Natures Corner

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February 24, 2006

Knitters turn craft hobby into $1 billion business

Among the more than 20,000 balls of yarn in Robin Turner's shop is a variety called qiviut, which is made from the downy soft underbelly of the Arctic musk ox.

There's more, too. Lots more.

"This is hand-dyed wool yarn from Wales," Turner said as she picked up a multicolored pastel strand at Great Balls of Yarn!, the store she opened last April. "We also have mohair and cashmere it's from the belly of a goat and wool from sheep, and angora from rabbits, as well as yarn made from alpacas and llamas."

It's a library of yarn that shimmers and glitters in every color, shade and texture imaginable.

That's good news for the world of knitters, now known in some circles as "fiber artists." It's a world that has grown substantially in the past 10 years, so much so that last year it became a $1 billion business.

A craft once thought practiced mostly by elderly women is drawing a host of new aficionados of all ages mostly women, but some men who are experiencing the joys of turning out everything from designer-style knitted handbags to bar-stool covers. And they're ready to spend money to pursue their passion.

Michelle Schaup, 30, a nail technician in Jupiter who took up knitting two years ago, readily admits to her knitting addiction and her current love affair with baby alpaca yarn at $13 a skein. She's made four blankets since December and just last week made six hats.

"I knit at the movies, on planes and in airports, waiting at the doctor's office, between customers and at night while watching TV," she said. "If I can't sleep, I'll knit in the middle of the night."

The market is responding to people like Schaup...

Sales of yarn, needles and patterns have more than doubled in the last decade, the Gastonia, N.C.-based Craft Yarn Council of America estimates. And the number of independent yarn stores has shot up to more than 3,000 from 1,200 in that time.

There are at least 30 statewide, according to a Web site that lists Florida shops.

Turner, 40, a Pennsylvania transplant who's been knitting since 10, opened Great Balls of Yarn! because she was tired of driving to Kendall, south of Miami, for the type and variety of high-end yarn she sought.

"We're a gourmet knitting store. It has really taken off," said Turner, who has visited more than 100 yarn shops and was determined hers would be organized, clean and friendly. "We want to be like the 'yarniverse' for knitters."

Knitting isn't about making something yourself to save money. A skein of yarn can cost $50 and more, and it can take six to make a sweater. A poncho kit is priced at $250.

"You can create something that is truly your own wearable art. You won't see it at the Gap," Turner said.

Mary Colucci, the Craft Yarn Council's executive director, said the excitement generated by highly textured fashion yarns, coupled with consumers' desire to create something handmade and unique, has fueled knitting's resurgence.

An estimated 53 million Americans know how to knit or crochet, up from 35 million in 1994, she said.

"It's broadened so, to a much younger age group," Colucci said. "It has also brought back a lot of people who might have learned when they were younger and might have turned off to it in the '70s. We never thought we would get some of the Boomers back."

Sales of yarn, needles and pattern publications soared to more than $1 billion last year, up from $450 million in 1995, Colucci said.

Large chains such as Michaels Stores Inc., based in Irving, Texas, and Jo-Ann Stores Inc., based in Hudson, Ohio, have increased the offerings in their yarn departments, said Kristin Degnan, spokeswoman for the Crafts and Hobbies Association in Elmwood Park, N.J.

Needlecrafts, including knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch and embroidery, tallied $4.2 billion in sales last year, or about 14 percent of the $30.6 billion in the craft and hobby industry, Degnan said. Also, 8 percent of U.S. households have at least one person who knits.

Industrywide, general crafts rank first, with 40 percent of sales, needle and sewing crafts come in second with 25 percent and painting and finishing crafts are third with 24 percent of sales.

"It is more trendy than it used to be," Degnan said. "A lot of the celebrities now are knitting. That is always a draw to the regular consumer."

Star knitters include Julia Roberts, Madonna, Cameron Diaz and Sarah Jessica Parker. They're part of a cultural change that has seen knitting's place on the A-list solidified by television shows on the DIY cable television network and another debuting next month on Oxygen. A new knitting magazine geared to 18-to-35-year-olds, knit.1, debuted last year.

Marian Busse, an instructor at Knitting Nook Inc. in Palm Beach Gardens, said she saw the current knitting craze begin a few years ago and watched as it "popped up like a madness."

"Knitting is so forgiving. You don't have to be an artist," Busse said. "If you make a mistake and don't tell anybody, no one will ever see it."

Faith Brown, owner of Yarn Happenings in Jupiter, said, "Right now, knitting is in its heyday. You have a lot of young people coming to take classes, which is exciting. Then there are the women who knitted 40 years ago and they are coming back to it."

Brown said most beginners can learn the basics in two 90-minute classes that her shop offers for $10 each.

Marilyn Ross, who has owned The Knit Shoppe in Boca Raton for 14 years, and was in business on Long Island for 15 years before that, is a traditionalist who has seen trends come and go. Her shop specializes in finishing adding buttons or zippers to sweaters and giving customers' items a professional look.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Ross' shop was abuzz with customers buying yarn, asking for help and consulting her about which yarn and pattern to choose for a toddler-size sweater for a grandchild or an evening wrap for themselves.

"I don't do anything fancy," Ross said. "Someone showed me a pocketbook. It's a fad. I don't need a fad. Years ago there was a vest craze. I got sick of it and shut down my store for two weeks."

Ask a knitter if she has a stash, and most say they do. It's yarn set aside for future projects, sometimes hidden from family members who might question the need for yet another sweater.

Nancy Berman, a Palm Beach Gardens resident who guesses she has knitted 10 shawls in the last few years, is proud to be a fanatic.

"It's been said, 'She who dies with the most yarn wins,'" Berman said. "We're all obsessive. We're crazy about it."

Posted by sue at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2005

Yarn Deals...

It's the weekend.. I can sneek in a knitting post! shhhh don't tell.
There is an online store.. awesome yarns.. always on sale! It's called Little Knits.
Unless you have an iron will.. hide your credit card. Don't blame the messenger.

Posted by sue at 06:04 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2005

Knitting Pattern Nirvana

Knitting Pattern Central is an online directory featuring thousands of links to free knitting patterns, currently with over fifty categories from which to choose, including hats, sweaters, afghans, ponchos, mittens and gloves, kitchen items, toys, and much more. Begin browsing by category at the Free Knitting Pattern Directory

Posted by sue at 08:46 AM | Comments (1)

October 17, 2005

Crafts!

In the process of working on the Magazine and this Blog, I have had the opportunity to *meet* many new people. When we were discussing the new Blog.. I had asked everyone involved to participate, by sending links to sites they frequent. Trying to be funny, I mentioned that.. links to important sites *like knitting patterns*.. would be great. Boy did I get replies on that! So many are Knitters. We also have a ScrapBooker.. and others with special interests and talent. So while this is not really on target content wise.. we decided to put up an area for Crafting.
If you have a site you LOVE to get ideas from, please leave a comment and we will add it into our links for the catagory!
I'll start off with a well known knitting site Knitty! Lots of patterns from simple to complex..all with pictures and well explained patterns.
enjoy..

Posted by sue at 09:45 AM | Comments (1)