Fibre arts go from seniors’ homes to coffee shops around the city
More and more people are casting on to knitting.
The time-honoured craft is enjoying a surge in popularity with knitting groups for the young and old popping up around the city. They can be found stitching away at church halls and coffee shops, even pubs around town, sharing a cup of tea, a story and some tips and tricks in a social setting.
“Any night of the week you can pop into a coffee shop around town and see people knitting,” says Eileen Grant, president of the Victoria Knitters’ Guild. “We’ve had upwards of 30 people come to our Wednesday evening meet-up at the Serious Coffee in Sidney.”
The Victoria Knitters’ Guild offers regular meet-ups and an education program to members who join looking to further their knitting knowledge as well as some camaraderie, with meetups the first and third Wednesdays of each month at 9:30 a.m. at St Aidan’s Church Hall (3703 Saint Aidans, off Richmond).
“The membership of the guild is getting slightly younger, but the membership is around 55 to 65 years old on average, but that’s not much different than the population of the region,” says Grant. “A lot of us learned to knit when we were younger and now we’re finding that we have more time,” says Grant. “It’s like riding a bicycle. People seem to be of all ages.”
Grant got into knitting after moving to Victoria four years ago. “I didn’t know many people and I had a lot of stress from moving and I found knitting to be very relaxing and a great way to meet new people,” she says.
Thanks in part to the internet and social networking sites like Ravelry.com, wool and yarn enthusiasts are finding easy ways to connect both virtually and in person, sharing photos, advice and free patterns with the people they connect with.
That’s how Victoria social knitting group The Bitchy Bees got its start.
Co-founder Mary Chan took up knitting as a hobby when she moved to Duncan from Vancouver a few years ago. “I didn’t have very much to do, so I took up knitting. I had read about knitting circles and I tried to find one around town but I couldn’t find one,” she says.
It wasn’t long before Chan found another local avid knitter online and the two started meeting in coffee shops around town. They decided they wanted to share their love of knitting and the two founded the Bitchy Bees social knitting group, which meets twice a week at local coffee shops and bi-monthly in local pubs for beer knitting night. And, as Chan says, “Why not? I mean beer and knitting are two of the best things in the world.”
Chan says the name of the group is misleading because they are very welcoming and friendly. “Once a barista at the café we were knitting at asked us if we were a stitch and bitch or a knitting bee and we said we were both. The name stuck. But we’re really nice and we’re not bitchy at all,” she says.
The Bitchy Bees look for a couple of key things when they choose to meet. “We’re always looking for a place with good lighting that’s open to a table of 15. Everyone probably knows a knitter in their lives,” says Chan. “A lot won’t come out of their shell around non-knitters because there’s this stigma, they think we are more together or that we have more time than them but really we don’t have any more time, we’re watching the same TV shows and sitting in the same cafés but you’re on a laptop and we’re knitting. It’s nice to have a connection with that many other people with the same crazy yarn tendencies as you,” Chan says.
Shopping for yarn in Victoria is a knitter’s paradise.
“The demographic of Victoria is older, but there are quite a few young people joining the guild. And that’s great because there are amazing knitting stores in the area for every type of knitter, from the modern and funky Knotty by Nature to The Beehive Wool shop, one of the oldest and the largest knitting store in Canada,” says Grant. “Yarns have changed enormous. We’ve all had macramé and sweaters made out of harsh acrylic yarns, but now there’s so much to choose from, with super wash wools, alpaca, bamboo and cotton. The patterns are as complex or as simple as you want.”
And costs vary. “You can get a huge ball of yarn at a yard sale or second hand shop and knit up something small for $4 or $5, but some projects require yarn you buy from a specialized wool shop where you spend $25 or $30 on a ball and you need 10 or 12 to complete it. But it’s soft, it feels good to touch and sometimes it’s just great to get out there and shop,” she says.
Going to the stores, looking at all the beautiful coloured fibres and finding the perfect pattern is all part of the experience for the modern knitter.
