Romance author Macomber highlight of annual knitting festival

| Friday, March 7, 2014, 5:14 p.m.

Folks with a passion for fiber arts will find romance in the air, too, at the 10th annual Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival from March 14 through 16 at the Four Points Sheraton in Mars.

This year's event will feature hands-on workshops, vendors and celebrity crafters, most notably, Debbie Macomber, a best-selling author of romance novels who also loves to knit.

In addition to writing more than 150 books, including the Cedar Cove novels that were developed into a Hallmark Channel TV series starring Andy McDowell, Macomber is part-owner of A Good Yarn Shop in Port Orchard, Wash. Her Blossom Street series of “knit lit” books is based on a venue with the same name.

“We wanted someone special for our 10th anniversary, and Debbie is so respected and so well-liked, we were thrilled she could come,” says festival owner Barb Grossman of Fox Chapel, who expects to top last year's attendance of 3,000.

“People come to the show for different reasons,” Grossman says. “Some are star-struck. Some want to learn new techniques. And, of course, knitters are kindred spirits. They like connecting with other knitters.”

The weekend will be packed with activities, beginning March 14 with a fashion show and luncheon emceed by Nicky Epstein, a New York-based Vogue Knitting designer known for her use of color and creative combinations of stitches.

The flamboyant Steven Berg — better known as StevenBe, the “glitter knitter” — returns this year to host his popular PJ party and shawl competition the evening of March 14.

The Parsons design school-educated Berg owns a yarn shop in a restored firehouse in Minneapolis and has helped to glamorize the fiber arts, Grossman says.

“He's like a rock star with a big following,” she says.

“We think of him as the Rod Stewart of the knitting world.”

Because so much of the festival is about helping needleworkers advance their skills, Grossman has lined up dozens of teachers, including Robyn Chachula of Squirrel Hill, a crochet designer who appears on PBS' “Knit and Crochet Now,” and Jude Ernest of Mt. Lebanon, a member of the Fiber Arts Guild of Pittsburgh, who will demonstrate the art of machine needle-felting. Lily Chin, a New York-based Vogue Knitting master knitter who has created looks for Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren and other designers, will teach pin-stripe knitting.

While Chin, Berg and others are back by popular demand, this year's festival marks Macomber's first visit to Pittsburgh, and she says she looks forward to meeting fans. Showgoers can pay extra to lunch or dine with her, although she expects to mingle during the weekend, too.

“If there's even the scent of yarn, I'm there! So, I'll be hanging out at the market,” Macomber says, noting that she took up knitting when she was 11 years old, and considers it an integral part of her life.

“I knit every single day, whether I'm at home, in an airport or on a plane. It's my downtime. It's how I process my day, how I work through challenges; it's when I develop story plots.”

Knitting helped Macomber cope with dyslexia, a developmental reading disorder she struggled with as a child and that still makes her what she calls “a creative speller” today.

“Knitting saved me,” she says. “It gave me badly needed self-esteem. Working with patterns helped me learn math and (reading) comprehension skills.”

A self-described natural-born storyteller, Macomber was determined to not let dyslexia keep her from becoming an author. “In the early days, I hired a typist because I couldn't spell,” says Macomber, who also persevered through initial rejection from a major publishing house.

Now 65, she was a housewife raising young kids when she sold her first novel. Today, more than 170 million copies of her work are in print around the world, and four books have been made into movies.

Many reflect her Christian faith and are meant to inspire optimism, she says. “Many years ago, I was listening to motivational tapes that talked about the importance of having a mission statement, so I created one for my career. I want to be a blessing to people in everything I do.”

Knitting for others is “love on needles,” she says. “Even when it's for ourselves, we're saying, ‘I'm of value. I'm putting hours and hours into something I will wear with pride.' ”

Macomber is the international spokeswoman for Knit for Kids, a project of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization that works to alleviate poverty and injustice around the world, and she supports Warm Up America!, which will sponsor a lounge at the festival where knitters can drop in and use donated materials to create squares for charity blankets.

Festivalgoers will have their pick of classes, from beginner knitting and crocheting to more complicated techniques, such as Estonian lace-knitting and carding. Some workshops are free, while others have a fee. Complementary stretch-and-renew yoga breaks also are scheduled.

The marketplace will represent local vendors as well as those from as far as Georgia, Vermont and Colorado. Kathy's Kreations of Ligonier will display the cardigan sweater worn by USA Olympic team members in Sochi, Russia, last month. It is on loan from Kraemer Yarns of Nazareth, Pa., which spun the yarn for the sweaters.

“We have something for everyone, whatever their skill level and interest,” Grossman says. “And we always send people home with something, whether it's a small centerpiece you've needle-felted or one of our fabulous door prizes. Everyone gets a gift.”

Deborah Weisberg is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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