At a retirement community in Chicago’s west suburbs, 10-15 ladies gather every Tuesday afternoon with skeins of yarn, bags of needles, and books of ideas. They are often referred to as “The Knitting Group,” but a member named Jeanne is quick to assure me that “it’s not just knitting.” The group, she explains, does embroidery, needlepoint, and other types of stitchery (as if I know the difference) in addition to knitting tiny hats for new babies at a nearby hospital, or prayer shawls for the church across the street, or scarves and sweaters for their own children and grandchildren.
Ruth is the woman who started the group. She is not a resident of the retirement community (yet), but as a member of the neighboring church, she needed new needlers to help meet the demand for prayer shawls. In fact, when the retirement community first opened, she told the Executive Director not to let new residents throw away their knitting supplies as they were downsizing.
Ruth does lead a knitting group at the church, but that group does not knit together. Instead, Ruth emails them the needs, and they each knit on their own. The Knitting Group, however, loves gathering as a mini community to work on their various projects. “There’s always something new to learn,” they assure me, and they recite a litany of terms that I can only assume refer to types of stitches or advanced needle techniques.
Some of the ladies have been knitting for 60 or 70 or 80 years, having started as children who learned to contribute to family life by knitting dish cloths and pot holders. “It’s good to start with pot holders,” someone named Rachel tells me, sensing that I am hesitant to take up the craft. “But whatever you are working on,” she advises, “don’t knit if it’s frustrating. Just set it aside. Knitting is supposed to be relaxing.”
The other women around the table agree, and they all laugh and affirm that Tuesday afternoons are as much about conversation as about knitting. “This group was really what made me feel at home here when I first moved in,” remembers Judy, an exuberant personality. And now she is quick to invite other new residents to join the group. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at,” she seems to be reassuring me personally. “We are all there to help each other.”
I don’t tell the ladies this, but chances are, I will never take up knitting. Or any of the other forms of needlecraft these ladies have shown me samples of this summer afternoon. Even so, I have gained an appreciation for their expertise. And I can certainly see how knitting actually stitches people together and creates a vibrant community.
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