Jinka McLaurin: Knoxville's Knitter of Third Places

Jinka McLaurin, 59, looks right at home in her Bearden yarn shop Loopville. The walls are covered in looped and twisted rings of yarn in every color and shade of the rainbow, and McLaurin is wearing a lime green sweater. Meanwhile, three women are sitting on couches arranged in a semicircle and talking about their knitting projects.

"Knitters are the geeks of the female world," McLaurin, an ex-architect, says over a cup of tea. She says she gets tons of doctors and math-minded women who are obsessed with knitting at her store.

McLaurin says that as an architect, she was constantly on the computer or drafting, and found that knitting was a good way to unwind and unplug.

"I felt like I was tied to a machine all the time. I was on the phone, I was e-mailing, I was drawing. Even when you're drafting, it's a machine you're working with. I wanted something where it didn't feel so much like a machine. So I started knitting," she says.

And that sentiment, she says, is what brings a lot of younger people to knitting.

"I think the demographic has changed dramatically. It used to be that there were people like me who did a little bit in college as young women, and then somewhere when you're not so busy and you have more time to do something. Part of it, I think, has to do with the whole feminist thing of saying that traditional women's activities are important ... and that it's real art. For some younger people, it's a political statement," she says. "Plus, it's really fun. It's accessible. With a pair of $7 knitting needles and a ball of yarn, you can make something."

McLaurin herself learned how to knit as a child by asking a woman who lived next door to someone who used to babysit for her to teach her. She knitted in college with friends, and made sweaters and blankets. She even had an architecture professor who knitted. But she put down the needles for several years until about 12 years ago when her daughter went away to college.

"When my daughter went away to college, well I want to do something new. And obviously I wasn't going to go to college again. I started looking around at what I might like to do and got involved in knitting prayer shawls," she says.

And from there, she started thinking of what she wanted to do next. And that was open a yarn store in 2006. Even when reports come out every year saying Internet shopping numbers have increased, McLaurin says the yarn store remains relevant for knitters.

"It is easy to buy stuff in your pajamas. But it's kind of a more complex task than buying a pair of shoes because you have to take the stuff and assemble it yourself. It's true that you can buy a kit online. But the other thing is people really like coming to the yarn store, and seeing and feeling and touching and looking at the stuff, and getting some expert advice," she says.

And McLaurin hopes Loopville is a "third place" for Knoxville knitters.

"In planning, you have a third place. One of them is home, one of them is work, and the other is the third place. It can be the gym, it can be a bar, it can be church. The yarn store is a third place," she says. "A place where you meet friends and make friends."

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