White polyester bellbottoms wouldn’t have been in Allie Baber’s wardrobe if it weren’t for her ability to knit.
“I bought them because they were cheap,” Baber said, “and I totally wanted to wear them,”
For Baber, a sophomore at MU, the pants lacked an essential component: belt loops. But armed with two wooden needles, white yarn and knitting knowledge passed down through friends and family, she is ready to tackle any challenge her wardrobe might throw at her.
Purls of wisdom: a knitting glossary
Knitting: The craft of creating fabric by using needles to link loops of yarn. There are two basic ways to link these loops, the knit stitch and the purl stitch.
Knit stitch: Creating a new loop by inserting the needle into the bottom of an existing loop and pulling the new loop down and through the first stitch. It’s also known as a garter stitch.
Purl stitch: Creating a new loop by inserting the needle into the top of an existing loop and pulling the new loop up and through the first stitch.
Casting on: Making the loops used in the first row of stitches on the knitting needle.
Binding off: Taking the last row of stitches off the needle.
Gauge: The number of stitches and rows it takes a person to make one inch of fabric. It determines the size of the finished piece, and depends on the size of knitting needle and type of yarn.
Ribbing: A border made up of both knit and purl stitches that is often used around the cuffs of sweaters. It’s helpful because it creates a stretchy fabric.
Dropped stitch: A stitch that falls off the needle and unravels rows of stitches beneath the row you’re working on.
“I’m not at the mercy of some designer who thought I didn’t need belt loops,” she said while showing off one of the completed white loops. “I’m being proactive by creating something.”
What knitting has to offer might seem as simple as putting one loop through the next, but Baber and others in Columbia are finding the possibilities endless. Knitters can use their skills to create, or re-create, and find companionship and conversation in the process.
Baber is part of Stitch N’ Bitch, a group that meets weekly on the MU campus and whose name is apropos. “It’s a place where we can meet, knit and bitch,” said recent graduate Katie Blair, while knitting a section of a multicolored purse.
The group, made up mostly of undergraduates, was started about a year ago at the MU Women’s Center as an extension of its regular craft activities, which include knitting. The center provides the yarn and needles and a place for conversation.
“We talk about everything and anything,” Blair said on a recent Wednesday evening. In the dimly lit center, the gentle jazz of Norah Jones flowed from a CD player as a trio of women knit. “We were just discussing the smoking ban.”
The group was named after a series of guides on knitting and crocheting by Debbie Stoller, editor-in-chief of the women’s magazine Bust, which eventually became a movement in itself.
“It is more than a book, magazine or specific age,” said Blair, whose friends taught her how to crochet and knit. “It is women reclaiming typically devalued acts, like knitting, and embracing them for what they offer.”
The Web site of the Craft Yarn Council of America says that between 2002 and 2004, the number of women in the United States 18 and younger who knit or crochet grew from 8 percent to 16 percent. The percent of 25- to 34-year-olds had increased from 13 percent to 33 percent.
Blair thinks the appeal is linked to being able to do something for yourself, by yourself. “There is a movement to live more simply and creatively, to not have to depend on big companies to supply all of your needs,” she said.
Yarn for the young
Knitting and the periodic table of elements might seem like an incompatible couple, but Kelli Noel found a way for them to at least be friends.
Noel, a junior at Rock Bridge High School, is part of Bridgeknitters, a high school knitting group that meets weekly after school to chat, snack and practice and teach knitting skills.
“The group gives me an excuse to knit and a chance to meet other students. I wouldn’t have met Amanda if it weren’t for the club,” she said, nodding toward a blond girl knitting a scarf a desk away.
Bridgeknitters started in 2002 but disbanded because it lacked a sponsor. The group was restored during this school year and meets every Wednesday at Rock Bridge.
Jane Piester, a guidance counselor at Rock Bridge, said she founded the group because she thought the growing popularity of knitting could be used to help the community.
“We felt we could give back to the community by making clothing and teaching the skill for others to use,” Piester said. Members made hats for cancer patients and blankets for the Rainbow House, a center for neglected and abused children.
Sheila Cook, an English teacher at Rock Bridge, now serves as the sponsor. She said the group still plans to donate to charities, but the emphasis early on is building relationships among the members.
“A lot of these students don’t see each other during the day, so the group bridges class gaps,” Cook said.
About eight students regularly attend the meetings, and Cook is optimistic. “Every week we have more people coming,” she said after the third meeting. “I tell people in my class to come, and a few are listening.”
