She went into a yarn store and said it was "love at first touch."
Allen currently lives in Dublin, Ireland, where she's attending university, and previously lived in Madrid, Spain, where she taught English.
Knitting has helped introduce her to friends from a number of countries.
It's that fellowship that Springfield-area knitters and crocheters say keeps them meeting three or more times per week in cafes, stores and even churches. For many, needlework has become a social tie that binds people together.
When she's home in Spring-field, Allen knits Monday afternoons at Knit Wits, 2205 Wabash Ave. While in Spain, knitting provided both a release and a means of meeting people.
"It was a good thing to come home to and just kind of shut the door, pull it out, melt the stress away," said the 28-yearold Allen.
While in Spain, Allen joined the group Madrid Knits. The group meets at a Starbucks and often went for beers or tapas after needlework.
"It was a nice way to meet people because English teaching's kind of a lonely job," she said. "It's a nice way to sit down and talk about other things.
Knit Wits opened about 14 years ago, and is now on Wabash Avenue. After owning a stress-inducing property management business, Bonnie Long thought opening a knitting store would be fun.
Long's mother taught her to crochet 55 years ago - when she was just 5. Her grandmother and great-grandmother also crocheted. Long taught herself to knit when she was 10.
When her husband died in October, a fellow knitter helped Long - Pat Harper, a longtime customer, was hired at Knit Wits just a few weeks before Long lost her husband.
"(Pat's) given me the luxury of being able to spend some time at home, and I think I feel much better," Long said.
"She's been a life-saver for me."
When Harper started working at the store, she brought her yarn group with her. Long said she loves it when knitters and crocheters gather at the store.
"Knitting is just kind of more like an extended family than just friends. I mean you get really close to each other," she said.
At one point, however, knitting was a solitary craft.
Only men could join early knitting guilds, and they did so with the goal of supporting their families, said Jim Zimmer, director of art and history for the Illinois State Museum.
These early needle workers often traveled, knitting as they went. Jobs like shepherding off ered quiet hours to knit. It was about supply and demand for these men.
But, for Harper, knitting's about more than the job.
"I always said that my dream job after retirement would be to work in a knitting store," said Harper, who retired from her state job in March 2012 after 32 years.
She credits needlework with relieving stress. Harper taught herself to crochet when she was 9. Her mom knew the needle trade but they have opposite dominant hands, so Harper had to seek help from a 10-cent book. She taught herself to knit eight years ago.
"I could go home at night and sit down with my crocheting or knitting and work out a lot of the tension that built up during the day," Harper said.
Harper said she enjoys knitting shawls and socks, which she learned to do via email from a woman in Saudi Arabia. She recently made an amigurumi - a Japanese stuff ed toy - for a 7-year-old.
The group started with just two women and continued to pull new friends in. Many of these knitters and crocheters are in two or more knitting groups throughout central Illinois.
"It's just our love of knitting that brought us all together," Harper said. "Knitting and crocheting both, I should say."
Knitting with a purpose Through the Springfield Flock Fiber Arts Guild, many of these knitters and crocheters put their talents to good work with a monthly charity night at Knit Wits.
Springfield's Janice Sullivan became involved in the knitting groups when she retired from teaching.
"I met all these wonderful people and these great knitters," Sullivan said. "They really do inspire you. I could go home every day from the shop and have a new knitting project."
Sullivan decided to organize the charity group.
The eight members have made hats, scarves, wash clothes, baby sweaters and chemotherapy caps for local charities. Next, they're making teddy bears.
"We just decided that we all knit for ourselves and we give away a lot of the things that we knitted and so we thought we needed a purpose," Sullivan said.
"We just felt like we wanted to do something useful with it."
In 2011, a group of knitters at the Prairie Skies Public Library in Ashland made hats and dolls for children in Africa suffering from AIDS. Suzi Mesojednik said these children are often buried with the dolls. Mesojednik works at the library and organized the "yack and yarn" group.
This past December, the women donated 75 hats and scarves to children in Cass County.
