What do Kurt Cobain, Sun Ra, and David Hasselhof have in common? They are all names of handspun yarns piled into the pigeonholed walls of Prick Your Finger, a wool shop for the new generation of trendy young knitters.
This haberdashery and gallery in Bethnal Green is brimming with balls of beautiful yarns: a soft, downy, dove grey named after the late singer; a mixture of sunshine orange and lipstick red inspired by the jazz musician; and dark chocolate encrusted with sparkling yarns dedicated to the hero of Knight Rider.
“Are these made of plastic bags?” asks a pleasantly surprised customer who dropped in on her way home, picking up a batch named Rubbish. It’s strange and lovely; spun from the fleece of Welsh mountain sheep, felt wool scraps, and a supermarket carrier.
“This would make an amazing jumper, wouldn’t it?” suggests the owner Louise Harries to the customer, who nods her agreement before coming up with her own ideas to share.
“The lovely thing about learning to knit is that you can create exactly what you want,” grins Rachel Matthews, the other half of the duo that started Prick Your Finger.
“You learn to become a designer by learning to knit, which I think is very exciting,” adds Harries, who is quite often amazed by how many people come up with a very good idea of what they would like to create once they realize they can knit.
And they are more than happy to help realize their customers’ dreams. Harries left her career in the fashion industry (Hoxton Boutique, Gucci and Gap), to share her love for knitting, two years ago. Matthews, her Central St Martins schoolmate, had already written books about knitting and co-founded a knitting club in east London, so was a perfect partner.
They wanted to encourage people to make their own clothes, and “knitting is all about making and designing your own stuff,” said Matthews.
They also had common interest: concerns about yarn production in Britain going down and the British wool industry falling apart at the seams.
A growing number of yarn shops have begun to stock locally or ethically sourced yarns, though, and all those at Prick Your Finger are from UK-based brands.
“We make lots of it ourselves here (in the back of the shop or outside if weather permits) or at a mill, which is one of the last remaining British mills,” she added. They are even planning to build a bicycle powered generator for their wool mill for March. So instead of guilt-ridden shopping at fast fashion chains, customers can design whatever they want, and knit it up with their eco-consciousness intact.
All you have to do to pick up the knitting bug is find a ball of yarn which you can really bond with (as it can be frustrating), and a pair of needles, then you can just ask friends, your grandmother or anyone who knits to show you how. You could also invest in a book or go online where you can find countless tutorials or demonstrations; type in “knit” and the search results on Youtube are more than 42,000.
There is “a sense of community in the knitting circle,” notes Matthews. It lets people share and bond – even those who met for the first time at her knitting lessons have become a close-knit group.
Barley Massey, the owner of Fabrications on Broadway Market in Hackney, who also runs regular classes, agrees: “As well as learning a new skill, the classes are very sociable and fun. Once everyone is comfortable with the techniques, the tea, biscuits and gossiping come out!”
Fancy a proper way of learning? Then book one of the knitting classes (£30 for 2 hours at Prick Your Finger; £20 for 2 and a half hours at Fabrications, both including materials), have a cup of tea with fellow beginners and learn the basics.