In your own back yard: A reclaimed passion

Knitting isn't just for white-haired mother geese anymore

 by Katie Kelberlau
 published on Thursday, March 24, 2005

Knit or die.

That's the hard-core motto of the knitting circle that meets at Tempe's Three Roots Cafe, where Spanish and education junior Robbie Klasky learned and became hooked on knitting.

Klasky is one of a growing number of students who have picked up knitting as a hobby. Just look around campus -- the clinking of needles often mixes with the ring of cell phones and cash registers.

Klasky learned to knit last December at Three Roots but found a "knitting district" in downtown Guadalajara, Mexico, where he is now studying abroad. The district includes two full blocks of wool stores.

Some of his fellow students have gotten into knitting, as well, because skinny scarves are "all the rage" in Mexico, Klasky says.

"I think when most people think of knitting, they imagine white-haired mother geese making hats and mittens for their grandchildren," he says. "As for Mexico, the stereotypes are even more extreme, but I'm doing my part to conquer machismo, even if it gives most people quite a laugh."

Klasky knits on his 45-minute bus ride to school in the morning and enjoys the horrified looks he gets from other passengers.

For Klasky, knitting is fun and a great way to pass the time. For other men and women, however, knitting is a way to give back to the community.

English literature sophomore Alison Lewis just started a knitting club on campus this semester. The Mad Hatters meets once a week for about two hours, during which members knit or crochet items either for themselves or charity. She says the club has between 30 and 45 regular members.

"Knitting is becoming trendy again. There are hip knitting books in Borders [Books & Music]. It's cool," Lewis says.

Lewis is sitting by Starbucks in the Memorial Union with club member Stevie Walker, an elementary education sophomore.

Walker is working on a bright scarf with yellow, blue and red stripes. As a beginning knitter, Walker admits he will probably be making a lot of scarves.

"I like the novelty of making something -- of turning this ball of yarn into that scarf," he says.

Walker was introduced to knitting one night by a friend who had gone to the Mad Hatters' first meeting. Soon after, Walker began attending meetings regularly.

"The first couple of meetings were 20 girls or so," Lewis says. "So, we said we would give a prize to anyone who could get a guy to come. Stevie was the first. I think we gave him a round of applause."

The Mad Hatters donate completed items through the organization Warming Families. Most of their goods will go to premature babies. Baby blankets are easy to make and are useful.

As Walker says, "They are just big scarves."

Lewis says a lot of club members like knitting because their items get donated to good causes.

Walker will keep his first completed scarf for sentimental value, but he plans to donate the next.

He admits it might be a little strange for people to see men knitting, but he says most people seem to think it is really cool.

Theatre junior Alfredo Macias is definitely cool. Macias knitted a pink and black scarf for a girl in his class, and she wore it for an entire week.

"She said I had a good designer name," Macias says. " 'What are you wearing?' It's Alfredo."

Macias learned how to knit over Thanksgiving break in 2004 and is now completely hooked. He carries a tattered plastic Urban Outfitters bag full of knitting supplies to keep occupied between, and sometimes, during classes.

Today Macias is sitting outside the entrance to Hayden Library. He reaches into his sack and pulls out a number of scarves. One is thin and made with a veritable rainbow of colored, velvety yarn. One is dramatic -- black with dark blue "eyelashes" woven in tightly. The eyelashes have short, soft feathery strings that poke through the weave of the scarf.

Around Valentines Day, Macias made "his and hers" scarves out of the same yarn. The "he" scarf was knitted with a thick, coarse needle while the "she" scarf has fuzzy, feathery yarn.

Macias says he often knits while he watches TV and has certain scarves he associates with different programs. For example, he has a "Law and Order" scarf and an "Alias" scarf.

"This one is like an orgasm when you touch it," he says, pulling on the silken-soft "Alias" scarf.

Macias, who often acts in on-campus plays, says during his last production, "Romeo and Juliet," he and some fellow cast members had a knitting circle during scenes in which they did not have parts.

He is not sure what most of the population on campus would think of seeing a man knit, but in the accepting environment of the theatre department, he feels completely comfortable busting out the yarn in class.

"It's a really good hobby," he says. "I used to bite my nails. I guess it is a theatre person thing, but I have to have something to do with my hands."

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