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Hot on Campus | November 19, 2012

Fashion statement


Desire for something unique prompts college students to take up knitting and crocheting

Hats for sale at a recent craft fair at Wheaton College. (Photo by Caroline Ryan)

Three times a week, Wheaton College students congregate for chapel. Though young fingers often fidget for cell phones, some students have found a way to keep their active digits moving and still pay attention to the sermon.

"I sometimes crochet in chapel," said Heather Kaufmann, a junior anthropology major. "It actually can help me to stay focused, and chapel is one of the few times in the average week that I can actually get some crocheting done."

Kaufmann isn't alone in her love of yarn and needles. Though commonly thought of as a hobby for a bygone generation, a study conducted by the Craft Yarn Council in late 2011 showed that knitting remains popular among young adults. Eighteen percent of respondents to the online survey said they were between the ages of 18 and 34. Interest in knitting does increase with age--34 percent of respondents said they were over 55.

Jane Brown, owner of Wheaton's local yarn store, Never Enough Knitting, has quite a few college-aged customers. And she's well aware of when they do most of their work.

"(Wheaton students) knit in chapel, and the college doesn't seem to mind because then they don't chatter," she said with a smile.

The store is packed with overflowing shelves and baskets yarn of every color and texture, from basic wool to baby alpaca. Brown often sits at a table right inside the door, ready to offer lessons and assistance with projects. Most of her younger customers are working on scarves, cowls and hats.

Kaufmann learned to crochet in middle school and returned to the hobby last year, making cowls and infinity scarves to protect against the cold wind that blows across Wheaton's Illinois campus during the winter.

"(Crocheting) is relaxing, keeps my hands busy and gives me the freedom to make things which are actually useful and keep me and my friends warm," she said.

Kaufmann's needles are busy now making a bag for a friend. She intends to crochet some washcloths next. Though store-bought items take less time and energy, Kaufmann prefers to make presents for her friends herself. Gifts the giver puts time, effort and creativity into mean so much more, she said.

Homemade goods are popular enough among Wheaton's student body that students even sell some of their creations to their classmates. At a craft fair hosted last week by Wheaton's graduate program, handmade cards, jewelry, bags, hats, scarves, headbands and candles covered tables set up as makeshift booths.

Melinda Hammond, a doctoral student, sold headbands, yarn tutus and crocheted hats with Sesame Street character's faces woven into them. This year's fair is the largest it has ever been, reflecting the interest in handcrafted materials, she said.

One of Hammond's friend's taught her to knit during a mission trip 10 years ago, but she didn't pick it up again until she became pregnant with her son.

"I was bored out of my mind on maternity leave, so I made (my son) a hat and made myself a hat, and then some friends started asking about it," she said.

For two years, Hammond sold her work to friends through Facebook. At the end of September, she launched her own Etsy site, which allows her to sell her items internationally.

Each hat takes about two hours to make, but the activity is perfect for moments of downtime throughout the day. And selling her creations helps her make a few extra dollars, at least enough to pay for her next round of yarn.

Kelsey Voydanoff, a junior music education major, left the craft fair sporting a new infinity scarf that cost $10.

A few weeks ago, Voydanoff bought her first ball of yarn, intending to start knitting over Thanksgiving break. But Voydanoff wasn't concerned by the idea that knitting is an outdated pastime.

"Handmade scarves are so cool," she said. "It's more fun to make your own and then you have a unique scarf to wear that no one else has."