In North Lawndale, Illinois, two very different sets of students are learning similar lessons. Both disadvantaged public-school students and students at North Lawndale College Prep have immersed themselves in the wonderful world of knitting. Each group works under the supervision of a teacher and sells their knitted wares.
At North Lawndale College Prep, students’ items are purchased by their teacher, Dorothea Tobin, with her own money. She then sells the items online for the same price as she purchased them, often to other faculty members. The students have found that knitting gives them something to do to relieve the stress of high school, while encouraging them to participate in their community and make friends.
Elsewhere in North Lawndale, Better Boys Foundation CEO Mary Visconti founded KnitLAB, a fiber arts workshop for teens. Funded by the Chicago Community Trusts Arts Infusion Initiative and After School Matters, teens are paid stipends for the items they create within the 10-week program. Each student keeps one item, and the rest are sold to pay for yarn and other supplies. Each session has approximately 15 students, and they are given the option to re-enroll at the end.
Much of the yarn used in both programs is donated, often made of wool or silk, common materials for scarves, Oriental rugs, hats, and other products. Students in each group feel pride in their creations, and enjoy being able to express their personal style in new and exciting ways. Additionally, yarn crafts have been shown to release dopamine.
Although it may still have a reputation as an activity for older folks, knitting is gaining popularity with younger people, as well — a 2014 study conducted by the Craft Research Council found that 18% of knitters and crochets are in the 18 – 35 age bracket. With endorsements from celebrities such as Amanda Seyfried, Dakota Fanning, Kate Middleton and even heartthrob Ryan Gosling, and programs such as the ones being pioneered in North Lawndale, knitting could soon become very hot with the Gen Y crowd.