Twins take knitting hobby to habit with fashionable apparel

ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA (AP) – Knitting has gone well beyond a quiet hobby for 30-year-old Millcreek Township twins Erica Velez and Jes Velez. They don’t just knit.

“It’s called lifestyle knitting – it’s kind of obsessive compulsive knitting,” Erica Velez said. Her sister, Jes Velez, agreed. “You want to do it all the time,” she said.

Of course, they don’t do it all the time because the busy Edinboro University of Pennsylvania graduates have careers. Erica Velez is the optical manager and optician at Niagara Optical in Erie and Jes Velez runs the front desk at Nash Chiropractic, also in Erie.

The twins had been casual knitters growing up in Millcreek, but in 2019, they decided to find a winter hobby and something they could do together, so “let’s just knit” was an easy choice, they said.

From there, the twins decided to duplicate sweaters and other knit items that were high fashion.

“We were watching this video, and I saw this sweater and said, ‘I need that in my life,’” Erica Velez said.

Twins Jes Velez (L) and Erica Velez visit Habetrot’s Wheel, the knitting-supply shop they frequent in Harborcreek Township, Pennsylvania. PHOTO: AP

She explained that it was based on a T-shirt design that the character Cher from Clueless wore.

The sweater required a specific Hedgehog Fibres yarn, and her search for where to buy it was a pleasant surprise.

“We like to support local and women-owned businesses, so we searched where we could buy the yarn around here,” Erica Velez said.

Habetrot’s Wheel, 5093 Buffalo Road, in Harborcreek Township, carried the yarn, and when the Velez sisters met owner Marcia K Farrell, they forged a friendship.

“Marcia is so great. She helped us with everything,” Erica Velez said.

Farrell helps a lot of knitters get back in the habit. “These two picked it all back up so quickly,” Farrell said. She added that younger people are becoming a larger segment of yarn customers and knitters, and that’s changed over time from an older segment. “The median age of people has skewed between 30 and 45,” she said.

While Erica Velez and Jes Velez started knitting months before COVID-19, they added that it does offer stress relief and an outlet for creativity. On one project, the twins started with a pattern to make the same sweater, but Erica Velez decided not to add sleeves and her sister decided to add short sleeves and different colour combinations.

“It’s like painting,” Erica Velez said. “You can customise it any way you want.”

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be frustrating. “I had a project that I just couldn’t get the flow of it. So, it went into time out,” Erica Velez said.

Farrell agreed that time out is a good option because you can always return to the project at a later time, and you still have your materials.

“If you don’t like something, you just rip it out and start over,” Jes Velez said. She added that it’s a more forgiving hobby than crafts that require a purchase of materials that could be ruined by mistakes.

The materials have their own advantages. Farrell and her customers agreed that wool is sustainable and proves to be a warmer alternative to other clothing during the winter.

“I’ve noticed the difference when I wear wool compared to acrylic,” Jes Velez said. “My wool sweaters are so much warmer.”

A feeling of accomplishment after finishing a project also comes with other rewards. With the holidays coming, Jes Velez is making Christmas presents for family and friends.

“When you’re making things for people, you think about them and pour time into their garment,” she said. Her sister agreed. “It’s like a hug,” Erica Velez said.

Millcreek Township twins Jes Velez and Erica Velez, both 30, visit Habetrot’s Wheel, a Harborcreek Township knitting-supply shop. The women enjoy knitting a variety of items including the sweaters they are wearing.

But don’t think knitting is only meant for cold weather clothing, Jes Velez said. “I made a summer-weight sweater out of cotton yarn, and it’s one of my favourites.”

One quarantine project that Jes Velez completed was a colourful shawl that combined a variety of styles. “I really wanted to make it look like a Mexican blanket because we are Hispanic and grew up with that culture,” she said. She added that she learned quite a bit in the detailed project.

The knitters praised Farrell for helping them whenever they needed it, and Farrell’s opening of Habetrot’s Wheel in 2019 is quite a story in itself. First, the name of the store revolves around a Celtic fairy legend of the mythical Habetrot and her spinning abilities.

Farrell, originally from Harborcreek, is a tenured college English professor with her doctorate, but she decided to step away from her 20-year career in 2017. She returned to Erie, worked as a librarian at Mercyhurst Preparatory School and as editor-in-chief of Journal of Erie Studies for the Jefferson Educational Society and then decided to pursue her life-long knitting hobby as a career.

She saw an opportunity to open a yarn store because another shop had gone out of business. She worked with the Gannon Small Business Development Center and chose a Harborcreek building on the corner of Buffalo Road and Hannon Road. “I had always liked this building and it was available for rent, so we ran the numbers and everything worked,” she said.