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photograph by

CAPPY HOTCHKISS

Close-Knit Friends
Jordana Merlis '90 and
Julie Isreal Carles '90

by
SHERRI STEINFELD '85

Once looked down upon as old-fashioned and maybe a bit stodgy, knitting has become the “in” pastime among women of all ages and backgrounds and even among a few men. No one knows this better than a pair of UVM alums from the class of 1990.

Jordana Merlis Jacobs and Julie Israel Carles both attended New York City’s Bronx High School of Science but became friends at UVM, where they shared a room in Buckham Hall as freshmen and continued to room together throughout their college years. Among the more unexpected lessons they took from their years in Burlington were knitting tutorials from fellow students. Both were hooked, but couldn’t have suspected their craft would become a livelihood.

After graduating, Jacobs attended Brooklyn Law School while working part-time at The Yarn Co., a long-established knitting store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She practiced law for a year after her 1996 graduation when the store’s owner decided to sell the business and encouraged Jacobs to take it on. Before taking the leap, she teamed up with friend and fellow knitting aficionada Carles who was pursuing a career as a physician’s assistant at the time.

The longtime friends became business partners in the summer of 1997, and today the Yarn Co. is a bustling center of creativity attracting knitters—from beginner to expert — from all over the city and beyond, drawn to the store by its selection of high-quality yarns, knitting and crocheting classes, and down-home atmosphere. Customers are often found sitting around the store's central farmhouse table, knitting away. Jacobs and Carles have reached beyond the boundaries of their store with a website (www.theyarnco.com), a mail-order business, and a new book, The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Simple Knits.

The Yarn Co. has received prominent mention in The New York Times, Vogue Knitting, and the just-published Zagat 2003 New York City Shopping, in which they are the city’s highest-rated yarn store. Inspired by the success of their book (now in its third printing) and by their own life circumstances — Jacobs’s son was born in December 2002 and Carles’s first baby was born last summer — the pair is working on a book of baby and toddler knits, to be published in the summer of 2004.

Why have so many, including ultra-hip Upper West Siders, embraced a hobby that in other circumstances might be passed over as grandmotherly and, well, uncool?

It can’t hurt that knits are all over the fashion runways these days and lately many celebrities include a pair of knitting needles in their lifestyles of the rich and the famous, says Jacobs. She also suggests that there’s a comfort and an outlet for expression in the low-tech handiwork. “People sit at their computers at work all day, and this is something different and creative.”