In Stitches

In a Fells Point shop, dyed-in-the-wool knitters and those newer to the pattern find a common thread of camaraderie.

July 09, 2002|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

On Saturday mornings in Fells Point, when few have walked their dogs, parking is still plentiful, and proprietors sweep the sidewalks in front of their shops, Lorraine Gaudet readies two dozen folding chairs and puts on pots of coffee and tea.

On balmy days, women begin arriving before 10 a.m. for the "stitch and bitch" session at her Aliceanna Street shop, A Good Yarn. They grab a chair and arrange themselves in groups beneath a tree on the sidewalk in front, their coffee on tables and yarns flowing from big brown bags at their feet. From the corner of Aliceanna and Broadway, it appears as if Fells Point has suddenly sprung a trendy new sidewalk cafe.

There's Caroline Leibman, who wears a hat and walks with a cane, and Laurel O'Connell, a chemical engineer, who's been knitting for 45 years. She turns 50 this year. Mary Moody. Linda Hudson. There are doctors, lawyers, a pilot, a real estate agent. A graduate student. A psychiatric resident at Johns Hopkins who happened past while in labor and now knits a sweater for her month-old son. A biotech researcher. A software development trainer. A grandmother. Tracey Hamilton, an artist, whose glittering beaded pouches strung on necklaces sell inside for $50.

The women pay $5, which goes to charity, and help themselves to apricot and chocolate flavored cheeses, generous pastries and thick brown bread purchased that morning from Desiree Washington-Arizmendi, who owns the Fells Point Coffee and Cheese shop down the block.

On too-hot days or rainy days, Lorraine, the shop owner, posts a note on her door: "Come inside. The air conditioning is on." Some days, 25 people crowd around the large white table in a back room where she holds class.

A Good Yarn opened a year and a half ago on the first floor of a rowhouse. Lorraine, 55, and her husband, Lloyd Sowell, live above it, in an apartment photographed by Southern Living recently for a spread on shopkeepers who live above their stores in the neighborhood.

People stumble upon the shop, mostly, finding it open late and on weekends. Several nights a week and during the day, Lorraine runs classes, teaching people to make socks from wool that knits into its own stripes, thick carpetbags on big needles, and to design their own sweaters with Kool-Aid-dyed yarns.

The Saturday morning sessions were an afterthought. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a knitting group? Lorraine asked students one day. People could come in to knit, and if she could help them, she would. It was a way to bring people into the shop, and now, it has became a source of camaraderie.

It can be raucous. The conversation ranges from chicken lips to condoms. There are reports on a trip to Japan and comparisons of foreign air carriers. The Marine among them has been overheard predicting the timing for a war against Iraq. The real estate agent, the prices of Harbor Place condos, which couldn't be given away seven years ago (all that changed a few years ago when then-Oriole Brady Anderson moved in); a resident of one of those condos wonders what to say to a certain other Oriole who always has a different woman on his arm in the elevator.

After Lorraine shares photos of her daughter's West Coast wedding, the talk turns to wedding rings. A woman named Melinda, married five times (that's where all the eligible men went, laments Linda), suggests buying a first diamond so it can be made into earrings, the second to make into a pendant, and so on, until someone volunteers that diamond sales are down due to worries about the use of the industry by terrorists.

The conversation is a lot like that around the bars Lorraine used to run: People talk about everything.

Instead of drinking, though, they make works of art, the choice of texture and design being endless: ribbon yarn, microfiber yarn and lace-weight alpaca to start. There's kid mohair - softer than mohair, since it's from a baby - mohair boucle, brushed mohair, and merino.

A love of color is a prerequisite, and color is everywhere: in the green hat Caroline wears against her auburn hair, the book about the color blue she gave someone as a present, and in the long yarns hanging from wooden rods on the walls of the shop.

Amid the chatter, Lorraine steps into the front room to substitute a tomato red for a plain red in the pile of skeins a customer is assembling for a scarf she intends to wear to Maryland football games.

Lorraine came to Baltimore in 1985 on a 50-foot sailboat and lived on it a year before her relationship with the co-skipper went south and she hopped off. She feels at home in Baltimore, where she can wear a housecoat to Desiree's or walk around her shop in pajamas and no one seems to mind.

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