Culture

Fashionably minded Beirutis flock to Y. Knot to join global knitting craze

BEIRUT: The resurgence of knitting as an acceptable - even fashionable - activity for modern young women (and the occasional modern young man) has been going strong for well over a decade now. The craft otherwise associated with gray-haired grandmas has been splashed on so many spreads in glossy magazines as to become as de rigueur among budding fashionistas as sipping cosmopolitans in designer digs atop a trendy bar.

The knitting phenomenon has spawned countless Web sites (from the standard www.knitty.com to the more streetwise www.knittaplease.com), a spate of cafes (from the Yarn Tree in Brooklyn to the Knit Cafe in Los Angeles) and a veritable cottage industry in specialized book publishing. See, for example, Debbie Stoller's "Stitch 'n' Bitch Nation" or Nikol Lohr's "Naughty Needles." As of August 2006, there were nearly 1,000 blogs devoted to the craft of working two needles and a ball of yarn into a scarf, sweater, poncho, pillow or more.

It makes sense, then, that after gaining momentum elsewhere the trend would wend its way to Beirut. The Arab world, after all, is apparently responsible for popularizing stranded knitting in the 12th century.

The Y. Knot boutique in Saifi Village opened in late June 2006. It is a collaboration between Samera Zahed and Yildiz Diab, who run the shop - all rustic stone, rugged brick and floor-to-ceiling shelves of yarn - along with an atelier that employs about 30 women from Lebanon's mountainous regions on a project-by-project basis, creating seasonal collections (stylishly chunky dusters for winter, cotton-crocheted beach wraps for summer) and perennial favorites (scarves, baby clothes, sparkling silver and gold shawls for evening).

Luckily, given the war that broke out just a few weeks later, Zahed and Diab opened with a fully stocked shop and suffered no real interruptions to their business. Nowadays, Fadia Milan takes pride of place at a work table toward the back of the store and leads weekly classes for knitters aged nine to 60. "She is adored," says Zahed. "She's really the expert in town, very patient."

Even during the political rollercoaster ride of the past seven months, customers continued dropping by with progress reports on their "projects." Bring Milan an idea and she'll tell you the best yarn, the best needles, the best pattern and how to execute it. At the same time, she'll make sure you do everything yourself. Such is the ethos of Y. Knot.

"I came here three years ago after London, Paris, a masters, husband, children, the whole experience," says Zahed, who grew up in Lebanon but left after university. "I've always worked in advertising and I came to notice that knitting was back in fashion. I'm good with my hands. Crafty, you could say. I'm a modern knitter."

She started thinking about opening a craft shop, and then she met Diab, who had been knitting since the age of four and was developing a parallel idea of working with local women to produce a baby clothes' collection. "It was a bit too beautiful not to merge," says Zahed.

Knitting in Lebanon now makes sense for other reasons as well. In tandem to its regeneration as fashion, knitting has proven itself as therapy, particular in post-trauma situations like war. Women who survived the massacres at Srebrenica in Bosnia banded together, with help from the NGO Norwegian People's Aid, to create Bosnian Handicrafts, a project meant to occupy the hours (and soothe the nerves) of new widows and provide them with economic empowerment at the same time. Bosnian Handicrafts' sales hit the $500,000 mark last year, with goods exported to points all over Europe, in the United States and in Japan.

"Check it, knitting is the new yoga," Zahed says, with a smile that suggests such a small store may ultimately have a big impact indeed. 

For more information on Y. Knot, please call +961 1 992 211 or email y.knot@cyberia.net.lb

 

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