Who would have thought knitting would ever be cool? These days, there is no end in sight to the popular appeal of wooly, fuzzy, glamorous and practical things that a girl – or a guy – can create.
According to Mary Colucci, executive director of the Craft Yarn Council of America, the current surge in knitting was but a minor swell in the late ´90s, when the council began receiving calls requesting knitting and crocheting teachers. That surge spiked after Sept. 11 when, Colucci says, “people were looking for something to bring comfort to themselves and relieve stress.”
These days, knitting has been happening in coffee shops, bars, bookstores, at girl-scout troop meetings and boys-only clubs, among other places. A search of meetup.com reveals 679 groups with 15,676 members worldwide. Blogs and Web rings devoted to knitting have popped up all over the Internet and the “stitch n’ bitch” phenomenon (the book, the Web site and informal groups that just like the name) has been accepted by pop culture.
Knitting is enjoyed by everyone from Baby Boomers to tweens discovering newfound dexterity in their fingers. For catalog and on-line retailer Lillian Vernon, a very smart Knitting and Crochet Set in Wicker Basket is a strong seller. According to David Hochberg, vice president of public affairs at Lillian Vernon, it has “exceeded our sales expectations,” another sign of the yarn-craft trend.
Celebrities have helped to usher in a new knitting era. Hillary Swank, Julia Roberts and Hillary Duff all knit. Vanna White is the spokesperson for Lion Brand Yarns and appears, shawl-draped, on the company Web site along with her daughter. But the biggest name has got to be Martha Stewart, who wore a gray, lacy poncho when released from jail in March – a poncho which has been all over the yarn craft Web sites as people clamor for the pattern for the garment dubbed the “Freedom Poncho.”
Knitting Gets Manly
Anecdotal evidence supports the conclusion that this is not just a girly-girl thing. Joyce Lewis, owner of The Yarn Shop in Columbus, Ohio, has taught young men, including an Ohio State University basketball player, how to knit. One group she taught was preparing for an extended wilderness adventure and had been directed by the group leader to learn how, since they would be knitting when at rest.
The Internet is also a source for men who want to learn how. The creators of MenKnit.com assure Web page visitors that they are not alone and yarnboy.com will soon sell “boys knit” buttons. Additionally, a K-8 school in California sponsors The Boys Knitting Squad.
Boys and younger men in general, observes Colucci, aren’t as hung up over potential gender issues that kept fathers and uncles out of the knitting arena, despite the craft’s origin in the knitting of sailors at sea and medieval craft guilds that were male-dominated.
Yarn Gets Chic
The market is out there and some of the big box craft stores are tapping into it. Jo-Ann’s and Michaels carry scarf-knitting kits specifically aimed at tween girls, as does RosieHippo.com. The kit at Rosie Hippo is more appropriate for younger children since the yarn is less bulky, without all the eye-catching embellishments and razzle-dazzle. The popular eyelash yarns (the generic term for Fun Fur), while appealing, are hard for a beginner to work with.
But those flashy, shiny, bulky yarns are part of the reason for the growing popularity of the craft. Berroco, a yarn manufacturer, gives its creations names like Bling-Bling and Gem and TuTu, and adorns the yarns with blobs of metallic paint or sequins.
And while there’s more knitting going on, attention spans aren’t any longer than they used to be. With big needles and the new chunky yarns, says Colucci, knitting fans can knit a scarf in a couple of evenings.
Independent shops generally offer classes, and retailers who sell crafts and supplies could bring in a teacher, offer classes at a low cost, and then have the product on the shelves, ready-to-knit. Targeting knitting classes to specific groups (men only, boys only, girls only) could encourage youngsters to take up the habit – a habit that, with improved skill and new lines of yarns always on the horizon, will likely last.