Happy Hookers

March 7, 2014 

Rebekah Hoffmann Contributing Writer

Part old-fashioned quilting circle, part modern-day Girls Night Out, the Monday night gatherings at The Wall of Yarn, located inside custom embroidery business Bird’s Eye Embroidery in Mascoutah, are becoming the highlight of the week for some area crochet enthusiasts.

The group, which has dubbed itself the Happy Hookers, began as an informal gathering of Cathy Klingelhoefer and a couple of friends. However, over the past two years, it has grown exponentially. At last count, there were nearly 50 participants, with a dozen or so present on any given meeting night.

The group’s members range in age from 20-something to well beyond retirement and include every skill level from “just learning” to those with decades of experience wielding crochet hooks.

They come to get inspired by one another’s work. They come to socialize, meet others and share a common love for their craft -- oftentimes sharing a bottle of wine that found its way into someone’s yarn bag. And they come simply to have fun.

Gladys Berkemeier echoed those sentiments. “I always crocheted, but it’s only since I’ve been here that I got excited about it. I think it’s the sharing, seeing what everybody else is working on and getting ideas. And it’s the only time I get together with just women,” she said.

One thing led to another

Klingelhoefer remains surprised that the group has developed such a following.

“My daughter (Haley Klingelhoefer) owns Bird’s Eye Embroidery. After I retired, she said, ‘I have this extra space (at the business). Why don’t you use it for something?’”

That’s when she began inviting her friends to crochet in the business’s back corner on Monday nights. They asked to bring others - and word quickly spread.

“I found out that a lot more people than I thought crochet or want to learn how,” she said, chuckling.

Berkemeier is one of those “closet” crocheters who heard about the group, joined in - and brought others. “When I found out about it, I thought, ‘How have I been missing this? (Later) I brought Vina (Haggerty).’”

Haggerty, in turn, invited coworker Beth Hlad, who is new to the area.

Hlad explained, “I came to meet people. I don’t crochet, but I knit. I’ll knit for a while and then maybe one of these ladies will take pity on me and teach me how to crochet.”

Yarn revival

The group’s growing popularity parallels a huge resurgence in age-old needle arts nationwide, sparked by Pinterest and other online resources offering free patterns and project ideas.

Happy Hookers member, Stephanie Stumpf, 29, might be typical of those now turning to crochet.

“All I want to do is sit around and do this,” she said, gesturing to her current project, one of dozens she’s completed in recent months. “I just finished a couple of shawls, some scarves, baby booties, diaper covers - even an iPad cover. For Christmas, almost everyone got something crocheted.”

Her husband likes to joke about her “old-timey” pastime.

“He’ll say, ‘The 1800s just called, and they want their hobby back,’” she said, smiling.

Inspiration all around

Even better than online inspiration is when you can see items firsthand, ask questions - and even touch them. During Happy Hooker gatherings, group members can do just that.

On a recent night, Kim Graul showed off the special dress she is making for her granddaughter’s birthday as others “oohed” and “aahed” over her work.

“My granddaughter likes twirly dresses, and she’s going to love this,” Graul said of the full-skirted dress featuring lots of colorful crochet embellishments. “She’ll probably want to wear it for a week straight.”

Nearby one of the group’s senior members Barbara Van Ausdall worked on a tea cozy, one of the countless pieces she’s turned out in the 44 years since a friend taught her the chain stitch.

Elsewhere there were projects in abundance: afghans, hats, dishcloths, scarves and more in an array of colors and styles - a literal kaleidoscope of ideas.

Group prompts business

Indeed, sometime last year the women in the group decided all they were lacking was a ready source for their yarn. So, in January, Haley Klingelhoefer opened The Wall of Yarn as a subsidiary of Bird’s Eye Embroidery. The yarn business, with Cathy Klingelhoefer as manager, is located in the same area where the group meets.

Anyone can learn

Klingelhoefer said the group continues to welcome new members. She does suggest that you have a few crochet basics down before joining to prevent unnecessary frustration.

There are how-to videos available online, and Klingelhoefer also provides beginner lessons one-on-one, charging $35 for three sessions, supplies included.

“Anyone can learn. There are just a few basic stitches; it’s just a matter of how you mix them up.”

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