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With the rise of crafty websites like Pinterest and Etsy, handcrafts such as knitting and sewing have taken off among a new generation of do-it-yourselfers.

Around Sonoma County, folks are getting together this winter to knit baby shoes and embroider tea towels, curling up on their own sofas or relaxing at one of the many craft store lounges.

"It's my drug of choice," said Shelli Westcott, owner of Knitterly yarn store in Petaluma. "I'm not a big wine drinker, so this is my replacement. It's very relaxing ... and way cheaper than therapy."

Nicole Cowlin, owner of The Material Girl in Windsor, offers a wide range of funky, retro fabrics and DIY kits for trendy projects like duct-tape bags. She also gives private lessons in sewing and quilting.

"I have a lot of teen-agers coming in who want to sew," she said. "They want their own style, and there's a sense of accomplishment that comes with making things."

Little by little, Cowlin has started adding more crafty stuff to her fabric store, creating a DIY gift shop with items like chalkboard birds, homemade cards and invitations.

"This store will be like Pinterest, only you can walk into it," she said. "There's a lot of young mommies out there, and they are very hip and modern and have a fresh take on shabby chic."

Justine Malone, owner for the past five years of the Cast Away knitting store in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square, moved into a bigger space this year. With the help of two partners, she dramatically increased her inventory and morphed into Cast Away + Folk.

The new store carries a wide range of unusual, crafty supplies sourced from independent designers, including organic cotton fabrics, Japanese ribbons, all-wool felt, designer kits and patterns, heirloom sewing tools and shelves of inspirational books and magazines.

"We give a modern, clean twist to the old classics," Malone said. "Our inspiration is the Purl Soho (shop) in New York, which does the Purl Bee blog. That's the only blog I read."

With the help of six to eight teachers, the partners also have launched a raft of new classes aimed at everyone from beginners to advanced crafters. You can learn to sew a simple skirt or apron, knit a washcloth or a felt bowl, crochet a baby blanket or cross-stitch button covers.

"Some of these classes are just two or three hours long, and you walk away with a finished product," Malone said. "They appeal to people who don't have the patience to (learn to) knit."

The partners view the crafting movement as an extension of what's going on in the food world, where dying arts like butchery and jam-making are suddenly hip again.

"People just want to make stuff," said partner Leslee Fiorella, a textile designer. "For me, it's like making cheese. I may never do it again, but I want to know how."

The Cast Away + Folk shop has the look of an urban loft, with brick walls and exposed beams, white work tables and shelving. But hanging lightbulbs with homey, cloth shades and comfy sofas make it feel like a living room.

"We wanted a central lounge, so people could come in and sit and look at a book," Fiorella said. "We wanted to create an inspiring environment that would pull people together."

Many craft shops offer a free "Sit and Stitch" hour, where customers can come together, chat and help each other troubleshoot their projects.

Cast Away + Folk Partner Isla Corbett, who grew up in Africa, said she learned to knit and sew during summers visiting her two grandmothers in the United Kingdom. She teaches people how to make jewelry, hair clips and garlands out of felt.

"The fiber arts always called to me," Corbett said. "I go to a craft store, and I can't contain myself. I have a whole studio stashed full of stuff."

At Knitterly in Petaluma, Westcott said she is constantly inspired by the "eye candy" of her dyed yarns, many imported from Europe or sourced locally.

"What's changed is our access to fine yarns," she said. "That's what has happened to give knitting longevity."

Rather than using cheaper synthetics, today's knitters want to use yarns made from real sheep and alpaca, and they want to support small, U.S. producers.

"The local yarns tend to be hardy and real, and people are getting into that," she said. "They are inspired when they touch the yarn."

Of course, all these hand-made, tactile products come with a price tag that would floor our grandmothers, who often stitched quilts out of old clothing.

"When you have the fabric I have, it's really expensive," said Cowlin of The Material Girl. "It's not necessarily the cheapest way to do it."

But in these high-stress times, going old-school with an embroidery hoop or a loom can be just as therapeutic as an hour at the gym.

"Our world is going so fast, with computers and social media," Fiorella said. "People just want to slow down and work with their hands."

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@ pressdemocrat.com.