Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Uncommon Threads knitting instructor Shellye McKinney winds a skein of yarn into a ball.
In the 1950s, you could graduate with a degree in home economics from UC Berkeley. Junior high and high school students, mostly girls, learned to sew, cook and design their own china patterns in class, while boys took woodworking and auto shop. Then came the barrier-breaking 1970s, when culinary arts replaced home economics and both genders felt free to explore an array of electives.
Sewing, knitting, music and art fell by the educational wayside, partially because of evolving roles in society and later because of budget cuts.
Lately, knitting and sewing have enjoyed renewed popularity, with the do-it-yourself craze sparking a comeback of the formerly marginalized crafts.
Downtown Los Altos provides a wealth of places to practice and learn homespun arts like knitting, crocheting, sewing and quilting.
Visitors to Uncommon Threads can find a plethora of Rowan brand yarns as well as Jamieson, a Shetland wool. Other available varieties include Berroco, Malabrigo, Madeline Tosh and Tahki, listed at uncommonthreads yarn.com/yarns-in-stock.
Stephanie Hein assumed ownership of the 30-year-old shop four years ago. Personable and hands-on, she inherited an email list of 5,000 from the previous owner, an avowed Anglophile - hence the large stock of British wool and patterns.
Hein tackles tough pattern problems from longtime customers without missing a beat.
"This is what I would do if I were you," she advised, counting the stitches on a chart as a concerned knitter held onto a bulky sweater-in-progress on circular needles.
Circular needles come in cord lengths of 16-40 inches and help knitters create seamless tubes. Needles can range in size from 3 to 15, and the type of yarn used, from fine to bulky, affects the gauge of stitches produced.
Printed charts show knitters what to do with symbols instead of using long written instructions, but the drawings can get complicated.
Uncommon Threads encourages knitters and crocheters to work at its back table free of charge.
The shop also offers popular project classes 7-9 p.m. Thursdays. Frustrated knitters can bring their projects and receive guidance from an instructor while chatting with others. Cost is $95 for eight sessions.
"We have approximately 50 people per month attending classes and knitalongs or crochetalongs, and it’s a mix of skill levels," Hein said. "Most classes are geared toward beginners."
Newbies often start with the Learn to Knit class, scheduled 7-9 p.m. Wednesdays. Supplies are included for $60.
Newcomers’ classes have the "highest attendance year-round," with many of the attendees buddying up and continuing their friendships outside of class, according to Hein.
"It’s really more fun to knit with friends and get help," she said. "You need a group to socialize with, instead of knitting alone."
Uncommon Threads enjoyed a surge in visitors on a recent Friday - out-of-town visitors dropped in during the STITCHES West Knitting Universe convention at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Staff member Jean Swanson said several customers came in searching for needles to use in convention workshops.
Most of the shop’s customer base is local and faithful. Joyce Fanshier of San Jose said she frequents the store because "they’re very willing to let you touch" the yarns. Fanshier said she hadn’t knitted when her children were young, because "a kid can pull out all the stitches on your needle" in an instant.
Fanshier’s friend, Robin Collins of Menlo Park, said she had visited the store before and found the staff "extremely helpful." Collins echoed Fanshier’s praise, adding that Hein is always willing to help find yarns and patterns.
Uncommon Threads offers drop-in help for knitters 3-4 p.m. Mondays for $10. Crocheters seeking assistance can visit the shop for help 2-3 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month for $10. Private lessons run $30 per hour.
New for spring, Hein offers a Knit Club for Kids for ages 8-12. Scheduled 4-5 p.m. Thursdays, the classes, $15 per session, are limited to six. Experienced knitters can register for classes in the Fair Isle (two-color knitting) technique, how to knit socks and how to weave on looms.
Uncommon Threads, 293 State St., is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
For more information, call 941-1815 or visit uncommonthreadsyarn.com/classes.
Making a mark
The Makery offers supplies and instruction in sewing, quilting, calligraphy, bookbinding and other crafts.
Bolts and bolts of colorful cotton fabric and yarns for knitting line the walls, making visitors think they’ve "walked into Pinterest," said quilting instructor Myriah Zaytoun.
Launched in June 2013, The Makery, co-owned by The H&H Co.’s Mary and Brian Heffernan, offers locally sourced products in addition to wool felt from Holland, felt balls from Nepal at a "felt bar" and retail kits assembled by instructors called "makers," who have created items onsite, according to manager Danielle Brill-Lehn.
The Makery recently started a Craft Club 6-8 p.m. every other Tuesday for those 21 and older. The drop-in rate is $55 per session, with 15 percent off retail prices. Champagne and materials for one project are included.
The Makery, 170 State St., is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
For a schedule of classes and more information, visit makerylosaltos.com.
Knit for a cause
Knitters gather 3 p.m. every other Tuesday at the Los Altos main library, 13 S. San Antonio Road, for the Charity of the Month Knit- and Crochet-Along.
Each month, participants knit for a different organization, such as Warm Up America, which distributes afghans to homeless shelters.
For more information, visit sccl.org/losaltos.
Uncommon Threads - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier