Cindy Chrystal took up knitting last year because her brother was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and needed a cap to cover his head.
The Hampden resident, 60, turned to Lovelyarns, a store in the neighborhood, where shop owner Sue Caldwell showed her an easy pattern and told her, "You can do it."
On a Saturday afternoon late last month, Chrystal sat comfortably on a sofa in Lovelyarns, at 3610 Falls Road, and knitted a sweater for her grandson, 3.
"Then I'll make his sister one, hopefully," she said.
Chrystal is one of many knitters and crocheters in the region who are making themselves comfortable at the shop, especially Saturdays from 11 a.m.-6 p.m, when Caldwell hosts an informal get-together called Stitch-n-Bitch.
There's plenty of opportunity to bitch: about politics, jobs or whatever else comes to mind.
"It's a nice, safe place to air your grievances," noted food specialist and avid knitter Libby Francis Baxter, 47, of Hampden.
But mostly, it's a way for the knitting and crocheting community to bond each week, Caldwell said.
The Pikesville resident opened Lovelyarns in 2007. Caldwell recently added Stitch-n-Bitch to a variety of classes, programs, fundraising projects and public art installations.
In addition to advanced and beginner knitting classes, the store and its customers participate in good causes, such as the Minneapolis-based Mother Bear Project, which is sending knitted and crocheted teddy bears to children in South Africa, who are living with AIDS.
Lovelyarns has contributed about 700 bears to date and supplies yarn to participating customers. A dozen bears sit on a ledge in the shop for display.
The shop also participates in the 500 Hats Project, by making hats for children at public schools in the city, a different school each year. This year, it's Armistead Gardens Elementary, in northeast Baltimore. In years past, it was Hampden Elementary. Hats this year will be distributed before Thanksgiving, Caldwell said.
Another favorite pastime is "yarnbombing," in which Caldwell dresses trees in sweaters and wraps brightly colored yarn around parking meters and street signs.
"Yes, #6" is knitted on a downspout next to the shop, referring to the marriage equality initiative, Question 6, on the Nov. 8 ballot.
She's been commissioned to do an installation in one window of South Moon Under, a clothing store in the Harbor East area, she said.
But Caldwell's catchiest program is Stitch-n-Bitch, which draws customers from as far as Pennsylvania.
One customer on a cruise looked up yarn stores in the city during a stopover and paid a visit, Caldwell said.
Business at Lovelyarns ebbs and flows, depending on the weather and what else is going on.
"If there's a Ravens game on, there's nobody in," she said. "Whenever (meteorologists) forecast a big snowstorm, we are swamped, because people go home and knit."
On the Saturday before superstorm Sandy lashed north Baltimore, Lovelyarns was a lively hangout. While Chrystal knitted peacefully by the front door, Melissa MacMichael, 33, of Hampden, held a little crocheting class in the back.
In addition to teaching crochet, MacMichael works as a waitress at Woodberry Kitchen.
Student Rosemary Meister, 39, of Towson, a medical writer, said she is taking classes because, "I'm trying to figure out what I'm good at in life."
Lori Hewitt, of Joppa, stopped in with her husband, Robert Muhly. It was their first time at that shop, but they frequent yarn stores around the region and try to find yarn shops even when they travel.
Muhly, 58, once got lost on a New York subway train while looking for a shop that sold double-sided velvet trim for a sweater his wife was knitting.
Hewitt said she has a spare bedroom filled with yarn, for a hobby that fills much of her time.
"It's just so relaxing," she said. "It's a great hobby — and I can take it anywhere."