By Cymbre Foster
Special to the Record-Eagle
---- — Sandy Goetz is a regular around the back table at Yarn Quest in Traverse City.
At least twice a week, the retiree brings her latest knitting project to the yarn shop, where she finds camaraderie with the other women who also come there to knit.
"When you buy your yarn here, they offer you help with a pattern, but more importantly, I've made some of the best friends of my life here," said Goetz, who discovered her passion for knitting just two years ago. "Knitting has opened up a whole new world to me."
Although the art and craft of knitting has been around for generations, it has seen a resurgence in recent years. The Craft Yarn Council of America estimates that today, some 50 million Americans know how to knit or crochet.
Today and Saturday, area knitters will have the opportunity to check out the latest the knitting world has to offer when six northern Michigan yarn shops host the first-ever Greater Traverse Yarn Shop Hop. Each will highlight unique yarns and patterns and offer refreshments and ideas for handmade holiday gifts.
"I see it as an opportunity for people to visit all the shops and see what they have to offer," said Mary Hofmann, owner of Yarn Quest. "I love to see people get enthused about knitting and fibers."
Joan Slyker, owner of The Warm Fuzzy yarn shop in Alden, said it's been fun working with the other shops getting ready for the event.
"What's so wonderful about this is that these six shops could be in competition, but we're not. We all have different personalities and carry different yarns," she said.
Today's knitting shops offer crafters an array of yarns like their grandmothers never dreamed of, from skeins of sumptuous silks and shimmering ribbons, to baskets of baby soft alpaca and hanks of hand-dyed cottons. Northern Michigan yarn shop owners said that these days, they are also seeing a wide range of ages picking up needles and yarn.
"Knitting isn't just for grandmas," said Hofmann. "We've had junior high-aged kids come in with their mothers. We have expectant and new moms who want to make a blanket from the natural and organic yarns, and we even see a smattering of boys who want to knit scarves or hats for their girlfriends."
Even high school students are taking up the hobby. Every Monday morning, nearly a dozen students in the knitting club at Traverse City West High School meet to knit blankets for premature babies and scarves for chemotherapy patients, while catching up on the latest gossip. Knitting clubs like these have become increasingly common in recent years.
One of the weekly groups that meets at Michele Heckman's shop, The Yarn Market in Beulah, listens to a book on tape while they knit. Other groups meet to knit for charity or simply for social interaction.
"Knitting has traditionally been a women's activity and a place to share and talk," said Heckman. "In tough economic times, it's also something that you can sit at home and do."
Goetz sees the Shop Hop as a great way to introduce people to the craft.
"It's an opportunity for those who are not aware of the joys and beauty of knitting to see the wide range of handmade beautiful gifts you can make," she said.
Participants can join the Shop Hop with the purchase of a $5 passport. With a $15 purchase at a particular store, the passport is stamped and eligible for a drawing for that shop's prize basket. Stamp the passport at all six shops and shoppers are eligible for the grand prize basket, which includes a $50 gift certificate to each shop.
Participating shops include The Yarn Basket of Beulah, Thistledown Shoppe in Suttons Bay, Wool and Honey in Cedar, The Warm Fuzzy in Alden and Yarn Quest and Lost Art, both in Traverse City. Each shop will be open from noon to 8 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. For directions or more information, call Heckman at 882-4640.