“I think people are excited about our store because we embrace a lot of the different things you can do with wool,” says Stephanie Papik, co-owner of Knotty by Nature Fibre Arts with her partner, Ryan Davis. “We’re active in dyeing, spinning and knitting and so are our customers.”
Knotty by Nature is “a little outside the box,” as far as knitting options are concerned says Davis. “We really encourage mixed media type stuff and embracing our humanness, not necessarily striving for perfection. Knitting, needle felting and all fibre arts can really go well together.”
Papik says instead of searching for that perfect train sweater pattern for your grandson, why not knit the sweater you like and embellish it with a needle felted train. You can also use needle felting to repair holes in a knitted garment. “Just do a simple embellishment to hide the hole,” says Papik.
Davis says the demand for locally produced fibres is increasing. “The 100-mile diet isn’t just for food anymore,” Papik says. “People are starting to recognize where the wool comes from and are taking an interest in preserving certain breeds of sheep so they don’t go extinct.”
Knotty by Nature sources fibre from all over the Island, from established mills and indie farms alike.
“We would drive up Island and see tons of alpaca farms, but we could only get alpaca from Peru. It didn’t make sense so we decided to seek it out locally,” Papik says.
They are now the only store in Victoria that carries locally sourced spinning fibres, says Davis. “We have a lot of people here who spin their own yarn and knit out of it,” Papik says. “We’ve probably taught over 200 people how to spin since the stores been open these last three years.”
While many knitters are embracing the wealth of new exotic fibres on store shelves, others are keeping it traditional, choosing to stick with what they know and love.
“Some people are very monogamous. They do one project start to finish. They find the perfect yarn and the perfect pattern and they put the two together. Other people like to have a different project for different occasions,” says Chan.
What kind of occasions? Well socks are great because they’re small and portable. Scarves are great for knitting while watching TV or socializing because it’s more or less mindless repetitive work.
More complicated projects like cable-knit sweaters are best left for times when it’s easier to concentrate on the task at hand, like riding the bus on the way to and from work.
“A lot of other things like quilting you need a dedicated room and expensive equipment that you can’t throw into your car or take on the bus,” says Grant. “With needlepoint you need to pay close attention to the pattern and the counting, certainly there’s some of that in knitting with cables and lace, but with some projects you can sit and watch television and knit away.”
Fibre artists around the region are excited for the chance to share their knowledge and passion for fibre at Fibrations, a community based celebration at St. Ann’s Academy, Sunday, Aug. 21, from 10 a.m. To 4 p.m.
There will be live demonstrations, a marketplace and a loonie/toonie auction featuring locally made items.
For more information about Fibrations, visit Fibrations.ca
To join the Victoria Knitters’ Guild, contact Eileen Grant at email@example.com. To join the Bitchy Bees, visit bitchybees.livejournal.com. M
Are you hoping to be on the receiving end of a knitters’ gift? Here’s a few tips to make sure the gifts keep on coming:
Treat the gift with the utmost respect: Don’t lose one mitten or wear a hole in your socks unless you want to pay for every pair in the future. “I start out small with socks or mitts and I wait to see if they lose them. If they do, they don’t get more gifts,” says Stephanie Papik, co-owner of Knotty By Nature Fibre Arts.
Thank the knitter profusely for their time and effort: Most knitters only give small gifts away unless they know the receiver truly understands how much time and money was spent creating that masterpiece. “I’m a selfish knitter. Only people I know will appreciate how much work and time goes in will get a gift from me, or a baby gift. You can churn out a baby cardigan in two weeks …or at least I can,” says Mary Chan, co-founder of the Bitchy Bees social knitting group.
Don’t look at knitters in public like they’re lost and can’t find their way back to the nursing home: “I think the biggest misconception is that knitters are all 50-year-old women. There’s this stigma attached to it. But it’s really fun and it’s modern and vintage at the same time,” says Chan.