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Knotted Up: Where, Why & How To Get Your Crafter Groove On

Doctor-Who-Scarf.jpg
Megan Westerby's Dad rocks his old-school Doctor Who scarf. (Photo credit: Megan Westerby)
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By Andreanna Ditton/Special to LAist

Trust me when I tell you this: you know someone who does it. That shiny object sticking out of your best friend’s bag? Knitting needles. That weird stick you found in your sister’s (or brother’s) drawer? Crochet hook. The funny spool of pink thread you saw tucked up into the bookshelf? Classic sign of a DIY seamstress or tailor. Fabric and yarn based crafting is everywhere, and the reasons for its popularity may be different than what you expect. So why do we do it?

In this era of middling attention spans, throwaway culture and digital drama, hand-crafting is cool. Just ask Angharad Jones, owner and founder of The Urban Craft Center in Santa Monica. A transplant from Oregon, Angharad was searching for a community of like-minded crafters here in Los Angeles with little success. Knowing they had to be out there, she took action and opened her own place, hoping to draw them out. The Center offers everything from raw materials to classes to studio space for the more series crafter, and it’s all focused on those who want to learn to make something with their hands. “I think the more mechanized we get as a society, the more uneasy we all feel about how little we can do for ourselves. Crafting is an antidote to that feeling,” Angharad explains.

From young hipsters wanting to emulate a scarf or a skirt they saw in print, to lifetime knitters looking for the newest yarn or technique, to everyone in the middle trying to learn more and embrace a lifelong skill, the yearn to craft comes from a very specific place.

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I, myself, spend a portion of every winter holiday crocheting or knitting something not because I need another scarf but because the ability to focus on knot, yarn, hands, & stitch helps distract me from my father’s illness and the claustrophobic feeling of a house trapped in snow and stagnation. And I sew because belly dance costumes don’t repair themselves. I crave the activity, and I like the way it ties me back to my great-grandmother who taught me to crochet, and to my mother who is still working on an afghan that may be done by the year 3000.

Megan Westerby grew up surrounded by things her great-grandmother had knitted. “My mom taught me how to knit on a road trip when I was 11 to keep me busy. I still do it because it's calming, a repetitive process that you can focus on with body and mind.” Working as a social media coordinator means that Megan’s life is about multi-tasking, sometimes for 12-14 hours a day. But when she knits, that single task becomes something she can do to calm the frenzy and focus on one thing.

Coming out of college Liz M. realized she had passions, but no real hobbies. Knitting offered her a chance to create a tangible product and add to her wardrobe while maintaining her budget. Plus, knitting gave her writer’s brain an outlet in 3D--all special effects were of her own design. Her mother sewed in addition to doing other crafts, and when Liz started to knit, she found herself asking her mother for some guidance. It was hard to tell who was more surprised.

We learn our skills from mothers and grandmothers, we learn from enthusiastic and willing teachers at shops and studios who help perpetuate the communal nature of this individual hobby. We connect our futures and our pasts as we create beautiful (and terrible things). And, like many traditionally “female” arts, knitting, crocheting, and sewing (not to mention quilting, embroidery, tatting, etc) have a social component that is an inherent part of the joy of the work. ““The core reason I started the UCC was to create a space people can craft together, and meet each other. Crafting is as much a social experience as a means to an end (i.e. a new bag or a quilt), and it has been throughout the ages. It is a way for people in a community to come together and be purposeful while fulfilling our basic need to be social,” says Angharad. Web sites like knitty.com and ravelry.com offer people of all ages and experience the chance to share techniques, patterns, yarns, and experiences of their crafts.

A few years ago, fancy stores sprung up all over LA offering lush, luxe yarn and lessons. These days, sewing is the prevailing trend. Fabric stores like MOOD and International Silks and Woolens give people the chance to work with glorious fabrics and specialty patterns. However, one of the drawbacks of a craft getting the star treatment is the removal of everyday accessibility from the process. When yarn costs $20 a skein, you’re indulging in a luxury activity, not a practical pursuit. Fortunately, for every specialty store, there’s still a Joann Fabrics or a Michaels around to offer cheaper yarn for the beginning DIYer. And while fancy fabric or yarn may prove to be an inspiration, trust me when I tell you to start with the basics, foundations that can be re-sewn or re-knotted over and over again.

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All craft takes patience, discipline, and care. Trendy or not, the techniques are grounded in tradition and the perk of a craft over an art is that crafting tends to be driven by process rather than vision. (Which is not to say that crafts aren’t a form of art. Visit any craft fair this summer, and you’ll have proof of that.)

So while I stick with scarves (and one spectacularly giant and unwearable pair of green wool socks that had to go to Canada to be happy), others are more ambitious - my friend Carrie made me knitted finger puppets of the entire cast of the sci-fi show “Farscape.” Liz M. realized that she not only enjoyed the stitching, she liked the geometry and created her own patterns, one of which was published for others to use. And Megan recently completed a life-sized replica of Tom Baker’s iconic Doctor Who scarf. You just never know what you’ll get out of an unexpected hobby.

To see other folks who are turning their skill with yarn and fabric (not to mention paper, metal, wire, clay and any other conceivable material) into art, visit the Renegade Craft Fair this July at the Los Angeles State Historic Park on July 16-17.

To learn how to knit or crochet, visit any of the following places:
Wild Fiber Santa Monica
Stitch Cafe North Hollywood
The Little Knittery Atwater Village

And be sure to check out The Urban Craft Center for a list of their classes and hours.