CO 48 st(16-16-16). Knit 5 rows in K2, P2 ribbing. Knit 3 rows, knitting every st. *K8, P1, K7, repeat from * around X 3. *K3, P3, K2, P1, K2, P3, K2, repeat from * around...
Confused yet? This list of letters did not come from the cat walking on the keyboard, but this is actually the beginning instructions for a small knitted cup cozy. These days, knitting is having a comeback and it's not just for grandmas anymore, though she may be the best one to help you interpret the secret code that is a knitting pattern, needle sizing and yarn varieties.
Mass Ave Knit Shop--which has actually resided on Virginia Avenue for the past 13 years--is a large bustling shop full of color and texture. The shop itself seems to be alive. Before you even walk in you are greeted with knitted garlands stringing across the front of the shop that move with the wind. As you descend the couple of steps and enter the door, you encounter a table full of women chattering and knitting.
Knitting, at its most basic, is using two (or more) needles and yarn to create a series of knots that transform into a piece of fabric and, oftentimes, a piece of art. The work of using fibers as a creative medium has long been a social activity. Local knitter, Susan Wever, who has been knitting since she was 4 or 5 years old, is a true social butterfly of the knitting community. An active member of the Irvington Fiberistas and the Indy Pub Knitters, who meet in local brewpubs and drink beer while they knit, Wever also visits various other knitting groups whenever she can find the time.
"There are a lot of them in the Indianapolis area," she says. Wever also meets up with a group of knitters from around the world every year at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival every October. "We met on Ravelry.com and bonded on Facebook. When we all finally met in person it was like we'd always known each other!"
The internet has made the knitting social network larger than ever before. One site in particular, Ravelry.com, is extremely popular among those who practice the fiber arts. According to the website, "Ravelry is a place for knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, weavers and dyers to keep track of their yarn, tools, project and pattern information, and look to others for ideas and inspiration." Ravelry has become a way to connect the fiber arts community around the world all on one neat little site. Members are able to join online groups, as well as find local groups. There are even exciting group projects like mystery KALs (or Knit Alongs) where you are given the pattern and told what you need (yarn yardage, yarn type, needles, and notions) but you have no idea what it will turn into until you get far enough along to realize what it is you are creating.
Once you walk past the knitting circles at Mass Ave Knit Shop, it can be overwhelming on that first visit. There are literally thousands of skeins of yarn in hundreds of textures, thicknesses, and materials. But it will eventually feel homey among the many hues of yarn and finished pieces that dominate the shop. Walking through, you are invited to touch the sumptuous balls of color and notice the materials that differ from cotton and cotton blends to cashmere, wool, and even silks. Although Mass Ave Knit Shop does not carry some of the more exotic, specialized yarns, they do have an immense collection.
If you are in search of the exotic when it comes to yarn, many websites and individual spinners and dyers have that covered. You can find hand-painted yarns as well as hand-dyed and there are fibers (knitter's slang for yarn) that come from a variety of animals. Qiviut, for one, is spun from the soft, underbelly hairs of a Musk Ox--an Arctic animal found in Northern Canada and Alaska--and while harder to find, it's prized for extreme softness.
Susan Wever is a fan of the more unique yarns. She says, "I love trying the exotic fibers (yak, buffalo, New Zealand possum, paper, steel, hemp, etc.) and can't resist buying a skein or two." Susan Brennan, owner of Mass Ave Knit Shop, recalls that she once knitted using silk yarn studded with Swarovski crystals. That particularly skein of yarn rung up at $120 for 120 yards and proves that this hobby can get pricey if you want it to.
Another interesting find is yarn that has been made from recycled sari silk. This yarn can be heavy. It is usually very thick as the saris are cut into thin strips and then twisted to make the yarn. It is extremely colorful and fun, although often impractical due to its weight. While most knitters opt for the more reasonably priced cotton blends and wools, there is definitely a market for the unusual.
This is true, also, in some of the creations that knitters produce. Knitting is not just about sweaters and socks these days. Many knitters are beginning to produce bags, dresses and intricate wraps, as well as more unconventional items. Local woman, Elaine Delbecq, for instance, uses t-shirts to produce knitted rugs. She cuts the shirt in such a way that it is one long continuous strand and then knits up a beautiful and colorful rug which she sells once a year at the Woodruff Place Sale in early June from her front porch. These rugs take time to create and can go for up to $100 a piece.
Caroline Laudig, a local knitter who has been knitting for nearly 50 years, also creates unique works of art. She uses size 000 knitting needles, which are about the size of piano wire, to create antique German lace tablecloths. She says that these pieces use what is called "cobweb yarn" and can take up to 200 hours to create. Laudig does not sell these pieces because she would have to charge so much because of the labor. She chooses, instead, to use them as gifts to special friends who would appreciate such delicate pieces of art.
"This is a great time to be a knitter or crocheter," says Laudig. "We have access to breed-specific yarns for their unique characteristics, independent fiber processors able to create yarns to order, and artisan hand-dyers painting yarns in color combinations unmatched by commercial mills." There is an entire "sect" of knitters who prefer to be as close to the source as possible. Many of these knitters spin their own yarn and are known as spinners.
Spinning is basically taking raw wool and turning it into usable yarn on a spinning wheel. The spinning wheel turns the wool and twists it into a long strand of yarn that can then by dyed or hand-painted. Many spinners then sell their yarn to customers who are eager to use it. Just like those who like to buy organic foods and meats because they are closer to the source and know where they come from, many knitters feel the same about their yarns, and sometimes even their needles.
Some knitters just knit for themselves and family, but others, like Darren Chittick, sell their finished products at art shows. Chittick is a self-taught knitter who began using looms about 3 years ago. He then moved on to using needles after his mother helped him get the hang of it. After learning the basics, he taught himself advanced techniques from YouTube videos. Chittick says, "I definitely think knitting has become a cool thing to do after a long stint of it just being something seen as a craft for your grandma." He attributes this to cycles. "People are bringing what I call homestead skills back into the home. We have taken advantage of less developed nations to have ease in our daily lives. We are, for the most part, completely dependent upon a system that may or may not be able to support us for very long. We have to know how to do things for ourselves."
Whether you want to knit to be self-sufficient or just to be creative, there is a growing and enthusiastic knitting community waiting to welcome you in. So don't be afraid. Grab a book, go online or pop into a shop and take up a pair of needles for yourself. Before you know it, you will be numbered among the fiber artists.