A colleague’s recent Facebook posting expressed a dilemma she faced upon discovering a poncho knitted for her by her long deceased Mom. The precious, potential heirloom, had been a snack for a moth leaving a pronounced hole. Fashion mistake, though it may be, she wants to pass this expression of her Mom’s caring on to her daughter.
Upon reading her plea I immediately thought of Miriam Mades and Alter Knit New York. Not that Miriam is your typical “grandmotherly” knitter. While at NYU she played guitar and sang in an alternative rock band that met with some success including a recording deal. “It never got to the ‘big moments’,” she said, so she moved on. While working in a Sixth Avenue office in 1997 she would pass a knitting shop at lunchtime and recalled her mother’s suggestion that she try the craft to relax. One day she went in and as though “going through the looking glass,” she never returned. It turned out that she had a real gift with yarn.
She found a mentor in a Sicilian woman named Vicky, now 72, then a tailor at Pierre Cardin and Barney’s. “She is a woman with golden hands,” says Miriam, “ she yells at me and still can make me anxious.” As she speaks of Vicky there is deep affection in her voice.
Around 1999 there was a resurgence of interest in knitting, she found her craft shop hangout becoming ever busier – and with a younger crowd. This nascent entrepreneur and burgeoning artist with wool saw potential there. Expanding upon the knitting shop concept where she saw people lingering to chat with other devotees, she thought, what if there was a café incorporated into a shop. How cozy would that be and the trend certainly justified the investment.
This led to her opening “Knit New York”, a cafe with a complete yarn shop attached. She had a full product line as well as croissants, sandwiches and Cappuccino. When classes began to be offered they were a big hit. There were evening knitting parties with instruction for fashion models that were well covered by the media as celebrity events and even classes for men only. Knit NYC was becoming a place to “be seen”.
“It was a lot of work,” says Miriam. After all she was overseeing a restaurant as well as a knitting store and school. With the stress getting to her, Miriam took up boxing at an amateur fighters’ gym, of all things, to relieve stress. Another art she seemed to achieve some level of skill at.
The crowds kept coming and the landlord soon felt, as NYC landlords are wont to do, he was sitting on a cash cow and decided to “milk it”. Facing a gouged rent and an irascible landlord she decided hitting a punching bag wasn’t doing it for her and the stress simply wasn’t worth it, so she walked away.
She couldn’t leave the craft, though, and Alter Knit, her home-based knitwear repair business was born. Now, through an arrangement with Cheryl and Tommy, she will pick up and return those sweaters and skirts you simply can’t part with at Manhattan Wardrobe Supply (MWS receives no benefit from this service).
While she describes many Dry Cleaners as, “difficult to deal with,” she has several as clients as well as cashmere retailers. She has a passion for garment restoration, “I don’t want anyone to leave unhappy.”
She tells of a man who sent her a sweater his wife had given him as her first gift twenty years before and the satisfaction she had in restoring it. She can’t always do the job. “If I know it will look junky,” she says, “I just won’t do it.
She works with three knitters and is looking for two weavers, “are you out there,” she cries.
In many cases she is able to “harvest” the fabric from the garment itself, especially from the seams, so color matching is not an issue. When she is unable to use this method, she has an expansive inventory of yarn and dying skills allowing her to create a match.
Contacting her is a breeze. You can e-mail or call her, describe your dilemma and she will ask you to drop the garment off at MWS, or mail it with a tag showing the problem. Upon the repair’s completion, you can pick the piece up at the store – voilla, you have a restored garment or an heirloom as my friend may find.
Her goal is to appear on Martha Stewart with Vicky for a knitting segment. “People appreciate craft,” she says. Beware Martha, these ladies take no prisoners.
While she feels there is so much to explore in the world, she is content for the moment. “I want to fix all the holes in the world,” she says, “if you love it send it to me.”
(212)473 MEND 
Cheryl & Tommy (with Roger Kimpton)