Crafters sip and stitch at McWalker Yarns in Millvale
There’s a party going on in Millvale.
Beer and conversation flow. Laughter fills the room.
But these people aren’t congregating at one of the borough’s many bars. They’re hanging out at McWalker Yarns, a boutique store for fiber arts crafters.
Every Friday from 6 to 8:30 p.m., folks are welcome to Sip & Stitch at the Grant Avenue shop.
“It’s the perfect solitary, group activity,” said Nicole DeMan, 44, of Troy Hill.
She took a swig from a bottle of Penn Märzen beer and went back to knitting a pair of mittens to go with her self-made hat and scarf.
DeMan is one of more than a dozen Sip & Stitch regulars who come each week armed with snacks, a beverage, a skein of yarn and knitting needles or a crochet hook. While the group is slightly skewed toward middle-aged women, members, both male and female, range in age from 20 to 80. They sit in the back of the store on chairs and couches are arranged in a circle.
Amy McCall opened McWalker Yarns – a hybrid of her married and maiden names – last spring after a career in law. A knitter since age 5, she was sad to see several area yarn stores close in recent years, mostly due to raised rents and the inability to compete with online sales. Her store gives crafters a place to reconnect with one another.
“Yarn stores are destination places,” said McCall, of East Liberty. “We don’t get a lot of traffic from people walking by, but I’m happy in Millvale. It’s an interesting, welcoming, upcoming community.”
McCall partners with other local companies, such as Tupelo Honey Teas — a frequent beverage offering at the shop — and Stitch Party — which dyes a lot of the yarns sold at the store — to help bolster the business district.
The fiber arts industry is on a roll these days, with a resurgence lead by hobbyists turned YouTube stars. Online tutorials and intricate patterns by Andrea Mowry, a stay-at-home mom and knitwear designer, are all the rage in the crafting community.
“She made knitting sexy,” McCall said, holding up a large shawl she made based off of one of Mowry’s designs called Find Your Fade.
Hollywood stars including Julia Roberts and Krysten Ritter post pictures of beautiful sweaters and beanies on their Instagram pages, boasting about their newfound love of knitting.
Like the “slow food” movement that encourages people to grow their own crops and spend more time at home in the kitchen, “slow fashion” is helping folks become more self-sufficient by stitching their own clothes. In addition to wardrobe enhancement, there also are health benefits to handicrafts.
In scientific studies, the meditative, mathematical activity has been shown to reduce stress, lessen chronic pain and improve mood. It’s a hobby often introduced to people in hospitals, schools and prisons.
“It happened after 9/11. People started focusing more on family and home,” McCall says. “Since then, people have found that connection to the crafts of our ancestors. It’s not a hobby; it’s a post-apocalyptic life skill.”
McCall knitted an enormous, blanketlike scarf – which her husband refers to as a “scafghan” – while studying for the bar exam.
L. Renee Miller of Brackenridge said the constant hand motion – coupled with a nice cocktail – helps her de-escalate from a hectic work week.
Lauren Eicher, 27, of Mt. Pleasant picked up the habit to help ease her anxiety and ADHD. At first, she tried her hand at crocheting in high school art class, but it didn’t stick. She switched to knitting on her own and instantly fell in love. She now has a box overflowing with sweaters and shawls.
To combat her social anxiety, Eicher forced herself to attend knitting group get-togethers. Next month, she’ll teach her first class – a lesson on how to make stuffed animals – at the shop.
“I’ve definitely made a lot more friends,” she said. “This community is so welcoming. Everyone is so nice and so open. It’s hard to feel judged in this environment.”
Kristy Locklin is a freelance writer for the Tribune-Review.