Close-knit ‘Sweatshop of Love’

By HermineBloom

Columbia alumna Allyson Dykhuizen remembers a particular night prior to starting her own business when she and her friends felt as though they were drowning in heaps of yarn, needles poking out from underneath pattern sheets and half-finished sweaters sprawled out everywhere, resembling a sweatshop. Except all of the women loved to knit in their free time, so the sweatshop was one of love, Dykhuizen said.

In 2006, Dykhuizen began teaching knitting classes independently and aptly named her company The Sweatshop of Love, holding a few classes every week devoted to helping women of all skill levels with their individual knitting projects as well as hosting “Chicago’s first yarn crawl” on Nov. 21.

Dykhuizen said she first learned how to knit when she was a senior in high school.

“My drama teacher taught knitting on the side at a yarn shop in Grand Rapids, Mich. and [she] knit and designed these amazing intarsia sweaters,” Dykhuizen said. “She sold them for hundreds and hundreds of dollars and that caught my attention.”

Soon after, she began to meet with her teacher every day after school to knit, thereby fostering a love for handmade knit crafts.

After Dykhuizen graduated from Columbia in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Fiction Writing, she translated her love for knitting into a creative teaching outlet, she said.

Current classes include learning how to knit goldfish toilet lid covers, two-textured gloves, cowl scarves to hats—or even general holiday gift prep. The sessions usually last about two hours and about five ladies meet once a week or every other week. The classes cost anywhere from $15 – $40, depending on the difficulty of the project. Beginners, experts and everyone in between are all welcome to learn how to cable knit or double point, essentially working on projects that they might need help with, Dykhuizen said.

New Wave Coffee, 3103 W. Logan Ave., has been the home to The Sweatshop of Love’s weekly knitting classes since 2006 and will also serve as the last destination for the yarn crawl on Nov. 21.

The crawl will consist of “classes, yarn discounts, snacks and goodies,” Dykhuizen said. “We’re just going to meander, pick up some yarn and have a good afternoon.” She said she’s hoping to see at least 20 to 30 people come out for the crawl.

The ladies will begin at 10 a.m. at the DIY trunk show, which is a handmade craft fair where they have raffles and yarn sales at Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 W. Blackhawk St. Then they’ll venture out to Nina: A Well-Knit Shop, 1655 W. Division St., Knitting Workshop, 2115 N. Damen Ave and finally Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, 2639 N. Elston Ave., to stock up on knitting supplies. They will end up at New Wave Coffee to start their projects. Dykhuizen said she’ll be crawling right along with them so they can ask questions about the materials they need for certain projects.

Having continued to develop her skills, she now has a 300-person mailing list, a frequented blog and many returning knitters for all of her specific-themed classes. Students attribute this to the nature of her warm, helpful teaching techniques.

Rachael Morie, a regular class attendee, tried to knit years ago, but could never quite get the hang of it, she said.

Morie, 33, found The Sweatshop of Love from one of Dykhuizen’s Craigslist ads in 2006, and has been continuing to take many different classes.

“I’ve seen other classes in boutiques and knitting stores and they charge a lot of money,” Morie said. “That’s what we like to call ‘not-knitting.’ It shouldn’t be such a closed-off thing. [Dykhuizen] just opens it up for everyone and she makes it so easy. She’s taught children to do this as well.”

Recently, Morie found a picture of a sweater, which did not have an easy pattern to go along with it, she said. She ended up bringing the pattern to class and Dykhuizen helped her to figure it out.

“She sat with me and wrote it out for me step-by-step, and it turned out awesome,” Morie said, who plans on attending the yarn crawl in November.

Brijeet Dhaliwal, 31, has been attending The Sweatshop of Love classes since 2008 and is planning on attending the yarn crawl as well.

“When I met Allyson, all I was doing was basic scarves and dishcloths,” Dhaliwal said. “Now I know how to make things like socks, sweaters and toys. I’m also learning how to lace while knitting.”

She, not unlike Morie, describes Dykhuizen as a natural teacher who always has constructive advice and will work on a budget with each student for their knitting supplies.

“I don’t think she’s met a pattern that’s taken her down,” Dhaliwal said.

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