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PHOTO: Kathryn Lurie

Girls Knit Out

In Slow Jed’s Mudhouse, Averill Park knitters find the ideal, laid-back hangout for their stitching and socializing

By Kathryn Lurie

Until recently, I had never driv-en down Route 43. I had never been to Averill Park or even thought much about the town.

However, on a particularly frigid Monday in February, I am intent on checking out a place I had heard a whole lot of good things about. After a 10-mile drive on 43 into the “country,” I spot my destination—Slow Jed’s Mudhouse—and pull over.

I park my car and walk into the coziest of coffeehouses; it simply radiates warmth and invitation. I had noted earlier that day that the establishment’s Web site said that Slow Jed’s was the result of “a decision to create something that would reflect the value of ‘slowness.’ ” That goal was certainly accomplished.

Upon entering the café through the side door, I see a couple of tables covered in an array of free local publications and what I assume are locally made crafty items for sale. By the door hangs a huge bulletin board covered in event announcements, for-sale advertisements and other notices. In the corner sits the service counter, overflowing with tasty-looking baked goods and other food items. The colors of the café are warm and cheery, the ceilings are low, and there’s exposed wood everywhere.

Two friendly young ladies behind the counter take my coffee order and direct me to my destination—the lending library, where I find the knitting group that I’d heard meets here on Monday nights.

The lending library, a second-story loft type of space, is home to the Averill Park Stitch ’n’ Bitch knitting group. The library is a small, brightly colored room stocked with bookcases filled to the brim with books and puzzles. A nearby framed sign imparts the rules of the library (basically, take and leave what you will—reading and doing puzzles is better than watching TV). There’s a sofa, tables, chairs and stools arranged around the room in which knitters sit, working, chatting, generally looking down at their projects instead of up at each other.

Beth Malone, a sweet-voiced mother of two who lives in Averill Park, started this knitting group immediately after Slow Jed’s reopened on Black Friday in 2005 after being renovated (“This place used to be a blah liquor store,” according to the ladies; an album of pictures documenting the renovation rests on one of the library’s tables for perusal). They’ve been meeting in the lending library every Monday night ever since.

“It started when my son gave me a Stitch ’n’ Bitch book as a joke,” Malone says. “My teenagers thought it would be funny and that it would offend me. It totally did the opposite, and I said I want to start a group. I saw there was one in Albany already started. Then I realize: That’s a little far—I think I want to start one over here in Averill Park.”

This Stitch ’n’ Bitch group has an over-18 rule, and it averages about 10 to 20 members who show up weekly.

“We had to enforce [the age limit] a little bit in the beginning,” Malone says. “We had a couple people who wanted to bring kids and make it more of a family knitting thing, and I squashed it because we wanted it to be a girls’ night out.”

However, Malone is quick to point out, “girls’ night out” isn’t exactly accurate, since there’s a guy who joins in once in a while. “Aaron is our token guy knitter,” she says, smiling.

OK, it’s a girls’-night-out thing. But these gals are knitting at a coffeehouse, not sipping cocktails at a bar, which some may more readily associate with a girls’ night out. So why knit? I ask.

“Oh, stress relief!” they tell me, almost in unison.

“I would probably be an alcoholic if I didn’t knit,” one of the knitters pipes in.

The knitters here tonight are working on scarves, socks and hats, among other projects. I tell them how impressed I am by people who can make socks. “You’re making socks, right?” I ask a frustrated-looking knitter sitting nearby.

“I’m about ready to start swearing,” she says, “but yes, I’m making socks.”

An astonishingly quick young knitter who goes by the name of Sam (really—that’s not her real name) takes off one of her boots to show me green-and-red socks she knitted for herself for Christmas.

“The last time I went to church I noticed that I’ve been knitting for so long,” says Sam, “that when I sit still I can’t pay attention completely—I have to have part of my brain occupied. I actually brought a sock I was working on . . .”

“To church?” an older knitter chides.

“Yes, to church!” Sam said. “It was so much easier to concentrate.”

The knitters talk about the high quality of local yarn shops; knitting for charity; knitting during class or meetings. . . . And then eventually the conversation evolves into who was on our lists of Top Five Celebrities You’d Sleep With if the Opportunity Were to Present Itself. Always a crowd pleaser, the topic peppers the rest of the evening’s conversation. (“Rob Lowe? Top of the list,” Malone says.)

The conversation stops short when a knitter loses a needle; nearby knitters help her look for the rogue tool, and eventually they find it in the overstuffed armchair the knitter was sitting in. Twice more over the next hour the same would happen: Someone drops something, and the others jump to help retrieve the lost items. After, conversation returns to that of environmentally friendly yarns, the quality of Slow Jed’s espresso (and how their brownies are as addictive as crack), and, of course, hot guys.

Malone smirks at me. “This is not your grandmother’s knitting group.”

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