Traverse City Record-Eagle

Well-Being

December 23, 2010

Senior Focus: Knitting back in vogue

Knitting has become trendy again. Everyone has a theory about the resurgence, but according to a national survey by the Craft Yarn Council, one of knitters' top motivations is relaxation and stress reduction, allowing technology-saturated brains to relax.

Knitting also provides a creative outlet, a means of self-expression and a way to rebel against mass-produced products — plus, it's fun.

Today's extravagant and color-saturated yarns — especially the so-called novelty yarns — have also helped advance the knitting renaissance, producing extraordinary results without years of knitting experience, lending texture and originality even to the plain knit stitch.

While career-oriented novices have taken to knitting and changed its outward nuance, handcrafted knitting has always had a core of persistent followers, some of whom are now silver-haired mentors. The revival has also attracted middle-age enthusiasts, some resuming their interest from earlier years.

And, as usual, the Traverse City Senior Center is keeping up with the trends by offering knitting classes on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. Lucille Miller, the instructor, will be starting two new classes in January; one for beginners and one for advanced beginners.

It's hard to pin down the origin of two-needle knitting, but most histories place its inception in the Middle East. The earliest examples of knitted items found date to 11th century Egypt. From there, it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and then on to the Americas with European colonization.

During World War II, Americans knitted for the troops, and for several decades after the war, hand-knitted items could be found in fashion and upscale boutiques. By the 1980s, machine-knitted items were cheaper and interest in knitting declined.

"Knitting is coming back rather strongly ... it's interesting that when I was in college (in the 1950s), they actually taught knitting as a college class," Miller said.

According to Miller, the calming, centering aspects of knitting are related to a spike in the popularity of meditation as well.

More men also have picked up on knitting for relaxation.

There are two general schools of knitting. One is called English — or, more technically, throwing — and involves holding the yarn in the right hand. The other is called continental — technically picking — and involves holding the yarn in the left hand.

Although Miller uses the throwing method of knitting, it's a good idea for all knitters to try both methods; at least long enough to decide which one really feels more comfortable for them.

Miller's beginner class takes the length of the class to complete a hat and a scarf. However, at the start of the class, Miller has the participants begin practicing with scrap yarn she supplies, until they learn the required knitting stitches.

Anyone who knows how to read a pattern can join the advanced beginners. They will be selecting their own project and continuing to work on it as long as they want to. As the group gets smaller, they can join the Monday afternoon crafters.

"There is a marvelous knitter in that group and there is always someone around to help." Miller said.

An interesting phenomenon of a knitting society is the camaraderie between those just learning and the experts that have been knitting for years. If you make mistakes or botch your project, no one belittles you. The experienced knitter will step in and lend a hand.

"When you come to class, be sure to bring your sense of humor," Miller said. "Don't take yourself awfully seriously — remember this is a hobby, not your life's work, and no one is grading you. It should be fun."

Advanced beginners will meet at the Senior Center on Fridays from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., starting Jan. 21.

The new beginners' class will meet on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Bay Ridge East in a first floor private dining room, starting Jan. 18. The beginner class will be limited to 10 knitters.

For more information and to register for a knitting class, call the Senior Center at 922-4911, or e-mail pthompson@tcseniorcenter.com.

Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.

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