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Shop Knits Sales as Millennials Pick Up Grandma’s Needles

NILES, Ohio – Women in their 60s learned to knit from their mothers and grandmothers. Today women in their 20s are learning how to knit from their peers.

“Knitting is the new yoga,” says Cheryl Miller, owner of Yarn Works Ltd., 815 Youngstown-Warren Road, Niles.

Miller opened Yarn Works May 9 to fill a niche she saw in Trumbull County, especially as more millennials – and women nearing retirement – are taking up the craft. Moreover, “I simply didn’t want to retire yet,” she says.

Before Miller started her business, she approached the Youngstown chapter of Score, formerly Service Corps of Retired Executives, where the counselors provided valuable guidance, she says.

Her store sells six sizes of yarn in various colors as well as knitting notions, needles, hooks, bags to carry supplies, shawl clasps, products to wash clothing made from yarn, and other accessories.

Miller buys her yarn from specialty manufacturers across the country, a practice she compares to “being a kid in a candy store” because of the myriad yarns she inspects to find the best quality.

Miller was a child when her grandmother taught her how to knit. As she recalls, her grandmother knitted “all those things that decked a ’50s and ’60s household.”

Through the years, she knitted sporadically because of the many demands on her time. And it wasn’t until a few years ago that Miller says she got serious about the craft.

Micky Burnsworth, a consultant to Miller at Yarn Works, likewise learned to knit as a child when her mother taught her. Her mother believed in “the womanly arts,” – Burnsworth’s phrase – which included anything from knitting, crocheting, sewing or quilting: “All things that wives and women needed to know to be a good wife of the day.”

Burnsworth, like Miller, was too busy to stay with it when she was employed as a reference librarian at the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library. And in anticipation of her retirement, she picked knitting back up after visiting a yarn store in Chardon with her friends. Burnsworth says she felt a “warm community feeling” inside the store and realized, “I want to be part of it.”

Burnsworth and Miller are just two of the untold number of older American women who recently picked up their knitting needles again.

At the same time, the number of younger people who knit and crochet has surged, according to Jenny Bessonette, executive director of Craft Yarn Council. “Knitting and crochet are especially popular now with millennials because of their interest and appreciation of DIY and making. ‘Making’ is an important part of their lives. They strive to personalize what they wear to how they live,” she observes.

A 2014 online survey by the Craft Yarn Council found that individuals ages 18 to 34 make up 15% of all knitters; ages 35 to 44, 13%; 45 to 54, 23%; 55 to 64, 32%; and 65 and older, 17%.

The council represents yarn companies, manufacturers of accessories, a magazine, book publishers and consultants in the yarn industry.

In the survey, 65% of the respondents said they knit or crochet because the pastime provides a creative outlet, 51% because they enjoy making things for others, while 44% said it gives them a sense of accomplishment. (Respondents could give more than one reason.)

“For older boomers, who are either retiring or close to it, they might have more time to pick up these crafts again, and are especially motivated to knit or crochet for grandchildren,” Bessonette says. “It’s also a creative outlet and they gain personal satisfaction from completing a project. In addition, there are many therapeutic benefits because they keep fingers and minds active.”

Participants in the survey said the top four benefits are feeling of accomplishment (93%), reduced stress (85%), improved mood (68%) and sense of confidence (56%).

As Miller stands in the front of her shop and displays an accessory for sale that has the slogan “Stitch your stress away,” she tells of a man who came in and told her he knits to keep his blood pressure low.

“I can attest to that, sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting and knitting, my blood pressure does not go up,” she says.

Miller also tells of the elementary school teacher who visits her shop to knit in the evening hours. “It is just a calming activity at the end of the day,” the teacher told Miller.

Burnsworth agrees, “It does calm your nerves.”


Pictured: Yarn Works in Niles displays items knitted and crocheted by customers.

In the yarn council survey, 69% of knitters and crocheters said they have participated in a knit/crochet group. Participants cited the benefits: social aspect (78%), they’re happier than when they knit or crochet alone (59%) and they have a sense of community (58%).

Miller, like the seven of 10 knitters surveyed, participates in knitting groups, one being the Witty Knitters Guild in Warren, the other a private group of her friends who call themselves “The String of Purls.” That’s where she met Burnsworth.

The Witty Knitters Guild, which has 38 members ages 20 to 80, meets once a month. All happen to be women, but they would welcome men. “Some of the women’s husbands sit in,” says member Ronda Leitch.

“I taught myself to knit to have something to do when my dad was in a nursing home,” Leitch says. “It was [then] that I met the Witty Knitters.”

Leitch, president of the guild, remembers when she started knitting a couple of years ago how the members were “very supportive and helpful.”

Among the reasons knitters join guilds are to keep up with current trends, learn new techniques and patterns, and stay informed with events and shows in the area.

The Witty Knitters provides a sense of community with its meetings that feature potluck meals and guest speakers. Not that long ago, members held a special meeting when they brought cherished knitted items from their family, including heirlooms, to show other members.

The Witty Knitters also knits baby hats to drop off at Bella Women’s Center in Warren and items they donate to other organizations such as Warm Up America! and Caps for Kids.

Similarly, the Western Reserve Knitting Guild in Canfield participates in Caps for Kids, with a goal of 600 hats each year to donate to the Head Start programs in Columbiana and Mahoning counties.

The Western Reserve guild, with some 50 members, meets monthly. Many of the 50 or so members – most of them in their mid 20s, joined in the past five years, says Kay Thompson, member and past president. Thompson credits YouTube tutorials as a major force in why younger people have taken up knitting.

Thompson says her grandmother taught her how to knit 50 years ago when she was only 10. She joined the guild 25 years ago when she moved here from out of state and wanted to connect with people who shared her interests.

Thompson owns Knit Wit Knits Yarn Shop, 645 E. State St., Salem. She has stayed with the guild to keep in touch with knitters interested in her products and because it is a place to share ideas. “Knitting is a community and social thing,” she says.

Miller and Burnsworth likewise hope to instill that community feel in their shop by offering classes and inviting yarn dyers to showcase and sell their products.

“We want a place where men and women feel comfortable bringing in projects sitting here and knitting and meeting people, helping each other,” Burnsworth says.

Pictured: Micky Burnsworth and Cheryl Miller work today at Yarn Works, Miller’s shop.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.