‘Like a pub crawl, but with yarn stores’: ‘Fiber fanatics’ weave path in central Texas


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Knitters, crocheters, weavers and other self-described “fiber fanatics” are threading their way through central Texas on the 13th annual Best Little Yarn Crawl in Texas.

“It’s kind of like a pub crawl, but with yarn stores,” said Melissa Sternberg, one of the owners of Gauge, a yarn shop in west Austin.

The 10-day event features 16 shops this year from San Antonio to Georgetown, La Grange to Horseshoe Bay. More than a thousand crawlers from across Texas and beyond are collecting stamps on passports and buttons on tote bags as they make their way from store to store before Sunday, Oct. 20, looking for discounts on yarn and free patterns.

“It was the excitement of the hunt that was so much fun,” said Suzanne Middlebrooks, owner of south Austin’s Hill Country Weavers.

Carla Crocker, left, shops with her friend at Hill Country Weavers on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

Crawlers come from across Texas and beyond to shop at all the stores. “I’m so excited, I’m already planning for next year,” said Carla Crocker, a new knitter from Kingsville, south of Corpus Christi, in town for the crawl.

“This year we have someone from England who’s visiting her friend, specifically to come on the yarn crawl,” Sternberg said.

The growing popularity of knitting and crocheting has grown the yarn crawl over its 13-year life from a handful of stores to the several-hundred-mile journey it is now.

A tactile experience

Mindy Baker is on her third yarn crawl. Her first stop this year was at Hill Country Weavers on Monday, following a busy weekend at the shop that saw hundreds of crawlers.

“You have a wonderful opportunity to look at all kinds of different techniques, all kinds of different yarns,” Baker said.

The 50-year knitter from Smithville is back at her needles after a car crash two years ago broke 14 of her ribs and three vertebrae, leaving her unable to move her arms very much.

Last year’s yarn crawl, during which her daughter had to drive her along the trail, “was kind of a celebration of the fact that I was back on my feet, that I was able to do things again.”

Mindy Baker shows off her tote bag, featuring her first button of the 2019 yarn crawl on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

Shopping Monday for a project for her granddaughter, Baker said the experience of physically being in a yarn shop, even if it means driving across all of central Texas, is more enjoyable than ordering supplies and patterns online.

“It’s when you see it in your hands, when you touch it, when you smell it,” she said. “There’s a tactility… about it that you don’t get from an iPhone.”

Growth in the fiber arts

The number of U.S. households taking part in some kind of craft activity is on the rise, according to a study published in 2017 by the Association for Creative Industries.

Nearly two-thirds of households crafted in the year before the study started, the group reports, up from about half of households in 2010. About a quarter of U.S. households, representing 28.8 million people, reported knitting or crocheting in those previous 12 months.

“In the 13 years (of the yarn crawl), the knitting community in this central Texas Hill Country area has blossomed,” Middlebrooks said.

An almost-complete yarn crawl tote bag covered in buttons from different shops. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

More people are discovering yarn crafts as a way to disconnect from the digital world, Sternberg added. “I think the more automated we get with computers and stuff, the more people want to connect with handcrafts, homemade, hand-made.”

What started as a resurgence a decade and a half ago, she said, “just kept on going.”

The yarn crawl has grown along with the craft, starting with just a handful of stores. It’s a long way to go for some yarn — one of Crocker’s friends, also from south Texas, logged 700 miles this year — but crawlers say it’s worth it.

“You just don’t get that same experience online,” Middlebrooks said.

To register for the yarn crawl, sign up at any participating stores to receive a passport and tote bag. As you complete the path, you are entered to win daily prizes from individual stores, plus grand prizes when the crawl wraps up.

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