Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lafayette’s yarn shops are producing a new generation of knitters.
By Erin Z. Bass


When Kim Gunniss opened Yarn Nook in 2004, it was the only yarn shop in Lafayette. She’d taken up crocheting again while pregnant with her second child and went in search of supplies. Realizing that Lafayette didn’t have its own yarn shop, she decided to open one and teach herself to knit at the same time.

Gunniss’s timing was spot on. Knitting began making a comeback around the year 2000, no longer thought of as that thing your grandmother sat around doing or the impetus for that hideous sweater your mother made for you. Ravelry.com, a free networking site for knitters and crocheters to share projects, patterns and ideas, was launched in 2007 and now has over a million members. Knitted items also began showing up in designers’ collections and on runways, and celebrities like Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz took up the craft.

By 2008, Gunniss had outgrown her Pinhook Road shop and made a move to the Oil Center, where partners Suzette Bienvenu and Kitty Longman joined her in the business. That same year, Jason Pennington decided to turn his hobby into a career by opening Vermilion Bay Yarn Co. on Verot School Road. Today, both shops are thriving, with weekly evening knitting groups, classes and customers of all ages turning to them for yarn, tips and a respite from their busy lives.

“There’s a big community of knitters in this area,” says Pennington, who learned to knit from his mother at the age of 4. “[Vermilion Bay] is sort of a place where people come all day and through the week to crochet and knit.” Pennington knitted the purple mohair sweater he’s wearing and is currently working on a white cable knit aviator hat that’s featured on the cover of Vogue Knitting’s winter issue.

Tuesday is Vermilion Bay’s big night. That’s when women, and a few men, from all over the area come to sit in a circle and knit from 6-8 p.m. (The shop also hosts a men’s knitting night on Mondays.) Regulars have their own seat in back — single mom Jill Lyons occupies a wicker rocker, widow Willie Schutz a flowered armchair, Wyoming transplant and young mom Lacey Ditzler a loveseat and hairstylist Blaine Guidry whatever chair’s available if he gets off work in time to join the group. Projects include various styles of scarves and gloves, with the occasional hat, sweater or shawl thrown in.

While working on their respective projects, and asking Pennington for help when a stitch goes awry, the group chats about their kids, husbands, jobs and their knitting projects. “These gloves for my husband,” says Ditzler, “I keep asking him, do you know how much time this is gonna take? This is not just whip it up and pop it out, this is gonna be some work and you really want to drag that into the duck blind with you. Go buy the cheap ones, take those to the duck blind, and wear these like out to dinner."

Ditzler, who taught herself to knit during college, moved to Lafayette from Wyoming a few years ago and says she immediately took out the phone book and looked for a local yarn shop. “I knew that’s where I was going to find people that I had something in common with, where I could start making my connections in the community,” she says.

Yarn Nook’s Gunniss says this is a common practice with knitters. “When they travel, they always look and find where the yarn shops are so we get a lot of people from out of town that come here to visit family,” she says. Her shop’s group knitting night happens on Wednesdays, also from 6-8 p.m., when anyone can pay $5 to join the circle, eat, drink and register for a door prize. Gunniss’s group is made up of mostly women, ranging in age from 8-80, and some members refer to it as “Stitch ’n Bitch,” a term that’s become mainstream for knitting groups across the country.

Her night has also created a few spinoff groups, including one led by her business partner Longman that meets on Wednesday mornings in Eunice to knit helmet liners for the troops, and six 20-something girls who get together on Sundays for what they call “Cocktails & Cast-Ons.” Organized by college student Chrissy McGarry, who learned to knit last fall and has since taught several of her friends, Cocktails & Cast-Ons, named for the process of putting that first row of yarn loops on the needle, meets to start new projects and of course socialize.

McGarry is working on several items at once and gives most of them away as gifts, but says, “It’s hard to give a knitted gift to someone who doesn’t knit, because they don’t appreciate it.” Gunniss agrees and says it’s almost impossible to put a price on a handknitted piece.

“People think when I have a yarn shop and they see me knitting, they think I knit stuff and sell it,” she says. “I would rather teach somebody how to do this than them buy what I did. This scarf I’m doing now, there’s no way I’d sell that scarf. That’s going to have $40 in yarn and probably 60 hours worth of knitting, so how can you sell that?”

A knitting hobby can get expensive, with nicer yarn, like cashmere and beaded silk, going for more than $30 a ball. At that price, a pair of socks would cost around $90 to knit. Of course even a basic pair of socks, and scarves, gloves and sweaters, can be purchased for a lot less at a store, but knitters say the rewards far outweigh the cost.
 
“The whole knitting thing is a series of loops and knots that are so much stronger than things that are sewn together,” says Vermilion Bay’s Guidry. “It will take your mind off a long day, marital problems. It’s a whole different method of meditation.”

Gunniss says, “It’s a getaway for a lot of people. It gives them something to do and somewhere to come, and I like it because it’s like coming to somebody’s house to sit and knit. It’s not like a regular business.”

Want to learn to knit? Yarn Nook and Vermilion Bay Yarn Co. both offer one-on-one sessions by appointment for $20. After that, beginning knitters can stop by anytime or join a circle session for practice and guidance. Visit www.yarnnook.com or www.vermilionbayyarnco.com for more info.

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