If you're a knitter, you're in good company. The Craft & Hobby Association estimates that there are around 11.9 million knitters in the U.S., including celebrities like Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Christina Hendricks, and Uma Thurman. Even dreamy actor Ryan Gosling has enjoyed picking up the needles, prompting a series of knitting-themed "Hey Girl" memes.
Knitting can help reduce stress, ease chronic pain, lower blood pressure, and may even prevent cognitive impairment and memory loss as you age (read more about the health benefits of knitting here).
Our area may not be a hotbed of fiber arts activity like some parts of New England or the Pacific Northwest, but there's still lots of fun things to do for the Wichita knitter. And if you're not a knitter yet, now's the perfect time to start... you'll be able to perfect your skills with plenty of time to stock your winter wardrobe with woolly wonders!
Enhance Your Stash
Ahhh, the three most beautiful letters in the knitter's alphabet: LYS, or Local Yarn Store. There's nothing like being able to see and feel your yarn in person before you buy. When going on vacation, most people will research restaurants and tourist attractions at their destination... knitters, on the other hand, research yarn shops. According to The National NeedleArts Association, knitting enthusiasts in the U.S. (a subset of the general knitting market representing those who knit regularly and count knitting as one of their primary hobbies) spend more than $400 million dollars each year on yarn and supplies, with most of that going to independent retailers. Head to one of these local shops when you need to get your fiber fix:
- Heritage Hut at 2820 E Douglas is hard to miss, thanks to the giant "YARN" sign on the front of the building. No false advertising here - inside, you'll find the shop is packed with yarn, from kid-friendly washable acrylics and kitchen cotton to fine luxury fibers and hardy wool, including made in the USA yarns from Brown Sheep. The shop also carries a selection of needles and other notions, as well as pattern books and magazines. Check out their weaving supplies and classes, too! A staple of the community since 1971, Heritage Hut has the yarn and tools you need for almost any project.
- Don't let the name fool you - Picket Fence Quilt Company at 7011 W Central caters to knitters and crocheters as well as quilters. The selection might not be as large as a dedicated yarn shop, but there's still plenty of options for your shawls, socks, and baby projects, as well as Knitter's Pride needles and Soak wool wash. Show your school spirit with their striped yarns in WSU, KU, and K-State colors, and spend some quality pup time with Halley, the shop's adorable terrier mascot.
- Heading north? Check out the Creation Station located at 605 N Main in Newton. The shop carries well-known workhorse lines like Caron and Bernat, as well as smaller specialty brands. More than just a yarn store, Creation Station is also the home of The Newton Crafters' Boutique, featuring wonderful handmade items from local artisans. It's well worth the short drive up to Newton to check out this charming shop!
- Heading south? Make sure to stop by iYarn at 915 Main in Winfield. You'll find yarns from Berroco, Cascade, Juniper Moon Farm, Malabrigo, and many more. You can also pick up Hiya Hiya and Brittany Birch needles, handmade yarn bowls from Jillian's Ceramics, and fair trade Bolga baskets to help contain your ever-growing number of projects. The shop's cozy atmosphere means you'll never want to leave... though really, who ever wants to leave an LYS?
Knitters across the Wichita area were heartbroken when A New Twist Yarn Shop in Delano closed earlier this year. Formerly known as Twist, the shop had provided knitters with yarn, tools, and place to call their crafting home home since 2007. Our LYS numbers won't be down for long, though - a new shop is on the horizon! Warped & Twisted Fiber Arts will be coming to 3555 E Douglas, with a target opening date of early September of this year. The brainchild of Constantina Mead and Debbie Romero, the shop is inspired by their deep passion for fiber arts, and specifically for practicing fiber arts as part of a local community. As Constantina puts it, "Fiber is a brilliant common ground. The thing that brings people together is unrelated to age, race, religion, gender, or income; we just want to know what's in your project bag!" Their plan is to showcase a wide array of local producers and suppliers and to draw from the talented pool of Wichita-area instructors for their classes. Follow their Facebook page for updates as the shop develops, and to find out more about their Indiegogo fundraising campaign.
Sharpen Your Skills
If you've taken a knitting class in Wichita, you may have already met Chauntel Ensey. A knitting instructor since 2003, Chauntel teaches classes at locations all over the city, and also offers private individual and group instruction by appointment. Some of her classes go in-depth on a specific technique, while others will walk you through the entire process of knitting a certain pattern. Chauntel's goal is not just to help you expand your skills, but also to expand your circle of fiber friends. "I have worked hard the 4+ years I have been in Wichita to draw more knitters out of their homes and into the social realm of our art. I am proud of our community of fiber artists here in Wichita; we are diverse, we are fun-loving, we are caring, and we have each other's best interest at heart," she said. Visit her Facebook page, Firebrunette Knits, for information about classes, community destashes, and social events, and to sign up for her email newsletter.
All of the yarn shops mentioned above offer some type of knitting instruction and assistance. Whether it's informal drop-in hours or scheduled classes, knitters of all levels can benefit from the expert education offered at your LYS. Times and topics change constantly, so your best bet is to call or visit the shop to see what they currently have on offer. As though you needed another reason to stop in!
If you know someone who wants to learn to knit but you're not able to teach them yourself, point them towards the Wichita Parks & Recreation Department, which offers beginner knitting classes for a very affordable fee. This summer, there are two sessions for adults (one beginning July 21st and one beginning August 8th) and one for kids (also beginning August 8th). The whole family can get in on the fun! Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft also regularly offers 101- and 201-level knitting classes at both East and West Wichita locations. Call or visit the store nearest you for details.
