When Debbie Stoller, the feminist author and cofounder of Bust magazine, became obsessed with knitting in 1999, friends and even strangers responded with disbelief and occasionally disdain. "If I had been learning karate, they would have said, 'You go, girl, that's so feminist of you," says Stoller, 41. She realized that "the only reason knitting had such a bad rap was because it had traditionally been done by women."
So Stoller, determined to "take back the knit," founded a weekly "Stitch 'N Bitch" club in her Manhattan neighborhood, drawing women who want to knit like a granny but without the orthopedic shoes. Soon spinoff groups formed in Chicago and Los Angeles. "The only knitting group I could find before was called the Windy City Knitting Guild, and they meet in a library," says Brenda Janish, a Web designer from Chicago's North Side. "I'm sure they're great women but they weren't really the people I wanted to hang out with."
Inspired by the righteous chicks with sticks who came to her meetings, Stoller compiled "Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook" (Workman Publishing), a step-by-step guide for making a cell-phone cozy or a punk-rock backpack., Already in its fifth printing, the book is organized around playful chapter headings like "Pointers: What You Need to Know About Needles," and supplies funky patterns for a skull-and-crossbones sweater and a Wonder Woman bikini. (There is also a pattern for an heirloom-quality "big bad baby blanket," which would go nicely with the "umbilical-cord hat.")
New Stitch 'N Bitch clubs are cropping up wherever women yearn for a menage a trois--Stoller's name for the vital three-needle bind-off technique. Last week at an East Village cafe called Knit New York, the Stitch 'N Bitchers knitted and purled to the beat of synthetic punk music and traded multicolored hanks of angora, alpaca, mohair and even possum yarn. "When I learned to knit, yarns were just rough," said Carrie Brenner, a 31-year-old who works on Wall Street. "They weren't sexy and urban and hip." Stoller, surrounded by young women using the tools of the past to create new forms of self-expression, wore a fire-engine red scarf of silk and mohair, streaked with fuchsia. "Crafting is the new rock and roll, baby," Stoller says. And this time the girls are leading the band.