Thank god the knitting craze is upon us, just in time for sweater weather.
Vogue Knitting is flogging a book devoted to shrugs and mufflers crafted by famous fingers--Daryl Hannah, Eartha Kitt, Vanna White--entitled Celebrity Scarves. And two (count 'em, two!) new yarn stores have opened in Northwest Portland in just the past few weeks.
Unlike DJ-ing, sewing or silkscreening, this stylish yet decidedly DIY craft is laughably low-tech. Clara Seasholtz, a hip local knit-star who sells her Moebius-striplike shrugs at local boutiques, explains, "You can take it anywhere. It's quiet, and it's not messy. It can be a mindless soothing exercise, and yet it fulfills that neurotic need to always be doing something."
Knitting is also stupendously simple to learn.
Ask Melissa Nelson, owner of new yarn boutique Lint, and she'll insist, "Anyone can knit. Some people pick it up in five minutes."
She would know.
Nelson, a 26-year-old Portland native who studied weaving at the Art Institute of Chicago, was asked by a teacher to work at venerable Chicago fiber store the Knitting Workshop (knittingworkshop.com). There was only one catch--Nelson had to become a proficient knitter in three months.
"It was a crash course," says Nelson. "I was at the shop eight hours a day, five days a week. I ate and breathed knitting. I dreamed about knitting."
After a few years in Chicago, where, she says, knitting culture is "traditional--people are shut in for long winters and don't mind taking two or three months to finish a sweater," Nelson headed to Los Angeles.
Enter fame and fortune.
Her stint at La Knitterie Parisienne and working for custom knitwear designer Suss Cousins exposed Nelson to L.A.'s star-studded knitting scene (she stopped being startled when Justine Bateman or Brooke Shields stopped in for yarn), and provided the necessary momentum to send Nelson on her mission--to bring knit-mania to Portland.
"I knew I wanted my own shop, and all my friends, my family, my resources are here," she explains. "I also see an opening in the market."
The roomy storefront corner shop, painted in cheerful stripes of red and pink, has a snug seating area with armchairs for small gatherings, as well as a classroom in back. Lint not only offers sumptuous yarns and fibers for sale--tantalizing skeins with names like Merino Frappe and Burly Spun, but classes that serve needle novices as well as more advanced knitters.
Elizabeth Prusiewicz, proprietress of Knit*Knot Studio, is one of those advanced types. She has festooned her small Pearl District shop with fuzzy-peaked caps and chunky sweaters, all of her making.
"I called this one 'Midnight Dream' because I started it when I couldn't sleep one night," she says, fingering a bulky charcoal pullover with raised bars of black. A celadon green and black sweater, made while vacationing in Central Oregon, is called "Metolius."
Prusiewicz specializes in custom knitwear (you pick the yarn, she makes the garment) but also sells supplies and skeins--lovely Italian merinos, novelty Kidsilk Haze.
Both shops are celebrations of the tactility, utility and simple sexy pleasure of knitting. Still, the bottom line is that making your own hoodie will cost a bit more than, say, snagging one at Old Navy, and will take infinitely longer. So why DIY?
"The one you knit will fit you better and be exactly what you want," says Nelson.
Knitters are cultist, passionate and eager to share their craft. Today's International Knitting Meetup Day (what, you didn't know it's the third Wednesday of every month?) gives needlers a forum to share tips, tricks and tools at various local cafes. Check out http://knitting.meetup.com for details. And as always, weekly sightings of flashing needles at Nocturnal's notorious Wednesday Craft Night continue to prove that this once-granny pastime has become more rock-'n'-roll than rocking-chair.
And it's about time.
Seasholtz puts it another way. "It's pretty satisfying to be able to take a raw material and push and pull it and tie it in knots," she says. "When you're done, you have this tangible, useful hand-knit object that represents a lot of time and love."
And, geez, you thought money couldn't buy you love.
1700 NW Marshall St., 226-8500
1238 NW Glisan St., 222-3818
By Abra Edelman
(Sixth & Spring Books, 120 pages, $24.95)
Stitch'n Bitch: Instructions, Patterns, and Advice for a New Generation of Knitters
(Workman Publishing Company, 288 pages, $13.95)