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Knit & Spin
An online group comes together to get crafty

By now everyone has seen photos of Julia Roberts gracefully clicking her needles to create a trendy little cap or scarf. The latest issues of those cultural bibles, Oprah and Martha Stewart Living — even an article in the Lands End Catalog — all hype the media’s current obsession with knitting. (Was our Nov. 15 " Trendspotting " about knitting on the money or what?)

The craze has certainly infiltrated the Internet. A recent Wall Street Journal e-Commerce article estimated some 400 Web sites are devoted to the craft. All the best yarn shops are online and mailing lists such as www.socknitters.com boast memberships in the thousands from all over the world.

This weekend, much of this interest bubbles to a head, as some 200 members of the New England Textile Arts mailing list will meet for the first time at the Doubletree Hotel in Portland for a " Spa Knit & Spin. " The grassroots-ish event — there are no official sponsors — is free and open to the dedicated faithful, recent converts, even those who just think it looks really cool.

What started as an intended gathering of about 10 to socialize, learn new techniques, and just generally bask in the glow of kindred crafters, is now a whole new ball of yarn: Since November, more than 200 fiber fans have joined the mailing list (making them possible attendees) and some 60 rooms are reserved at the Doubletree for this weekend. Which means that instead of fostering isolation, the Internet has brought together a new web of friends eager to bond while they cast on and bind off.

" This is meant to be a relaxing time after such a busy holiday season, " says Helen Brewster of Portsmouth, NH, a " list mom " and a grandmother-to-be. " (We’re going to) find a comfy spot to just knit and spin all weekend or join in some of the activities being offered by others who are attending. "

The New England Textile Arts list was created in November when Betsey Bailey, an art teacher at Harpswell Island School, posted to the 4000-plus-member mailing list www.Knitlist.com to inquire about an upcoming knitting retreat. Brewster, another list member, replied that she’d heard the retreat was expensive. Instead, she suggested, why not " rent a room someplace with a pool, bring some friends, and just knit all weekend. "

Both posted an announcement once to other lists they subscribe to and were overwhelmed by the response. Because the event is free, people were skeptical at first. But because everything except an optional hotel room is voluntary — from teachers to vendors to donated door prizes and items to be raffled — both list moms expect a frenzy of fiber frolicking.

Amid the knitting, spinning, and dyeing, vendors will sell spinning wheels, knitting machines, looms, fiber, needles, and knitted goods. And celebrity fiber artists including Helene Rush, editor of Cast On magazine ( www.tkga.com), and Laurie Dornan, a contributor to " KnitLit, " a collection of knitting essays, are scheduled to attend.

At a swap/barter table, expect Icelandic yarn, an assortment of needles, and my current obsession: vintage issues of the magazines Vogue Knitting (www.vogueknitting.com) and Interweave Knits (www.interweave.com), for which Ebayers are bidding as much as $50.

While there are no commercial sponsors of the Knit & Spin, several LYSs (Local Yarn Shop in Netspeak) will participate. A field trip to Halcyon, the fiber fantasy shop in Bath, is scheduled, and Water Street Yarns, in Hallowell — one of my favorite road trips — is donating door prizes. Central Yarn Shop will shuttle knitters to a booksigning with Portland’s own Jil Eaton, author of Minnowknits (www.minnowknits.com).

I’m looking forward to the skill swap. List members have also volunteered to teach techniques such as fiber dyeing and shearing rabbits for angora.

" My fantasy is that because so many people have volunteered to teach informally that they would list what they’ll teach and where they’ll be . . . and interested people will just find them and jump in, " Brewster says.

It doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend the afternoon, and it’s definitely much better than duct-taping my windows. One look around at the big, scary world and I need something warm and fuzzy. I think socks are next.

Beth Brogan can be reached at elizabethsbrogan@aol.com

The New England Textile Arts online group holds its Spa Knit & Spin " Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday morning, " at the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland. Call (207) 774-5611. It’s free unless you decide to spend the night.

Issue Date: February 20 - 27, 2003
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