Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Knitting social goes organic

BY COLBY FRAZIER
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

For Rosie Rathmann, learning to knit was an interesting way to pass the time after she broke some ribs and was mostly immobile.
Carolyn Gutzmann picked up knitting during high school when it was popular for girls to make argyle socks for their boyfriends.
And for Adrianne Nunez, knitting is a skill passed down from her great aunt — a hobby that has ebbed and flowed, but never gone away.


The three women represent a small fraction of the local knitting scene, which like any book club, fantasy football league, or running group, gather together to bounce ideas off each other, connect with like-minded people and do what they enjoy.
In this case, they knit, and they do it during what’s aptly called a knitting social held each Monday at the Knit & Pearl at 5 E. Figueroa St.
“It’s really a social thing,” said Julie Rainak, owner of Knit & Pearl, which just celebrated its second year in business. “It’s really a nice thing because everybody forgets about the banks and politics and everything and just knits.”
The word knitting may evoke a stream of images and clich├ęs, none of which likely are totally incorrect. It does involve making stuff, like baby booties, scarves and vests. In the case of Knit & Pearl, most, if not all of the participants in the Monday knitting socials are female, and yes, many are above the age of 30.
But this age-old craft has taken on a new — call it organic — mindset and approach.
Knitting enthusiasts, like those who shop and hang around Knit & Pearl, seek out the finest in organic, natural fibers to make their wares from.
Rainak’s store is stocked with fibers made of hemp, bamboo, organic cotton and other exotic, natural fibers.
However, knitting’s hip image goes beyond simply using organic fibers, and touches on near Zen-like qualities. While using natural fibers is important, Rainak said the true benefits of knitting come from doing it. And doing it a lot.
“It’s about the head, heart and hands working together,” she said. “It’s about quieting your mind while your body is doing something else.”
She said knitting, in a sense, is the new yoga.
While that may sound strange for yoga lovers who were up this morning at 5 a.m. bending like a pretzel, it’s right on for Rathmann, Gutzmann and Nunez, who among other things, discussed the pros and cons of having pet rabbits during yesterday’s knitting social.
Gutzmann said knitting is like driving, once you learn, you don’t really have to think about it. She also compared it to a good session with a therapist.
Nunez jokingly said that when the pattern isn’t working out, a nice day of knitting could actually send a person to therapy.
“It really keeps you in the now,” Nunez said.
“Your mind is free once you learn the stitches,” said Gutzmann, who was busy making a scarf using an ancient Irish pattern.
Nunez is in the middle of making a baby sweater, which she said turned out to be more difficult than she thought.
She passed her knitting needles and yarn over to Gutzmann, who teaches knitting classes on occasion, for inspection.
For Nunez, the knitting social is a way to connect with other women in a comfortable setting — something she said women used to do on a regular basis, but has fallen by the wayside.
“In general, it’s kind of a nice way to get together and meet nice people,” she said. “It’s a nice thing to do.”
Gutzmann piped up and said, “Anyone who knits can’t be all bad.”
The two were talking about yarn made from seaweed and soy when Rathmann walked in, took a seat like she’d done so a thousand times before, and began knitting a sweater vest.
In fact, it was Rathmann’s first time at the knitting social. She recently relocated to Santa Barbara from the Bay Area, where she was a member of the group Stitch and Bitch, which has chapters worldwide.
Rathmann explained that she taught herself how to stitch after she suffered some broken ribs, and wanted to stay busy. Her new hobby, however, turned into more than simple busy work.
“It was sort of a soothing thing,” she said.
Though the knitting social was sparsely attended yesterday, other events, such as the store’s “Yarn Tastings,” sell out and require reservations.
It was during the last Yarn Tasting that Nunez said she discovered yarn made from soy.
Rainak said the tastings are free, and include an assortment of different yarns. Wool will be the material of choice for the Oct. 16 event. Participants will each receive five to six different types of the material to try out, and light refreshments are served.
While Rainak is determined to ensure events like these continue in her store, it was a knitting social that spurred her to open Knit & Pearl.
She said her knitting group was discussing the former store and how it was closing, and they all joked about how it would be nice to open their own place.
Rainak took the idea home to her husband, who encouraged her to do it, and like a whirlwind, the Knit & Pearl was up and running two months later.
“It happened real fast and it’s been real great,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

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