Crafty: The Gift of Yarn

Knitting and crocheting have undergone a startling social transformation in the last decade. No longer an outdated craft your grandmother taught you one rainy afternoon, it’s now the new way to express your creative side.

My personal conversion probably had something to do with the fact that my long-time boyfriend’s family switched to handmade Christmas gifts a couple years ago. And while, yes, it is nerve-racking and slightly competitive, there’s nothing better than giving a beautiful handmade object and having the recipient know how much thought and effort you put into it. Now that I’ve found knitting, a hobby that directly translates into personalized, one-of-a-kind gifts, the pressure’s off!

And the great thing about knitting is that it’s never too late to start. (I was giving away knitted gifts my first Christmas as a knitter.) And once you’ve mastered dishcloths and scarves (or snakes as my boyfriend likes to call them, as in “How long’s your snake now?”), you can move on to more advanced projects like blankets, shawls and sweaters. I’m somewhere in between these two levels myself and have a great big to-do list for this year’s gifts. At the printing of this article, we have approximately 50 shopping/crafting days until Christmas. Think about what you could accomplish in that time.

Eco-friendly Fibers

While most people probably don’t associate knitting with being “green,” it certainly appeals to the core values of the environmental movement. Buying a skein of yarn feels somehow innocent when compared to purchasing a machine-knitted scarf made in China. (I admit that’s what the tag reads on the scarf I’m wearing right now, and I’ve been feeling guilty about it all day.)

Just like getting produce from the farmers market, you can also purchase local yarn. Brands such as Lamb Lane, Lone Tree Wools and Savannah Breeze are all sheered, dyed and/or spun here in Iowa. You can usually get these products at our local yarn stores, or you can contact the sellers directly through websites like

In fact, I had a chance to visit the Savannah Breeze Alpaca Farm outside Vinton, and I must say I found the whole experience completely charming. All of their yarns are kept their natural color and named after the alpacas. I bought two skeins of their lovely caramel Ana Lucia yarn and was able to watch her grazing in the corral just ten feet away! Alpaca’s are just adorable.

Find Your Support Group

Whether you want to share your knitting addiction or need a guru to guide you through the knits and purls of your first project, the Iowa City area has you covered. The three local yarn stores—Knit Shoppe, Home Ec. Workshop and Crazy Girl Yarn Shop—all have resident experts ready to swoop in and come to your rescue or inspire you with fantastic patterns. Both Home Ec. Workshop and Crazy Girl offer classes that will walk you through how to make the perfect sweater or master the art of turning a sock heel.

And in the online realm, is a growing online community of nearly 200,000 knitters. The site features pattern sharing, project blogs, picture uploading (to show off your work) and marketplace for buying yarn and knitting supplies. is also a great place to score free patterns.

A group of female co-workers actually taught me to knit. I’ve heard of several on-campus groups as well, like math majors who meet to knit at a local coffee house or a Friday afternoon group that meets in the Health Sciences Building. Crazy Girl Yarn Shop has a BYOB Knit-n-Wine night. Home Ec. Workshop has a Saturday breakfast for knitters and hosts an informal group of knitters, called the Knit Wits, every Sunday afternoon.

Wherever circle you end up in, knitting is a very rewarding social activity. It’s a refreshing break from the competitive world to spend time with women of all ages (who actually like each other), working towards the same goals and treating one another with respect. With office politics these days, such an environment is certainly something to be treasured.

Charity Knitting

As has happened for generations, some of these knitting groups eventually start looking outward and find ways to contribute to society. That’s what happened to the employees at Iowa City’s Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center.

It all started when Maggie, the supervising RN, started teaching her co-workers, two phlebotomy technicians, how to knit in their down time at the center. Once they started getting the hang of it, one of them suggested that they offer their projects to a local charity.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community,” says Maggie. “With help from about 10 of our blood donors, we gave 44 hats, 3 scarves and one baby afghan to the Johnson County Crisis Center this fall.”

Both experienced knitters and beginners can contribute to causes like this one. It’s one of the few ways to volunteer from the comfort of your own home or favorite hangout. Long-time knitters can put their leftover yarn stash to good use. Plus, some stores offer discounts on yarn being used for charity projects, and many organizations can supply you with the yarn and patterns you need to participate.

Find Your Cause
It seems like more and more organizations are cropping up worldwide as the internet expands the limits of charity knitting. A new knitting group in Iowa City called Knitting for Peace has plans to contribute to these global initiatives. Starting in November, members will meet at Home Ec. Workshop and learn the basics of knitting. As everyone gains confidence, the group’s founder, Lauren, hopes to complete projects from the Knitting for Peace book, which includes projects such as teddy bears for children in Africa (The Mother Bear Project) and blankets for needy children in the United States (Project Linus). Knitters of all skill levels are welcome, and anyone interested in joining should check out the Home Ec. calendar for more information.

Here are other worthwhile projects to consider:

The Preemie Project
The University of Iowa Children’s Hospital accepts booties, bonnets and hat, blankets and bereavement items for it’s tiny patients.

Warm Woolies
Stories like this one really tug at your heart strings. The organization started back in 2002 with two friends. One of them adopted two orphans from Russia. The other knitted some warm socks and sweaters to send to the orphanage on her behalf. The organization has steadily grown and now distributes over 7,000 pieces a year to children in Eastern Europe and Mongolia, as well as Native American reservations in the United States.

Mercy Iowa
This local hospital also accepts hats for its newborns through the hospital’s volunteer program and supplies free yarn and patterns.

The Snuggles Project
Hugs for Homeless Animals snuggles provides security blankets for shelter animals that are often kept in cold metal cages. While it may sound strange, knitting for animals is a great way to learn how to knit. The yarn is generally cheaper, the patterns are simpler and animals won’t judge your work.

Knitted Nests
Virginia Beach wildlife rehabilitators use knitted nests to shelter very young wildlife (mostly birds, rabbits and squirrels).

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