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LA's knitters roll out for yarn crawl

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Thanks to the knitwear worn in "The Hunger Games," the pastime is gaining popularity — even in sunny SoCal, and even among men.

One of the last things on your mind is probably chunky knits and fall sweaters. But the sunny SoCal weather didn't stop knitting fanatics from attending Yarn Crawl L.A. last week. It's an annual four-day festival that's like the Super Bowl for those in the knitting community—one that's grown and diversified quite a bit in the last few years.

"A few years ago, it was rare for a man to walk into a shop, and I've gotten some weird responses over the years like 'What's he doing here?' you know?" said Chester Lugmy. By day he's a corporate buyer for Panda Express but in his free time, he's also a knitting instructor and aspiring designer.

Chester is wearing a bright orange and turquoise scarf that he promises anyone could knit in just a few months. He's one of a growing of men who've taken up the pastime.

"It's definitely refreshing to see and I think more and more shop owners are seeing us as a viable group to market to," he said.

Anthony Caselina echoes that sentiment: "I love the shock's awesome."

Anthony is a big guy, covered in tattoos that go all the way up his neck. And he's been knitting for 7 years. 

"To me it's just an addiction — a man's addiction to football, is my addiction to yarn."

He doubts he'll ever stop. "My hands shake if I'm not knitting."

As the knitting community grows, so do the reasons for taking up the pastime. 

"It actually helped me quit smoking," said Chester Lugmy.

"A lot of times it's around a baby being born — someone's having a baby and they want to knit something. We've had women, their last borns were going off to college and empty nesters, so needing something to do, wanting to meet new friends," said Samantha Knight, founder of Abuelita's Knitting and Needlepoint in Pasadena. While Samantha is a mom, she's not an abuelita quite yet. 

"People many times come in and say, 'Oh are you THE abuelita?' No, no, no. That was a bit of a play on words," she said.

The name is ironic because she didn't just want to appeal to the abuelitas traditionally known for knitting. She wanted to include the young and the old, and the men.

"I remember one time at our stitch and chat we had a teenager i think she was about 13...14 and a great grandmother who was about 86 and every generation in between."

J.R. Jaffe hand-dyes yarn and is a knitting instructor at Abuelita's and says she's had similar experiences. "I've taught people who are CEOs of corporations like high powered business people to like a 5 year old little girl."

The diversity of knitters has definitely gotten a boost from films like "The Hunger Games."

"I know exactly which cowl you're talking about! In the second movie she had this amazing cowl, really really chunky knit... There were suddenly a flood of patterns that showed up online," said Chester Lugmy.

"A lot of those projects have been made," echoed Samantha Knight. "People came in and said 'I want to make the Katniss vest.'"

Even while Hollywood throws love to knitters, some people still don't see how sunny Los Angeles and knitting can ever go hand in hand.

"L.A. is a great place to be a knitter," said J.R. Jaffe. "Some people might not think so just because it is so warm here, but there's definitely a call for it just because I think a lot of people use knitting almost as a form of therapy."

That's another reason Samantha Knight has heard from her customers who've taken up knitting.

"Weight loss, keep their hands busy at night so they're not snacking. Smoking is a big one. And the other thing we hear is that women can be in the same room with their husbands if they're watching a sporting even. So that's nice if we can save some marriages with knitting!"

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