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Photo by Melanie Aronson
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Photo by Melanie Aronson
World Wide Knit in Public Day takes place every year in June, since being created by US knitter Danielle Landes in 2005. I participated a few years ago when I joined a group of Spanish women who were knitting in the park.
It would have been relaxing had it not been for all the double-takes that were thrown our way by various passers-by. Judging from their expressions of incredulous wonder, you would have thought we were out there churning butter. We could have started rubbing our knitting needles together to try and start a fire and they probably wouldn’t have been any more amazed. It was clear that they still viewed knitting as a traditional pastime engaged in only by grandmothers. Having just come from New York City, where there are dozens of wool shops and weekly knitting groups filled with hip young women and men, this came as a bit of a surprise to me.
The knitting revolution has been slow in coming to Spain but there are signs that this is changing, at least in Barcelona, where more and more wool shops and knitting groups (sometimes called ‘stitch and bitch’ groups) have started popping up in the past couple of years. American Jennifer Callahan and her Catalan husband Miquel Saurina, were ahead of the game when they opened their shop ‘All You Knit is Love’ in the Born in 2006. “At the time, knitting wasn’t fashionable yet and the bank director who was giving us the loan for the store looked at us like we were crazy!” said Saurina. “He asked why we were starting a knitting store when so many others were closing down.”
But Callahan and Saurina had something entirely different in mind from the typical Barcelona wool shop. They set out to sell products that couldn’t be found anywhere else—natural yarns instead of acrylic and local products such as Xisqueta wool from the Catalan Pyrenees. “We also wanted people to be able to come in and touch the yarns rather than just look at them from behind the counter” said Callahan.
This last comment struck a chord with me. I’ve always found the process of buying wool in Spain to be intimidating. Traditionally in Spanish mercerias (shops where they sell craft and sewing supplies), most of the wool is kept behind a counter. Also behind the counter, there typically lurks a hawk-eyed saleswoman who looks less than thrilled that you’ve deemed it necessary to saunter into her realm. “Puedo ayudarle?” she pounces, before you’ve had a moment to regain your senses and work out why you’re standing next to a display case featuring 800 pairs of baby-blue booties and a cross-stitch of two mournful-looking horses.
At this point you must indicate which wool you are interested in, and then, with what seems an exaggerated show of patience, the saleswoman will retrieve it for you and then proceed to stare at you expectantly until you make a decision. Apparently, it is actually these women who are used to being the ones making the decisions. The way things traditionally work here is that the knitter first tells the saleswoman what she wants to knit. The latter then devises a pattern, chooses the yarn and ‘guides’ the customer in making the garment. This process generally entails numerous trips to and from the yarn shop as each step is completed and further instruction is needed. “We have older women coming in all the time who say that although they’ve been knitting for 40 years, they don’t know how to read a pattern by themselves,” said Callahan. All You Knit is Love, on the other hand, is entirely autoservicio. Callahan and Saurino are there to help but they encourage customers to choose both their own yarn and patterns.
In October 2010, Silvia López and Carmen Garcia de Mor opened the Gràcia wool shop IFIL with the intention of catering to a new kind of knitter. “Our objective is to get people to stop associating knitting with something difficult that only older people can do,” said López. IFIL provides knitters with dozens of seasonally changing patterns (developed by Garcia de Mor), all of them clearly marked with level of ability, wool required and estimated knitting time. Since about 80 percent of their customers are people who are just starting to knit, their focus is on simplicity. IFIL aims to be more than a knitting store, however. “We believe in more than just yarn,” said López. “Knitting empowers you when you see that you can create something. You can then take that empowerment and apply it to other parts of your life—maybe you’ll break up with your idiot boyfriend or leave a job you don’t like.”
The biggest indication that the knitting trend has come to Barcelona is that the typical customer at both IFIL and All You Knit is Love is under 35 years old. Clearly a marked change from the bootie-knitting abuelas of yore.
So why now? Is it just another American trend that has made its way over to Spain, riding on the top of a big frosted cupcake? Or are there are more factors at work here than just trends? Feminism came late to Spain and the country’s women have spent the past 30 years reacting against the traditional gender roles so beloved by Franco. Perhaps only now are women starting to feel that they can engage in hobbies such as knitting and still be liberated at the same time. The economic crisis probably has something to do with it as well. “The crisis has helped us to see that not everything is about money,” said Silvia López.
Whether you’re a novice or an expert, if you’re interested in knitting, there are plenty of options for finding like-minded folks in Barcelona. You can take a class at All You Knit is Love or IFIL (both have English-speaking teachers). Or you can participate in a local knitting group. Most of the groups are Catalan- and/or Castilian-speaking but they welcome foreigners, as well as novice knitters. Not only is it a relaxing way to knit in company, but also a great way to meet Barcelona natives and practise your foreign language skills!
All You Knit is Love—Barra de Ferro 8; www.allyouknitislove.com
IFIL—Torrent de l’Olla 161; www.ifilbarcelona.wordpress.com
Merceria Santa Ana—Portal de l’Ángel 26. Go here if you want to see the traditional knitting system in action. Head to the second floor, Monday to Thursday from 10am to 1pm, and you’re likely to see a group of women sitting around the counter, knitting and being guided by the saleswoman.
Ravelry—Join this site and look in the ‘Groups’ section under Barcelona. You’ll be able to see the recent activities of and news from a number of Barcelona knitting groups, shops and forums. www.ravelry.com
Barcelona Knitting Groups
KCS (Knitting, Crochet, Sewing) Barcelona—http://kcsbarcelona.blogspot.com
Teixicomanes de Barcelona—teixicomanes.blogspot.com