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Trader of a Lost Art

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Deep in the Berkshires, Karen Allen sits at her knitting machine, spools of red, green, and earthy brown cashmere piled at her feet. “I paint with yarns,” says Allen contentedly. The result: lush sweaters, blankets and hats, which she sells in her Great Barrington, Mass., store, Karen Allen Fiber Arts. For the actress, this real-life second act is clearly a treasured reward. (And unlike in her most famous adventure, finding it didn’t require dodging bad guys or snakes.)

After a breakout role in the 1978 frat hit Animal House, Allen, 55, built a career on both blockbusters (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Perfect Storm) and edgier fare (In the Bedroom). She scaled back in the early ’90s when her son Nick was a baby. But when Allen, who is divorced, later sought more work, she says casting directors wanted only to “find the younger Karen Allen.” Allen then chose at age 50 “to reinvent myself.” A knitter since her grandmother taught her at age 5, she enrolled in New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and rediscovered her childhood passion. “I love the physical action,” she says. Last year Allen opened her shop, where the handwoven wares ($350 for merino sweaters to $1,200 for cashmere blankets) have lured celeb fans Blythe Danner and Kate Capshaw. Allen keeps a hand in her other craft, teaching acting at a local college and taking occasional parts. But these days she is happier casting lines of wool than waiting to be cast. “I wake up and create my own day,” she says. “It feels really good.”