A multitude of diverse colors greet visitors to the Knitting Cove and Yarn Shop in Port Jefferson Village. Hundreds of skeins of yarn with different cotton blends line the shelves. Aqua Amano, Burgundy Berroco, Cerulean Circulo, Eggshell Ella Rae, Fuschia Feza. Knitting pins, fuzzy bag charms and tool bags with slogans like “Knitting is my therapy” sit in baskets around the shop. Signs that read “WOOL” and “Come + Sit + Enjoy” hang on the walls.
The shop is a haven to both experienced and new knitters. In the center of the main room, women sit, knit and talk at a large wooden table, often learning new techniques and getting guidance from the owner, Toni Burns, who has been working with yarn for more than 20 years. In the back of the shop, mannequins show off colorful handmade knitted hats and sweaters. Wooden needles, necklace kits and row counters, a device that helps keep track of what row you are on in a knitting pattern, hang on the wall. Baskets filled with more yarn sit on a small table.
Knitting and crochet classes are also held at the shop, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Toni and a few employees teach these classes and sometimes Toni invites guests to teach specialty classes like pom-pom and tassel making. The shop hosts a monthly knit night where people from the community come to knit. There is also a sweater group that meets every Saturday night.
“If they need help with a project we help them, a lot of times it’s just for the camaraderie of sitting around and knitting together and being with friends,” Toni says.
Standing just under 5’5 with shoulder length auburn hair, Toni makes the shop a welcoming place for anyone that enters. Toni, who resides in Ridge, Long Island, knits almost anything from shawls and sweaters to mittens and baby garments. She works regularly on her own projects and products which she often sells at the shop. The store was purchased more than four years ago and its location moved from East Main Street to 1303 Main Street this past September.
The owner is in charge of stock, ordering yarn, and making sure there are always new and current samples. Toni buys most of the yarn in her shop from major yarn companies like Knitters Pride and LANG Yarns. Yarn from small independent local dyers is also showcased.
Knitting is thought to have originated in the Middle East and reached Europe through Mediterranean trade routes by wool traders in the 5th century. The first examples of knitting – a pair of cotton socks – were found in Egypt in 1913 by English papyrologist, John de Monins Johnson and are believed to be thousands of years old. These socks were created using an ancient technique called nalbinding, which calls for a single needle and thread like crocheting but features patterns and stitches that resemble knitting.
By the 14th century, fishermen were knitting warm, woolen, waterproof jumpers for trips to sea. A century later, knitting machines in England were producing knit hosiery for the wealthy. Before the Industrial Revolution, men dominated the knitting industry, and machine-knitting was considered classy while hand-knitting was seen as domestic and amateur. Now, hand-knitting is viewed as a skillful pastime for everyone to enjoy.
All of knitting is based on two simple stitches, the knit stitch and the purl stitch. The knit stitch is made by creating a loop in the back of the piece. The purl stitch is made by creating a loop in the front. Everything else is a combination or variation of those two stitches. There are thousands of these variations, also known as stitch patterns or stitches. There are also different types of yarn balls and put-ups within knitting, such as the skein, cake, cone, and hank, the loosest wound type.
On a Thursday evening, regulars gather at the Knitting Cove and Yarn Shop to attend a coat class. The six women converse amongst themselves exchanging tips, picking yarn and occasionally asking for the help of the instructor, Pat Zizza. Pat who has curly blonde hair and green and brown speckled glasses, is a knitting and crochet expert and is always working on multiple projects at once.
She teaches a Wednesday morning class from 9:30am to 11:30am and a Thursday evening class from 6:30pm to 6:30pm. She has been working at the shop since its previous owner. Some of the knitters including Marsha Schauder, a regular who knits three hours a day, like to joke that Pat “came with the store.”
“This is the kind of place where you can just bring your projects and knit,” Marsha said as she finishes crocheting brown and grey shawl. “It’s therapeutic.”
Marsha started knitting thirteen years ago but just learned how to crochet from Pat this year.
“We will help with what yarn, how much they need, especially if you’re going to change the pattern and you need it larger,” Pat said. “I’ll warn you about all that if you’re going to invest in it and help you with colors.”
Most of the women in the shop are making coats for the holiday season and began making them the third Wednesday of September. They got their inspiration from a knitting magazine, which featured a brown version of the coat.
Lois Kohlus peers at her purl stitches from above her thick-rimmed glasses and continues to work her way through the first sleeve of her teal coat.
“Let me see if I can find another catalog,” Michelle Andriaccio jumps up from her seat next to Lois and heads to the back of the store, abandoning the second sleeve of her crimson-red coat for a moment.
“I said you’ll all be wearing your coats by the holidays and they laughed at me,” Pat said, feigning shock. “And look at them now, they’re almost done.”
The other knitters stopped their pieces momentarily to admire their friends’ work and feel the material.
The slow whirring crank of the wooden yarn swift, a machine that winds yarn, can be heard from the front of the shop as Pat prepares yarn.
“When you have a skein like this, you can’t knit from it because it would just turn into a thousand knots so you open it up and stretch it,” Pat explains. “I wind it into a little cake like that and you have no problems.” She points to the donut of blue yarn at the end of the machine.
Pat always suggests that customers to stay to get their yarn wound unless they are in a rush because it takes a long time to do so manually.
“I’ll be winding with the door open sometimes and you should see how many men come in and are fascinated by it,” Pat exclaims. She is preparing yarn for another knitter at the class, Rakafet Gruberg.
Tall with short blonde hair, Rakafet attends classes at the shop once a week. She walks over to one of the yarn racks near the table and picks up a fuzzy grey ball of yarn to examine it. After a moment Rafaket turns to Pat and says “I’m using this too so I’ll just make the combination.”
“Okay, I gotta wind it for you,” Pat explains as she takes the yarn from Rafaket and places it next to the machine beside her for Rafaket’s project, ribbed socks.
“You know the legend about the socks though Rafaket?” Pat asked as she continued to crank the machine. “No,” said Rafaket who had the same puzzled look as everyone else in the store that turned to hear what Pat had to say.
“They say never knit a pair of socks for your man or he’ll walk away from you in them,” Pat continued. “If you want to bind him to you forever, knit your hair into the sock.”
The ladies murmured oh’s and wow’s, many of their faces still wearing confused expressions.
“She’s been watching too much of that Oak Island show,” said Michelle, who shook her head and in turn her brown messy hair bun also shook. She rolled her eyes and smirked at Pat.
“Oh my god! Did you watch it?” Pat inquired, her eyes lighting up. “I’m not going to say anything but this is gonna be the last season.”
“Thank god!” Michelle joked and laughter erupted from the group. “Uh-uh,” Pat shouted in disapproval and waved her finger.
There is a modestly-sized but strong community at the Knitting Cove and Yarn Shop on 1303 Main Street. It is a community of women that not only share the same passion but also share experiences, foster growth and form close bonds.
“I look forward to just increasing the number of people who come through the door,” Toni Burns said. She is also looking into creating new classes.