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Knit-wits

Knitters have woven their way into the Internet tapestry, spinning yarns among legions of like-minded, but distant, friends.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 7, 2005



When a woman known as the "Yarn Harlot" arrived on a Friday evening, the excitement in the crowded knitting store was palpable. Needles furiously busy with colorful projects stopped, mid row. "Is that her?"

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The question swirled like steam over a mug of tea.

Of course, most knew the answer - yes - because they recognized Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, who writes humorous essays about knitting from her home in Canada. The dead giveaway was the sock she carried. They had seen and read about the sock's adventures online. They had shared with her their own stories of misshapen buttonholes and sweaters with too-long sleeves. But until now, they had never shared "real space," and in some cases, their real names.

Meet knitters who blog.

Tucked away in a corner of the Internet like wool mittens in August, knitters have been quietly spinning yarns in cyberspace. The scene in the Boston store is just one example of a phenomenon that's woven its way through the blogosphere. Widely considered the domain of news junkies and political pundits, blogs - or online journals - are actually dominated by the apolitical set: sports fans, cooks, even jugglers. Through these blogs, and the communities they create, enthusiasts have been discovering a world of fellow devotees with whom to share their wit and wisdom, exchange tips and life experiences, or just commune - even if half a world away.

As a result, Ms. Pearl-McPhee's US book tour to promote her new collection of essays, "At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much," has become part knitting session, part blogger meet-up.

"When you read a blog, you are really being invited into someone's living room," says Pearl-McPhee, who spends an hour a day reading other people's blogs. "You get to learn about them when they aren't on their best behavior. But if you don't meet these people you start wondering if you just have imaginary friends in a pretend knitting universe."

Small but sturdy

There are more than 900 knitting blogs online, as shown by one Web ring directory (a Web ring is an online community of similar websites with links to each member). They are a tiny but sturdy band in the blogosphere which has more than 18 million bloggers worldwide, according to Technorati.com, a website that tracks blogs.

Some blogs can be influential, like the one that sounded the alarm that CBS used forged documents in a report on President Bush's military service. But the majority have only a handful of readers interested in similar topics, such as skeins of wool. "For most bloggers, [the experience] is like a conversation among friends," says David Weinberger, author of "Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A unified theory of the Web."

Friendship plays a large role in fostering online communities, and many bloggers reveal their innermost thoughts - no matter how mundane or risqué - in a "Dear Diary" fashion.

And, like any good exchange of ideas, the online comments often drift to other topics. "If you discover a person sitting on a bench knitting and you strike up a conversation with that person, your conversation is going to range beyond knitting," says Mr. Weinberger. "That's what is happening in weblogs."

The abundance of knitters in the virtual world is a natural offshoot of the craft's renewed popularity. There are 50 million knitters in North America spurring record yarn sales, with the fastest growing population being between the ages of 25 and 34, according to the Craft Yarn Council of America. A proliferating number of knitting salons - part café, part craft store - draw hipster crowds across the country.

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