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Rapheal Hernandez, 11, of Bay Point, practices his garter stitch as he knits a bookmark during a lunch time knitting get together at Pleasant Hill Middle School in Pleasant Hill, Calif., on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. The group has been meeting once a week during the lunch time period to practice their knitting together. Science teacher Sarah Nash says that the craft helps the students with their fine motor skills. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

Alec Stone has set his sights on making "cool scarves and beanies" -- one stitch at a time.

The sixth-grader at Pleasant Hill Middle School spotted a skein of dark red yarn, and under the tutelage of a math and science teacher who oversees the recently formed knitting club, Alec, 12, is on his way.

—I find it challenging learning the steps ... You can make a lot of cool things with yarn," says Alec, who consistently shows up during his Monday lunch break each week.

Alec and Orlando Morales, 13, both enjoy the camaraderie of being in a club where other boys share their interest in the craft.

"Your hands get to move and exercise," says Orlando, a Concord resident and avid soccer player, whose grandmother convinced him he could knit a sweater.

"Kids their age are naturally open to new things ... and now they have the small motor skills to produce something," says Mary Hanjes, a self-taught knitter, who is the club's adviser.

The male contingent comprises most of the members, counteracting a myth that knitting is a pastime for women, passed down through the generations.

Instead, the boys' pursuit is reflective of knitting's ancient history, with men stitching their armor, sailors knitting fish nets and sweaters, and it once being a solely male occupation.

"It's becoming trendy for young guys. It's becoming socially acceptable," Hanjes adds. "I let them know it's cool to do this."

Paola Cavita, 11, was inspired to learn while watching her father knit a scarf for her younger sister.

"I struggled at first," says Paola, of Concord, noting her newly found confidence and enjoyment.

Taylor Hall, 11, loves to read, write stories and play basketball. And, gravitating to a skein of green yarn, she's discovered that she can knit, too.

"You can make almost anything. You don't have to buy it, you can just make it," says the Pleasant Hill resident, fondly recalling her great-grandma Bobo's hand-knit washcloths.

Young people have also learned to knit, purl, crochet and cross-stitch at the Martinez Library for the past two years, courtesy of free classes that are part of the Needle Arts Mentoring Program, under the auspices of the nonprofit Healing Hands Foundation. Children are also given complimentary skeins, needles, patterns and instructional materials.

Last Monday evening, the program's local coordinator, Margie Valdez, and her associate Michielle Maurer, patiently offered their expertise to the next generation of stitchers.

Stitch work is a welcome contrast from her workday.

"I work with dirt, asphalt, concrete and men all day," says Valdez, an Oakley resident and public works employee for Contra Costa County.

She derives joy from witnessing the children's enthusiasm as their projects take shape.

On this particular evening, 7-year-old Clarabelle McCaffrey is having that experience, knitting for the first time, with her mom learning right alongside.

"When you're starting, you're kinda surprised to see things happening that you're not used to seeing," says the second-grader at Valhalla Elementary School in Pleasant Hill.

Valdez also delights in seeing their individual personalities emerge, recalling one student's initial struggle with crochet.

"She looked at the situation and resolved the puzzle. She's a future engineer ... You can see the gears clicking in their heads," Valdez says. "Child learners are a lot less intimidated. They'll just do it."

Shiloh Wickham, 11, is one such quick study. Her fingers are a flurry as her needles click with each knitting stitch. Her pace slows as Valdez instructs her how to purl.

"(She's) learned to love her mistakes," says Valdez.

The home-schooled Martinez sixth-grader is joined this day by three of her five sisters. Jeshua, 10, and Shiloh, display their one-foot granny squares, while the younger ones work on bunnies and kitties from kits they have brought.

The older pair speaks fondly of now knitting on long family car trips or when "daddy reads us a bedtime story," Jeshua adds.

And, it was Maurer's stepfather, Russell Kubbler, who taught her, after looking up how to knit right-handed in a "how-to" book.

The Martinez resident, who has since shown her creations at state fairs and still donates afghans for raffle prizes at food bank drives, once relished knitting blankets for her Barbies and stuffed animals.

"Now we just want to let the next generation learn," she says.

Knit and stitch
  • Register for the needle arts class at the Martinez Library at www.ccclib.org. For more information about the classes, email Valdez at martinezneedlearts@yahoo.com, or call 925-437-5099. The next meeting is from 5 to 6:15 p.m. Monday, March 18, at the library, 740 Court St.
  • The knitting club at Pleasant Hill Middle School meets during lunchtime every Monday.