A Knitter's Weekend
A Knitter’s Weekend: New Orleans
My darling traveling knitters, let’s be real. A weekend? It’s not enough. No matter what I include, comments will explode with other things to do, see, eat.
However, the boss ladies wish for 36 hours! So stick your whole30-keto-clean-eating-no sugar-no fat diets on a shelf. Let’s laissez les bon temps roulez for a Knitter’s Weekend in New Orleans.
NOLA is not like other cities in the United States. Think of it as the northernmost port of the Caribbean. The pace is slow, people are friendly, the weather hot and humid. Palm trees grow. Rules get bent. Music is as elemental as air and light.
During the day, you’ll see block after block of shuttered facades. These houses aren’t vacant. They are keeping the sun out. High-ceilinged interiors stay cool till evening when the city busts out its jams.
Begin with Beignet
A visit to New Orleans should start at Café du Monde in the French Market. Order café-au-lait and beignets—freshly fried puffy treats with generous powdered sugar. Servers in old-fashioned style deliver the goods on the expansive awning-covered patio.
Sure, you’re surrounded by tourists, but also locals: musicians recovering from late-night gigs, a politician kicking off his campaign.
Street musicians play on the sidewalk, a riverboat sounds a calliope tune moored just a few hundred yards away on the Mississippi.
Feeling caffeinated? Brush that sugar off your shirt, it’s time to launch a day wandering the French Quarter and the Marigny. Mosey over to the French Market stalls, displaying both touristy tchotchkes and surprisingly sweet handmade. There are masks and beads and voodoo dolls, and fans and parasols, which locals really use in the sun. Handbound leather books and arty photos of local landmarks tempt.
I’m a sucker for tea towels, though. The vendor says she embroiders them herself, by machine, all local motifs like the fleur-de-lis, skulls, and landmarks.
A Bike and a Plan
The city is flat and bicycle friendly. Blue Bikes lets me grab a bicycle anywhere I find one, with an ideally proportioned basket.
The French Quarter is full of shops, wonderful facades, history, galleries, and quirky little museums.
Mardi Gras Museum of Costume and Culture is a stop any maker can love, run by a costume business. Museum purists may find it too casual but I love getting up close with the finery. Bling on bling on bling from across the social spectrum is displayed, from the marching clubs, called krewes. There are try-it-on-yourself-for-fun costumes. There are sweet video documentaries playing.
There’s a room devoted to Mardi Gras Indians, African American traditions, and stunningly executed beaded costumes. If this whets your appetite, I urge you to visit the Backstreet Cultural Museum of the Mardi Gras Indians in the Treme neighborhood. Docent guides there share stories and artistry that are deeply moving.
Yarn! Of Course
Back on the streets, I use local yarn shops to anchor my wanderings.
First, the The Quarter Stitch. The shop is 50/50 knitting and needlepoint, and 100% worth the visit.
Handpainted canvases by local artists may lure you to needlepoint … but then there’s that wall of Koigu, and the only-for-the-shop Mardi Gras colorway from Mountain Colors. Coming soon, custom New Orleans colorways from Dragonfly Fibers as well.
Given the steamy climate, there isn’t local fiber farm yarn, but the shop carries hand-dyed strips of silk from Alquimie, a local textile arts business and handmade clothing shop. It’s a treat yo’self moment.
By now, you’ll need an interlude. Napoleon House, a nearby historic building with tales to tell, is perfect. I heart a distressed wall, and these are bedecked with pictures of storied characters. I settle in on a palm-filled courtyard patio with fans and misters, and order a cool Pimms drink. Knitting and people watching ensues.
Revived, we pedal to Bette Bornside Yarns, in the Marigny. Bette started a mail order yarn business pre-internet. She’s kept it rolling ever since, now in a bricks and mortar corner shop. Walking in feels like a visit to her living room—comfy stuffed chairs, highboys full of books and patterns, a warm greeting. She’s put together an admirable selection of cotton and cotton blend yarns for knitting in this climate. I see my favorite non-wools like Berroco Remix, and brands I’ve never laid eyes on. Bette is especially proud of an alternative to a popular silk/mohair blend she’s sourced—Sugarbush Drizzle—same yardage but less expensive, and always in stock. She hosts a very friendly Wednesday knit night that I’m sorry to miss. The shop is obviously Info Central for an assortment of Sip & Knit, Wine & Stitch and other happy-sounding gatherings.
It’s time for another interlude. Seek a happy hour and put your feet up. The city comes to life again after sunset. I plan to roll into the wee hours.
Later . . .
As darkness falls, music spills onto the sidewalks. Frenchmen Street, which divides the Marigny and the French Quarter, is perfect for eating, roaming, and imbibing. The drink-to-go policy lets you wander bar to bar, hitting up jazz, rock, a fabulous vocalist, and a reggae band all in one block, with street musicians and a second line party parade in joyful procession. There are night craft markets coming alive with fine art, crafts and paintings.
The galleries along Royal Street nearby are open for browsing. Chris Robert-Antieau’s art combining fabric appliqué with stitching and taxidermy suits this city well.
Ok, I wasn’t going to own it but: French Fries Covered with Crawfish Etouffee at Dat Dog, in a duet with a fresh margarita, hit the spot.
Sunday in the Park with Beignets
A native daughter revealed she prefers her beignets on the stone verandah of Morning Call, in City Park.
Though the menu also includes gumbo and jambalaya, I stick with edibles covered with powdered sugar, which is self serve here from a shaker on each table.
It’s perfect for a leisurely start to the day, gazing at the enormous oaks and moss canopy. City Park has been around since 1854. It is not a big leap to imagine when it was the site for gentleman duels, courtships, and entertaining. It would not be wrong to pull out your knitting and ponder the rest of the day in this urban treasure.
There are 1,300 grandly landscaped acres.
City Park is home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, the five-acre Besthoff Sculpture Garden, the New Orleans Botanical Gardens, tennis courts, a big lake (named Big Lake—it really is Easy around here), and meandering paths.
If you have any littles with you, or just like a vintage vibe—you’ll appreciate StorylandPark and the adjacent Carousel Amusement Park.
There’s also golf, and a train tour within the park.
City Park can be reached by street car (or regular auto). Once there, the blue bikes are ready to go. Our day is made. This verdant, art-filled passage is our weekend coda.
- I know! I didn’t mention Bourbon Street! Quelle horreur! It’s impossible to miss in the French Quarter. Nowadays it has the same cartoon-like charm and booze-soaked energy as Times Square in New York, Lower Broadway in Nashville or the Fremont Street scene in Las Vegas. Yes, it’s full of landmarks, so go; you have to say you did it. Ginormous neon-colored drinks in souvenir glasses, and lifting your shirt up, optional.
- There are many tours to consider—and they are worthwhile. Take your pick!
- Check out RHINO on Magazine Street—Right Here in New Orleans—for fine local crafts