Sifu Design Studio Helps Knitters Master Their Craft

Years ago, Lisa Whiting was teaching a Japanese-speaking friend to knit in exchange for language lessons. When Whiting moved away to Chicago, her friend asked her, "What am I going to do without my knitting sifu?"

"Sifu" means "master" or "teacher" in Japanese and, Whiting says, "I was so honored that I decided that would be the name of my company."

Last December 21, Whiting was "unemployed, broke, and had nothing else to lose," and opened Sifu Design Studio ( in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood with help from investors who believed in her dream.

Lisa Whiting demonstrates a knitting technique

Left: Every imaginable color of yarn dominates one wall of Sifu Design Studio. Right: Shop owner Lisa Whiting demonstrates a knitting technique during a Learn to Knit beginner's class.

The store's tagline is "Be a master of your craft," and Whiting helps local aspiring fiber artists achieve that goal with a series of classes, events, and stitching-centered social occasions.

Whiting, along with crochet instructor Jill Horwich and spinning instructor Natalia Wilson, maintains a full schedule of fiber arts offerings, from the popular beginners' Learn to Knit class to one-day last-minute gift workshops. One of the store's most popular events, Sci-Fiber Fridays, invites fiber artists to work on their unfinished projects at the shop during free showings of science fiction films and TV shows.

On one recent weeknight, beginning knitters put the finishing touches on hand-knitted winter hats, puzzling over the written directions and asking Whiting for help when their stitches went somehow awry.

Beginning knitters work on finishing their hat projects

Beginning knitters work on finishing their hat projects during a Learn to Knit evening class.

Whiting, whose grandmother taught her to knit 25 years ago, notes that knitting seems to have skipped a generation — "I think something very bad happened to knitting in the eighties," she says. But today, her beginners' classes fill quickly with aspiring young knitters who want to reclaim an earlier generation's handiwork.

"People want to create things by hand; it's so satisfying to sit down and use your time to create something," she says. "I think the whole DIY movement has exploded because a lot of people are becoming more conscious of where they get their goods."

Sifu is filled with whimsical decorations

Sifu is filled with whimsical decorations, like this old-fashioned telephone, and the tools of a knitter's trade.

In the future, Whiting hopes to hire a full-time employee and to expand into a larger space with enough room to house spinning wheels and looms for students to rent. "Those are a huge expense, and not a lot of people have the space for them," Whiting says.

She also has thoughts of expanding into fabrics and hand-quilting, "but right now I'm trying to take baby steps," she says.

Sifu Design Studio is located at 5044 N Clark St., Chicago. For more information on classes and events, call 773-271-SIFU (7438) or visit

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