The country is at war. The economy is in a downturn. Citizens are stressed.
That's when Americans pull out their knitting needles, said author Susan Strawn, who will speak on the history of knitting in the United States at a program at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, in the Nichols Library, 200 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville.
Strawn, the author of "Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art," said one surprising fact she learned while researching her book was the correlation between what is happening in the nation and the popularity of knitting.
"Every time this country is very stressed by the Great Depression or wartime, there is an increase in the amount of knitting," she said.
That still holds true today, contrary to knitting's old-fashioned image, said Strawn, assistant professor of apparel design and merchandising at Dominican University in River Forest.
"Many people are very devoted to their knitting groups right now," Strawn said. "Knitting is perhaps as popular as it has ever been."
Americans are plying their needles for an array of philanthropic causes, she said.
Knitters use their craft to provide warm clothing and items for the homeless, premature babies, foster children, veterans and soldiers at war.
During World War I and World War II, knitting was seen as a sign of patriotism and students were even encouraged to knit during class, Strawn said.
While groups like the Red Cross may no longer solicit knitted items for soldiers, private groups are supplying their own, Strawn said.
"There are knitters who are knitting helmet liners to send to Iraq and Afghanistan," she said.
Knitting during stressful times gives citizen artisans a productive way to respond to the crisis and sooth their own anxieties, Strawn said.
"Once you have a proficiency at it, it's very soothing and very calming," she said.
Strawn herself learned to knit from her grandmother while growing up in Nebraska. She became fascinated by the idea of being able to create fabric from two sticks and a string.
"When I was 12, I became obsessed with it," she said.
Knitting can range from simple to complex. Some high schools now offer knitting classes, Strawn said.
The beautiful yarns and interesting patterns available today mean that knitting can be used to be used to create fashionable clothing or even high art, Strawn said.
"Now there are a number of artists who are using knitting as a medium," she said.
Knitters meet in person or via the Internet to support a variety of causes. There's even a Knitters for Obama group whose members are using their skills to raise money for the Democratic presidential nominee.
"For me, knitting holds my life together," Strawn said.
Knitters are encouraged to bring their work with them to Strawn's program and will have an opportunity to share their own stories.