|Joanne Masiello inside her shop, A Knitter's Garden.|
Union Leader Correspondent
CHESTER -- Joanne Masiello was just trying to get her knitting fix when she inquired at the town library eight years ago about where the local knitting group was meeting.
There was no group, so she started one. Before long, she was given the key to the town community center so she could run the group in some bigger digs. Soon, she’d built a close-knit community of fiber arts aficionados, all eager to learn and share the finer points of knitting and purling.
“I had no intention of opening a business, but the ladies pushed me into it,” said Masiello, who is approaching her fifth year as queen bee of a small knitting empire, A Knitter’s Garden, which is housed in the parlor of her Derry Road home. “I should say they lovingly pushed me into it — I have never been happier.”
The universal joy of knitting is not isolated to Masiello’s cottage industry.
In the past decade, participation in the fiber arts — which refers mainly to knitting and crocheting — has surged in popularity around the world, according to Penny Sitler, director of the Ohio-based Knitting Guild Association, which has an international membership 10,000 strong.
“I think things really started to change after 9/11,” said Sitler, referring to the cultural after effects the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City had on the rest of the world.
“People were looking for a way to feel better, to relax. They were seeking something they could do from home, something comfortable and calming that didn’t cost a lot of money,” Sitler said.
Her organization also publishes Cast On, a quarterly magazine that provides patterns, tips and project ideas to a loyal and growing community of knitters.
“I think one thing driving the return to knitting is fashion. Look at what they’re showing right now in stores: Everything is knitted, and people want to be able to make their own sweaters and garments,” Sitler said.
However, if you want to know what’s really at the heart of the current knitting craze, it’s old school meets new age, said Sitler. “The Internet plays a huge part. What has been especially remarkable in the past few years is how the online community has exploded, particularly due to a site called ravelry.com,” said Sitler, of a Boston-based enterprise launched in 2007 by New Hampshire native Casey Forbes and his wife, Jessica.
In November the site celebrated its one-millionth member.
Its humble beginnings go back to Jessica Forbes’ interest in keeping track of her own knitting projects. Her techie husband, a UNH grad, developed a site to make that happen. They shared the site with a few fellow fiber artist friends who did the same — and now it’s the hip and happening online hub for knitters and crocheters around the world. Understanding the phenomenon of fiber arts goes deeper than a person’s urge for a gnarled wool scarf to wrap around their neck, said Carol Mueller, coowner of the Knitting Knook in Keene.
“It’s very Zen to knit,” said Mueller, a retired mortgage banker who took over ownership of the longstanding knitting enclave in March of 2009 along with her friends, Susie Ericson-West and Lynda Sillner.
“Knitting is not your grandmother’s sport anymore, mainly because of the Internet and wonderful sites like ravelry.com and knitty.com — it’s a wonderful way to connect. Today’s knitting community is young and old, men and women — I just had a man in the other day looking for some yarn for a hat he was working on,” Mueller said.
Local knitting shops across the state are seeing constant enrollment in knitting classes, including Ewe’ll Love It!, a small shop in Nashua run by Beverly Vasquez since 2002.
Vasquez’s own string theory is that yarn-driven handicrafts are part of a sort of collective consciousness that rises not only from the post-9/11 era, but persists in this down economy. It’s cheaper than therapy, she says.
“Creativity fills the gap that shopping occupied for many indulgent years,” said Vasquez.
“People seek and thrive on the community fostered by group relationships. My own mantra is this: ‘In the rhythm of the knitting needles, there is music for the soul.’” At Yarn & Fiber Co. in Derry, there are classes most nights that draw knitters of all skill levels, to learn and to find a quiet place to complete projects.
Town Councilor Janet Fairbanks recently indulged her inner knitter, something she said she’d been meaning to do for years.
“I’ve been knitting for years, but don’t really have a clue about what I’m doing. I don’t know knit-two from purl-one. I want someone to teach me how to follow a pattern and teach me different stitches,” said Fairbanks, who started lessons last week at Yarn & Fiber, taking advantage of the fact that the store is conveniently close, and she had a discount coupon for lessons.
“I was thinking about knitting after my daughter paid $25 for a scarf at Abercrombie and Fitch, and I thought — why pay that much for a scarf? So I made one myself.
Of course, I ended up paying about $20 for the yarn, but it was satisfying — so I made another one for my husband,” Fairbanks said.