By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — Sarah Johnson learned to knit during her freshman year of college.
Four years later, the craft helped earn her a scholarship for graduate school.
Johnson, 21, won a $2,250 college scholarship through a program of Jimmy Beans Wool, a leading online yarn and fabric retailer. The "Beans for Brains" scholarship was one of five the company granted to women in the national "knitting and crochet community."
"It is a little unusual, but my husband and I started the business 10 years ago (after attending college) and we always felt college is really important," said Laura Zander of the Reno, Nev.-based company that takes its name from Zander's nickname and the coffee the couple once sold along with yarn. "And then we had so many customers who had kids who were going to start college. We realized how important and how difficult it is to start college."
Johnson, of Traverse City, is a May graduate of Hope College. She earned a bachelor's degree in social work and the school's Senior Social Work Award. She said she plans to attend graduate school at Grand Valley State University or the University of Michigan after earning money by working as a local nanny.
"The fact that I got $2,250 because I can knit is pretty helpful," said the Traverse City Senior High alum, who stumbled across the scholarship program after searching online. "That would have taken me a lot of time to earn as a nanny."
Nearly 1,200 students applied for the scholarships, based on grades, community service, long-term goals and other qualifications. This was the third year for the program, which also is supported by the Yarn Group, Vogue Knitting Magazine, Tahki Stacy Charles, Classic Elite Yarns, Knitting Pure and Simple, Rowan, Red Heart Yarns, Universal Yarns, Lorna's Laces and Knitter's Pride Needles.
Besides an application and an essay, Johnson had to submit a photo of her latest knitting or crochet project, a baby gift for her stepsister.
"I wanted to give her something really nice, so I knit a baby blanket. It was the first big project I did. It took me all summer," said Johnson, whose stepnephew, Joey Snively, modeled the blanket. Still, that project was a far cry from her first, Johnson said.
"I wanted to make a scarf for my friend, so my mom taught me how to knit. That was my first project and it was actually a mess," she recalled. "I bought two different dye lots of yarn, so the first half was fine but the second half was lighter."
Johnson said she plans to pursue a career in social work, perhaps with kids.
"I'm keeping it open-ended," she said. "What I love about social work is you can enter at one end of the field and, if you don't like it, try something else in five years."