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A stitch in time

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2003-11-27 Austin American-Statesman.jpg


Centuries-old common thread unites these Austin women — their love of knitting

If you knit, they will come.

It's 8 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, and Vickie Howell — mother of two, Web business co-owner and 30-year-old feminist in camouflage cargo pants, black boots with chunky, five-inch heels and black tank top revealing a tattooed back — is knitting a pair of wool socks for her mother.

It's a personal gift, but Howell is creating it in public.

She's in the cafe of Book People surrounded by other knitters. So many knitters that six cafe tables had to be rearranged into one very long conference table to seat them all.

Welcome to the Stitch 'n Bitch club of Austin, a loosely knit team of knitters who are trying to put a 21st-century spin on the quilting bees and sewing circles of yore. The women, most of them in their 20s and 30s, are part of a growing national fascination with knitting.

The New York Times traced the trend in 1999, the year the Craft Yarn Council of America sponsored a "Knit Out" in Union-Square there and knitting clubs became chic. The trend is still going strong.

"It's hip to knit," someone pipes up from the far end of the table.

The knitting group is eye-catching. Colorful yarn is everywhere. Solid wools of brick red and sea blue. Fancy, feathery eyelash yarns that add eye- catching flair to garments and. scarfs. A purple boa yarn soft as: down. A chocolate fuzz yarn' speckled with bits of blue and yellow. Chunky yarn in varies gated shades of red, orange and: magenta.

The yarns are as different as the women. Some are stay-at-home moms. Some are students. One is a free-lance writer. Another is a production editor for textbooks.

Lisa Novak is a structural engineer who likes to knit in public because "it gets me out of the house." And, she gets to "feel other people's yarn and have other people feel my yarn and go, 'Ohhhh!'"

The founder of the Stitch 'n Bitch phenomenon, Debbie Stoller, editor of the New York-based feminist magazine BUST, likes to knit in public to help raise the visibility and value of a craft long associated with women. She visited Austin in mid-November to promote knitting and her new "Stitch 'n Bitch" knitting handbook.

"All those people who looked down on knitting — and housework, and housewives — were not being feminist at all," she writes. "In fact, they were being anti-feminist, since they seemed to think that only those things that men did, or had done, were worthwhile."

It's time, Stoller says, "to take back the knit."

Chapters of Stitch 'n Bitch have spread around the country. In Chicago, some 400 women are involved. Howell, who moved to Austin last year after starting a Stitch 'n Bitch club in Los Angeles, got the group going here.

The knitting circle at Book-People includes lots of newcomers, so most conversations focus on knitting and figuring out who knows whom. "This is so cute!" and "This is so sweet!" arb heard more than once. But in Los Angeles, Howell said, conversations turned to mini-tutorials on birth control and breast cancer treatment and other serious issues.

At one end of the table, Vanessa Ward stands up and unfurls her knitting. It's a very wide and very long striped scarf, but someone said it looked like a table runner. What is it, Ward is asked.

"It's the Dr. Who scarf from season 12," she says.

"Dr. Who" was a popular British sci-fi show in the 1970s, she explains, and Dr. Who wore an absurdly long scarf. This one will be 930 rows, about 10 feet long, and was commissioned by a friend of hers. He bought the yarn; she does the work.

Later, a couple of the over-40 knitters in the group share a story about a woman they knew who knitted a jock strap as a gift.

The laughter picks up.

"There's some wild party going on around here," says Debbie Marvin, one of the experienced knitters.

She's wearing a shirt with "Serial Knitter" embroidered over the pocket. She also calls herself a card-carrying member of the kniterati. Knitting. she says, "is my drug of choice. It's called Xanax on a stick."

With Stitch 'n Bitch attracting the newcomers as well as the kniterati, it appears someone in Austin will have to come up with a knitting pattern for a Big Tent.


Vickie Howell started Austin's Stitch 'n Bitch club after moving here last year from Los Angeles.

Debbie Stoller, founder of the Stitch 'n Bitch phenomenon, visits with group members at Hill Country Weavers.

Stoller shows off the bottom of a knit bikini, one of the projects in her book. There's also a Wonder Woman version.

Julie Daniel, left, shows Loretta Hamilton basic stitches during a Stitch 'n Bitch session at Hill Country Weavers.

With Latifa Daum looking on, Carolyn Hartmann struggles to get started on her first knitting project at this month's Stitch 'n Bitch gathering at Book People. Chapters across the country draw knitters together to practice their craft in public, a fad that's picked up steam in recent years.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Gamino, Denise (2003-11-27). A stitch in time. Austin American-Statesman p. E6.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Gamino, Denise. "A stitch in time." Austin American-Statesman [add city] 2003-11-27, E6. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Gamino, Denise. "A stitch in time." Austin American-Statesman, edition, sec., 2003-11-27
  • Turabian: Gamino, Denise. "A stitch in time." Austin American-Statesman, 2003-11-27, section, E6 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=A stitch in time | url= | work=Austin American-Statesman | pages=E6 | date=2003-11-27 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=7 February 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=A stitch in time | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=7 February 2023}}</ref>