Knitting up a storm in the Twin Cities


You might think of knitting as a solitary activity for loners, but knitters know that’s not the whole story. “I’ve seen people’s lives change over time,” said Abigail Lamberton, owner of St. Paul’s Borealis Yarn Store.  “I am not saying that knitting changes people’s lives, but the forging of ties with others in knitting groups does.”

Minnesotans are knitting up a storm with the most yarn, needlework, and quilt shops per capita in the country, according to Janine Kosel of 3 Kittens Needle Art Store in Mendota Heights. We asked three yarn store owners to share their knowledge about the Twin Cities knitting scene.

Borealis Yarns

Borealis Yarn Store has rooms available for different knitting groups.  A community table is available any time for however long knitters need help.  “What makes our store unique is the staff,” said Lamberton.  “They are very helpful.” Twelve staff work at the store. 

Lamberton described Borealis as an experiment in seeing if she could do run a business while building sustained, friendly relations with customers. The store moved into the Midway neighborhood in 2004.  “Neighborhoods come alive when small businesses move in,” said Lamberton. “This neighborhood has a lot of young people and some old. I wanted a place that was slow paced, welcoming, and not too much traffic.  Yarn shops are a destination, a time spent looking at yarn.” 

She said the light rail renovation of University Avenue has adversely affected her business with bus traffic being diverted down Hamline Avenue.  There are fewer people coming to her store.

Metro schools are teaching knitting, according to Lamberton, adding that, “Knitting uses the math center of our brains, keeping students focused with automatic movement.”  All ages knit, from kids doing finger knitting to teenagers, college age and 30s, 40s, 50s, and up. More men are knitting, especially when they can create their own designs. 

“I think knitters have more education. Thus I placed my store between two colleges,” said Lamberton.  Hardcore knitters knit year round doing socks or lace work in the summer.  Many alternate between gardening and needlework. At Borealis, eternity scarves called cowls, scarves, hats and simple Christmas projects are popular.  Making socks for Russian orphans and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are their latest service projects.

Every first Wednesday of the month Borealis offers a free class. 

Lamberton advises, “No two stores are alike. Visit all of them for ideas.”  Her second store is in downtown St. Paul.

Three Kittens Needle Art

“As soon as the cold or snow appears, the knitting season really begins. Sweaters, scarves, fingerless mittens, hats, and socks are popular,” said Janine Kosel, a knitting teacher and retailer at 3 Kittens Needle Art Store in Mendota Heights.  “Everybody knits.  There are no bounds as to who knits.  Economics drives knitting right now.  People want fast, good quality and less expensive projects.”  Alpaca socks for soldiers in Afghanistan and preemie caps for newborns in local hospitals are two of their service projects.

Kosel and Sue Flanders wrote a book about Norwegian handknits after visiting the Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa.  The book, Norwegain Handknits: Heirloom Designs from Vesterheim Museum came out in 2009. Their next book will be about Swedish handknits.

The store started 40 years ago on Robert Street in West St. Paul.  Three Kittens Store specializes in knitting and needlepoint.

Kosel suggests that beginners take a class rather than learn from a relative. “There are no expectations and it isn’t personal.”

The Yarnery

“In Scandinavian countries, schools teach knitting.  They expect that you know how to knit.  The Waldorf Schools here in the Twin Cities teach knitting.  The appeal of knitting is that it is tactile, creative, colorful, relaxing, portable and handmade,” said Shelly Sheehan, manager of The Yarnery on Grand Avenue.  “Knitting has a broad appeal crossing many cultures. Countries like Japan, Peru, Iceland, Ireland and Austria are just a few of the examples.  In the metro area, we have over 30 stores.”

Next year The Yarnery will be 40 years old.  “What makes the store unique is it is familiar to people,” said Sheehan. “We have been here a long time.  We have natural fibers, and in-house designers.”

The new class schedule will be out this December for January through April classes.  There are many classes for beginners. Popular projects now are shawls, cowls (eternity scarves), and slouchy hats.

“Across the board, people knit, eight to 80.  We have one of the largest men’s groups.  They meet once a month,” said Sheehan.

According to Bridget Brindley, president of the Minnesota Knitters’ Guild, the next big daylong event, The Yarnover, will be in April 2012. Four hundred people attended this past April.

For a directory of stores, go to the Minnesota Knitters Guild directory page or the Wayfaring website. 

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.