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Minnesota Parent, January 2005

Knitting—not just for grandmothers anymore

By Kelly Westhoff

It's awfully cold outside. Why not curl up in doors with a lap full of yarn? In a few hours, you could knit any number of things to help keep you warm—a scarf, a hat or even a pair of mittens. Kids across the Twin Cities are learning how to knit. They are wrapping their necks with slinky, bright scarves and topping their heads with cozy, woolen caps. They are even giving away their knitted goods to friends and family.

"I've been knitting a ton of scarves for Christmas this year," said Emma, a sixth grader at Blake Middle School in Hopkins. "It only takes me a week or two to make a scarf," she explained, holding up her latest project—a brilliantly blue, soft and squishy scarf she planned to give to a friend. "I knit a little bit every day."

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It's easy for Emma to find the time to knit: she gets to knit at school. Every Tuesday, Emma's English teacher, Nancy Hughes, hosts a knitting club in her classroom. Students can sign up to attend knitting club each week if they don't need extra help in any of their regular classes.

Mrs. Hughes will teach students the basics of knitting if they don't know how, but students that are already knitters also sign up. "Most of the kids that come in, do not know how to knit," said Mrs. Hughes. "I have practice yarn on hand, and I loan them needles to start. We just do basic knitting, and then once a student is not dropping or adding stitches, then I let them make a scarf."

Mrs. Hughes estimated that between 20 and 30 students have attended knitting club at some point this school year, but she also admitted she hasn't taught them all how to knit on her own. "I like it best when the kids start teaching each other. They feel really good about helping each other," she said.

How can you start a knitting club at school?

Jennifer Wenger, author of Teen Knitting Club, suggests the first thing you should do is find a group of about 10 students that would want to join a knitting club. Then, ask a favorite teacher if he or she would be willing to sponsor a knitting club. "If you can say that you have a whole group of kids that want to do it, your teacher will be much more likely to listen to you," she explained.

The teacher you ask may not know how to knit, but he or she can ask other teachers to help out. Parents and other school staff are often willing to volunteer their time to teach students how to knit. Or, your knitting club could learn how to knit together with the help of a book like Teen Knitting Club.

And it's not just girls that are going to knitting club. Boys attend too. Sam, a seventh grader at Blake Middle School, learned to knit from his mom. "She thought it would give me something to do with my hands and take some of my fidgeting away," he explained. "I was really hyper. I liked to talk. I just blabbed away."

Sam's teachers agreed to let him knit in class as a way to help him focus his attention. It worked. Mrs. Hughes isn't surprised that knitting helped Sam pay attention. "It's so calming to sit and knit," she said. "Kid's days are too hectic, their lives are hectic. Knitting slows them down. They have to concentrate on what's in front of them."

But Jack, another knitting club participant, doesn't go to knitting club because it calms him down. He's more focused on the finished product. "I wanna learn how to make hats," he said. "I like making things that you can wear. It's fun. I like hats. I like to knit 'cause then I made it. I got to decide what it looks like."

Sam agreed, "It's just cool to make something out of nothing."

Author Q & A

Q & A with Jennifer Wenger, author of Teen Knitting Club and owner of Jennifer Knits, a yarn store in Los Angeles, California. Our writer caught up with Wenger on a sunny October afternoon at the Bookcase of Wayzata where she was giving a book talk.

Q: When did you start knitting?

A: I started actively knitting when I was about 17.

Q: Who taught you how to knit?

A: I mainly taught myself. But I worked at a knitting store so I had lots of mentors, and it sorta forced me to knit 'cause I worked there. Then, I really got addicted.

Q: What was the first successful thing you knit?

A: I made a lot of scarves and blankets, but the first project, the first garment I made, was a sweater with a turtleneck. I didn't think it was a success, but Julia Roberts walked into the Santa Monica [California] store where I worked and she bought it! It became the "Julia Roberts" sweater!

Q: Did you ever see a picture of her wearing it?

A: I never did. But she does go to knitting stores. I guess she is an avid knitter.

Q: How much did she pay for your sweater?

A: I don't remember. Well, I'm 35 now and that was almost 20 years ago. It was before she was as famous as she is now.

Q: When Julia Roberts bought your sweater, did you think that was cool?

A: Yes. I was immediately, like, I am so cool. You could not get me off the cloud that I was on.

Q: Have any other famous people bought your knitting?

A: No, no. I have a lot of celebrities that come into my yarn store. But I try not to kiss and tell. I always say I have a knitter-client confidentiality.

Q: What is your favorite thing to knit right now?

A: Ponchos. Definitely ponchos. And I love cable knit sweaters.

Q: Did you knit the sweater you are wearing?

A: Yes. But everything I wear I've usually designed.

Q: Have you ever met somebody who can't knit?

A: What? No, never!

Teen Knitting Club
By Jennifer Wenger, Carol Abrams, and Maureen Lasher
ISBN: 1-57965-244-1
$17.95

144 pages of knitting instructions geared to beginning, youth knitters. Also includes project suggestions and color photographs of finished projects.

Where can you learn to knit?

Many yarn stores across the Twin Cities offer knitting classes. New classes will start with the new year, so call, find when classes begin, and get knitting!

In Burnsville, Zandy's offers a free, two-hour session to those interested in learning to make a scarf. Participants must buy scarf supplies at the store. A free, two-hour session is also offered for knitters that want to learn to make a hat. It is best to take the scarf class first. Again, supplies must be purchased at the store. 13710 Nicollet Ave. S. 952-890-3087.

In Excelsior, Coldwater Collaborative features youth knitting classes throughout the summer. Some sessions are available for youth in the winter. 347 Water St. 952-401-7501.

In Minneapolis, Creative Fibers holds knitting classes geared specifically for youth. 5416 Penn Ave. S. 612-927-8307.

Private knitting lessons can be arranged at Linden Hills Yarns. Call Kathleen Hanvik for pricing and scheduling details. 612-928-8354.

In St. Paul, The Yarnery offers knitting classes for beginners. Youth interested in learning to knit join classes with adults. 840 Grand Ave. 651-222-5793.

In Osseo, Amazing Threads, Inc. offers classes for beginning knitters as well as a Teen Knitting Club. 427 3rd St. SE. 763-391-7700.

In White Bear Lake, A Sheepy Yarn Shoppe offers youth knitting classes. 2185 3rd St. 651-426-5463.

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