You might think that making something with yarn and needles is a solitary activity. You’d be wrong.
Yarn stores offer not just classes but also knitting circles. At Stix-n’-Stitches when I visited, a regular customer joked that she was “holding down the table.” Modern Yarn offers many classes, including “Mommy and Me”, knitting circles and Learn to Knit and Crochet. And now the Bloomfield Public Library has a knitting club that meets on Friday mornings. Sue Gray and Dabura Kareem, both from Bloomfield, were “holding down” the crochet and knitting tables in a room upstairs when I visited.
Crocheting is the more popular table, Dabura told me. Sue interjected, “knitting seems hard.” But there are only two basic stitches in knitting, Dabura countered– just knit and purl. They banter like old friends, but really they only met a few months ago, when the library began the club. The club was the brainchild of Librarian Lisa Cohn, who is also the Library’s Head of Programming.
“With all the budget cuts, we can’t afford to hire performers to do presentations,” Cohn explained. Her mother taught her to knit a long time ago, and she made a hat, but doesn’t consider herself a knitter. She came up with the idea for the Friday Morning Knitting Club by looking at what other libraries were doing. “I thought it might be a nice way to bring people together.” Stressing that the library is a community center as much as a place with books, she encourages volunteers and people with skills who might be interested in leading a group to get in touch (details below). Other groups include a Writing Workshop on the first and third Mondays of each month, and a Scrapbooking Club which will start on Thursday, February 16th, at 11 a.m.
Karrem said she’s been knitting since 1958, when she was eight years old. First she learned to crochet, then she taught herself to knit when her mother bought her “one of those kits, with the little spool.” She prefers knitting to crocheting, because, “I can stare at the screen of the television and not have to look down.”
Sue began crocheting when she was working in a nursing home. A patient taught her how, so she wouldn’t be bored sitting there all night listening for people falling out of bed. For her, it’s also a good way to feel like she’s doing something while watching television.
They are the unofficial leaders of the club, setting out their tables, but it is a club, not a class. That said, Karrem did give me a lesson. You don’t need much manual dexterity, she assured me: “I have a male student who’s 6’3″, with hands like frying pans.” Both women have “arthur” — their joke name for arthritis. The day I attend attendance is small, female and older, but usually the age range is from 30s and up.
There are typically more women than men at knitting circles and classes, according to Kathleen McWilliams at Modern Yarn, but knitting was originally a man’s trade. Fishermen made nets, and also came up with particular patterns for their sweaters, so if there was an accident, a person could be identified from it. “It’s a very old craft, and people like the sensation of going back to something old,” McWilliams said. “And it’s soothing.”
At the Friday Morning Knitting Club, people bring in what they’re working on and show each other what they’re doing. They trade information about where to get self-threading needles, where to find a particular yarn. Joan Bennett, from Bloomfield, sits at the crochet table. She learned when her mother taught her daughter, and then her daughter taught her.
“There’s something comforting and relaxing, with yarn in your hand,” Gray said. She was working on pink fingerless gloves for a little girl. “The kids are all busy texting, this at least keeps their hands warm.” Bennett was working on a blanket, and Karrem makes children’s sweaters for World Vision, which provides medical care for poor children.
With ready to wear so cheap, though, is the effort really cost effective? It can take weeks or months to make a sweater. Sue pointed out that when you make it yourself, you can pick the exact color you want and have something nobody else has.
I have to admit it looks soothing. I give it a go. I did some crocheting years ago. But my loops are too big. Sue is encouraging. “It can take time, but all of a sudden, it kicks in,” she said. “You’ll be sitting there one day, and then ooooh!” Well, I was younger when I did it before.
Karrem cheers each time I don’t drop a stitch. “For somebody who knows how to knit, knitting is much quicker,” she told me. When I see that the stitches are dropping off the needle, she reassures me that “people hold needles in different ways, like a pencil or a fork.”
I feel like I’m faking, but I like the cheering. I just might have to come back.
The Friday Morning Knitting Club meets every Friday at 11 AM at the Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad Street, Bloomfield. Those interested in starting a group should contact Lisa Cohn at 973-566-6200 x217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dabura Karrem is available for lessons; email her at email@example.com.
Modern Yarn is on 182 Glen Ridge Avenue, Montclair. 973-509-92776. Knitting Circles are Thursday nights from 7:30 -9 p.m., Sundays 1-5 p.m. There is a varied schedule of classes; call 973-509-9276 for information.
Stix-n-Stitches is on 214 Glen Ridge Avenue, Montclair. Call 973-744-3535 for information on classes and “Stitch and Bitch” meetings, described as “a chance to get together and knit a story while working on projects with new and old friends.”