You have to be good at math for this hobby. There is counting involved.

There is also satisfaction in turning out a beautiful creation knitted by hand that provides both comfort and function.   

Today's yarn is not the course, itchy wool our grandmothers lovingly knitted. Varieties are soft, fine fibers, some blended with silk or cotton, but durable and 100% natural. There is sheep wool, angora wool and fiber harvested from alpaca, yaks and camels. Goats provide mohair and cashmere. Most of these wools can be found at Sheepy Yarn Shoppe.

The Third Street store in downtown White Bear Lake is the largest yarn retailer in a five-state area, according to owner Marjorie Intveld. In business almost 30 years, Sheepy Yarn Shoppe has about every type of wool, 310 kinds of yarn and 52 different brands.

“Knitting is very popular,” Intveld said. “There are more than 1,000 knitting clubs that meet after school, including White Bear Lake. Younger people have always been excited about knitting and crocheting. It brings people back to their roots.”

Unlike wools of the past, there is 100% wool today that can be machine washed and dried. Intveld tests yarns before placing an order at an annual Ohio buying show.

She'll knit something with sample yarn in her hotel room and rub it on the nylon carpet. Nylon will ruin wool, she explained. Then she puts it under hot water. If it's still intact, she might place an order or wait until she gets home to wash the wool. “I wash new items with blue jeans. Blue jeans will ruin poor-quality knit. Then I put everything in the dryer. If it's still intact, it comes in here.”

Knitting uses two basic stitches: purl and knit. Once you know those, you can make about anything, Intveld said.

There is math involved. “We have to teach people that,” she pointed out. “Before you start, a pattern will say this type yarn and this size needle. Everyone has to knit a 4-inch swatch to find if the needle is right because we all have different tension in the way we hold the yarn. The label of every skein has a gauge showing stitches per inch based on needle size. The number of stitches is divided by 4 inches. You have to be right on for items like a hat, mittens or a sweater.”

The shop owner is proud to be a flagship store for Rowan yarn from the United Kingdom. Sheepy Yarn carries all the company's pattern books and yarns. She also stocks Peruvian highland wool and merino wool from Australia. Merino is the highest grade, Intveld said. “We have every kind of fiber you can imagine,” she continued. “We have lots of cashmere, and yak is the new thing. It blends well with cottons and wools.” She was also the first shop in the United States to carry yarn from the Shetland Islands. It comes in 140 colors (see related story).

Intveld learned about fibers when she lived in Argentina for 11 years. She moved to South America with her husband, becoming fluent in Spanish while honing her knitting skills. Her shop requires long hours, but she loves it. A full-time employee is a designer who has published hundreds of her own patterns plus designs for two yarn companies.  

Anyone interested in knitting, beginners to advanced, are welcome to call the shop and inquire about classes taught by master knitters. Children's classes for age 8 and older are offered, as is crochet. There are also drop-in social hours for people who want to knit, chat and drink coffee.

Call 651-426-5463 or email info@sheepyyarn.com. The store is located at 2185 Third St.

It should be noted that the knitting club at South Campus, started in 2013, did not meet this year due to lack of interest. Advisor Sarah Forestell said the club met Wednesday afternoons after school. North Campus also had a knitting club.

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