Knitter and author Daniel Yuhas creates a needlework niche

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: ELLEN SPITALERI - Daniel Yuhas demonstrates the 'secret rock star' knitting technique for making socks with two needles. Yuhas taught himself to knit while attending Oberlin College in Ohio.Daniel Yuhas is a man in a female-dominated industry, but he doesn’t see himself as breaking new ground. He’s just a guy doing what he loves, and what he loves is knitting.

Yuhas is generous with his expertise, teaching knitting classes at yarn stores in Portland and at fiber festivals across the country and volunteering with young refugees at Kateri Park Apartments, an affordable housing community in Southeast Portland.

Yuhas, 38, also has just published his first book, “Knitting from the Center Out,” which he will sign at Twisted, a yarn store at 2310 N.E. Broadway, as part of the Rose City Yarn Crawl, starting Thursday, Feb. 28.

In addition, he will display all the sample projects from his book from 6 to 8 p.m. at the shop.

The book’s title stems from a technique where knitters start in the middle of the project with just a few stitches, and then add more. Most knitting projects start from the bottom and move up, or go from the top down.

Yuhas calls the process “revolutionary knitting,” and says he is using the word revolutionary as “a pun, because you go around in a circle as you knit, but the technique is also very exciting.”

He became fascinated with the technique when he made a center-out baby blanket for his niece; it was divided into eight symmetrical parts and “the radial symmetry really grabbed me,” he says.

Using a process in which he knitted from the center out and back in again, he came up with patterns for an octopus and a starfish. Before he knew it, Yuhas was using the technique to design patterns for flat projects, like shawls and blankets, and then three-dimensional items like stuffed animals.

“When I came up with socks, hats and garments, I pretty much had a book,” Yuhas says.

Yuhas taught himself to knit in the early 1990s when he attended Oberlin College in Ohio.

“I found myself on a nearly empty campus during fall break, so I checked out ‘America’s Knitting Book,’ and got as far as garter stitch on my own,” he says.

A friend taught him to purl and Yuhas’ first successful project was a garter-stitch scarf in orange and green.

Oberlin is such a progressive college, Yuhas says, that the sight of a man knitting was no big deal.

Then came the baby blanket, and Yuhas was off and running. He began teaching knitting professionally in 2009.

“I love it — I love encouraging creativity in people,” he says.

And his students love him, says Shannon Squire, the co-owner of Twisted. “One of our loyal customers took his class twice, because the power of his personality is so engaging,” she says.

“He has a really unique designing voice and refreshing new takes on knitting. And the fact that he is male is breaking the stereotypes of our industry; he’s building a career out of this.”

Ellen Bartholomew first met Yuhas last summer, when he showed up as a volunteer at a knitting group she started with mostly refugee girls who live at the Kateri Park Apartments.

She started working with the girls when she saw a listing in Hands On Greater Portland seeking volunteers to help with homework for the mostly middle school-age girls.

“I was knitting one day, and the middle-schoolers asked me to make something for them, so I told them I’d teach them to knit,” Bartholomew says.

Using donated yarn and needles, Bartholomew started the knitting group in August 2011 with six girls, and regularly works on Monday nights with 15 to 20 girls. Sometimes their mothers or aunts also show up for class.

What Bartholomew liked best about Yuhas from the start was that “he wasn’t at all intimidated by a whole group of girls who interrogated the heck out of him. They said, ‘You can’t knit, you’re a guy,’ and he was so sweet to them,” she says.

The girls, mostly refugees from Kenya, Somalia, Nepal and Myanmar, “are challenging and super energetic,” Yuhas says. “I love it when I can work one-on-one with people, and I really love seeing people’s first lumpy projects.”

Popularity of knitting

Yuhas, who moved to Portland with his girlfriend in October 2011, has not been able to volunteer with the Kateri Park knitting group since his book came out, because he is busy promoting it and teaching at knitting festivals, which happen four times a year. He spent last weekend in San Jose, Calif., at Stitches West, and plans to teach workshops in Atlanta and Chicago later in the year.

Why has knitting experienced a resurgence of interest?

“People have always enjoyed making things and knitting is a fun way to do that,” Yuhas says.

And, he says, as in so many other areas of our culture, “the Internet has brought knitters together from all over the world.”

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