Adventures in knitting: Lesson 2

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kelsey Davis learns knitting techniques at Red Purl in Niles. Photos by Kathleen Dayle Schwarz


Blue Star Highway

Ever since my 90-year-old grandmother had gifted me her vintage knitting needles, I had been meaning to learn how to knit.

She had taught me the basics as a 7-year-old — cast on, knit, purl, cast off — but 16 years later, those basic skills were long gone.

Over the years I had known people here and there who would show off a fun scarf or hat they had made, and that inkling to take it up again would return — but until I received those beautiful, worn needles, I didn’t have much incentive to actually do it.

Which was why when Kelsey Davis suggested getting a group of girlfriends together to take “Beginner’s Knitting Lessons” at the Red Purl in Niles, my interest piqued. The most interesting piece of knitting I had made myself recently was a dishcloth — and even that remained unfinished in the back of my closet.

So I agreed — I’m in! And this time, I decided, I’m going to make something cooler than a dishcloth … maybe I would graduate to a scarf?

For our first lesson, our little group of friends decided to learn how to knit a cowl — a “loopy” scarf — and my knitting skills began to come back to me. I felt so inspired by the soft texture and muted colors in the yarn I had chosen that within a week I had knit my way through my first project and was ready for the second.

By the second lesson, I felt I had mastered the knit stitch. I was ready to learn something new; I wanted to purl. Amy, the Red Purl’s owner, suggested I make a baby blanket for an 8-months-pregnant friend of mine. We flipped through knitting books until she produced a relatively easy pattern that incorporated both the knit and purl stitches. And, patient teacher that she is, Amy taught me how to purl.

It was definitely slow at first. And it took a bit of trial and error. But once I managed to get the hang of purling, I began to notice the way using two different stitches in a piece creates such unique designs. Project No. 2 definitely took me more time to complete (about three weeks), but even I was impressed at what I could do with the help of a patient teacher and a bit of determination.

What impressed me most about the Red Purl was that it didn’t feel like a store. The displays of yarn weren’t store-like; they were more like artwork hanging on a wall — the kind of artwork that invites you to touch it, to get a sense of what it’s about. A rainbow of skeins hangs from floor to ceiling along the perimeter of the tiny shop. Amy seems to know where each of her yarns come from — an animal, or a plant? — and exactly what each is best for making. Worsted, wool, sport-weight, bulky, natural, synthetic … these terms are meant to describe types of yarn, but definitions mean little until you hold a skein in your hand and can see the colors and textures for yourself. When you walk into the Red Purl, you’re not there just to select a pretty color off the shelf — you come to experience your yarn.

You come to experience community, too. The Red Purl is a place where friends gather — not only for lessons, tips and techniques, but also just for plain old good conversation over brownies and coffee.

In a world where it’s so darn easy to get caught up in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the Red Purl is one of those places you can go to ground yourself in reality, surround yourself with friends and indulge your creative side.

Red Purl Knitting Shop is located at 207 North Second St., Niles. It can be reached at (269) 684-0411.

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