CHAPEL HILL -- Some people use a nicotine patch to help them quit smoking. Others use hypnosis. For one longtime Carrboro resident, a pair of knitting needles did the trick -- and turned her into an entrepreneur to boot.Riva Econopouly, 75, has been selling her knitted scarves, hats, baby sweaters and other items at Chapel Hill's Womancraft gallery for the last 25 years -- ever since she quit smoking. For the past year, she has been teaching me to knit hats and sweaters for my family. Econopouly learned to knit when she came down with the flu at age 9. "In those days when you got sick, you stayed in bed for a week, no matter what you had," she said. Her mother bought her a skein of pink yarn and a pair of knitting needles to pass the time. She spent that week propped up in bed, knitting and pulling out the same square of yarn over and over. But it wasn't until she quit smoking that knitting took hold of her life. A self-described "extremely dedicated smoker" who once smoked three packs a day, Econopouly's life became increasingly constrained by her addiction. Smoke-free areas were popping up all over town. People she knew requested that she refrain from smoking indoors. She couldn't even sit through a movie without ducking outside for a smoking break. She'd tried to quit before without success, but one day she decided to pick up her knitting needles whenever she had the urge to pick up a cigarette. "When a friend came to visit, I used to grab my cigarettes. Instead I started to say, 'Hold on, I need to find my knitting,'" she said. (Even today, she says, she finds it uncomfortable to sit and socialize without a pair of needles in hand.)Scarves, hats, sweaters, slippers and gloves quickly piled up around her. Fueled by nicotine withdrawal, she knit more items than her four children could wear, more than she could give to friends. So she started selling the fruits of her labor at Womancraft Fine Handcrafted Gifts, the local artists' gallery in Eastgate Shopping Center.Econopouly estimates that she has sold thousands of baby sweaters, hats and scarves to Chapel Hill residents over the years -- so many that she sometimes sees her creations being worn around town. "People assume I love to knit, but what I really love is to buy yarn," Econopouly said. A glimpse of her attic leaves no doubt about her passion: Its four walls are stacked with fiber from floor to ceiling. She is like the Imelda Marcos of yarn. Her knitting habit supports her yarn-buying habit. "Hopefully, I'll live a long, long time so I can buy a lot more yarn," Econopouly said.Econopouly lives in a downtown Carrboro neighborhood where mill houses now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of these homes on her street have been torn down and replaced by new homes three times their size. But back in 1975, Carrboro mill houses were so affordable that even a single mother working as a waitress to support her family could dream of owning one. So Econopouly, who moved to Chapel Hill that year following a divorce, decided to buy one. She saved tips from her waitress job at the Continental Cafe, and when she'd saved a few thousand dollars for a down payment, she went to a bank to apply for a mortgage. "You should be applying for welfare, not a mortgage," scoffed one loan officer after reviewing her application, Econopouly recalled. So she went to another bank, took out a mortgage and bought an old mill house on Lindsey Street in downtown Carrboro, with creaking hardwood floors, and a long front porch overlooking a lush, overgrown yard.Some evenings, after I've finished work, fed my two young children, bathed them and tucked them into bed, I escape to her porch for advice about knitting and life. She taught me to make sweaters for my two children -- and then gave me the perfect wooden buttons to finish off my daughter's green cardigan. She lets my daughter rummage through bins of yarn scraps to make a patchwork scarf. She answers my late-night phone calls when I have forgotten how to make a buttonhole.Once I showed up at her door unexpected, with my kids in the car and a knitting problem in hand. I found her in her kitchen. "Is now a good time, or is there something else you have to do?" She peered at me over her glasses. "Oh no... I finished everything I had to do years ago," she said, waving me over to the table.One thick, hot night last summer I sat with her on her porch, tugging impatiently at a tangled pile of yarn and cursing under my breath. Econopouly's needles clicked gently in rhythm with the chirping cicadas. Her brow furrowed, and she took the tangled mass of yarn from my hands. She pulled gently at the ball, her fingers working the yarn as gently as if she were unraveling a knot in a baby's hair, as attentively if she were a blind person reading Braille. The dark mass began to loosen. "Never pull at a knot," she said, handing the yarn back. "Forcing things always makes the problem worse. Instead, you need to study the knot until you locate the source of the problem" The secret of untying knots, it seems, is also the secret to life.