Mesojednik learned to knit as a girl when relatives would come to help care for her father.
"One of my mom's cousins would always bring her crocheting with her, and I would just sit there mesmerized," Mesojednik said.
"I just think it brings the creativity out of you it's just something that's in you.
"I can be upset about something and I sit down and start crocheting, and it's just like it goes away."
Mesojednik became the recipient of someone else's needlework when she broke both ankles. She received a prayer shawl - something the Ashland knitters are familiar with.
Ashland's Lil Hultquist makes a lot of prayer shawls through the Peter Cartwright United Methodist Church in Pleasant Plains. A group meets at the church, makes the prayer shawls and gives them to people in crisis - with illness or close to death - or those experiencing a joy, such as a birth.
The group prays over the shawl, with everyone touching it, before giving it away. Hultquist also makes baby blankets, which she gives to Blessing Hospital in Quincy.
Returning to needlework After retiring four years ago, Marcy Harbour, of Springfield, started dedicating more time to knitting and crocheting - something she'd learned many years before.
"It all came back. It's just like playing the piano.
You practice knitting. The more you do it, the better you get. I mean, it just kind of evolves," Harbour said.
She now knits Monday afternoons, Wednesday evenings at Schnucks on Chatham Road at Montvale Drive and Iles Avenue, with the charity guild and with a group of women who knit at stops along Dirksen Parkway on Thursday mornings.
"We knit wherever we can knit," Harbour said.
Harbour thinks knitting is gaining popularity.
"I go through phases, but I think knitting has made a resurgence in the last few years," she said.
"It's the thing to be doing now."
Springfield's Anne Warfield practiced knitting off and on for 40 years. She started again because she wanted shawls for winter.
"It's nice to create warm things," Warfield said.
Through her renewed interest in knitting, she's connected with new faces from throughout the area.
"It's been an immense social outlet," Warfield said. "I have met so many new friends through knitting.
It's been amazing."
Carol Sallee started knitting at age 5. She went on to receive a degree in art with a focus on fiber arts from North Central College in Naperville. She took graduate courses in fiber arts at the Art Institute of Chicago.
She now can knit, tat, crochet, spin and weave.
"I have to learn something new, and I think it's so important that we learn to do things with our hands in this mass-marketing economy. Everything just looks the same and it takes the soul out of things," said Saolee, from Pleasant Plains.
"Back in the 1800s, everybody used to have to make their own fiber to weave their clothes."
Working on updating a quilt she first made for her daughter when the younger girl was a newborn, Saolee said she passed her love for crafts onto that daughter, Faith Widdows, 18.
"Just by way of having to live with me, she's learned just about everything," Saolee said.
Widdows can crochet but she mostly knits. She's studying medical technology at Lincoln Land Community College. She plans to pass the craft on to her own children.
Saolee also taught her 17-year-old son, Jacob Widdows, who has Down syndrome, how to knit with a loom. She worked with his class at PORTA High School, and Jacob still wears the bamboo scarf he made.
Several years ago, Springfield's Jane Hughes-Jackson became interested in historical knitting.
She looks for vintage patterns, historical books and knitted pieces at antique stores.
Hughes-Jackson took a liking to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. She started to wonder what Lincoln-era people would have knitted back then, though they mostly crocheted.
She takes patterns and modernizes them. For example, she has turned shawl ideas into sweaters.
Hughes-Jackson isn't new to knitting. She started in 4-H at age 10. But, while working as an accountant, she pulled away from knitting for 20 years.
Now, she wears sweaters and scarves she made and carries a project everywhere she goes. She has even taught classes.
Knitting's popularity rises and falls. An Illinois State Fair knitting awardwinner, Hughes-Jackson said she saw a resurgence 15 years ago and doesn't think it's dying down.
"A lot of people knit because of the camaraderie.
They knit with their friends. For some people, it's just the ability to do something a little bit different.
It's neat to start with just a ball of yarn and a couple of needles and pretty soon you've got a hat or a scarf or a sweater," she said. "It's gotten to be quite a bit of my life now."