By Steve Weinstein
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A few years ago, every limp-haired, slouchy-boot-wearing, song-writing girl on the L-train was passing the time clinking her knitting needles together and staring off into space. They were knitting in class, crocheting in bars!
The desire to be seen knitting has died down a little, but as we head into the dead of winter, those nubby wool scarves, thick and slightly irregular in pattern, are still in high demand. If you still have a granny, lucky youthey all know how to make things, and nothing pleases them more than a request. (Of course, you'll be forced to wear it when she visits, one arm jutting out of a too-short sleeve, one reindeer's head inquisitively crooked.) But there are other options: you could befriend a knitter, but try to get in on it before they quit (I have a blue-and-white striped scarf the size of a bedspreada friend's second and final creation).
Of course, you could resort to the stores for "handmade-looking" knits or splurge on super-expensive real ones. Anna Kula makes luxuriously cuddly scarves and hats, but the grannyest ones, like her "Cluster Scarf" and "Swirl Scarf" are, at $160 and $150 respectively, out of our price range. And the fakes are sort of depressing. At Urban Outfitters there are loose, drooping scarves ($38) that are meant to look whimsical, with an ugly patterned ribbon braided through to make Xs down the center. It's more sloppy middle schooler than wholesome grandma.
The Gap does slightly better, at least keeping the designs simple (cable-knit with fringe, on sale for $9.99), but those bright colors (stem green, raspberry rose) are a little too cute, not to mention the weird fixation on sequins. Anyway, even when they if they are wide, they're still too thin. J. Crew wins in this category, using Merino wool and Cashmere blends to make simple, ample scarves (on sale for $29.99). At least these can be worn by people over the age of 14, but there's something unsatisfying in those perfect, machine-made cables.
Jeannie Goldman and Jackie Atkins, the owners of Plum, a boutique on Ludlow Street, have made the humanitarian decision to share their own mothers and one grandma with us all. Their racks are filled with designs by up-and-comers like Octopi, Catherine Brule, and Fig, but the thick, speckled wool scarves (currently on sale for $45 to $75), bear a pink and white label that reads "Crafted with Care by the Granny with the Hair." This is a loving reference to Jackie's grandmother, Ilsa, who still sports the beehive she perfected in the 60s.
Grandma Katz moved to Washington Heights from Germany decades ago, and worked in a corset factory before becoming a banker. When she retired, she became a master crocheter. Although her works are selling in a hip boutique, she refuses to take a cut of the profits, or even let her granddaughter cover her expenses. Jeannie's mother began knitting "out of boredom" two years ago when she was in the hospital. Her hats, in solid wool or two colors woven together in a random pattern, regularly draw compliments from strangers on the street. She also crochets scarves, which are flatter than Grandma Katz's, with elegant, open patterns. Jackie's mother contributes a little flair to the collection with long, thin chenille scarves that catch the light just so.
Grandma Katz taught Jackie's mother and sister to crochet, and when Jackie was studying design at Parsons, helped her with the sewing for her projects. But Jackie never learned to knit or crochet. "I don't even have the patience to be taught," she said. "We'll just leave it to the experts."