Step into the warmly– lit embrace of L’Atielier in the Riviera Village and you’ll hear the soothing sounds of chatting, laughing and the clicking of wooden needles as able hands knit works of art. The clientele here will readily admit to being hooked on knitting, an ancient handicraft with millions of devotees and a plethora of benefits.

Owned by Karen Damskey for the past 41 years, L’Atelier has been a popular presence on Catalina Avenue since 1978 (the shop moved a few doors down in 2009 after outgrowing its previous location).

A knitter since the age of six, Karen opened the first L’Atelier store in Manhattan Beach and quickly gained a loyal following of women (and yes, even men) who relish the joys of looping together strands of yarn to relax and create. Many of her original clients still frequent the store today, and it’s not uncommon for loyal customers to drive for hours to shop and knit there.

“Knitting is like a form of journaling where every stitch is infused with loving thoughts about the recipient,” says Karen. “Our clients range in age from teenagers to those in their ‘90s. They know this is a safe haven where they can enjoy the company of like-minded people who want to share the joys of handicrafts while destressing.”

What L’Atielier customers and others have discovered is that knitting is about more than just creating beautiful sweaters, scarves, blankets and hats. The act of knitting weaves into the fabric of life a therapeutic dose of relaxation, present moment mindfulness, and meditative Zen.

Some say knitting keeps them from mentally unraveling. Indeed, research has shown that the repetitive and rhythmic motions of knitting can induce a relaxed state similar to those attained by yoga and meditation, and other benefits can include lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Additional studies show that knitting is one of the mental exercises that can lower the risk of dementia.

In a high-tech age of overstimulation and rapid-fire information, knitters enjoy a sense of calm contentment as they focus on the now, one stitch at a time. And at Atelier, they also enjoy a healing sense of community as they sit around the U-shaped table that anchors the store.

Like the bar in the TV sitcom “Cheers,” everyone here gets to know your name, and warm welcomes go out to new customers as well as those that have been coming for years.

“Our clients encourage each other and develop real friendships as they get to know one another and share the ups and downs of life,” says Karen. The shop specializes in unique and luxurious yarns, including cashmere, silk, bamboo, alpaca and wools, and also sells beads, buttons, fashion jewelry and fine apparel. L’Atelier offers custom designs and can even do the knitting for those who have a project in mind but don’t have the time or interest in creating it themselves.

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