Let’s be honest: when you hear the words sewing, felting, and crocheting, what images are conjured in your head? Exactly.
Well, think again.
Walking down Queen Street West, I peek inside the workroom, Toronto’s hip “by the hour” mecca for sewing gods and goddesses, and the Knit Cafe, a Starbucks-like noshery where you’ll find not only rows upon rows of very expensive Alpaca-and-wool-blended yarns, but a top-of-the-line espresso machine for those late night mistake-fixing classes. What *is * this coolness I’ve stumbled upon, I think? Was it some kind of tasteful way to protest pending women’s rights legislation? No, it wasn’t that. Was it some kind of modern day Jonestown whose goal was to trick passers-by into joining? Nope, not that either.
Baking, gardening, sewing, and especially knitting, are all the rage among educated, liberal young women (and men, surprisingly) who are doffing the very ideals our feminist forebears of the 60’s and 70’s worked so hard to achieve. These knit grrls, or “crafty girls”, as they refer to themselves, aren’t your typical postmodern Republican, conservative women of yore. On the contrary. These are Kathleen Hanna worshipping, Green Day listening, The Clash t-shirt sporting domestics who darn socks, design their own patterns, hem skirts and mulch gardens with all the plenitude of Hillary Clinton in her Wellesley College heyday. The formerly archaic and hoary notions of female domesticity existing to “tend the hearth and home” all of a sudden have hipster cachet; street cred, if you will. Take a jaunt through the trendiest of neighbourhoods and you’ll find a plethora of craft stores going up quicker than Michael Jackson’s hair on fire. In fact, a simple Google search returns scores of these emporiums where their punk rock members with punk rock ethos sport profile names such as “knittybitch”, “obsidian kitten” and “metal and knit”, and share tips on knitting the latest iPod cozy and skull-and-crossbones scarf. Needlepoint patterns that say “Beeyotch” in Edwardian Script and pink rhinestone-studded knitting needles abound. Forget Star Wars. Today there’s Stitch Wars. “An alliance of crafty rebel artists” wielding their mighty crochet hooks, knitting clips and row counters, exhibiting their crafty prowess, and who created seriously amazing handmade goods inspired by the greatest trilogy there ever was. No, this new esthetic was no prank, no ruse at all. That’s not to say, of course, that all of today’s knitters don faux hawks or rock out to the Dead Kennedys, but crafts are definitely not just for grannies anymore.
Never one to let hipness pass me by, and because I like manhandling hot wool yarn in 30C temps, I decided I needed to get in on this crafty action. Enter Lettuce Knit, a tiny Toronto shop selling gloriously coloured yarns made only of 100% natural fibres and whose owner, nicknamed the “Yarn Harlot”, has a cult following that rivals Madonna (I’m not kidding). Craft classes abound at Lettuce Knit, covering everything from “Math for Knitters” and “Owls Sweater — Make It A Cardigan” to “Design Your Own Knee Socks” and “Magic Loop Legwarmers”. The “Learn to Knit” class, their most popular, promises its students that they’ll have made a super cool scarf by the end of two classes. They hadn’t yet met me yet, though, so a kink of the armour, or kink in the yarn I should say, was still a possibility. Nevertheless, I packed up my loaned needles the size of chopsticks, two itchy skeins of acrylic (gasp!) yarn and off I went.
In the span of my two week knitting career, I’ve learned the long-tail cast on, the garter stitch, the cast off, and how to avoid poking myself in the eye with my needles from sheer frustration. Let me just say…knitting ain’t easy! Thwarted by twisted wool, I refused to be, and I had to man up and persevere. While I may or may not have spent more time unknitting than knitting in the last two weeks, I now have six whole rows — six! — of an (almost) perfectly knitted scarf. It’s actually more of a bug’s blanket at this point, but who cares. There’s something calming, cathartic and almost zen-like about knitting. It feels so good to be making something with my hands — a completely new concept for this city girl — rather than spending my days (and nights) typing away on a laptop 24/7. And, even though I’m knitting about as fast as you can say “US healthcare debate passed”, it doesn’t really matter because winter won’t be here for three more months weeks anyway.
Feminist or not, the crafty girls sure know how to have fun and create a revolution at the same time (sound familiar, moms of the 60’s?). In short turn, I have officially become a knitting evangelist. I now carry around my fuzzy balls of yarn and needles with me wherever I go, and smile and nod when the Ukranian ladies from Roncesvalles try to correct my technique on the streetcar. When I tell people I’m learning to knit, they either laugh or stare at me quizically. I don’t care, though — I absolutely love it! Clearly, stitchin’ has become totally bitchin’. Socks, anyone?
[Ed. note: I was kindly informed post publication that Stephanie, the Yarn Harlot, is someone entirely different than Megan, the Lettuce Knit owner. Oops. Note to self: next time, check facts!]