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`KNIT PICKERS' HAVE HEYDAY THIS SEASON

Laced through every piece of knitwear is a unique combination of comfort and style that sets this type of clothing construction apart as one of the most popular in women's fashions this fall.

No wonder. Few can resist knits' appeal of easy-care clothing that keeps its shape but also offers a fluidity of motion not often found in other fabrics. And with knits being made into everything from casual leggings and skirts to classy cardigan sets and tunics, there truly is something for everyone.Plus, knits range from lightweight shirt-and-pant sets to warm, fleecy outfits - making them the perfect way to ease from summer into fall and beyond.

In short, knits are versatile. "You can look very, very chic and fashionable, yet be comfortable," says Susan Collins, ZCMI's fashion director and buyer. "It's kind of fun all you can do with them."

Gone are the days when the term "knit" conjured visions of thick, heavy-duty polyester pants. Current knits can be made with virtually every substance: cotton, wool, man-made fibers, even silk and cashmere.

Today's knits are comfortable and stylish, laid-back or sophisticated, breathable in summer or insulating in winter. Knit pieces can also be layered and mixed and matched to create numerous striking combinations.

As if that weren't enough, knits are an excellent canvas for textures and prints.

But best of all, Collins says, knits are ideal for the active or traveling woman. "The very first thing I think about knits, because I travel so much, is their easy care," she said.

And designers have created even more knits than last year to please their customers, Collins said. Here's a look at what a handful are offering:

Laura Ashley features textured fabrics, multiple layers and subdued hues in its fall collection. Classic printed skirts and dresses, pinafores and patchwork wool sweaters are also available in knits.

Sears prides itself on moderately priced knit dressing that "stays neat all day" and can be suitable for the office or a late-night dinner, according to trend manager Kathie Betts. Easy-fitting tunic sweaters, stirrup pants, slacks and scarves in fall colors as well as soft mid-tones of sage, rose and lilac also make their way into Sears' knit selections.

Creating knits with striking textures is a focus of Italian fashion company Gispa. One of the company's new ideas is a frothy yarn that creates a soft, airy, almost cottony appearance. Sporty cropped sweat-ers and long, lean tunics can be combined with slim leggings or dramatic wraps for a wealth of possibilities. The line features classic diamond and argyle patterns.

Diane Von Furstenberg infuses American ease and European elegance into her line of knits, which includes slinky jerseys, versatile reversibles and suede/leather combinations in navy blue, charcoal gray and chestnut brown.

Classic knits, like cables and lacy weaves, are either shrunk or elongated and then layered for the Ralph Lauren look this fall. Deep jewel tones and accessories such as berets and opera gloves also add to the collection.

Pantsuits are an integral part of Ellen Tracy's offerings this season, featuring combinations with knit pieces underneath that accentuate a crisp but relaxed fit. Button-up polo shirts and lightweight V-neck cardigans as well as fingertip and abbreviated hip length jackets appear in shades of vibrant, plum, bittersweet and topaz.

Finally, the Perry Ellis collection offers ribbed vests, "thigh high" socks and tailored sportswear with eye-catching designs.