On the other hand, if you are able to give a lesson or two, gather up your supplies and head to one of Wichita's awesome breweries, like The Hopping Gnome or Central Standard Brewing for an afternoon or evening of education. You provide the knowledge, your friend provides the drinks!
It's Better Together
Although we knitters know how wonderful our craft is, sometimes the world in general doesn't see it the same way. We get snarky comments about being old-fashioned or having too much time on our hands. Even non-knitters who appreciate what we do don't always truly understand the work that goes into it. That's why knitting groups are so amazing! For a few hours, you're surrounded by folks who speak your language, can offer you invaluable advice, and will celebrate with you when you manage to fix that stitch that dropped back a dozen rows in a complex lace shawl. (If you're not a knitter, just trust me - that sentence was scarier than anything Stephen King's ever written.)
You can find knitters at Common Grounds Coffee House several days a week. Meetups occur Mondays from 5:30pm to 10:00pm, Wednesdays from 10:00am to 4:00pm, and Thursdays from 6:00pm to 8:00pm - though you certainly don't have to be present the entire time to participate! Come when you can, and leave when you need to... well, after you finish one more row. New members are always welcome and it's free to attend, though it's common courtesy to buy a drink or snack while you're there to show some love to Common Grounds. Join the Twisted Sisters Facebook group to stay up-to-date with meetups and events.
The Alford branch of the Wichita Public Library hosts the Hook & Needle Friends group every Wednesday from 10:00 to 12:00. All needlecrafts are welcome! Share your projects and plans, get advice, and help newer crafters improve their skills.
If you're looking for a bit more structure, check out the Central Kansas Knitters Guild, who meet the second Tuesday of each month in Newton. Meetings includes time for sharing projects, education on a specific knitting technique, and special guest speakers. The guild also plans trips and other events and organizes charity and community service projects. Membership costs $25 per year, but the guild is happy to have you attend a few meetings before officially joining. If your love of knitting has expanded into other fiber arts, you may also be interested in the Wichita Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers' Guild or the KS My Stitch Crochet Guild. Not only are guilds a great way to meet new friends and learn new things, it's just plain cool to be able to say "Yeah, I'm in a guild."
Hit the Road
As much as we love Wichita, sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need. When it's time to get away, why not take a fiber field trip? There are tons of knitting events all over the country, but here are a few within the good old Sunflower State. Bonus: if you get a friend to drive, the car ride will be extra knitting time for you!
- Feel like showing off your skills? The Kansas State Fair hosts many clothing & textile competitions, including 22 separate categories of knitting projects. There's also the Fastest Needles in the West event, where knitters race to complete an adult-sized stocking cap. Not in a competitive mood? You can also just enjoy the exhibits of submitted projects, showcasing some of the best local knitting talent. If you want to see a bit of what goes into producing the yarn we love so much, make sure to catch a sheep shearing demonstration! The deadline for entering the competitions is August 15, and the dates of the fair are September 9-18.
- You may have cuddled a skein of alpaca yarn, but have you ever cuddled an actual alpaca? Thanks to the Kaw Valley Farm Tour, you can. During the tour weekend, farms in the Kaw Valley area (near Lawrence) open their doors to the public, offering educational activities and demonstrations, with most also having products for sale. The tour covers more than 30 locations, including four alpaca farms: Manna Meadows in Bonner Springs, Ad Astra Alpacas in Baldwin City, Coal Creek Farms in Lawrence, and Marie's Alpaca Acres in Carbondale. For just $10 per carload, you can visit as many farms as you like! Since there are so many different options, you may even be able to convince your non-knitter friends to come with you... just promise them that for every alpaca farm you visit, you'll also hit a winery. This year's tour takes place October 1-2.
- The Central Kansas Yarn Hop is a yarn shop tour that will take you from Winfield to Topeka and everywhere in between. Get your Yarn Hop passport stamped at every shop you visit for a chance to win prizes! It's an exciting time to visit a new-to-you LYS since every shop will be buzzing with activity. This year's Hop runs October 18-23. Plans are still being finalized, so keep an eye on their website or follow their Facebook page for updates.
- The Creative Hand Show and Sale is a celebration of fiber arts, held every year in Shawnee. Highlights of the event include a juried artist showcase, fascinating demonstrations, and a marketplace packed with yarn, fiber, gifts, accessories, and much more. This year's event takes place November 18-19, and parking and admission are free!
- Many knitters spend the entire month of December furiously working on Christmas gifts. Once it's all over, we just want to get back to our own projects! If this sounds familiar, Winter Woolfest is the event for you. Held each January in Wamego, Woolfest features super-fun classes (last year's classes were superhero themed) and vendors offering all the fiber goodies that you wish had been under the Christmas tree. Details for the 2017 Woolfest haven't been announced yet, but you can follow their Facebook page to make sure you don't miss a single update.
- Every other year, knitters come from all across the Midwest to the KC metro area for Knitting in the Heartland, drawn by the opportunity to meet and learn from celebrities of the knitting world like Franklin Habit, Fiona Ellis, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. But KITH is so much more than just big names. Their classes will take your knitting to the next level, and having the chance to fill a hotel lobby with the sound of clicking needles as you sit and chat with new fiber friends is something every knitter should experience at least once. KITH will come around again in 2018, giving you plenty of time to save up for the vendor's market!
If you didn't already know that knitting is a fun and rewarding hobby that can be as social as you want it to be, I hope I've changed your mind. In our increasingly digital world, many people crave the satisfaction of working with your hands to create something both beautiful and functional. Knitters know that our craft is a fantastic way to fulfill that urge, and as you can see, Wichita is a fantastic place to be a knitter! If I've left anything out, please add it to the comments below. Happy knitting!