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She's Saying: Don't Thread on Me

Owner of a New York firm has a knit to pick with stitching groups she says are using a name she trademarked.

February 07, 2006|Hemmy So | Times Staff Writer

In her 2 1/2 years in Los Angeles, Cory Gatrall never could find a place to unleash her edgy sense of humor and shed the conservative constraints of her day job as a paralegal.

Then she happened upon, of all things, a knitting group.

"I see nose rings, that's a good thing," Gatrall said as she knitted a burgundy-toned striped scarf at her first meeting in a second-floor room at the Farmers Market.

The group offers a place for young women of like mind -- hip, irreverent -- to do what they love: knit, crochet and chat. Even the name -- Stitch 'N Bitch -- makes clear it's not your usual knitting circle. But lately, the relaxation has turned to anger and fulmination.

A small New York company called Sew Fast Sew Easy has launched a trademark battle against Stitch 'N Bitch circles across the country. Sew Fast owner Elissa Meyrich, who claims to have started the first such group in New York in 1997, says the others are infringing on her trademark for an online message board that incorporates the name.

"Here I am minding my own business, and then it becomes obvious to me that I have to be vigilant about what is mine and belongs to me," Meyrich said in a phone interview from New York City. "People, you can copy things all the time, but don't copy my trademarks."

Meyrich's company has told groups in Chicago and Cleveland that they were infringing on her trademark. On Jan. 13, Yahoo, at Meyrich's instigation, sent cease-and-desist letters to knitting circles who list under that name on the Internet portal.

The letters sent some of the groups into a panic, but many vowed they would not submit. The knitters insist that Meyrich neither founded the movement nor owns the name, which some say dates to the 1920s.

For them, their group's name is more than just a title. It's the coat of arms for a craft revival that celebrates its own irony. Forget the maiden aunt putting together an ill-fitting sweater for her favorite nephew. Enter the gay/lesbian/straight/punk/Goth/hipster/ex-corporate exec who's just finished knitting a fuzzy pink-and-black hat emblazoned with skull and crossbones.

"We're not a bunch of grandmas out here," said Jamie Scout, who leads the Albuquerque chapter. "I know it sounds so silly, but it's changed a lot of people's lives. It gives a sense of community for these people."

Rebellious Stitchers are rallying around knitting guru Debbie Stoller, who in November began a legal battle to strip Meyrich of her trademark.

Stoller, the founder of the feminist magazine Bust, claimed in her 2003 book "Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook" that she was the mother of the first such group in New York City.

She applied for her own trademark for the name, but was rejected in May 2004. Now she has asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington to cancel Meyrich's mark.

Stoller would not comment on her battle, but in court documents she claimed the name simply describes what people do at the online message board: knit and chat.

"Numerous third parties across the United States use the wording as the generic or descriptive name of their group or club, to identify a type of get-together or to identify informational websites and chat rooms for sewers and knitters," Stoller argued in legal pleadings.

To avoid being shut down, most clubs on the Yahoo group site have abbreviated their name to SNB. Others have changed their slogans: The Chicago group is "Born to Knit."

Some knitters have also launched personal protests.

Jennifer Baylis, who moderates a Long Beach group, has begun knitting an anti-Sew Fast Sew Easy bag. She plans to carry the protest pouch to the Stitches West knitting convention this month in Santa Clara, Calif.

In Cleveland, through her Sew Fast Sew Easy boycott website, Becky Veverka is selling T-shirts, mugs, hats and even dog shirts with the slogan "Free to Stitch Free to Bitch." A percentage of the proceeds goes to lawyers to fight Meyrich, she said. So far, the legal fund stands at $61.

Meyrich says she feels hurt by the heat she is taking from the knitting community.

"I'm a victim of some sad circumstances.... People are calling our phones and cursing at us, defacing our pictures, calling our employees names," she said.

Stoller and Meyrich recently began settlement negotiations, according to court documents. If they fail, testimony is set to begin in September before the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board.

Meanwhile, knitters are still getting together to stitch and, well, complain.

Back at the West Hollywood meeting, Gatrall has met a kindred spirit, Kendra Miller, 25.

A self-described "crusty old sailor," Miller shows up at meetings despite a shoulder injury that prevents her from knitting.

"These are my friends," she said.

The pair showed off their tattoos, described their partners (both named Jeffrey), reminisced about the East Coast and laughed over a vegetarian's online complaint against a knit version of a frozen turkey.

As the meeting broke up, Gatrall told Miller: "I'm going to come back because of you."

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