By: Otiena Ellwand
Location: (1162 Queen St. East)
Most people think that knitting is a female dominated activity. However, during both World Wars, men were darning their own socks.
The Purple Purl, a yarn and café in Toronto’s east-end neighbourhood of Leslieville, has around 15 regular male customers, but the owners think that it’s changing. Modern men’s pattern books and male knitwear designers like Jared Flood are proving that knitting is not just a craft enjoyed by women.
Breaking down these barriers is what the Purple Purl is all about. And they seem to have figured out how to offer a space that appeals to all skill-sets, backgrounds and age groups. When the store opens at 11a.m. there are customers. When it stays open late on Tuesday nights, there are still customers, making the people who are waiting outside at the streetcar stop wonder, “What is going on in there?”
Maybe it has something to do with the tactile and colourful nature of wool that makes the store difficult to resist. Lining the walls are shelves choc-a-block full of bamboo and silk blends, alpaca wool from Peru and even balls made out of 100 per cent milk sold for $12 each. You just want to touch it all.
“We wanted to make it feel like a living room away from home,” said Miko Schechter, co-owner. At the centre of the store, there’s a cluster of comfy chairs set around a small wooden coffee table— perfect for placing a coffee and a treat to sustain you (some customers stay all day)— and the fish bowl windows give a glimpse out onto bustling Queen Street East.
“[Knitting] is a social thing and you’re producing something,” said Schechter, who has been knitting for 15 years. “We all have a love for the craft and the fibres and we all get to share that. So it doesn’t matter what political level or economic base you’re coming from, we can all sort of get together around the craft.”
Unlike other cafés where people bring their computers and subsequently close themselves off from conversation, here knitting acts an icebreaker. “You kind of already feel familiar with the person before you know much about them but their craft and I think that helps break down barriers,” said Schechter.
The Purple Purl offers knitting classes for adults and children and also organizes other events, like this year’s Book Challenge that was inspired by the film, Julie & Julia. “She cooked her way through a book, and we’re going to knit our way through a book,” said Schechter, who’s chosen a book with 40 patterns in it. “It’ll take me a year, because I’m not a monogamous knitter which means I have several patterns on the needle and my eye is always wandering.”
“New fibre comes in, must cast on, it’s just terrible, I’d say a sickness, but not really,” says Jen Campbell, the other co-owner, who’s chosen a book with 21 patterns.
At the end, they plan on throwing a party where all participants get to show off what they’ve made. When asked if they plan to sell their creations, the ladies say no, it’s just for fun.
“In terms of working for yourself, it’s easy to resent what you’re doing, you don’t ever want to take your hobby and not love it anymore,” says Campbell.
“The moment it’s not fun, that’s the moment when you consider other things,” finishes Schechter.