By Amy Wenk

Two pasttimes of knitting and needlepoint have found new life in Buckhead and Sandy Springs thanks to local boutique owners, who are stocking their shelves with products never seen before.

These stores showcase a myriad of colors and textures, offering a dizzying array of ideas for homespun projects. There’s something for everyone — yarns that are soft to the touch, threads that sparkle and shine, delicate lacy lines or thick fibers with fuzzy warmth.

“There’s definitely been a gain in popularity in knitting,” said Barbara Buchalter, who owns Strings & Strands, a specialty yarn shop inside Interstate-285 on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. “I’ve seen a huge change in 17 years.”

Buchalter, who bought the 30-year-old shop in the early 1990s, attributed the growth to the increasing availability of unique materials and embellishments. Novelty yarns and threads, such as silk, angora, rayon, tweed, bamboo and suede, are replacing traditional wool or acrylic fibers, she said, giving an already interested public the means to create high fashion garments.

New patterns and guides also provide a greater variety of pieces to be created, including purses, belts, sandals, jackets, hats, as well as the usual sweaters, throws and socks.

It is these choices, as well as new techniques, which allow even the novice to create homemade masterpieces.

“With today’s new yarns, with all the textures and all the color, you can do very simple knitting and end up with a spectacular finished piece,” said Buchalter, who offers expert advice and custom patterns to her customers. “I think it’s a skill anyone can learn.”

Buchalter added that celebrities are helping to spread the word about knitting, increasing its popularity. In fact, a scene from the 1994 movie “Getting Out,” staring Rebecca De Mornay, was filmed at her prior location on Wieuca Road in Sandy Springs.

Monica Champion, owner of Why Knot Knit in Buckhead, has also been star struck at her specialty yarn shop on Buckhead Ave between Pharr Road and East Paces Ferry.

After leaving her position as Director of Internet and E-Business for SunTrust Bank and a 20-year career in the financial industry, Champion opened Why Knot Knit in May 2005 to pursue her beloved pastime. She currently stocks thousands of high-end yarns.

“I needed it,” said the life-long knitter. “When I got a taste of being able to wake up and do something I was passionate about, I guess I just believed I would make it.”

In just a short time, Champion has seen great response and received national exposure. Recently, Why Knot Knit was selected as Vogue Knitting’s Inspiration Shop for the magazine’s winter 2008 edition.

Additionally, last year, she held a book signing for Kate Jacobs, author of 2007’s “The Friday Night Knitting Club.” This year, she expects a visit from Julia Roberts, who bought the movie rights and has agreed to study Champion as inspiration for the lead role of Georgia Walker, a single mother who runs a yarn shop.

Not only places to spot celebrities, knitting and needlepoint stores are becoming havens for craftspeople. In fact, help sessions and informal gatherings often take place at shops like In Stitches, a needlepoint boutique in Buckhead. As a result, this social atmosphere is helping grow the art and recruit new stitchers.

“We have a huge room in the back where people can come and often they are back there stitching all day long,” said Ansley Crawford, a needlepoint aficionado and coordinator for In Stitches, located on Shawdowlawn Avenue off Peachtree Road. “Sometimes we will have 12 to 15 people back there, and they gab, they visit, they look at what each other is working on. It’s kind of like an old coffee shop.”

In Stitches, which opened in October 2006, was started by co-owners Laura Old, an accredited teacher for needlepoint, and one of her most avid students, Bam Coleman, an “enthusiast stitcher,” said Crawford.

To continue this tradition of learning, the store also offers formal, instructional classes on stitching and will welcome Tony Minieri, an acclaimed stitcher, for a four-day workshop this month.

Although new excitement for knitting and needlepoint has developed in recent years, one aspect has remained the same: “I know knitters have always enjoyed giving,” said Buchalter of Strings & Strands. “In fact, I know a lot of knitters who have never made anything for themselves.”