On days when I’m frustrated, lost and just don’t know where I went wrong, there’s one thing I need: time on the couch.
Not the couch where you lie down and talk about your angst-filled childhood. I mean the knitting couch.
Every yarn shop worth its needles has one. Sometimes the couch is part of a cozy sitting room with rugs and ample pillows. Other shops wedge loveseats into spots between skein-filled cubbies.
The couch is a place to deal with the mysteries of life, like how I ended up with significantly more stitches on a row than I started out with when I swear – I swear – I followed the directions exactly.
On the couch, I don’t have to deal with crises alone.
Someone who knows more than I do about knitting (although that’s a low bar) is always there. One or more people – usually women – are hanging out on the couch, working on their own projects along with finding each other’s dropped stitches and clarifying patterns off the Internet that appeared to have been written in Klingon.
Most yarn shops have weekly “knit nights,” so the after-5 crowd can sit and stitch, as well as scheduled daytime social knitting hours. But the couches are basically open for business whenever the shops are. I’ve rarely entered a store, at any time of day, when there wasn’t at least one person parked there for conversation fed by creativity, and ready to help.
I stopped at my usual shop one Sunday afternoon to find three people on the couch and other chairs full – about eight people crowded into the small space in the center of the store. It was a party in full swing, with conversations about knee surgeries, children, books and movies going in every direction. Projects at all stages of production cascaded from needles to be compared and admired. I had to swipe an office chair and wait my turn to jump in because, yes, I was looking for help.
Like many rear-pew backsliders, I most often visit the couch when I need divine intervention. This time, it was a sock problem.
My mother taught me to knit when I was around 12, and I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with the craft since. A few years ago, I went along with a friend who cut a session of a conference we were attending so that she could visit a yarn shop. She had scoped it out online months before. I was amazed at the colors, textures and styles – knitting wasn’t just ripple afghans in ombre-colored synthetic yarn anymore.
I left the store with basic instructions for a scarf (I’d forgotten pretty much everything), turquoise-and-black textured yarn and plastic needles acceptable for the plane. I was sucked into the knitting vortex.
However, I am not a speedy knitter. To paraphrase a friend’s comment about a basketball player, “I’m not quick, but I am slow.” It took me so long to knit the first sock of that pair that when I went back to it I’d forgotten how to knit the heel turn for the second. Even after reading the directions several times.
Heels are not straight lines. I prefer projects that are – afghans, scarves, etc. – because I do a lot of knitting while watching sporting events on TV. A fast break followed by an awesome dunk may doom a project that requires me to keep track of increases and decreases and fumble with stitch markers.
But after a few minutes on the couch and the patient kindness of strangers, I was kicking that heel. And I didn’t want to leave. I needed stitch markers to keep going but had left them at home because I hadn’t planned to stay. I grabbed new ones from a display, handed over the cash and kept going.
Of course, I could’ve found a video on knitting socks in minutes right at my desk at home.
“There’s value in people learning from each other. Some people don’t learn from videos. They still like that hands-on,” says Rebecca Hart, owner of Warm n’ Fuzzy yarn shop in Cary, my personal haunt. “People like to share what they’re interested in, too. And they have plenty to talk about, not just knitting, lots of other things. It’s fun to get to know everyone.”
When Hart opened the shop 3 1/2 years ago, she wanted people to feel welcome, to have a spot where they could sit down and practice and learn from each other. The interesting thing is that most yarn shops have the same philosophy. They want to be salons for the craft and for the community that forms around it, not just stores.
In the welcoming space, the couch can see earth-shattering revelations.
“People may realize they’ve been wrapping their yarn wrong for 20-some years,” Hart says.
“People” is me. And it was 40-some years.
I blame my mother. Doesn’t everyone?
Moose is a Raleigh cookbook author and former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at debbiemoose.com.
For a guide to Triangle yarn shops, go to nando.com/yarnshops.