K nitting: a quiet pursuit for lonely moments, if ever there were one. But in the city of New Haven, no one need stitch alone. Since its doors opened in 2009, Knit New Haven—filled with skeins of colorful shimmering yarn, thick white tufts of undyed wool and buttons of every conceivable size and shape—has been a place for people to practice their craft together.
“There’s a reason we have a table in the shop,” Julia Bogardus says. Bogardus is one of the three founders of Knit New Haven, along with Linda Reis and June Sachs. “We really do want people to come and sit and connect with each other and share ideas.” Speaking directly to her fellow knitters, she adds, “These are your people. They get it.”
To the uninitiated, knitting may seem an artifact of an earlier era—a time of Model Ts and people exclaiming “gee whiz!” Knit New Haven proves that simply isn’t true. At one of its regular Tuesday Stitch ’n’ Bitch gatherings, which are open to all and run from 6 to 8 p.m., a dozen people sat around the shop’s table. While you might imagine hearing the clacking of needles working against each other—and nothing else—you would’ve been hard-pressed to hear anything over a conversation that ranged from mulling what to order for pizza to lively current events discussions to cries of exasperation about a sweater sleeve that’d been knit upside down.
It turns out we’re living amid a knitting Renaissance. Bogardus links the current boom, as well as the craft’s “broader and younger focus,” to the cultural tide that’s yielded a long wave of artisanal products, DIY projects, slow food and locavorism.
People want to feel a “connection to the making of the stuff that sustains them,” she says, and knitting, unlike growing a vegetable garden or making soap, has a relatively low barrier to entry. National knitting trends reflect this interest in local, sustainable craft. At this summer’s NeedleArts trade show, Bogardus and her partners noticed a shift towards “American-sourced” yarn, which is “rougher, tweedier” than the indulgent alpaca and cashmere that were trending five years ago. “It’s probably hard for a non-knitter to imagine that there is such a thing as a trade show for knitters,” she says. “But there is!”
During our interview, Bogardus was, of course, knitting. She was working with one of these hardier, American yarns in a handsome, forthright blue. The yarn is sold by Brooklyn Tweed, a company founded by Jared Flood, who might be considered the patron saint of this most recent knitting trend. In early September, Knit New Haven hosted Flood for an immensely popular book signing. Over a hundred knitters pressed into the cozy shop on Whitney Ave. “You would have thought the Beatles were here,” Bogardus says.
“Knitting and crocheting are what women were allowed to do before they were allowed to be engineers or architects,” says Rachel Glodo, who teaches classes at Knit New Haven in addition to working at the Yale School of Music. “Knitting, crocheting, sewing… A lot of the things that were associated with domesticity are actually three-dimensional, imaginative, long-term planning in disguise.”
It takes courage, too, to look at a loose skein of yarn and imagine a three-dimensional product, something that will be worn or used, appreciated and needed, for years to come. It’s a craft, of course, but it’s also a kind of magic, that fingers, needles and yarn can conjure sweaters, cloaks and socks.
Several knitters at Stitch ’n’ Bitch remember their first knitting projects with wry fondness—“terrible scarves” and “pink acrylic rectangles.” Bogardus herself has an inspiring creation myth: During a stressful period in her youth, she knitted a 1980s sweater, complete with shoulder pads, out of a “hideous bright purple mohair”—even though she had to learn the basics from instructions written in French.
Unlike Bogardus, most knitters learn their craft from other knitters—mothers, friends, grandparents and, in the case of two knitters at the Tuesday night gathering, fathers. Community is, at the end of the row, what keeps knitting going.
Like members of a “secret club,” as Bogardus puts it, knitters love to encounter other knitters. Amy Nelson, a Virginia Tech professor who dropped into Knit New Haven in search of yarn in stormy greys and blues, told the story of being on a cross-country flight next to a woman who spoke no English. Nelson was knitting, naturally, and that became their means of communication. Nelson handed her knitting to the woman, who finished the row without the aid of the pattern. The two of them knitted together, back and forth, for hours.
Equally telling was the reaction to a bit of news carried by a late arrival to that night’s Stitch ’n’ Bitch. Devjani Mishra came inside from the humid September evening holding aloft a shiny blue ribbon and a beautiful cranberry merino scarf, glimmering beads knit into the fabric. It was her first beading project, and it had won her Best in Show at the Guilford Fair. Her victory was greeted with cheers and whoops.
Knitting: It knits people together.
Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.