Since taking over ownership of Knit 1 Chicago (3823 N. Lincoln Ave.) in spring 2010, “it’s been hard for me to have a social life outside the store,” said Lynn Coe.
Her solution: Wednesday Knit Nights, where knitters of all abilities are welcome to gather around the shop’s large communal table and spin a few yarns over snacks and drinks.
“It saved my relationship,” said Carrie Stuard at a Knit Night held earlier this year. During a “weird transition phase” out of grad school, she found herself at loose ends, with a fiance whose consulting job required constant travel. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. My mom said, ‘Take a knitting class.’” Stuard followed the advice and became a regular at Knit 1. “I had a knitters’ table at my wedding.”
Knit Night draws largely from the surrounding Northcenter neighborhood but also attracts knitters from Logan Square, Hyde Park, Canada (!) and even Guy-ville. None were in evidence during our visit, but we were assured that real men do knit. “They’re way more confident, they’re not intimidated by any maneuver,” said Corinne Niessner.
While the knitters may have little in common in the real world — “Nobody knows each other outside of here,” said Bianca Leigh — inside the walls of Knit 1, this disparate group has bonded over a common passion.
“It’s a good addiction,” said Megan Roudebush, a relative knitting newbie who confessed to owning a “gazillion and five” needles. “It’s very therapeutic.”
“I find it intellectually interesting,” added Leigh, whose first scarf, begun at the age of eight, languished at her parents’ house for years before she picked up the practice again. “It’s creative, yet structured.”
Though Knit 1 offers a variety of classes, including a number of beginner sessions, the Wednesday night conclaves serve as more of a support group, a place to swap techniques, patterns and frustrations. Stuard was struggling to finish a scarf she’d started the previous year, a project for which she’d developed a “profound hatred.”
“You definitely know somebody will help you,” said Leigh, who’s earned something of a reputation as a go-to gal for sweaters.
Each person eventually finds their niche. “I love color, but a lot of people are attracted to texture,” said Coe. “A lot of people just knit socks.”
For many, Coe is Knit 1′s greatest asset, developing the kinds of relationships that can only be forged one knitter to another. “She’ll curate certain colors [of yarn] for us,” said Stuard. “She knows ‘that’s a Carrie color.’”
Coe, who’s worked as a graphic designer, Pilates instructor and ski coach, had never owned a business prior to Knit 1, which she acquired from Karen Clements. “The things that I thought were going to be really hard have been easy,” said Coe, citing selecting merchandise for the store as one of her early fears. “I just use my instincts and that seems to have worked.”
While the knitting craze, popularized by celebrities including Julia Roberts, seems to have crested, many of those who caught the bug remain diehards and the practice has been co-opted, of sorts, by the locavore movement. “It’s the same trend we’re seeing in everything,” said Coe. “Things produced locally and in the United States.” Of late she’s noticed an increased interest in hand-dyed yarns, which she obtains from small producers, independent dyers and fiber artists.
“Everybody’s trying to pare down and get to the essence of what’s important,” she said. Hand-made items are in greater demand than ever, often with sentimental value attached.
Coe recalled one customer who came into the shop with yarn that she had purchased for her mother. She explained to Coe that her mom had died mid-project, leaving notes of what she had planned to create. “[The daughter] had bits and pieces of yarn…we didn’t have a pattern,” said Coe. “We put it together. It really meant a lot to her to have.”