Crafting a Recovery
By ANN HOOD
Published: January 8, 2011
The United States economy added 103,000 jobs in December, the Labor Department said Friday — proving that the recovery still can’t make up for all the jobs lost during the recession. Four writers share what the economy looks like in cities around the country.
I HAVE been knitting a lot lately — as I do whenever the New England weather turns colder. Baby hats and fingerless gloves. Blankets and dishrags. I’ve returned to a scarf I once grew bored with, a sweater I never finished.
I learned to knit in 2002, six months after my 5-year-old daughter, Grace, died suddenly from a virulent form of strep. I was unable to read or write, and friends suggested I take up knitting; almost immediately I fell under its spell. The clicking of the wooden needles, the soft yarn spilling onto my lap, the rhythm of repeating stitches helped to soothe my broken heart. Time passed, as it will, and eventually I was back to books — reading them and writing them.
It had been a few years since I’d gone to a knitting circle, but on a recent Friday, I headed to Fresh Purls, a three-and-a-half-year-old knitting store on Hope Street here in Providence. The owner, Karen Holmes, was a casualty of the economic downturn when she was laid off from her product manager job at a local technology company.
“Why don’t you open that knitting store you’ve always dreamed of?” her husband suggested. In March 2007, Fresh Purls opened its doors.
As the Rhode Island economy continues to struggle, business at Fresh Purls is, in Karen’s word, “awesome.” Crafts like sewing and quilting are also on the rise. “People aren’t taking as many vacations or going out as often,” Karen noted. “So they’re looking for things to do at home.”
At noon, women began to arrive, taking out patterns, yarn and needles. We cabled and purled, knit in stockinette and garter stitches. The store manager, Helen, helped me turn some gorgeous blue and pink and green stitches I had started as a sweater for my daughter Annabelle into a vest. I wasn’t the only one there salvaging discarded knitting: more aware than ever how much that skein of alpaca costs, how many expensive skeins it would take to make a shawl, many knitters had been searching through their stashes for abandoned projects.
Within an hour, the store was full, and the clacking of needles filled the air. Helen and Karen checked gauges and corrected mistakes, scurried to find measuring tapes and stitch holders. I got lost in the simple task of knit one, purl one, adding a row of turquoise to the borders of the vest. Eventually, the crowd thinned as women left to pick up kids at school or return to work. All of us, I knew, felt calmer and lighter. Whatever weighed on us — our personal sorrows, our financial woes, our uncertain futures — had temporarily vanished as we knitted. “It’s cheaper to buy a sweater at Target,” Karen pointed out. “People don’t knit to save money.”
As I leave the store, Helen tells me that Fresh Purls is running a food drive for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank: “If you bring in a can of food, you can pick a tag from the basket and get a discount on yarn.”
It gets dark early these winter days. The sky is most often pewter and the wind is sharp. We bundle up here, wrapping ourselves in scarves and hats and mittens. I already have a pattern ready for a baby blanket, the brightly colored yarn waiting to be cast on to bamboo needles, that will take many evenings in front of my fireplace to finish. In my neighborhood, across my state and beyond, more and more people will be taking up their own winter knitting projects, keeping hard times at bay, if even just for a little while.