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Knitting making modern comeback

Stress-reducing pastime is fun and easy to learn

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If Julia Roberts, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Madeline Albright and even Russell Crowe are doing it, according to Vanity Fair magazine, then it must be a bona fide trend.

Though far from the days when women sat by the fire and did it, knitting has made a grand return. And it seems as if it were just yesterday that my mother would patiently show me the difference between the knit and the purl as my wool scarf grew longer and longer.

A survey by the Craft Yarn Council of America www.craftyarncouncil.com in 2000 estimated that 38 million American women know how to either knit or crochet, and the fastest growing group was women under 35.

"A new generation has discovered what older adults have known for years: These crafts are great stress relievers. It's also the reason major media has embraced these crafts, touting crochet and knitting as 'the new yoga'. Once consumers are 'hooked' on these crafts, they are passionate," says Richard Caron, CYCA chairman.

Knitting clubs are appearing in cities like Dallas, Atlanta, Boston and Columbus, Ohio. Composed of beginner and experienced knitters alike, they offer a great way to get together while learning a new craft and creating lovely items to wear or use in your home.

Thousands turned out last October for the New York area's "Knit-Out," where there were knitting demonstrations, a fashion show and items for sale for the thousands who turned out in Union Square in Manhattan.

As far as style goes, knitting designs have gone beyond the simple baby booties or scarves we used to see. That's because of the variety of patterns and books available, as well as Web sites that provide free patterns, tips and links for purchasing supplies. And your house or apartment will be the recipient of the some of the projects you can create, including pillows, throws and even wall hangings.

Also, the types of yarns available can make knitting a throw or afghan a luxurious experience. Cashmere, lambs wool, merino blends and alpaca are just some of the soft surprises available to you.

If you want to learn on your own, the books "The Big Book of Knitting" by Katharina Buss (Sterling Publications, $19.95), "Knitting for Dummies" (John Wiley & Sons, $21.99) and "How to Knit" by Debbie Bliss (Trafalgar Square, $20.91) are popular. Magazines such as Vogue Knitting International will show you the trendiest yarns and styles. The Internet has many knitting-related Web sites to choose from as well, including www.knittingpages.com.

If you think you'd like to take lessons or join a knitting circle, I suggest that you ask around or call your local needlework or yarn shops to find out if there is a group you can join or if lessons are available to get you started.

Here are some knitting projects that may inspire you to purl one and knit, too:

— The ever-popular afghan can be a beautiful room accessory when tossed over the foot of a bed or sofa. They can take the shape of a large coverlet or a fringed throw that adds a shot of color to a room. The textural possibilities are endless, from solid color designs knitted with silk yarns, cabled textured with heavy wool, to patterned styles created by yarn colors or in stripes or plaids.

— Keepsake items for the infant in your life include soft blankets, pillow covers and even crib bumpers.

— Knitted scarves are the hottest fashion accessories of the season, so I may take out my own needle and start again! Scarves can be a less-complicated design to create for less experienced knitters.

Whether you're learning to knit or returning to this craft, remember to relax and enjoy this soothing way to pass the time while you are creating something special.

Chris Casson Madden, frequent contributor to Home & Garden Television, is also author of 14 books, including the newly released Bedrooms, Clarkson Potter Publishers.