CONSUMER KNIT PICKING

Where to find yarns and patterns

THE FALL I started knitting, 1978, was the fall knits made a big comeback on the fashion scene. “The universal newsmakers are knits,” declared a Neiman-Marcus ad, “Nothing is more wearable, more adventurous, more collectible!” No doubt about it, the renewed fashionability of knits spawned a booming business for yarn shops in Dallas and elsewhere (on both coasts especially). But my inspiration came a little earlier in the form of a role model named Patricia.

Before I met Patricia, I had never taken a serious interest in what my grandmothers call “handwork.” I flirted briefly with crochet when it swept my college campus as a fad, but that passed in a matter of months. Like most females who grew up in postwar America, I figured most machines could perform the domestic arts better than I could. Besides, the only hand-knit pieces I’d ever seen -mostly lace doilies and baby cloths – offered no inspiration.

Enter Patricia. For years we worked at the same office, and I was constantly impressed with her sense of style. She wore knit suits resembling those of Missoni and Chanel, and through several winters I admired her classy mohair pullovers and tweedy cardigans. Then I heard that she had designed and made not just some but all of these herself. At age 13 Patricia had learned knitting from a Hungarian aunt, and from there she had practiced until she had turned an ancient craft into a contemporary art uniquely her own.

I was fascinated. By this time-the Seventies -many of us were realizing the limits of machine-crafting and were discovering an appreciation of what human hands can do. One day 1 found myself asking Patricia about the principles of knitting. From the looks of her wardrobe, I guessed the answer would probably be about as involved as an explanation of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

To my surprise, Patricia replied that even the most complicated patterns are made with two simple stitches: knit and purl. So on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving after the office had emptied, she began to teach me those two basic techniques. I practiced nonstop until 1 had produced a big, long noodle of a swatch. It was heartening to see that even my first stitches were uniform. My aptitude proven, Patricia started me on my first garment. I worked on it obsessively, and by January I was nearing the end of a brick-colored pullover of worsted wool: simple but, to me, beautiful.

Three years and two dozen or more knitted pieces later, I’m pulling out designer-inspired sweaters for another season and completing a mohair dress in time for the holidays. Knitting has become not just a permanent part of my life but, in a sense, a vital part. There are many reasons I recommend it: It requires no expensive equipment. It’s portable. It’s a marvelous use of time that would otherwise be spent car-riding, TV-watching or appointment-waiting. It fills a wardrobe with one-of-a-kind pieces at a fraction of the ready-to-wear price. But most of all, it gives me a sense of relaxation coupled with a satisfaction of personal accomplishment I’ve not experienced in any other way.

Until a few years ago, it was hard to find any really beautiful fashion yarns in Dallas. Now the city has a dozen or so sources of interesting yarn. Three of those shops are staffed with experienced knitters who will teach you the basics-just in case you don’t have a Patricia or a Hungarian aunt. You’ll want to visit one or all three of these shops for close guidance in choosing patterns and yarns, especially if you’re a beginner. Most of the other yarn shops are not knitting specialists, but do stock knitting yarns and are worth a visit sooner or later.

Gaye Weyand Needlecraft, 603 Park Forest Shopping Center, 243-5836. Open Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday until 5 p.m. Gaye Weyand, who last May celebrated 25 years in business, bills her shop as Dallas’ oldest. It is also the best, especially if content is more important than style. Weyand may not have the prettiest shop in town, but she does carry 146 different yarns. Multiply that by color selections and you get thousands of balls of yarn. And although Weyand doesn’t carry every available line, she can approximate almost anything any other store might have. Among the catholic selection here you’ll find 100 percent silk (Reynolds’ Orient Express); cotton and mohair by French importer, Chat Botte; cottons by anny blatt; a host of me-tallics; linen blends; angora; and ribbon.

Unlike anyone else in town, Weyand can assist you in putting yarns together (to create your own blend) and can also help with patterns. Her experience has taught her the vagaries of yarns -how they’ll look and how they’ll hang when knit into fabric.

Weyand’s selection of patterns includes manufacturers’ patterns ($1 to $4) and house patterns ($1 to $2). Weyand says she’ll custom-draft patterns (“but not for doll clothes and dog sweaters”) at no charge with a purchase.

Over the years, Weyand has become very covetous of her time, so don’t expect to walk in and have her sit down and do something for you that you could do yourself (albeit with several tries). For anything but the briefest explanation, sign up for one of her classes. Four weekly hour-and-a-half sessions are $30; new classes start in January. She will also do demonstrations by appointment and for a fee. She will assemble garments, finish (trim out edges, etc.) and block them -all for a charge, of course.

