March 22, 2005
Crafts make a comeback
Tradition weaves its way into lives of today's youth
By Cori Bolger
This semester, Kristen Keating is walking with needles and pens.
Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger
Ashlinn Silverstrini, 15, of Madison learned to crochet from her paternal grandmother when she was 10. In five years, she's churned out scores of scarves and other items. Silverstrini says that she hopes to someday sell her handiwork.
Between classes and homework, the Millsaps College psychology major turns to knitting and crocheting as a way to relieve the stress of academia.
And while she dreams of one day weaving yarn into a blanket — the same way her mother did in college — Keating finds pride in knowing that, for now, scarves are her forte.
"I think of them as friendship bracelets for college students," she said, recalling the elementary fad. "It's really satisfying knowing you made something you can use."
Once considered stuffy, elderly pastimes, beading and fiber arts — knitting, crocheting, quilting and cross-stitching — have seen a recent resurgence in cities across the country, including Jackson.
Many local teens and twentysomethings are taking to the needle and thread as a form of practical therapy while they watch TV or hang out with friends and family.
Brian Albert Broom/The Clarion-Ledger
Will Thompson, 17, of Madison works with hemp twine, glass and wood beads and shells to make necklaces, a hobby he started about four years ago.
"It is the cool, hip thing to do right now," said Trenton Milam, owner of Knit Wits in Jackson. "I think it's because they get to control the creativity in a garment they can wear and be proud of. If I had gotten a hold of this in college, I'm not sure I would have ever graduated."
New books, including Debbie Stoller's Stitch 'N' Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook, and the Do It Yourself Network's hit show Knitty Gritty have made the craft more popular than ever.
Celebrity knitters who have gone public with their hobbies include Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman. And, Martha Stewart recently tipped off a frenzy when she walked out of prison wearing a hand-crocheted poncho.
In response, Lion Brand Yarn Co. introduced a free online "Welcome Home Poncho" pattern to satisfy crocheters and knitters scrambling to replicate Stewart's look.
J.D. Schwalm/The Clarion-Ledger
Kristen Keating, a Millsaps College psychology major, uses knitting and crocheting as a way to relieve stress.
The entire slew of crafting niches — from scrapbooking to model car making — is exploding, but fashion-driven trends appear to be gaining the biggest foothold with teens and college students, said Allan Fliss of the Craft & Hobby Association.
Between 2001 and 2002, crafts industry revenues rose from $22 billion to $29 billion, according to the most recent study conducted by the CHA.
"What's old is new again and kids are trying to stay in touch with the creative part of their lives," Fliss said. "They're also realizing that in a world that's just so technological ... People need a way of release. Getting into the leisure side of our lives and uncovering little pleasures is what life's all about."
Technological advances have presented a wider array of creative options, including high-quality fabrics and countless embellishments.
J.D. Schwalm/The Clarion-Ledger
Jackie Razk, a student at Millsaps, discovered an interest in beaded rings when she saw them at an area business. She said it was a craft she could enjoy in the confines of her dorm room.
Touch of tradition
There's something to be said about carrying on traditions, too.
When Ashlinn Silvestrini was 10 years old, she was taught how to crochet by her grandmother. But it wasn't until her grandmother died two years ago that she truly became dedicated.
"It's a way to remember her," said Silvestrini, a 15-year-old student at St. Joseph's Catholic School.
And now that fiber arts are all the rage, Silvestrini has picked up where her grandmother left off and then some.
"If I showed (my friends) a blanket I'm making, they'd say 'Oh, that's sooo Grandma,' " she said. "But if I showed them a scarf, they'd say, 'Wow! How did you do that?' "
Avid quilter Jackie Watkins of Ridgeland, taught her daughter Jenny, 25, the art of quilting and its benefits while Jenny was on break from graduate school last year.
"It's a very soothing hobby," said Jackie Watkins, who runs Quilters by Heart's Desire in Rankin County. "You concentrate fully on what you're doing; if there is a problem in your life, it becomes secondary while you work on your quilt."
Jenny made her first quilt by cutting old jeans into 5-inch squares and sewing them together. Her mother hopes the practice will be passed to future generations.
"I didn't know my grandmother quilted until she passed away and I got one from her," Jackie Watkins said. "There was no passing on of tradition, so if any of my children take to sewing in any way, it gives me great pleasure."
A class act
How-to classes offered by specialty stores are becoming another vehicle for family bonding, with parents and children and friends attending together.
Village Beads in Ridgeland offers basic beading classes three times per week.
"They all get real excited once one of them does something, and it's so much fun then they'll bring all of their friends," said Ann Bankston, co-owner of Village Beads. "I've had a lot of mothers and daughters attend to get ready to make jewelry for bridesmaids, and there are a lot of guys who do jewelry."
Will Thompson, 17, quickly learned that making his own hippie-inspired hemp necklaces saved money and opened up social circles.
"When you make it yourself you know it's good quality, and it's a lot easier to meet people when you're doing something interesting," said Thompson, a student at Madison Central High School. "My friends see the ones I make and they all want one."
Thompson's place of solitude and inspiration is at the Ross Barnett Reservoir, where he goes after his three part-time jobs to fashion necklaces.
"Beading helped me creatively and got me really interested in arts and crafts, like ceramics and photography," he said. "It's more productive than just watching TV. It feels like you're accomplishing something."