IF YOU GO
What: Wool Work For Wine Fiber Arts Festival and Wine Tasting
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Snowgrass Winery, 6701 Entiat River Road, Entiat
Cost: Admission is free. Wine tasting is $10, which includes souvenir glass.
More info: 784-5101 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether men like it or not, “needling women” are on the rise these days. The “itch to stitch”, a craft as old as ancient Egypt, has undergone a revival in this country in recent years. According to the Craft Yarn Council of America, an industry trade association, there are now more that 50 million knitters in the United States, and most of them are women.
It wasn’t always that way. Once a male-dominated occupation, knitters formed their first trade guild in Paris in 1527. Later, with the industrial revolution and the invention of spinning and knitting machines, knitting became a factory job.
But the practice of hand knitting never died out, and was kept alive in the U.S. by an interest in macramé and crocheting in the 1970s.
Recently in the 21st century — thanks in part to the availability of instruction in knitting techniques and patterns on the Internet — the craft is once again enjoying a rebirth. The CYCA found an increase of 150 percent in women knitters aged 25 to 35 between 2002 and 2004. The appeal of knitting today is truly cross-generational: 18 percent of all knitters were aged 18 to 34, and 19 percent, 35 to 44.
Dorothy Taylor of Entiat has been knitting for over 50 years, starting when she was only 17. “I love doing things with my hands,” she says. “I feel guilty if I don’t have something to show for my idle time, and I also like making things for people.” Although she did quit knitting for a while, Dorothy now enjoys doing it again, especially with friends. Dorothy and Annie Gerber started a local knitting club in 2008 that meets at member’s homes. Now the group has grown to about 11 strong, and meets regularly on Tuesday nights to share ideas and knit together.
Younger knitters have learned a lot from the Internet recently, Dorothy believes, but many newbies still need to be shown how to do various projects. Indeed, in its 2011 survey, the CYCA found that 87 percent of knitters have taught someone else to knit.
For Chrissy Bouschor, who has been knitting for 10 years, learning how to knit from others was crucial in developing her interest. “I first started with a group of friends in Cape Cod,” says the 40-year-old Entiat woman. “I’ve lived in many different places (her husband Jeff is a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service), but I’ve always found away to do it with other people.”
And hand knitting is not a practice limited to the home any more. “As women are so much in the work force these days, they need to work on small projects like scarves, which are particularly popular now,” Dorothy says.
Susan Kidd agrees. A program administrator with the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges, Susan likes to knit while attending staff meetings and webinars via interactive TV from her office in Wenatchee with her colleagues in Olympia. “Knitting keeps me alert while I’m at my job,” she says.
Susan, also co-owner of Snowgrass Winery in the Entiat Valley, particularly enjoys making items with yarn made from the wool of the winery’s own sheep, spun by Cheryl Stewart, also an Entiat resident.
Although Cheryl is almost completely blind (she can distinguish between light and dark), she’s an expert spinner and fiber artist. “I design most of my own things. Visual concepts have never left me — I can see my work in my mind when I’m doing it, “ Cheryl says. Aided by her daughter Hannah, she makes many beautiful yarns from raw wool and knits gloves, sweaters, and scarves as well. Cheryl began a business in 2011 called SF Designs (for Stewart Family Designs,) and now sells from her home website and at local farmers’ markets. She’s also a member of the Alpine Meadows Spinners and Weavers Guild and the NCW Knitters Guild.
Once stores for local knitters had nearly disappeared from the area, but now North Central Washington knitters can find supplies at Elite Needlework in Wenatchee, Cashmere Cottage Yarn in Cashmere and Warehouse Woolery in Chelan. Along with the return of interest in local, handcrafted products, spinners, knitters and weavers are bringing back skills that once were a fundamental part of the fabric of human society itself.
Alan Moen is co-owner with Susan Kidd of Snowgrass Winery in Entiat, which is hosting the Wool Work for Wine Fiber Arts festival on Sunday. He and Susan have been married for 32 years.