Stitching a knitting network

October 21, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

On Wednesday nights, about a dozen women gather after hours in an Ellicott City shop to indulge their shared obsession.

Solid or multicolored, thick or thin, plain or fuzzy, yarn is a passion they all share.

"It's so addicting," said Laurie Muldawer of Olney, one of the knitters last week at the Celtic Knot Yarn Shop on Main Street.

The women are part of a resurgence in knitting, as more people - including men and children - take up the craft or return to it after years away.

"It's so relaxing, and it's so creative," said Carole Ferguson, owner of the Celtic Knot. "It's not hard. ... You can start out with two sticks and string and have something beautiful."

Her shop has been open for about 19 months, and she has seen a lot of interest in classes for beginners and skilled knitters.

Nationwide, 38 million people knit and crochet, according to a survey sponsored by the Craft Yarn Council of America. Eighteen percent of women younger than 45 know the crafts, the survey said, a doubling over the past six years.

"We certainly saw the trend beginning in the late 1990s," said the council's executive director, Mary Colucci. She credits the rising interest to more knitted fashions in the stores, more interesting and high-quality yarns being made by manufacturers, and more patterns that can be completed in a short amount of time.

Knitting "is used for a lot of different reasons now," said Lorraine Gaudet, owner of A Good Yarn in Fells Point. "It's used for social reasons. It's used for relaxing. ... For a knitter, it's the process, like saying a rosary or a mantra. It's a repetitive motion that raises your seratonin level."

Like many knitters, Muldawer said she uses her needles to keep busy throughout the day, including between patients she sees as a dental hygienist in Germantown. She learned to knit as a child and started again last year.

"It's relaxing," she said. "When I have to wait, I have something to do."

Lindsay Makowski, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County pre-med student from Silver Spring, started taking classes when Ferguson opened her shop. She was soon recruited, along with two other avid knitters, to work in the store part time.

She said the craft is a good escape from her hectic schedule. "It's stilling," she said. "It keeps your hands busy and gives you a rhythm. ... It's time away from everything else."

But knitting does not have to be solitary.

The Celtic Knot, A Good Yarn and a growing number of other shops in the area offer classes and hold social knitting sessions each week.

At the Wednesday night gathering at the Celtic Knot, women ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s combine talk of patterns and materials with conversations about family, work and life. Several women said that what they say among their fellow knitters stays there.

In Fells Point, Gaudet said she gets many young professionals in her knitting groups. Participants often talk politics, she said, or network with each other the way others do while playing golf.

Besides classes and meetings, Ferguson gets people involved in charities. She started a program to help knitters make caps for chemotherapy patients, collects food and toys for charities around the holidays and organized some of her regular knitters into a Race for the Cure team.

A knitter for only a few years, she learned the craft in 2001 to keep busy while sitting around in hospitals. Her husband survived Hodgkin's disease and her mother was ill for several months before dying of cancer.

Ferguson was formerly a corporate trainer who left the field to raise her children. However, family illnesses, the birth of her children and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, encouraged her to embrace her love of knitting and open a store.

"I'm a little obsessive with my hobbies," she said.

Now she tries to make her shop a friendly place. "Everyone is supposed to be treated the same," she said. "There are no stupid questions."

With a wide selection of traditional and novelty yarn, she attracts plenty of what she affectionately calls "yarn junkies." She said the knitters who work nearby on Main Street "stalk the UPS man" when he brings shipments to her shop and that some people hide their yarn purchases from their spouses by paying in cash and throwing away receipts.

Ten years ago, the only yarn available was an inexpensive synthetic kind found in craft stores, said Judy Dashiell, an office manager and avid knitter from Ellicott City. Now, she said, yarn shops are returning with all kinds of new colors and textures.

Today, yarn is made of wool, mohair, acrylic, alpaca and silk. Some are simple, but some are textured with "eyelashes" that give a garment a furry look or have shiny ribbon material and sparkles mixed in the fibers. Some are extremely fuzzy, and come in brilliant colors - orange, hot pink and the popular Ravens purple.

Knitters can easily spend hundreds of dollars on a project, or they can choose something simple and make a scarf for less than $20, Ferguson said.

And, knitters always want to make something new.

"You finish one project, and you're already thinking about the next one," Dashiell said. "If you don't have something in the wings to work on next ... it's serious withdrawal."

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