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Knitting - A Hot New Trend

How many hobbies do you know of that have been practiced for centuries but are also at the cutting edge for such Hollywood luminaries as Julia Roberts, Laurence Fishburne and Julianne Moore?

Knitting is enjoying a stunning revival in popularity as new converts learn to create beautiful and distinctive pieces of handcrafted art. Whether you're an absolute beginner or an experienced stitcher with an insatiable desire for luscious yarns, the Rogue Valley offers a wealth of resources.

Dona Zimmerman, owner of The Websters Handspinners, Weavers & Knitters in Ashland, attributes the resurgent popularity of knitting to a variety of factors, including its "constructive, positive, nurturing" qualities. "When the world is in chaos," she explains, "we turn to home, family and the intrinsic values" that come with handiwork. Zimmerman also thinks knitting's popularity is a function of fashion cycles, particularly this year when many runways show items in which you can really "see the knitting" with big stitches and cables.

Zimmerman sees several types of knitters coming to her store, from absolute beginners to experienced stitchers, but she notes particular interest from returning knitters, people who learned in the past, but put down their needles for several years and are now motivated to refresh their skills.

Mary Graceffa, who with her sister Nancy O'Connell owns Llamas and Llambs Boutique in Jacksonville, also emphasizes the diversity of knitters and their backgrounds. But Graceffa notes that she particularly sees a lot of young mothers attracted to knitting for the chance to make something for their children and indulge in the new, luxurious fibers available today. "It's not the way knitting used to be when our grannies did it," Graceffa explains. The yarns available today are so much more interesting and unique, including such unexpected materials as soy and bamboo. People also love the idea of making gifts by hand, and socks, capes, and shawls have been extremely popular gifts, together with felted hats and bags.

Graceffa also notes that knitting provides a wonderful way to relax. She points to a study by Harvard Medical School's Dr. Herbert Benson that knitting-like yoga, tai chi, and meditation-is an extremely effective tool for combating stress.

If the benefits of knitting-relaxation, beautiful materials, and useful end products-intrigue you and you'd like to pick up some needles, keep in mind what Zimmerman refers to as the four components of learning to knit: 1) desire, 2) good materials, 3) good tools and 4) a caring mentor. All of these can be found at local yarn stores, which are more committed to helping crafters and keeping the knitting tradition alive than their big-box rivals.

If you love the look of hand knits, but haven't got the time or interest in knitting yourself, many local shops have a tantalizing selection of items made by local knitters and artisans. These include handspun and knitted socks, hats, scarves and shawls, as well as hand-woven kitchen towels that "wear like iron." They also have lots of classes for those wanting to try their hand at textile arts.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this resurgent interest in knitting has been the continuity of the craft. Both Zimmerman and Graceffa emphasize this benefit, noting that it gives a chance for older, more experienced knitters to pass along their know-how to the next generation, and keep the craft alive. As Zimmerman notes, "just when you think this art is going to disappear, it gets popular again."

Knitting - A Hot New Trend