The Knitting Revival

by Amy Groh
photography by Katie Thompson
If someone asked you to picture “Sally” knitting, what qualities would she have? Would she be older and retired? Would she be sitting in her living room with a ball of solid-colored yarn on her lap, surrounded by the glow of a television? This may have been how we pictured Sally ten years ago, but it’s not an entirely accurate illustration of today’s average knitter.

While the older knitting crowd has not diminished, there has recently been an increase in the number of young women who have picked up the yarn and needles, according to Nancy Sicher and Debbie Showalter, proprietors of two local specialty yarn stores. The addition of so many young knitters, bringing the age of the average knitter down to about 40, has created a “knitting revival.” This resurgence is due in part to the young generation’s vast use of the Internet. Knitting blogs and groups have been established online, enabling knitters to share their patterns and color choices and exchange advice with others across the globe.

Nowadays, Sally could very well be a twenty-something, sitting in a coffee shop with five or six friends (all with yarn and needles), working a bright, multi-colored yarn into a sweater to wear out on the town. What a difference! This is not to say that young women make up the majority of knitters, however; the more traditional knitters still make up a large piece of the pie.

In speaking with several area groups, we have discovered that most knitters are community knitters, preferring to craft with other women. For this reason, many women have joined knitting circles, guilds and groups in which they are able to come together with others who share their hobby and enjoy the company of friends. Because they are most comfortable with people their own age, many young knitters have sought out groups of their peers with whom they can knit, just as Naomi Davison did.

When Davison and a friend began knitting earlier this year, they wanted to find a group of people their age with whom they could knit on a regular basis. When they had trouble finding such a group, they decided to start Knit Pick, their own local chapter of “Stitch ’n’ Bitch,” which meets at a local Barnes & Noble café. These Stitch ’n’ Bitch groups are named after a series of knitting how-to books by Debbie Stoller, the woman sometimes credited with the resurgence of the craft. These are the books which first led Davison to knitting.

Many young knitters have a grandmother or mother who knits or crochets, but for some reason, was not successful in passing the craft down. Perhaps a short attention span or rebellious attitude had something to do with it. No matter the reason, the long-time hobby is now making a comeback!

The first knitting guild was organized in Paris in 1527, more like a workers’ union than what we think of as a guild today. Today’s knitting guilds have more of a social purpose to them and are formed by people who want to share their love of the craft with others. In addition, there are several other types of groups, such as Stitch ’n’ Bitches and “meetups,” which allow women to gather together to knit and bond with one another.

We spoke with Linda Schepper and Orpha Nelan, members of the Heart of Illinois Knitting Guild #47, who said their group has noticed an increase in membership in the last two to three years, most of them being younger women. What initially interested Schepper about knitting is one of the main things that makes younger women pick up the needles today—“the ability to create one-of-a-kind garments and the feeling of accomplishment after completing a project, especially a more complicated pattern. But, most of all, the relaxed feeling [they] get.”

Many knitters, including Bradley University student Anna Szajner, say the craft is therapeutic: “being able to sit down and just concentrate on one thing such as knitting forces you to slow down and breathe. No worries about scheduling, analyzing, charting or anything else that the ordinary person stresses about everyday. Even if it is only for half an hour, it’s a great way to forget everything else for a brief moment and relieve the stress of everyday life.”

It is this therapy which many students and young professionals are searching for. Schepper also attributes the rise in knitters to its therapeutic qualities, saying knitting “is very relaxing, and young people are looking for ways to relax and unwind.” It’s true that our fast-paced lifestyle creates a need for some down time, during which a quiet, almost meditative activity such as knitting can be useful. Once you get the hang of it, the repetition becomes almost second- nature, allowing knitters to concentrate on conversations with those around them. This hobby has become something to do while chatting, networking and brainstorming about projects for school or work. According to “Knitting for a Change” by Wendy Priesnitz, some knitting groups even double as political activist groups, using their time together to promote specific causes.

Like anything else, when a product’s demand increases, so must its supply. This is where the development of specialty yarn stores—Ewe-Nique Yarns, Etc. in Morton and Knit 4 Together Yarn Co. in Dunlap, for example—comes in. Both stores have opened within the last three years—appropriate timing surely linked to the growth in the number of knitters. Both stores have also experienced a steady monthly increase in income. Debbie Showalter of Ewe-Nique Yarns, Etc. noted that there has, however, been a marked decrease in the sale of novelty yarn used for scarves. “The scarf phase is over. We haven’t seen decorative scarves since a year ago.” More knitters are choosing to make sweaters and socks, said Showalter, noting that such yarns are big sellers at Ewe-Nique Yarns. Scarves do seem to be popular projects for beginners, however, according to the young knitters we talked to.

Everyone we spoke with stressed their love for knitting and passing the craft on to others. Most groups even take extra needles and yarn to every meeting in case a beginner or two shows up looking to learn. So if you’re searching for a new craft to get into, have some spare time or would like to be more productive while watching TV, give knitting a try. After a while, you might find its meditative motions to be just what you need after a long, hard day! a&s