Inge’s Needle Art, 6918 Snider Plaza, 373-8801. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Inge Woolley and Shirley Ellington went into the wholesale-retail needlework business 14 years ago. Shirley runs Inge’s, while Inge runs the wholesale operation. Inge’s may not have as wide a selection as Gaye Weyand, but the fine fashion yarns the store does stock could keep a diligent knitter busy year-round. In addition to a solid foundation of worsted and sport-weight yarns, Inge’s carries 100 percent wools by Georges Picaud and other French importers, wool-silk blends by Tahki, metallics, angora, ribbon and fabric-ribbon.

By far the most exciting yarns at Inge’s are the newly arrived Missoni yarns from Italy, which are being retailed for the first time in the United States and are carried exclusively in Dallas by Inge’s. For these beautiful, high-quality variegated yarns, expect to pay about twice the usual price. In addition to the Missoni yarns, Inge’s offers a selection of Missoni patterns and even Missoni knitting needles, made of molded lucite flecked with tiny confetti-like bits of yarn.

In addition to the Missoni patterns, Inge’s carries a selection of house-designed patterns inspired by Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, Joan Voss and other designers. (Samples made from house patterns are on display in the store.)

Classes per se are not offered at Inge’s, but free assistance is available at a round table in the back of the store. The women at Inge’s will spend all day with you – pro-vided you don’t mind interruptions when other customers come in. This kind of accessibility is rare and valuable.

Inge’s charges $10 per hour for assembling, finishing, blocking and repair. (Allow three to four weeks for repair work; there’s a backlog.)

Basketful of Yarn, 9100 N. Central Expressway (Caruth Plaza Shopping Center), 739-3998. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This small but attractive shop was opened a year ago last September by Meda McQuay and Mary Quigg, a former employee of Gaye Wey-and. Among the prettiest yarns carried here are the Kreinik silks (expensive at $10 to $50 per skein, but only three are required for a pullover), anny blatt’s alpacas and cottons, and Fantacia metallic yarns imported from Italy.

The store’s selection of patterns are neatly arranged in notebooks, which you peruse to choose your pattern. Then, as in fabric shops, the actual pattern is pulled from a file. These cost from 75 cents to $7.50. McQuay and Quigg will custom-draft a pattern for you (just show them a picture) with any yarn purchase.

The women at Basketful of Yarn are as generous with their assistance as those at Inge’s (though the shop is more crowded). They offer knitting classes as well. Six weekly hour-and-a-half classes are $35; the next session begins in January. The store does assembling, finishing and blocking and will even have a garment custom-knit for you in case you like knits but not knitting.

Las Manos, 12215 Coit Road (Olla Podrida), 661-3695. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursdays until 9 p.m. This weaver’s haven is full of yarns that are perfectly suitable for knitting. Most of what you’ll find here are more roughly textured yarns, such as the Tahki wools and cottons, the tweedy Donegal homespun wools and the manos “thick and thin” (very roughly textured) yarns imported from Uruguay. You’ll also find alpaca here. What’s more, Las Manos -because of its attractive displays-is one of the few truly pretty yarn shops in town.

Spindle Top Yarn Shop, 6617 Snider Plaza, 691-2489. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Like Las Manos, Spindle Top is a handsome-looking weaver’s shop that carries a number of novelty yarns. Here you’ll find Stanley Berroco’s loopy yarns and mohair-like brushed wools, mohair blends, thick-thin yarns and a supply of cottons.

Marie’s Needlecraft, 227 Preston Forest Village, 239-2937. Open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Here you’ll find staple yarns and a fair selection of novelty yarns. Marie’s advertises free instruction with a purchase of yarn, but we’ve heard from one source that that applies only to the time of purchase and not later (when instruction is really needed).

Needle in a Haystack, 6911 Preston Road, 528-2850. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We know, we know: This is the needlepoint shop in Dallas. You’ll also find a supply of basic knitting yarns and a few novelty yarns as well. The only knitting-knowledgeable staffer here, Katie Collins, works on Saturdays and Mondays, so plan your visit then.

Let’s Knit Shop, 389 Casa Linda Plaza, 328-6622. Open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday until 5 p.m. This sunny little shop draws a goodly crowd of afghan-making grandmothers, but we’ve noticed an increasingly attractive selection of fashion yarns here.

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