COLUMBIA — Bill Chisenhall needed a bikini.
When he moved to Columbia a year ago, he had little in his pockets and needed a gift for his girlfriend. Chisenhall, a lifelong knitter, decided to crochet her a swimsuit. The problem? He didn't know how to crochet.
That's when he showed up at True Blue Fiber Friends seeking direction.
"I also needed my own social circle and to stop borrowing my girlfriend's friends, so I showed up here and went to town," he says.
On Friday evenings, Chisenhall joins a group of knitters who meet at True Blue Fiber Friends on Business Loop 70 East, for Ravelry Happy Hour. They work on projects and share stories, laughs and an occasional drink or two.
It's just one of many knitting groups that meet throughout Columbia. The groups act as a social outlet for fiber artists and enthusiasts to interact and practice their craft.
Knitting and crocheting continue to grow in popularity throughout the nation. In Columbia, more than 10 knitting groups meet weekly.
The Craft Yarn Council of America recently reported that knitters and crocheters made an average of 21.2 projects in 2007, an increase from 17.3 projects in 2005. Most popular project? It's a tie between scarves and afghans.
"We all look forward to Friday nights," says Doris Mayuiers, of the fiber friends' happy hour. "It's a place to come in after a long week and say, 'Oh good I'm glad to be here.'"
On a recent Friday, the group is relaxed, passing around wasabi-flavored almonds and nacho-cheese chips. One of the members brought brownies that her grandmother had mailed from South Carolina.
The group, among many others, can be found on Ravelry.com, a Web site for the knit and crochet community.
Michelle Fobbs describes the site as a good way to locate knitting groups throughout the country when you're new to town or if you're traveling and want to meet knitters.
Fobbs began knitting less than a year ago, when she found out her brother was expecting a baby. When she walked through the doors of True Blue Fiber Friends, she was seeking instruction, but she was also looking for something else — companionship.
She devotes a lot of time to caring for her disabled husband and was feeling overwhelmed and isolated. She found the group online and one day showed up and asked for help.
"That was nine months ago," she says.
Mayuiers says the group members, who vary in age, talk about "anything and everything" from family problems to medical issues.
It's a place to "unleash" to a group of people who empathize but don't feel sorry for you, who care but don't judge. You know your business is not going out into the community, she says.
"It's nice to be in a group that don't make assumptions about you," he says.
He says that being a male knitter is uncommon and he occasionally gets quizzical looks when he knits in public.
He usually tackles small projects — scarves, socks and hats. He knits for the meditative and calming aspects and usually moves slowly through a project, picking it up when he has time.
Other knitters tackle bigger projects. Becky Hargis recently completed a pair of red and black shorts. Hargis attends several weekly knitting groups, along with her husband, Nik. He doesn't actually dabble in fiber arts but tags along for the social aspect.
Nik said Becky works on knitting projects wherever she goes, which often becomes a conversation-starter.
Chelsea and Michael Bearfoot also attend several groups.
Both couples are a part of the TBFF happy hour and also a group that meets at Kaldi's Coffeehouse on Tuesday nights.
"To have a social life, we have to incorporate fiber arts," Chelsea Bearfoot says, laughing.
It's obvious the Kaldi's group is a tight crew. They discuss most everything including Star Wars, cougars, birthday plans and MU football games. They talk about TV shows and boys. They get loud, and they laugh. A lot.
"This might be a shushing night," Kate Floros said. "We've been shushed before."
Floros is an assistant professor at MU in the political science department. She doesn't knit but cross-stitches, which is completely acceptable within the group. She's working on stitching a Snoopy pattern on a baby bib.
The friends all met through the Ravelry Web site.
"It's a very social thing," Becky Hargis said of knitting. "You have friends wherever you go."