Cook learned to knit in college from her sister-in-law. Cook said she used to study while creating something to wear.
“Knitting makes me feel like I’m not wasting time on movies or television,” Cook said.
Nole nodded. She did her biology homework, memorizing the periodic table of elements, while making a scarf. She uses knitting, which she learned from her stepmother, to keep her focus.
Many places to learn and create
Amy Matlock was stuck at home after foot surgery three years ago, unable to walk, and didn’t like the constant noise of the TV in the corner of her room.
“I could only watch so much before it became brain-numbing,” she said. She took up knitting in the hospital to give her something to do and has been doing it ever since.
Now, on a rainy Tuesday, sitting in a tall wooden chair, her knitting materials surrounding her able-again feet, Matlock sipped a cup of Earl Grey tea at Coffee Zone and talked of knitting as a kind of medicine.
“It’s therapeutic and analytical,” she said. “I get to exercise my hands and concentrate on accomplishing a task that is repetitive but not thoughtless, like programming software.” Matlock works in software support.
Matlock belongs to CoMo SNB, which stands for Columbia Stitch N’ Bitch. Started as an online group, it’s now in its second year.
Julia Bonham, a 24-year-old MU law student, has been knitting for four years and said it makes her calm. “I have ADD,” she said, “and knitting gives me something to focus on.”
Bonham became interested in knitting by reading Bust magazine and taught herself by reading the Stitch N’ Bitch guide. She said knitting’s trendiness means that some people buy the material and never use it. “I’m using my friend’s yarn now, really nice stuff, because she doesn’t use it anymore,” Bonham said.
Finding the right yarn for the job is essential to a good product, Matlock said. She typically shops at large craft chains such as Michael’s but also tries to visit the smaller Columbia stores. Local stores offer yarn that can add a more personal touch to your work, Matlock said.
Sherry Jacquin owns Stitches on Bernadette Drive, which she calls a “specialty yarn and needlework store.” Providing the materials and knowledge that the hobby requires has helped it spread to different age and interest circles, she said.
“Every day I hear people say they just learned how to knit or know someone who wants to learn,” she said.
Jacquin, who taught herself how to knit, thought she needed to fill in a missing space for Columbia’s craft audience. “There were few stores that provided instruction and supplies in Columbia,” she said. “It was my dream to open a store that provided that.”
Columbia now offers many places to buy materials and learn knitting, crocheting and sewing skills. People can take classes at Access Arts Studio, Stitches, on the campuses of MU and Rock Bridge, Coffee Zone and the Cherry Street Artisan.
Or there is always friends and family. Baber said she recently taught several people how to knit.
“I hope people can see that the hobby can be done by anyone who wants to learn,” Baber said. “It really isn’t just for grandmas anymore.”
A directory for knitting in Columbia
LEARN, PRACTICE AND TEACH
STITCH N’ BITCH
6-8 p.m. Wednesdays
MU Women’s Center, second floor Brady Commons
Open to everyone, free to join
6:30-8:30 p.m. every second and fourth Tuesday
Coffee Zone, 11 N. Ninth St.
Open to everyone, free to join
Knit for charity, share ideas and help others learn.
6-8 p.m. Tuesdays
First Tuesday, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
903 Bernadette Drive
Second and fifth Tuesday, Cherry Street Artisan
111 S. Ninth St., Suite 10
Third Tuesday, Stitches
2529 Bernadette Drive
Fourth Tuesday, Hillcreek Yarn Shoppe
1414 Rangleline St. Suite H
Visit knitwits.missouri.org for more information
3 p.m. Wednesdays
Rock Bridge High School, 4303 S. Providence Road
Open to Rock Bridge high school students, teachers and staff, free to join
BUY AND LEARN, OR BOTH
Hillcreek Fiber Studio
7001 S. Hill Creek Road
Learn how to spin and weave your own yarn and buy the materials necessary to do it on your own
Visit hillcreekfiberstudio.com for workshop dates and prices
Hillcreek Yarn Shoppe
1414 Rangeline St. Suite H
Learn knitting and crocheting skills and buy products for the hobby.
Visit hillcreekyarnshoppe.com to purchase yarn and for more information
2529 Bernadette Drive
Classes and supplies.
Hillcreek Fiber Studio
1414 Rangeline Plaza, Suites C and D
Jo Ann Stores
1810 Paris Road
Satin Stitches Sewing & Embroidery
705 Vandiver Drive Suite D
2001 W. Worley St.
2001 W. Ash St.