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Meet the knitting circle: It might not be who you'd expect.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

Maybe negotiators for warring nations should try sitting down at the same table with yarn and knitting needles.

The practice has certainly knit a tight little community from a disparate group of Eugene residents.

The circle of "regulars" has grown steadily since the Knit Shop opened three years ago in a colorful, cozy space inside Eugene's Southtowne Shoppes. In fact, owner Jean Goodbar had to order a larger table to accommodate the widening circle.

They defy the stereotype of knitters as white-haired - and white-skinned - grandmothers.

They are young and old, male and female. They are Asian and African American and Caucasian. They are country club and Country Fair.

Many come for the expert counsel of Sandra Hicks, who is the table's acknowledged expert. She has been knitting for 35 of her 56 years. And though she's unpaid, Hicks spends every afternoon in the shop's knitting niche, working on her own projects and helping newbies master the click and clack of needles, the ins and outs of various stitches.

"It's my clubhouse," joked the retired electrical wholesaler, putting down her own work to assist to knit. I came in here, and I've been coming ever since."

Across the table, Tracey Dumas, 54, has also returned to the craft after a long absence.

"I knit two scarves in my 20s, then didn't knit again for 34 years," she said, her hands busily shaping a sock on a circular needle. Knitting has been her "stress-reliever" as she wrote her dissertation for the doctorate in sociology she will receive next month. "All I make is socks, pair after pair, mostly for family and friends."

The local celebrity of the group is one of the male regulars, Gene Beugler, 71. The retired UO administrative assistant is a master lace-knitter. Photographs of his award-winning original designs have been published in glossy art books. He fell in love with the craft six decades ago, as a boy growing up in Los Angeles.

`In grammar school one of my teachers came in one morning with a knit suit on, and I went, `Ooh! You can take two needles and make fabric that fits you!' '

At his right elbow sat Benjamin Meadvin, a knitting novice of three months.

"I needed a scarf and a hat, and I thought it would be neat to make them with my own hands," said the 25-year-old housepainter and landscaper.

On his head was the hat, large enough to tuck all of his long hair inside. Under the needles before him, a sock was emerging in the same turquoise and gray yarn.

"I think it would be nice to have a matching set," he said.

"I just taught my boyfriend to knit," Galfin noted. "He thinks it's cool, too."

The idea of knitting as women's work is historically inaccurate, noted Kehoe. In many places, such as Iceland, men still take pride in their long history of excellence at the craft, she added.

"Before the Industrial Revolution, men and boys had to knit, too, in order to have enough warm clothing," agreed Alice Izanhour, 72, a saleswoman at Red Wing shoe store.

She learned to knit for the same practical reason: As a Los Angeles schoolgirl during World War II, she and her classmates knitted little squares to be sewed together into afghans.

"The Red Cross gave them to the soldiers," she recounted without missing a beat in her work on a pink dress for her new granddaughter.

To her left, Yoshiko Ponton, 68, knit a pair of "arm warmers" in bright, spring stripes: violet, lime green and pink.

"But I mainly knit little socks for the grandkids," said the lifelong homemaker.

Goodbar, who opened the Knit Shop in January 2000, could not have had better timing. Knitting is making a big-time comeback. Celebrities such as Madonna and Gwynneth Paltrow have been photographed wielding needles.

"This sort of business does well in recessional times," acknowledged Goodbar, a former medical office manager. "People tend to turn inward. They need things to soothe themselves. And knitting really is the new yoga. At the same time, it provides a real sense of community."

Given the mixture of ages and lifestyles around this table, one could imagine some pretty tense political discussions.

But hot-button topics are pretty much avoided, the knitters say. Talk rarely turned to the war in Iraq, for instance.

"We pretty much ignored it," said Colleen Heaton, 55, a senior citizen outreach worker.

But the conversation does turn serious sometimes, Dumas said.

"One minute we'll be talking about the sweater someone's making, and the next minute, someone will share a private struggle they're having with their health or a relationship," she said. "It seems like the conversation just comes. Other times, there's a peaceful silence."

Mandy Aaberg, a 30-year-old cocktail waitress, never imagined that a knitting circle would become an integral part of her life.

"I sat down the first time, and within 15 minutes, I never wanted to leave," she said as her busy hands shaped a baby blanket for her pregnant sister-in-law. "You can do so many meaningless things with your time, or you can be part of a group like this, where people knit things and share their lives."

Karen McCowan can be reached at 338-2422 or kmccowan @guardnet.com.

CAPTION(S):

Knitters of all stripes gather regularly at the Knit Shop in Eugene. Here, (from left) Martha Rypinski, Benjamin Meadvin and Gene Beugler work. Kevin Clark / The Register-Guard Tracey Dumas stops by the Knit Shop to work on socks. Knitting helped her relax, she says, while she worked on her doctoral dissertation. Knitting: Old craft is making a comeback - and building community along the way Continued from Page G1 Benjamin Meadvin wanted a scarf and hat and decided he would make them himself. So the beginning knitter ended up at the Knit Shop. Please turn to KNITTING, Page G2
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 25, 2003
Words:982
Previous Article:BUSINESS DATEBOOK.
Next Article:Hope springs again.


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