The more than 700 people who attended A Knitter's Fantasy convention on April 14 prove that the fiber arts are very much alive and well in northeast Ohio.
"We're young women who are creative. We're stressed at work and we want to come home and knit because knitting is relaxing," said LeeAnne Blake of Dream Weaver Fiber Arts in Hartville. "We're the underground. Knitting is not just for your 80-year-old grandma; knitting is for everyone."
Dream Weaver Fiber Arts was one of 30 vendors that attended the 17th annual A Knitter's Fantasy, held at Chaney High School in Youngstown.
Joann McGuiness of Niles and Karen Kotick of Austintown hold bags made by McGuiness while browsing the marketplace April 14 at A Knitter’s Fantasy in Youngstown.
"The fiber industry, which you see here, is more than just knitting and crocheting. There's stuff here for spinners, for felters, for everyone. It's endless," said Blake.
"We have vendors here from four states and people here from New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida. We don't advertise in newspapers or anything if we did, we wouldn't have parking spaces," said Jacquie Thomas, one of the coordinators for this year's event.
Each year, the convention is organized by one of three knitting guilds in northeast Ohio; the Witty Knitters based in Warren, the North Coast Knitting Guild in Cleveland, and this year's hosts, the Western Reserve Knitting Guild of Canfield.
"A lot of these ladies who are wearing sweaters might be hot, but they're not taking that sweater off. They have created it, knitted it, designed it, and they are going to show it off," said Thomas.
"It's neat to get new ideas and wear something you made," said Marilyn Rauch, who travelled from Daytona Beach, Fla., to attend the convention and teach a knitting class. "It gives you a conversation piece. You can go up to total strangers and say, 'where did you get that pattern and what kind of yarn did you use' and it gets you introduced to a lot of other people that you wouldn't network with otherwise."
Rauch believes that knitting is becoming more and more popular.
"There's yarn shops that are springing up more places, people who've been laid-off have more time to work on things now. It's a craft they can do at home and sell it on the Internet."
"More of the yarns are made for younger knitters who want to do something in the current style, something trendy," said Blake. "If you look around here it's the same thing you would find in Express, in the Limited, but the satisfaction is not the end product, it's the journey to get to the end product."
For some, the journey includes a kind of guerrilla knitting called yarn bombing.
"[Yarn bombers] are not your grandma's knitter, that's for sure. They're probably newer, younger, people who want people to know that knitting is cool, that it doesn't have to be stuffy or limited to toilet roll covers," said Cheryl Geschke of Broadview Heights.
Yarn bombing has swept the globe, with teams of knitters going out after dark to make colorful wraps for fire hydrants, tree trunks and countless other non-descript public objects.
"Yarn bombing makes people aware that knitting is cool and it doesn't have to be stuffy or grandmotherly. That's the fun thing about it, it gets people talking, it gets people to be aware of knitting and the cool things you can do with [it]," said Geschke.
Geschke used her extensive knitting network to coordinate a unique yarn-bombing in Cleveland.
"We knitted 564 hats, scarves and mittens and hung them in the lobby of Playhouse Square (in Cleveland). They were there through the duration of Hair and then they were donated to Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital," said Geschke. "Most yarn-bombings that I've seen are outside. We thought it would be fun to do more than just knitting covers for hydrants or benches. "We thought, wouldn't it be great to get people knitting something that could be really useful. I think it's a great idea and we'll probably do more."
"People ask me why I knit socks," said Blake. "They tell me I can go to Walmart and buy a pair of socks for $1.50 and I say, well yeah but you missed out on the journey of knitting, of creating something. I can show this to somebody and say that I made this and it's valuable, not everybody can say that."
Karen Kotick attended the event with her friend Joann McGuiness, a member of the Witty Knitters.
"Some people look at a bag like the one Joann made and think, I could buy that at JCPenney's for $20, but they don't realize the value of something like this," said Kotick. "Joann's probably cost $100, at least, and probably took months to make. Some of these women spin their own wool right off the sheep. There's pride in making it yourself."