KNITTING TOGETHER INTO THE NIGHT

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“Why do they put clay over the eyes at a Jewish funeral?” someone at the big oak table asks. A reliable answer goes begging, so part-time employee (and ‘Where Have I Seen This?‘ maven) Jenn Woods heads to the back of the store to try to find one on Google. The roundtable occupants continue their knitting, conversation and sipping of white wine.

Shop owner Dori Kershner is helping a customer. “You just need to turn it this way,” she says, momentarily taking the needles and making minor adjustments, redoing a stitch, demonstrating with practiced fingers. Georgia Mangan, in whose hands a pale blue baby blanket is slowly emerging, thanks her. “I just started this two weeks ago,” Mangan tells redbankgreen. “She’s fixed all my mistakes.”

It’s a typical Wednesday evening at Wooly Monmouth, where customers settle in for for several hours of chitchat about everything from American vs. European style knitting to the funeral rituals of Jews and Catholics. There also may be, along with the wine, a heaping pile of Mexican munchies at the center of the table threatening to leave bits of corn chip or salsa in somebody’s next scarf.

The cast tends to rotate, but the constant is Kershner, who opened shop three years ago after working at similar places in Manhattan. Most days, she’s at the shop table, knitting or giving paid instruction to students. But anyone who’s seen her in the audience at a borough council meeting or other public event knows that if Kershner is sitting still, the tips of her knitting needles are not.

These nights, she’s both a one-of-the-girls participant and the knowledgeable hostess who offers her circle gentle guidance and encouragement in the art of knitting.

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“This is our home away from home,” says Sue O’Connor. She happily displays her latest creation, an impressive cable-knit cardigan knitted from a rich, wine-colored alpaca and merino wool blend.

To passersby on Monmouth Street, the store’s window frames a tableau of relaxed conviviality that can be ineffably inviting. Stepping inside, one finds oneself enveloped in color. Seven-foot-high shelves are neatly stuffed with rainbows of vibrant and deliciously textured yarns for crochet and knitting. Sample sweaters, purses, hats, baby booties and scarves all but float in the air. Even the most unartistically inclined visitor might be tempted to take up a pair of needles and a vivid skein of yarn.

There are worse ways to kill time. Knitting, redbankgreen learned on a recent pop-in, allows one to be a guilt-free couch dweller or to meet people. A way to pass the hours in waiting rooms, it’s also a therapeutic and creative outlet. “People need their downtime, and this forces you to sit still,” Kershner says.

“It’s calming, you’re accomplishing something, and it really helps while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office,” says Rhona Dehnad. She knits on her daily ferry commute to the city, and tonight is working on a striped tote bag that she plans to “felt,” a technique that involves running the finished piece through the washer on a hot cycle to shrink and condense the yarn’s fibers. “The time passes so fast I sometimes want to ask for a little more time, just let me finish this row,” she says of her commute. The others knitters titter in agreement.

Then there’s the sensual pleasure. “It’s such a tactile experience,” says Kershner “It needs to feel good in your hands when you’re doing it.” She points out the machine-washable Zara yarns in more than 40 indecision-inducing hues. “These have a nice sponginess — good for baby blankets,” she says.

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Kershner’s expecting her first child in three months, and in her lap rests a blue and green blanket she’s knitting with a polar fleece-derived yarn.

“I don’t have that much time to devote to my own knitting,” she says. “Only five to six hours a week.”

Jenn Woods returns to the table without the explanation for the clay, so Dehnad puts down her needles, makes a quick call, and comes up with a possible explanation.

“It’s not just the eyes; it’s the mouth, too,” she reports. “It means ‘speak no evil, see no evil.’”

— By LINDA G. RASTELLI

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