by Marcia Dorrheim

One can almost picture a Norman Rockwell painting this time of year. One side of the painting depicts the dark, cold, winter snow and wind blowing outside. And then, as your eye travels across the painting, you see the warm glow of the fireplace with a little old grandma sitting in her rocking chair with her knitting or spinning wheel.

These days, however, that painting would need some editing. A small group of young 20, 30, or 40 year olds would replace the grandma and instead of being in front of a fireplace, they would likely be in either a cozy yarn store, a coffee shop, or the local library.

Traditional Craft Boom
Over the last decade or so, traditional crafts such as knitting and spinning have been experiencing an increase in popularity. According to the website, there tends to be a resurgence in traditional crafts when the country is at war or when there is an economic downturn. For example, during Word War II, knitting was a way for those at home to help with the war effort by knitting warm socks and sweaters for the soldiers.

“I really think there was an increase after 9/11 and then with the economy, well, there are just more people knitting,” said Cheryl Weiss of the ceDesigns knitting group.

“When we look at the cost of the hobby, it’s not really that expensive,” Beth Campbell of the Bismarck Public Library (BPL) knitting group said. “You have 60-70 hours of entertainment and when you’re done, you have the pride of having made it yourself.”

Shayne Bjorndahl, who spins monthly with a group at Impact! in downtown Bismarck, believes a lot of the popularity is due to the increased availability of fiber as well as the different types of spinning wheels now on the market.

“For instance, the manufacturer of my wheel used to produce spinning wheels and then changed to skateboards and now makes wheels again,” added Becky Schnabel. “And there are just so many different fibers to spin like silk, mohair, llama, alpaca, camel . . . ”

Linda Wolf of the BPL knitting group agrees. “I really think the popularity has increased as the development of yarns has increased. Twenty years ago all you had for choices were Red Heart acrylic, wool, and cotton and that was it!”

Back when our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were knitting though, it was usually out of necessity and not because there were beautiful yarns and it was the hip and popular thing to do. Thus it makes sense that the trend of “going green” and being conscious of one’s carbon footprint is another reason for the resurgence of these crafts.

“I’m a permaculturalist and it’s very important for me to say that I can take a sheep and make you dinner and a coat,” said Schnabel. “All of this stuff, normal people used to be able to do before commercialization.”

Show-n-tell and Share-n-tell
One thing that may be attracting people to knitting and spinning is the social aspect. What once was a solitary activity done at home has become a gathering of friends doing their craft in public places. It’s easy to just throw your needles and yarn or drop spindle and wool in a bag and you’re set to go. The newer spinning wheels even fold up neatly to fit in the trunk of your car.

“There were knitters at home that didn’t know others were knitting,” said Cheri Esper, owner of ceDesigns, downtown Bismarck’s only yarn shop. “I’ve been having “knit-ins” on Sunday afternoons for the last couple of years and we’ve had anywhere from five people up to 19 people.”

There isn’t an official proceeding to the groups’ gatherings and they’re open to anyone at any skill level at anytime. Many of the women in the groups learned their craft from a grandmother, but some learned from a friend while others took a class or taught themselves. These varied learning experiences prove to be very beneficial when a question arises.

With a variety of projects, an important part of the gathering whether spinning or knitting is “show-n-tell” in which the women ooh and aah over each other’s work, the various fibers they’re using and the techniques they’re implementing.

“This time includes much sharing, learning, and admiring as many of the women will wear something they have recently completed,” said Esper.

“We go to spinning conferences and conventions but we learn a lot from each other too,” says Bjorndahl. “There is always something to learn.”

Spinners and knitters alike agree that although their inspirations for doing the craft are as varied as the women themselves, their inspiration for coming to the group remains the same.

“This is cheaper than therapy, and a lot more fun!” said Lois Eichhorst of the ceDesigns knitting group. “There’s fellowship, we get things done, but the best part is the laughing.”

“It’s therapy,” said Campbell. “You’re in the office all day with the pressure and the stress and then you come and talk with friends. It’s unwinding time. It’s like Zen.”

But unlike a therapy session, it’s not necessary to keep your appointment.

“There’s no pressure to come,” adds Gwen Jakel of the BPL knitting group. “If you have a conflict with family or work, it’s not a problem. It’s just a good way to get together with friends and it’s an incredible creative outlet.”
Now although these are considered traditional crafts, it is the 2000s and they too have entered the technology era. Youtube has videos to show you how to cast-on if it has been awhile since you picked up your knitting needles and are in need of a quick refresher course. There are web sites such as that provide a place for crafters to sell their product. And then there is the social network site, which operates much like Facebook, that can connect you with fiber enthusiasts from all over the world.

However, the world has become so highly technical that for many people having a pair of knitting needles or a drop spindle in their hands, instead of their computer or cell phone, is almost unimaginable. But that too, may be a reason why there’s an increased interest in these time-honored crafts. It’s a respite. It feeds the soul as well as the heart and mind.

“The more ways we have to communicate, the less we’re communicating face to face,” said Weiss. “This (knitting group) gives us the chance to visit, to connect, to communicate without the barriers of technology.”

For more information
for “knit-ins” schedule and a list of classes

Bismarck Public Library Knitters
Meet every Monday from 6:30-8:00 p.m. in the café

The Spinners
Meet monthly at Impact! in downtown Bismarck
check for the next scheduled meeting