Talent coordinator of The Daily Show by day, knitting maven by night, Beth Shorr runs her own successful Etsy store that’s filled with original designs. The California native began knitting as a way of keeping her hands busy.
More and more of what you might spot on the subway and streets of New York is hand-made. Indeed, the hands of many people are kept busy in public and private spaces by the dance of knitting needles.
“It might be this sort of a going-back-to-how-things-were-in-the-past type of thing,” muses Shorr, one windy afternoon. “I grew up never having home ec, but now I really like to knit, to cook, I like to do things I was never taught. Growing up, it was like, ‘You’re a woman, you can be like a man, you don’t have to cook or sew...’ and I grew up and thought, ‘But I want to learn this stuff.’”
Shorr’s grandmother passed away when she was three. Though she doesn’t remember her, Shorr feels she’s perhaps inherited some of her relative’s crafty, cultural influence. “Apparently she was a big knitter,” she says. “It was her job was sewing labels into fur coats. Her sister kept a lot of her knitting needles and passed them on to me.”
The rise of knitting in popular culture has been well chronicled. The hobby reached its peak in the mid-aughties, with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Naomi Campbell spotted with busy needles. An article from The New York Times in 2005 declared that “the number of women ages 25 to 34 who knit or crochet increased more than 150 percent since 2002.” The explosion of interest especially among younger women was noteworthy for its seeming-turn away from technological gadgetry and toward a more tactile artform with roots in community building and economic thrift. Bust Magazine Editor Debbie Stoller wrote what many consider the handbook of modern knitting, Stitch N’Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook (Workman) in 2004. It incorporates old-school advice with a fresh modern approach, and inspired a whole generation of younger women to pick up needles for the first time.
Shorr's designs incorporate retro looks and modern colors.
Writer Kerry Willis chronicled the rise of this old-school hobby with fascinating detail in her 2007 book, The Close-Knit Circle: American Knitting Today (Praeger), noting the movement’s corollary with a new-old feminism that incorporates business acumen and self-expression. Some might detect a hint of politics at work with knitting’s rise in popularity, a sort of reclamation of female expression, but Shorr’s passion for knitting and business sprang from a more personal source.
“In 2006 my dad passed away and I shut myself in my apartment,” she remembers. “I didn’t want to go out or do anything. By the time that mourning period was over, I had all this stuff. And... there’s only so many hats you can do for your friends! That year I found Etsy.”
Shorr’s shop is filled with all manner of knitted fashion: scarves, hats, even tunics she crochets edges onto. But her work isn’t limited to strictly wearable items; she also makes vintage-inspired pillow-covers as well as a range of colorful cosies for mobile phones and iPads. Her passion for knitting continues because, as she puts it, “I don’t like having idle hands. I don’t like watching TV and just sitting there. I don’t smoke, and I don’t like sitting and waiting. (Knitting) just became something I always carried with me. If I was in a waiting room, it’d be in my bag. Travelling, or meeting a friend, or in the green room waiting for a guest to arrive, I always have something to do. Maybe it’s a weird OCD thing.”
Far from being a selfish pursuit, this hobby-turned-enterprise has given Shorr the opportunity to use her talents in assisting others.
“Somebody contacted me recently who ran a non-profit foster home. They had a handmade program there, and asked if I would come meet the girls and help them. That was really awesome,” she says, her voice brightening, “and I would definitely do that again, if my schedule allows. I don’t know if I’m the best teacher... but it was really awesome. These teenaged girls were so excited, like, ‘Wow we did this!’ It’s been so great because they’re struggling in other areas, but excelling in handmade work. It helps overall confidence.”
Shorr is always on the lookout for good yarn to use in her designs.
Shorr is using her own knitting-inspired confidence to expand her line of cushy, thick knits into lighter summer wear. “I think i’m going to try to do a summer roll-up scarf out of t-shirt jersey material, but skinny,” she says excitedly, “and then crochet an edging around it... not an edging like on tunics but something more minimal like a half-inch sort of thing, just to make it different.” She laughs, realizing she’s sounding like far more an expert than she gives herself credit for. “I’m always trying to think of things that could be summer-friendly.”
In addition to summer items, Shorr plans to add more stuff for men to her Etsy shop, but she says that at the end of it all, “all my knitting feels selfish! It’s what I love or what a friend requests, and then I work out of that habit. It’s just something I can’t stop.”