by Sara E. Wilson
Posted on October 19, 2006
Photo by Beth Baugher
Banish from your mind the image of a dowdy old woman sitting alone in a creaking rocking chair, knitting tea cozies out of ugly yarn. Today’s knitters are hipper, often younger, and are building valuable social networks of women who are rabidly enthusiastic for the fiber arts. Knitters of all ages and experience levels are openly plying their craft and attracting ever more knitters into the fold. They are forming groups, building friendships, and sharing their skills and experience.
Fueled by fashionable patterns, an infusion of beautiful novelty yarns and the pleasure of creating something tangible, knitting is hot. Even some of Hollywood’s hottest stars are into knitting. Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hilary Swank and Daryl Hannah (the list goes on) have embraced the trend.
According to the Craft Yarn Council of America’s 2002 study, the percentage of women younger than 45 who know how to knit and crochet has doubled since 1996. There are now 28 million American women who can crochet or knit. Linda Urquhart, proprietor of Rumpelstiltskin, a yarn shop in downtown Sacramento, says “We’re seeing a lot of new knitters and a lot of knitters who haven’t knit for 20 years coming back to knitting. And we’re seeing a lot of younger knitters—high school and college kids.”
Knitters gather in coffeehouses, bookstores, yarn shops or anywhere that offers chairs and maybe food. With names like Knits of the Round Table and Stitch ’n’ Bitch, groups are cropping up all over town, with lawyers, software technicians, accountants, teachers, stay- or work-at-home moms, social workers, nurses, business owners, state workers, editors, retirees and school psychologists as members. Many members also belong to one of the area’s several knitting guilds, such as the Camellia City Stockin’ettes, Auburn Knitting Guild, Foothills Fiber Guild, Yolo Knitters Guild, Wild & Wooly Knitters or the Sierra Pine Needles.
If you’re looking for people to knit with, you have many options.
• Sacramento’s knitting Meetup group gathers on the third Wednesday night of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. Log on to meetup.com to find locations.
• The Knits of the Round Table meets at Borders Books on Fair Oaks Boulevard on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m., except on the fourth Sunday of the month, when they meet and have lunch at Whole Foods Market from noon to 2 p.m.
• The Stitch ’n’ Bitch group meets in midtown at the Naked Lounge Coffee House on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
• Roseville’s Borders Books has a knitting/book group that meets on the third Sunday of the month from 7 to
9 p.m. The group was started by Margaret Handshoe, one of the store managers. Borders even sells knitting kits that include everything you need.
• On the first Saturday of the month in Folsom, knitters are encouraged to bring their UFOs (unfinished objects) and finished projects to Coffee Republic. The session lasts from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and knitters happily share tips and advice.
Knitters can find plenty of topics for conversation. Marin Lemieux, 25, who started a knitting group last year, says, “Usually we get right down to the point of what’s going on in our lives. Guys, relationships, work, everything.” Members of Lemieux’s group have become friends and have started hanging out together apart from knitting. “It’s been really fun to meet girls around the same age that I have things in common with but are still different and bring something new to a friendship,” Lemieux says.
The camaraderie extends to professional environments. Many office workers are getting together over lunch to knit. Workers who visit Rumpelstiltskin at lunch tell store owner Urquhart that knitting together improves the office atmosphere. Emmy Aricioglu started a lunchtime knitting group on Wednesdays at Hewlett-Packard in Folsom. “I spend some time teaching knitting and getting everyone going on their projects. It’s a lot of fun,” she says. Aricioglu and her co-workers often take trips to the yarn shops together to choose yarn and new projects.
If you still think knitted garments are limited to boring, out-of-style, Family Circle patterns, think again. Hand-knitted garments are useful and fashionable. Scarves, hats and ponchos are very popular, in addition to more traditional projects like sweaters, baby blankets and booties. Yarns have come a long way in recent years: there are soft, fuzzy, hairy, bumpy, twisty, metallic and ribbon yarns of all colors and hues. Urquhart says, “You don’t need to be very skilled to come up with a very pretty project.”
Regina Miranda Grosby, a 27-year-old work-at-home mom and owner of two home-based businesses, got started knitting after she visited a yarn shop in San Diego when she was pregnant. “The owner taught me how to knit and purl, and I have been buying yarn ever since,” she says. Grosby likes to knit soaker pants—100 percent wool diaper covers that go over cloth diapers. The lanolin in sheep’s wool keeps the baby’s clothes dry. These handmade soakers are popular among advocates of natural family living and sell on the Internet for $50 to $100. Grosby says, “I am working on a bag, more soaker pants and a hat for my daughter.”
Amy Fort is new to Sacramento and she recently started attending a knitting group to meet people (although she’s the oddball because she crochets instead of knits). “I think that knitting or crocheting has the same meditative effect as prayer beads in a way,” Fort says. “You are counting your stitches or concentrating on your pattern, so a part of your mind is really silenced in the concentration of the task.”
Mary Colucci of the Craft Yarn Council of America agrees that needle arts such as knitting and crocheting have stress relieving qualities but says, “another phenomenon I think has developed is the social aspect, the camaraderie. People are striving to find that sense of community in their lives and this is a wonderful activity. You can talk and knit or crochet at the same time.”
Knitting groups are “social capital” in action: they promote the flow of information, provide mutual aid to members, and bridge social and age gaps. Knitters are benefiting from belonging to groups. Fort explains, “I work from home. I don’t see people all day. When you live a life like that, you have to get creative to meet people,” she says.
The social aspect is what attracted Fort to the knitting group, but she says creating something tangible like a scarf or afghan also is rewarding. As a software technician, Fort doesn’t really see the fruits of her labors: “I live in a virtual world [where] nothing I do exists. The most I’ll ever see is a printout or a report. When I make something of my own hands, I have proof of what I did. It’s kind of like proof of your existence.”
The Tradition Continues
Although knitting groups aren’t in the business of teaching knitting classes, members are often willing to provide pointers and help to knitters of all experience levels—“Just try to stop them!” Aricioglu challenges. “There’s nothing more flattering than to have someone ask me to teach them to knit. Wow. I get to pass on a useful skill, and I didn’t even have to have grandchildren to make that goal.”
Bonnie Chatfield, a real estate agent, learned to knit in her youth from her now 91-year-old mother. She says, “I have taught my granddaughter Caroline, 9-years-old, how to knit. So the tradition continues. And yes, it is addictive. I have to have a project or two to work on.” Caroline has started with knitting potholders.
Sometimes mothers and daughters share a knitting addiction. Carol De La Mater, who has been a member of a knitting group for three years, taught her college-age daughter, Amanda, to knit during a winter break: “She went to the yarn store with me and saw all of the different fibers. When she returned to college after Christmas vacation she found that many of her friends had learned to knit over vacation also.”
Urquhart says, “People tend to be really willing to share and help. It’s a very friendly kind of craft.”