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Grandmom really yearned for yarn

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Among women, knitting has made something of a comeback, fueled by celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Cameron Diaz.

But authorities say knitting apparently struck some obsessive chord in Audrey Yandel. They say Yandel is a serial yarn thief.

The 70-year-old Atlanta grandmother had been convicted 12 times for taking crochet-related items in the past two decades.

Then, on Monday, Yandel pleaded guilty to theft in DeKalb County for stealing yarn from a Decatur shop and knitting needles from a store in Dunwoody. She was sentenced to a year behind bars.

And forever barred from yarn shops.

That's a good thing, according to local yarn shop owners, who say Yandel sullied the wholesome spirit of knitting.

"No, she can't be a true knitter," said Sharon Rothschild. Rothschild was one of Yandel's victims.

It was a wintry afternoon in January 2005 when Yandel walked into Two Stix, a specialty store in Decatur that sells handmade clothing, woven wool bags and hand-dyed angora.

The yarn, stacked in the back, isn't cheap, some costing $50 for a single spool.

Yandel stuffed $300 worth of the yarn inside her bag, said Rothschild. Then, Yandel ran into her car and took off. A shop employee jotted down her license plate number. The knitting shoplifter was identified later and arrested.

Did that stop her?

Nope. In May, Yandel walked into another store, this time the Dunwoody Yarn Shop. She stuck knitting needles in her bag.

Fortunately, the owner had seen a photo another shop owner had circulated on the Internet the week before. Police nabbed her again.

Yandel's attorney, Charles Pekor, said Yandel suffers from a compulsive behavior disorder. She had been receiving therapy, most recently in-house care at a rehab center in Louisiana.

"It's a sickness," said Rothschild. "What can you do with all that yarn?"

A thousand mittens? A gigantic shawl? Or that oversized, knee-length sweater that takes you back to 1986?

More than 50 million Americans crochet or knit, according to the Craft Yarn Council of America, a nonprofit trade group based in New York City. Yarns can be intoxicatingly beautiful and jaw-dropping expensive, as costly as $250 a spool, even more.

"I understand how someone falls in love with it, the texture and the color," said Mary Colucci, executive director of the Yarn Council.

"But, I don't know if I'd stick it in my purse," said Colucci, a crocheter herself.

One of the attractions of knitting is that it can be done anywhere, well, almost anywhere.

When Sharon Rothschild pulled out a mass of green cashmere yarn during Yandel's sentencing hearing Monday, a court bailiff quickly ordered her to put the needles away.

So how much knitting has Yandel actually done? Her lawyer shrugged at the question.

"You have to ask her psychologist," he said.

Copyright 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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