The knitters are coming back inside again. For years, the Craft Yarn Council of America hosted "knit-outs" in urban parks nationwide, attracting thousands of people who knitted and purled beneath trees, beside lakes, under clouds. Last year, they wanted to come to Minnesota, in February, so they had their first indoor event at the Mall of America, hoping for the best.
Estimated attendance: 50,000.
"We were so delighted," said Mary Colucci, the council's executive director. "We taught 1,200 people how to knit and crochet."
Knit-Out & Crochet returns to the MOA this weekend with celebrities, authors and instructors. And more: the international finals for the fastest knitter and crocheter, pitting the current world's fastest crocheter, Lisa Gentry of the United States, against the world's fast knitter, Miriam Tegels of the Netherlands, whose record is 118 stitches in one minute. "You can't even see their fingers; you just see fabric emerging," Colucci said. Gentry wants both titles. There will be blood.
There will, however, be lots of needles, skeins, hooks and looms. There will be discussions about felting and wrist strain, the construction of wash mittens and bobbles. There will be a Dog Gone Cute & Crazy Fashion Show, and also one for kids similarly described.
The marquee guests include Debbie Macomber, a bestselling author of romantic novels known for setting her books in yarn shops or writing about knitting groups, and Vickie Howell, author and host of the DIY Network's Knitty Gritty series. (Check out the full weekend schedule at www.knit-out.com.)
Colucci said that for all the talk of the knitting "trend," it's really an affirmation of a generations-old craft that had waned. "We brought back a lot of older women who thought it had become tacky, who saw the newer yarn designs and were amazed," she said.
Younger knitters were swayed by the sight of Julia Roberts or Cameron Diaz happily knitting on TV programs or in People magazine, as well as by the forthrightly named "Stitch 'n' Bitch" clubs.
Teen knitters actually constitute the title of a current book, "Microtrends" by Mark Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne (Twelve, $25.99). Penn writes that needlework is beating back the old image of fuddy-duddy reclusiveness, instead stating that "knitting is like MySpace, with groups gathering to do it communally." Knitting, like video games, offers the chance to take on increasingly harder challenges, he said. Colucci agreed, noting how teens avidly take on ever-more-intricate patterns.
But all ages point out the relaxing nature of knitting and crocheting, how the repetitive stitches ease the stress of a day -- or a life.
Colucci said that interest in knitting soared after Sept. 11. "It just made everybody stop in their tracks and say, 'How am I going to spend my time, and what am I going to spend it on?'"
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185