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No longer needles in a haystack

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  • Harlan Pruden
    ... No longer needles in a haystack ... BY MICHELE SCHWARTZ Michele Schwartz is a freelance writer. May 1, 2005 Forget about poker night or the local pub:
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      No longer needles in a haystack

      Michele Schwartz is a freelance writer.

      May 1, 2005

      Forget about poker night or the local pub: Boys' night out for one group of guys revolves around a casual evening of camaraderie, a few drinks and knitting needles.

      Every Friday night, the men meet up for Boyz Nite, a weekly hangout sponsored by Knit New York, a Manhattan knitting store and cafe on East 14th Street. There, they gather to catch up with one another, greet new faces, sip some wine or beer, and, yes, knit. At 9 p.m. sharp one recent night, employee and knit instructor Vanessa Theriault politely asked the store's patrons, all female, to leave and announced that Boyz Nite had officially commenced.

      One of the first to arrive was John Shrader, 41, of Westchester, who began coming in October. "It's a nice feeling of belonging and being able to share with people of the same sex the same nontraditional thing," said Shrader, who learned to knit from his grandmother when he was 10. A husky man with graying hair and a goatee, he was working on a forest-green swatch pattern of two intertwined trees for a spring sweater.

      An alternative to the loud and boisterous bar scene, Boyz Nite began in the fall of 2004 as a laid-back place for men to socialize and meet other people with the same interests, including, but not limited to, knitting. Starting with just four or five men, Friday nights have grown to include about 30 people. The event officially ends at 11 p.m. but sometimes has been known to last a bit later.

      The men, ranging in age from their early 20s to 40s, relax and chat around tables while working on sweaters, socks, scarves and other projects. While the crowd is predominantly gay, it does not exclude straight men and welcomes first-time knitters as well the advanced. The men are free to bring in their own projects or can buy patterns and materials from the shop. The only prerequisites for attendants are that they be male and willing to wield a knitting needle.

      Newcomer David Kaley, 29, has decided to try his hand at it. "I always wanted to learn knitting," said Kaley, a costume designer from the Upper East Side. "I taught myself quilting a couple of years ago and came down tonight," he said. With the help of Rob, a New York University student and Boyz Nite regular, Kaley chose Uruguayan wool yarn in jungle green. Theriault and Rob sat down with Kaley to teach him the basics and get him started. "I'm making a scarf, apparently," he said with a laugh.

      Providing a comfortable and secure atmosphere that encourages men to indulge in their creative side is what Boyz Nite is all about. Friends and knitting enthusiasts Harlan Pruden and Gary Boston try their best to meet that goal. Both men have been coming for several months and put together a knitting listserve for men, encouraged new recruits by passing out flyers and telling people about the event and have even organized knitting field trips. They said Boyz Nite is a refreshing opportunity for men who want to knit - an activity that has been considered mainly a female hobby.

      "It's something I started very privately, on my own, and now it's become a group thing," said Boston, 36, a self-taught knitter. After his sister gave him an instruction book, Boston was soon hooked. "I loved it," he said. "It's meditative."

      Looking online, Boston was frustrated by the lack of knitting resources for men. He also had a few bad experiences at other yarn shops in the city. In one instance, Boston asked a saleswoman a question about a knitting project. She crisply replied that maybe he should send in whoever was doing it to ask, assuming that Boston himself couldn't be the knitter.

      Boston was elated to find Boyz Nite. "It wasn't shocking for men to be knitting," he said. With ponchos and capes such a big craze, he and the others agreed there has been a renewed interest in knitting that is catching on among a wider circle of people. "It's a reinvention of tradition," said Joseph Mazzarelli, 22, of the West Village. "People are taking boring old knitting and adding boys," he said, proudly holding up a dark plum, somewhat uneven scarf.

      Meanwhile, knitting novice Kaley concentrated intently as he hooked stitches onto a needle. When asked about his progress, Kaley paused for a moment to shout a hearty "Good," and gave a thumb's up. So far, he had learned to knit, pearl, and do both techniques in the same row. "I just finished my second row," Kaley said with a beaming smile. Would he come back for another night then? "Oh, absolutely," he said.

      Copyright (c) 2005, Newsday, Inc.


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