The post-feminist crochet revolution

Trendy, urban 20-somethings are getting together to share needles and yarn—and to prove that crocheting is cool

Crocheting and infrequent leg-shaving are marks of the new feminine mystique.

Crocheting and infrequent leg-shaving are marks of the new feminine mystique.

Photo By David Robert

It’s a Friday night. I’m hosting a party for just under a dozen friends. I pour Corona and Budweiser. I burn incense. Some friends come late, having just been to a punk rock show. We sit around on the floor, hippie style. I turn up the techno music.

My friend Kate Cotter reaches into her bag and pulls out our addictive substance. She passes out the needles and the … yarn.

“I think I know why women survived hundreds of years of Western patriarchy,” I muse to my friends. “They had crochet.”

Or knitting. Or sewing, or quilting. Denied economic autonomy, shut out of political conversations, prohibited from owning even a square foot of land, a woman’s sense of satisfaction had to spring largely from the domestic sphere. We had little access to the pen or the sword. We had to settle for the needle.

Growing up, I was wary of anything crafty. My mother was a prolific quilter who spent evenings painstakingly hand-stitching her works of art. I saw no reason for such a time-consuming enterprise to survive after her generation. I associated domestic activities with generations past, with pre-feminist lifestyles. My generation was liberated from all that. We could run for office, play softball and go to medical school. Dusting off Grandma’s old Singer sewing machine would surely be a step backward, a relinquishment of some of what feminism has accomplished. At the very least, I thought, it would be deeply un-hip.

Then my friend Kate initiated me into the cult of crochet. My first few hours with the needle were filled with a lot of brow-knitting and several grunts of frustration, but I finally managed to finish a scarf—or something close. A wave of triumph came over me. And I rode that wave. I turned my little apartment into a non-profit cottage industry, sometimes staying up until 4 a.m. to put out two hats a night.

Kate and I told some friends about the cult of crochet. Soon we formed a group called Bitch ‘n’ Stitch. At the first Bitch ‘n’ Stitch, so many people—both male and female—showed up that people had to share skeins of yarn. We began with simple projects like hats and scarves and have slowly ventured out into afghan territory and have recently taken to making thong underwear. We’ve talked about making blankets and hats for the area homeless.

I thought that our little Bitch ‘n’ Stitch group was an isolated phenomenon. But according to news sources that range from knitting magazines to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, domestic pursuits are shaking the very foundations of urban and college campus life.

“Your grandma knit, but your mom probably didn’t and your older sister most definitely would not have been caught dead shopping for a nice shawl skein,” writes Karen Solomon in a Bay Guardian article last year. “But lo and behold, the wheel has spun, and knitting is hip again and a favorite among San Francisco hipsters, college students and cool kids nationwide.”

The article exposes a network of “underground” knitters who meet in coffee shops or bars. And these yarn zealots are hardly priming themselves for Martha Stewart-hood. A good chunk are club kids.

“Knitting fever comes with a nomenclature that indicates why it’s so attractive to the drug-taking, bar-hopping set,” Solomon writes. “Like all good junkies, knitters are reliant on their needles, although unlike heroin users they have many different sizes and it’s OK to share.”

Search the Web and you can find stitching groups popping up from Boston to Bakersfield. One California group calls itself the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch Revolutionary Sew Circle and claims that its members engage in “anarchist gossip” while darning their socks.

A recent article on The links the crochet and knitting craze to a yearning for 1950s “strong-arm politics” and a celebration of matronly domesticity. It’s indescribably comforting, writes the article’s author, Nina Willdorf, to do something useful, to create something, in these uncertain times.

Here in Reno, local yarn suppliers agree. While browsing through Ben Franklin Crafts’ plenteous supply of skeins with fellow crochet junkie, RN&R Associate Editor Adrienne Rice, I strike up a conversation with skein queen Marjorie Nyberg. Nyberg is in charge of the yarn section at the Shopper’s Square Ben Franklin. I ask her if she’s noticed more young folks coming in to buy yarn.

“More and more and more,” she replies. “And boys too. It really excites me to see young people pick up things Grandma did.”

It’s also an inexpensive pursuit. A skein of Red Heart yarn costs under $2. Most needles are under $5.

“Yarn sales have picked up,” Nyberg says. “I can’t keep it in stock.”

Picking up the needle alone can be a lonely—and for beginners, maddening—thing to do. Much better to have company. Florrie Kersey, owner of Deluxe Yarns, Etc. on California Avenue, offers knitting and crochet classes. A six-week class is $144 and includes a starter kit. I ask Kersey if she’s noticed an upswing in the popularity of knitting among the young.

“It’s made a big jump,” she says. “For them, it’s a new art. It’s relaxing. They appreciate that they can make something.”

“It wasn’t until recently that I realized it had become so popular,” says Kate, the crochet guru of our Bitch ‘n’ Stitch group. “It’s a novelty. It’s always kind of nice to break a stereotype … [to have] a coed group of young people who are spending their Friday nights drinking beer and crocheting hats or thongs or whatever.”

Kate began crocheting a few years ago when she was in college in Tennessee. She had a summer job that required sitting around for long periods of time. She learned to crochet from a friend and was soon teaching her eager coworkers the craft while they passed away the hours.

“The people I worked with, the other young people, became interested, so I ended up teaching about a half-dozen people—about half of whom were guys,” she says. “One guy was making a rainbow sleeping bag.”

She says that she and her friends were so committed that they would take late-night weekend runs to the local Wal-Mart for supplies. On one such excursion, her crochet group had a run-in with the law.

“I went the wrong way on a one-way street. The policeman wanted to make sure we weren’t drinking. He said, ‘What are you young people doing?’ I thought about saying, ‘No officer, we’re going to get more yarn supplies.’

“But I figured he’d think I was being sarcastic."