Some people join a book club. Others might play cards, or find a softball league more to their liking.
But about once a week — sometimes formally, sometimes informally — a group made up of mostly young mothers meets at Village Needleworks for some needlepoint and conversation. Yes, needlepoint — the craft that involves threading needle through a canvas to create designs for pillows, stockings and frames.
Most of the participants were recruited by Sarah Yale, 41, who picked up the hobby about five years ago. She finds herself doing needlepoint while waiting in the pickup line at school, between gymnastics and karate lessons and just about every night before bed.
“It’s exciting when you find out somebody else does it. I definitely try to convince people to start. It’s just so great and so fun,” Yale said.
Said Stacey Atlas, another 41-year-old group member: “It’s kind of nice to give yourself an opportunity to slow down and stop, to do something for you.”
Needle arts — which include needlepoint, knitting and crochet — were once mostly pastimes for grandparents, but younger people like Yale and Atlas are helping the hobbies and the shops that supply them make a strong post-recession comeback. The National Endowment for the Arts’ 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts found that 31.5 million U.S. adults participated in needle arts, an increase of 2 million people since 2008.
Sales are up 15 percent this year over last at Village Needleworks, owner Mary de Souza said. The business at Countryside Village will celebrate its 10th anniversary in February. It serves as a valuable resource for avid needlepointers, but also as a community for them.
“We’re like a family. We know our customers, we know their family situation, we know when things don’t go well,” de Souza said. “We’re the place they come to get reassurance and comfort.”
Personal Threads, which sells knitting, crochet and needlepoint supplies, is seeing the same kind of resurgence. Sales are up more than 10 percent this year, owner Joe Wynn said. The shop near 86th and Cass Streets is frequented by more knitters and crocheters than needlepointers, but many of its customers are between the ages of 18 and 30.
“People use it for anxiety and stress. The younger generation is realizing the sense of peace and calm that comes with it,” Personal Threads employee Meredith Wachter said of knitting.
Like many small businesses, the shops felt the effects of the recession as many people were careful not to spend on non-necessities like yarn and thread. The number of yarn stores and their average revenue each decreased about 2 percent per year from 2006 through 2012, according to the National Needle Arts Association, a trade group.
“As the economy is getting better, we’re getting people back,” Wachter said.
Most enthusiasts want to see the thread or yarn in person so they can feel it and observe its true color. That gives local brick-and-mortar shops the upper hand over online retailers.
“For me, going into a yarn store is like going into a candy shop,” said Jihan Najjar, a 27-year-old from Lincoln who has been knitting since she was about 8 years old. “I want to touch everything and I have to like how it feels. I have to know exactly what color it is.”
Sales at ImagiKnit Yarn Shop, near 120th Street and West Center Road, have been strong this year, owner Karla Rasmussen said. “Every month this year has been better than last year,” Rasmussen said. She relocated her shop to Omaha from Hastings, Nebraska, about two years ago.
“I think honestly the Internet has a lot to do with it,” Rasmussen said, citing Pinterest, Instagram and countless design blogs.
For Sophie Schneider, a 23-year-old medical student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, needlepoint is a hobby that has turned into a business venture. Her Etsy shop, SeeSophieSew, has made about $1,000 since she opened in May. She also sold her designs at the Lincoln farmers market over the summer.
“There’s so much technology, I think our generation is starting to feel pulled to go back to simpler things, maybe to kind of balance all of the crazy, modern, hectic things,” Schneider said. Several of her friends knit and crochet, and one even picked up calligraphy recently. “I also think people really like knowing things are handmade and are not mass-produced,” she said.
The hobby is also a nice break from the rigors of medical school, she said.
“It’s definitely a really nice study break. It’s working a different part of my brain than the other side that’s memorizing anatomy all day.”
Jean Matheny saw enough strength in the industry that, about two months ago, she purchased Wooly Mammoth Yarn Shop at Rockbrook Village. The shop opened in Omaha about two years ago but had operated in Kearney, Nebraska, for several years prior. The shop sells specialty yarn such as cashmere, mohair and bamboo.
“There is a need for it, and I just really did not want to see a shop that carried all of those close, and to lose that resource,” Matheny said.
She did not have sales figures to share because of the new ownership but said her customers are a variety of ages.
“There is a huge age range, and I think it’s growing,” Matheny said.
In addition to social media, online resources like Ravelry.com, an online community and knitting resource, and Pinterest have spurred more people to take up the hobbies. Different threads for needlepoint and small-batch dyed specialty yarns have also allowed for more creative designs and newer fashions.
“It’s not your grandma’s knitting or your grandma’s crochet,” ImagiKnit owner Rasmussen said.
But the history and tradition of the hobbies aren’t lost on younger enthusiasts and sometimes help them feel closer to the moms and grandmas who taught them. Knitting has been passed down from generations of women in Najjar’s family. She’s made several sweaters for herself and enjoys knitting gifts for friends and family.
“It’s cool to keep that family tradition alive. If I have kids I want to pass it on to them,” Najjar said.