Holiday Gift Guide:
String theory: 86-year-old Adela Kras stays active and young with her Calistoga Yarn Shop.
With no sign of binding off, the knitting craze runs full-speed ahead. Earlier this month, the Internet was abuzz with the news that Julia Roberts will be starring in The Friday Knitting Club, slated for a 2008 release. Roberts will play a mom who owns a knitting store in Manhattan. While the silver-screen star has reportedly knitted in real life for years, Adela Kras, the owner of the Calistoga Yarn Shop, opened her first knitting store in San Francisco, in 1969, just two years after Julia Roberts was born.
Speaking above the chirps of two cockatiels, Kras explains in her thick Polish accent the long lull in knitting's popularity before it exploded a few years ago to its current frenzy. "In the '60s, [knitting] was not big. No, you could have bought yarn for 65 cents a skein in San Francisco, and good wool, I tell you, good wool. It was absolutely quiet in knitting altogether. Women found out they could go to Macy's and buy a little sweater for $15 or $20.
"We stand on our ears to make people realize that handmade--it costs more, but my goodness, it's so much more beautiful," she continues, her voice nearly rapturous. "Also, finally, people did find out that to sit down with those two needles and yarn, [was to] relax. You can think about whatever you want and make beautiful things; you can make scarves galore, handwarmers, legwarmers, easy things that don't take brains," she continues, her voice nearly rapturous.
Kras' patience has paid off. "I was waiting for the customers to come in for a long time. I don't wait anymore. I have customers all the time. I finally got a little more popular. And people know that I can help. I am not neurotic about the whole thing anymore: 'Will they come? Will they like my work?' I don't panic anymore," she says.
Kras sighs happily. "The world is crazy for knitting right now."
Adela Kras pretends to apologize. "I don't carry the five-and-dime kinds of yarn here," she says. What her Calistoga Yarn Shop does carry are fine French, English, Scandinavian, Canadian, Japanese and Nepalese yarns, some of which are handpainted. But she has skeins of patience, too, instructing knitters for free. Our suggestion: go in person with your giftee and kill two birds (but not Kras' cockatiels!) with one stone. Spend Q-T with your giftee, letting her pick out her own pattern and yarn under Kras' sure guidance. This way, the lucky knitter benefits from Kras' treasury of advice in-person and you both get to enjoy her delectable personality. 1610 Cedar St., Calistoga. Open daily, 10am-4pm. 707.942.5108.
Bookends Book Store contains a veritable library of books to enlighten your needle-nosed friends. Choose among Vogue Knitting on the Go: Knits for Pets (Sixth & Spring Books; $12.95) and At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much (Storey Publishing; $9.95). Or change it up with patterns for a yarmulke, bathrobe and striped bikini in Greetings from Knit Cafe (STC Craft-Melanie Falick Books; $24.95). One-Skein Wonders,-i> (Storey Publishing; $18.95) is great for new knitters or those without much patience. 1014 Coombs St., Napa. Open daily. 707.224.1077.
Next, walk over to Yarns on First to pick up a ball of yarn to accompany One-Skein Wonders. The store carries a number of hard-to-find yarns, including the Muench Touch Me line ($15-$17), which according to the experts at www.knitty.com, "will put you into sleepy velvet oblivion." Or buy your beginning fabric-ator entrance to knitting classes, like Learn to Knit, a multiple-session class including six hours of instruction for 50 bucks. 1305 First St., Napa. Open Tuesday-Saturday. 707.257.1363.
Run by a mother-daughter team--Shellie, 45, and Ashleigh Westcott, 22--Knitterly bills itself as a "full-service yarn, knitting and crochet shop." The store even has its own mascot, Purl. Knitterly is the stop for funky, handmade knitting bags, although they run a mite bit pricey. One of the shop's most popular gift items are knitting bags made from vintage fabrics by Berkeley-based company Offhand Designs, which has gotten a lot of ink lately ($50-$150). Susan Todd makes knitting bags in New Mexico, by recycling Goodwill sweaters and cutting them up into pieces for the bags ($40-$75).
You can also spring for a knitting bag from the Mielie line ($125-$300)--a range of rug-hooked carpet bags made by a co-op of South African women. Be sure to check out the sanguine array of classes at Knitterly, too. You can always get a gift certificate if you can't decide. 260 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Open daily. 707.762.9276.
To Dickens, France plus knitting equaled Mme. Defarge, the ominous lady who knits the names of the Revolution's potential victims into her prophetic cloth. Cree-pee. Philato, owned by Parisian Caroline Dlugy-Hegwer, is anything but. The owner, who blogs about crusty croissants and wanting to knit a rainbow of colors during the winter, offers socially conscious needle cases, accessory pouches and knitting bags made by women's co-ops in Vietnam.
She also carries a range of recycled yarns made from remnants of banana silk, viscose and silk saris. Carved from Northern California birch trees, Brittany knitting needles are stocked on the shelves. Hurry, because Dlugy-Hegwer is moving to Boston at the end of December. 25 Washington St., Petaluma. Open Monday-Saturday. 707.762.0106.
The grande dame of Marin artisan stores, the Dharma Trading Co., has watched the barometer of needle arts rise and fall since 1969. As the Methuselah of fiber arts, Dharma purveys an exhaustive range of dyes, spinning supplies and other technologies, but it also carries more giftable items, like a set of Denise knitting needles with interchangeable tips, so you can obtain different sizes without running to the store ($54). Or grab a Thai silk holder by Della Q to organize knitting needles ($38). If your giftee likes felting, make a kit by picking out a Noni pattern for a felted bag ($8) and letting a helpful employee guide you to the right yarn and needle. 1604 Fourth St., San Rafael. Open Monday-Saturday. 415.456.1211.
Recently opening Atelier Marin as the sister store of Atelier Yarns in San Francisco, owner Amanda Madlener keeps the store's website up to date with the latest knits from couturiers Hermes, Alexander McQueen and Versace. Indulge your giftee with one of Atelier Marin's zillions of fashion-forward classes, like making a seamless sweater ($80 for four sessions), learning to crochet in a day ($45 for one session) or general trouble shooting ($45 for two sessions). 217 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo. During fall and winter, the store has lengthened hours; closed Monday. 415.256.9618.
Studio Knit's aesthetic is handsome--gentleman's-library style crossed with a Crate & Barrel catalogue photo. In other words, the store is upscale, but also relaxed. For the truly discriminating knitter, Studio Knit carries the Big Yarn's sterling silver "notions." Don white gloves to inspect these elegant stitch markers ($42 for set of six), stitch holders ($32), cable needles ($27 for one) and tapestry needles ($31), which knitters use to sew pieces together. Or exercise your social conscience and buy Be Sweet's Magic Ball of variegated yarn ($30), hand-spun and hand-dyed by South African tribeswomen in a jobs creation program. The Magic Ball makes one adult-sized hat, which most knitters can pound out in just a few hours. 320 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Open Tuesday-Sunday. 415.389.9994.
We also like Calistoga Yarns (1458 Lincoln Ave., #3, Calistoga; 707.942.5108), the Knitting Workshop (117 S. Main St., Sebastopol; 707.824.0699) and Muse (1400 Oak Ave., St. Helena; 707.967.9500).
Buying for the knitter, crocheter or embroiderer in your life should be undertaken with care. One shop owner warns that giving yarn as a gift "can be like trying to pick out clothes for someone. Yarn is kind of personal."
With this in mind, we offer these purls of wisdom: