I lived in New Orleans for a while as a child and have been back a handful of times since then. It is one of those cities that call to you, like a siren and I can see myself returning at intervals for the rest of my life, if only for a beignet and a cup of coffee at Cafe du Monde.
The French Quarter holds a special fascination for me and I was relieved when it survived Katrina in tact. The architecture and mix of people, the energy that interacts with the air coming off the Mississippi is singular. I have never felt that particular feeling in any other city. And in the mix of the hedonistic nooks and crannies lining the streets, it is only fitting that The Quarter Stitch would be among them at 630 Rue de Chartres.
In the summer heat, the smells of horse manure and spilled beer mix with po’boys and roasting coffee and you push through a door that could be at least 200 years old into a yarn store.
I don’t needle-point.
I don’t knit.
Yet stepping into the shop, I knew that I wanted to.
And I knew that this was no ordinary yarn store. It was a yarn brothel. Something as sedate and matronly as knitting could not arouse such a response.
The door jingles as you push it open. Punched tin ornaments and ribbons sway as you step inside. Upon entering, you stop and take in the scene before you – an explosion of color that draws you further into the small two room store. Needle-point canvases of all sizes line the walls and conjure thoughts of castles or elegant country manors with heraldic crests or Victorian ladies sewing over tea.
There are completed projects to admire — felted hats and scarves, sweaters and jackets that beg to be touched, showing the prospective customer a hint of the choices available. Wool? Silk? Nubby? Frizzed? And the colors . . . so many colors. There are dollops of color displayed throughout; gem-tones shot with gold or silver thread, purples and blues with iridescent threads rolled into little balls like magical sea anemones, pale yellows and pinks and lilacs that seem to be the color of light.
I don’t know the difference between a Noro Kureyon yarn or Koigu. I just knew that this was a magical place. And I’ve been wondering why. And I’ve come to realize that this shop isn’t really selling yarn.
It’s selling possibilities.
Spinners and weavers have been revered in mythology for centuries. One can’t imagine that the creation of socks and undergarments or even a cloak of many colors would garner such admiration. But perhaps the admiration is really at the act of creating something out of a proverbial ball of nothing. The creation business: cooking, sewing, gardening, birth, is for the most part, an arena for women. Of course, with the change in culture and perspectives, this has become muddled. But this store felt like the entrance to that world past, where one really wouldn’t be surprised to see the Fates in the back room, weaving the destiny of mankind. In this old building, there was an air of holy reverence for the power of creation and possibility.
There were only women in the store the day I was there, speaking in hushed voices, sharing ideas, touching and judging the weight and color of a canvas or a skein like women have done for thousands of years. Perhaps they were wondering if they could create something as immaculate as Arachne did, something so magnificent that it would make a goddess jealous. A creation that would be treasured and handed down and secure your place in eternity . . . or if not eternity, at least for a generation or two.
With the excitement of a prospective project, you stuff the skeins into your basket and your connection to time is assured. As you check out or ask questions you lean against the massive counter on which there was , at least the day I was there, a little blind dog, white and fluffy and hard to see among the fibers that littered the desktop. He lay there like an over-large skein of white yarn himself, a Homer-esque sentinel to the magical.
The experience was sheer bliss. I do not look at a skein of yarn today without remembering that store and I smile. As I make plans to finally learn to knit, I think of all the things I do – the obligations and responsibilities and there cannot be room enough for one more activity.
But I remind myself that this is not a waste of time.
Bliss never is.
The Quarter Stitch Needlepoint
630 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70130