Residents bond over social knitting

When Jennifer Wang first moved to Connecticut, she had no friends. Then she started knitting.

“I felt like such a loser, I didn’t know anyone here,” Wang said. “This is how I met new people.”

Two local women meet at the New Haven chapter of the “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch” knitting support group.
June Torbati
Two local women meet at the New Haven chapter of the “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch” knitting support group.

Grandmas, beware — knitting has moved beyond the rocking chair. More and more, in New Haven and cities throughout the world, groups of knitters are coming together to share patterns, discuss stitches, and find friendship.

In the Elm City, knitting groups abound. The New Haven chapter of Stitch ’n Bitch, a worldwide social knitting organization, has 283 members and four weekly meeting times, Wang said. Even Yale students have gotten in on the action. The University Chaplain’s Office hosts a weekly charity knitting session in Battell Chapel, and Yale’s Society of Domestic Arts, a student-run organization, allows students to trade ideas and work jointly on knitting and other “domestic” art projects.

Wang, an engineer for Schick and a member of the local Stitch ’n Bitch group, credits the Internet for bringing her into the social knitting fold. Though she always loved scarves, she said, she was not nearly as enthused by their occasionally hefty prices. So Wang took to the Web. There, she not only learned the basics of stitches and patterns, but also found a group of unlikely friends.

“I would have never met people like Suzy,” Wang said, pointing to fellow Stitch ’n Bitch member Suzy Baldwin during the group’s Wednesday night meeting at Au Bon Pain. “We don’t have many common interests, we work in different fields, she has kids and I don’t, but the one hobby that both of us love brought us together. Yarn brought us together.”

Throughout the world, in fact, love of the craft is tying together previously scattered communities of dedicated knitters. Stitch ’n Bitch chapters have sprung up in places as diverse as South Carolina, Costa Rica and Singapore. There are 10 such groups in Amsterdam, while Brooklyn alone boasts three.

Even downtown New Haven houses enough knitters to support a yarn store, Yarn LLC on Whitney Avenue. Yarn LLC sales clerks Lisa Brenan and Tisha Ferguson said that since opening nearly two years ago, the store has attracted a consistent — and loyal — customer base. Customers often come into the store just to knit or discuss their work, Brenan said, and both staffers consider themselves more advisers than sales clerks.

“We try to encourage community, and anybody can just come in and knit,” Brenan said. “This doesn’t feel like a job. I love coming to work.”

The new generation of social knitters also differs from its domestic predecessor in ways other than networking. For one, knitters like Wang and Baldwin consider themselves “addicts,” and say they routinely spend up to four hours a week doing what they call “public knitting.”

“It’s very obsessive,” said Baldwin, an executive administrative assistant for the city of New Haven. “I just went on a little binge and bought $130 of yarn in-store, and then another $60 online.”

“That makes me feel so much better,” fellow Stitch ’n Bitch member Emily Green cuts in.

The Internet has facilitated the exchange of knitting know-how, Brenan said. When she found herself stumped while working on a knitting project a few months ago, she turned to the Web for advice.

“I got help on an online forum from a woman in North Dakota,” she said. “I never would have met her face-to-face, but she had exactly the information I needed.”

The wide variety of materials and resources available today far eclipses that available for previous generations of needle wielders, some knitters said. Merino, alpaca, soy, habu, silk, cashmere, angora and flax yarns have made Grandma’s itchy wool Christmas sweaters things of the past.

Still, not all New Haven residents are thrilled with the city’s yarn offerings. Some Yale students, in particular, complained that Yarn LLC’s offerings are not always tailored to student budgets.

“Yarn LLC is a nice store, but it is not a very good source for students who are poor and don’t want fancy stuff,” Rita Alway ’09 said. “I try to buy most of my stuff when I’m home for break.”

Today’s knitters are not only breaking down communication barriers, but they are also pushing the boundaries of their craft. Knitting mainstays like sweaters and socks still flourish, but artists are creating more and more patterns targeted towards a hipper crowd.

“I’ve seen a dildo cozy made out of yarn,” Baldwin said.

Across the knitting table at Au Bon Pain, Wang quickly one-upped her.

“I haven’t done it yet,” she said. “But I’m going to knit a thong.”

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