondered.

"The key is to make it look intentional," she told a crocheter facing a problem with her scarf.

That could be the metaphor for Edwards' life. With the music industry's business model in its death throes, it is challenging to make a living as a musician, she said.

"It's a lot of sticking to something against all odds, something there is really no demand for," she said. "You have to constantly find ways to motivate yourself. The minute it feels like a chore, it just dies. . . . I've recently recognized how hard it is to nurture both" the band and shop.

On the other hand, "I've been loving the store a lot lately and it's been loving me," Edwards said. "I really love my customers. They're great human beings. . . . My customers are really hardy people. They have to figure out how to drive into this little weird street, and I'm sometimes not open."

Contemplating her two worlds, she said: "I guess I could want the band to explode so I could drop the shop and live the disastrous carefree life of a rock star, instead of the organized, polite life of knitting shop owner. But I don't want to quit either of them."

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gale.holland@latimes.com

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