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Here's a True Yarn: It's Now Hip to Knit

April 28, 1999|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Knitting isn't just for grandmas anymore. The craft traditionally associated with lowbrow afghans is being embraced by the younger generation as a way to relax while making cool handmade accessories.

At Eagle Rock's Occidental College, a group of male and female students meets weekly for a knitting class that was started by senior Darren Sabom. "When I was studying abroad in Costa Rica, I had this overwhelming desire to knit a sweater. So when I got home, I asked my mom to teach me," he says.

Back at school, Sabom's friends were impressed by the hand-knit ski caps and sweaters he made for little money.

"That's probably why he wanted to start this class, because we all kept asking him to make us stuff," says senior Sara Bushey. (The knitting class is a unit peer class, meaning it is taught by a student, in this case Sabom. Funding is provided by the school for tools and supplies.)

The students find knitting gifts for friends and family is more meaningful than buying. "My mom made a coat for my dad in 1970 and he still, well, actually, I still have it," says sophomore Corey Bowers.

Knitting is the only home economics activity offered at the college, but some students wish there were more. "In the time I've been at school, people have realized the importance of being able to cook, clean and make things. Coming from home is one big step, but leaving college is another. [These skills] make you feel more independent," Bushey says.

Edith Eig, owner of La Knitterie Parisienne in Studio City, recently dropped by the Occidental class to offer her expertise. She has noticed a renaissance in knitting she believes is due in part to fashion trends. From the ethnic-inspired knits and cashmere shawls cropping up on high-fashion runways to the Rocket Baby shrugs worn on the street, the handmade look is in. But you don't have to pay top dollar. "You can make a cashmere sweater for $300 that would cost $1,600 in the stores," Eig says.

Knitting has become popular especially among 25- to 35-year-olds. Wednesday nights, the knitting store plays host to women who stop in for help working out a stitch or just to spin a few yarns around the woodblock table.

"I am around men all day. This is the only opportunity I have to be with women, which I love and crave," says Elise Pritcher, a film producer.

The women swap stories and gossip about movie stars and men. On a recent evening, Lara James was fretting about leaving her young son at home with a baby-sitter. "You have to just leave him, call the baby-sitter to make sure he's OK and just forget about it," Eig says.

These re-creations of the quilting bees of the past are as much about relaxing and socializing as they are about making sweaters. "It's a way to get away from the hassles of life," Eig says.

Men are getting in on the act too. "We have a lot of men involved in knitting. It's very therapeutic. You forget about everything around you and it puts you at ease, while being creative at the same time," says Merrill Eig, who runs La Knitterie Parisienne with his wife. "Knitting has been characterized as a women's thing, but men do it too. Historically, tailors have always been men."

The female stereotype hasn't hurt male knitters at Occidental College one bit. In fact, it's been just the opposite. Bushey, eyeing Sabom with a smile, says, "I think it's cool guys are doing this."

Booth Moore can be reached by e-mail at booth.moore@latimes.com.

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