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TODAY

Saturday, February 23

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Airbags

I was taught to crochet when I was about eight, and I remember busily hooking long chains with random balls of acrylic yarn leftover from my mothers prolific afghan habit. Crocheting is easy to learn, and even easier to do while doing something else, like chatting with a friend, or waiting for the dinner potatoes to boil, or looking after a small child happily playing in a snowbank on a lovely December afternoon.

I relearned how to crochet a while back. My grandma showed me how to do a granny square about two years ago, and for a while it was all I could do to get through all of the non-crochet related activities required of me throughout the day so I could sit down and make some granny squares. Like all obsessions, that one passed, and I went back to knitting, my first true love.

Fast forward to December 2006: I've forgotten how to make a granny square, though I'm sure I could figure it out if I wasn't so busy crocheting circular beanies. Soon I will have made one for every man, woman and child within a fifty mile radius. Look for yours in your mailbox soon.

My kids have learned to endure the yarn obsession that kicks back in as soon as the temperature drops below 60. As soon as the leaves begin to fall, out comes the yarn. It's some sort of prehistoric instinct I suppose, to fashion warm clothing for my offspring. Instincts are not easily overcome, no matter how time consuming and expensive they may be. Every year I vow that I'm going to use what I have on hand, including the giant ball of purple wool from that ill-conceived vest project, before buying anything new, but we all know it's a lie. It's not long before I'll say, "Oh, let's stop at the Brown Cow for some ice cream today," knowing I could just run into the yarn shop next door and replace the size 8 bamboo double pointed needles that the dog ate. You can't just buy needles in a yarn shop. That would be like stopping for ice cream and just getting an empty cone. But, that's how it is with an addiction: we all tell ourselves those little lies.

The kids are in on the action now too, crocheting is about the easiest thing a kid can do, besides play Nintendo. It's like finger knitting, an easy trick to teach a kid that will keep them satisfied for hours in a car, at the end of which you will have a 10-yard finger-knitted chain that is pretty much useless, unless you are inclined to coil it up into a spiral, stitch it together and use it as a small rug. I suppose you could make coasters; those always come in handy. The point is not the finished product, but the process. Finger knitting is compelling in the way that crocheting is, particularly crocheting in a circle. There is no obvious place to stop, so why stop at all? Why not just keep on going until you run out of yarn? That's generally our attitude about reading good books, too, so perhaps we are just deficient in that strand of moral fiber.

Oddly enough, there seems to be a lack of children's crochet and knitting classes for me to recommend, especially in an era in which knitting is so hot (though the word on the street is that crochet is the new knit, so look for a new crop of afghans to be appearing on the backs of couches everywhere in 2007). This dearth of children's classes might be remedied by parental inquiries at your favorite yarn shop. After all, where there is a parent with a child clamoring to knit and crochet, there is a check waiting to be written. Yarn shop owners enjoy money. There are a lot of "beginning knitter" classes out there, and from what I can tell by scouring the web sites, there are no age ranges listed, so perhaps try signing up your kids, and seeing what the response is. I would think it would be fine to sign up an older child for a class, maybe a studious 11-year-old? Many children are natural knitters. Their fingers are smaller, and those neural pathways haven't been dulled by years of caffeine, alcohol and lord knows what else you were doing in your 20s. Plus most children come equipped with the obsessive tendencies that benefit a good needle crafter. Learning to knit or crochet can only be beneficial to kids who are learning to read, write, count and develop their concentration skills. Bonus edutainment!

In my experience there are two kinds of yarn shops: the first is the kind whose staff sees a kid come through the door and recognizes him or her as a person who is capable of not only learning an intricate craft, but is also able to look at yarn and not make a giant mess. It is the wise yarn shop owner who thoughtfully provides a space to park the troublesome toddler, with some toys and coloring books for them to play with. It's the Ikea model of doing business: happy kids + happy mother = $$$. The other kind is the one whose staff visibly shudders when children enter the store. If that is the reaction you get, please turn and leave immediately and take the pile of money you were planning on spending to a friendlier shop.

Fortunately there is not really any need to pay someone to teach your kid the yarn arts, you just need to meet someone who already knows what she's doing. She can show you how to get started. My recommendation is, of course, to find someone related to you, preferably a generation or two ahead of you. Learning to crochet or knit, or quilt or sew, from someone who loves you, and whom you love, is the best. You get to sit together on the davenport, maybe listen to some country and western music on the radio, and soon your hands will be doing something exactly the same way your grandmother's hands have been for years. Of the granny square, my grandma said, "Well, it's been keeping me busy for 75 years!"

~*~

Beautiful straightforward wool yarn, like Lambs Pride, is the best yarn to learn with. A good yarn won't split apart, and your stitches will be easy to see. Good wool yarn is flexible, too, which is helpful when figuring out how to get the tension right. It also feels good in your hands. My advice to those new to the crafts is to visit a yarn shop and see what catches your eye, and ask the staff what they recommend for the beginner.

There are so many yarn shops in and around Chicago, and all have their own personality. The Windy City Knitting Guild is a great resource, with shop listings for Chicago and the 'burbs, with customer reviews. My new favorite shop is Chix With Stix in Forest Park. I love this shop because the staff is super friendly and don't make you feel like an idiot because you may have flunked sock knitting in the past. They have a great selection of reasonably priced wool, and an adorable little dog. Most importantly, my kids are welcome there, and not given the evil eye, even though it's probably deserved sometimes. Like when my son toppled the children's bookshelf. But they were very nice about it! This shop is located on Madison Street in Forest Park, next to the delightful and locally-owned Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, where you can get a $2 ice cream soda.

Finger knitting is a great way to introduce kids to knitting. Littler kids can start with one finger/one stitch and make a long, long chain, and then move on to using more fingers to make all sorts of things. Learning to crochet is equally easy!

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About the Author(s)

Lori Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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