By KATE ALBRIGHT
For Montclair Local
Taking a walk through Edgemont Memorial Park on a Tuesday morning, you might notice a circle of women, and an occasional man, seated next to the field house, even in the dead of winter. The group is the Montclair Knitting Circle, which sprung from a post in the now-archived Montclair Watercooler Connections Facebook group.
In May 2016, knitter Mary Krugman noticed a lack of local knitting groups. When she posted to the Watercooler looking to form one, she received dozens of positive responses. Krugman offered her living room as the first meeting spot.
Barbara Rudy was one of those first attendees. “So four or five went over there and I said, ‘Oh, let’s start a Facebook group.’ Everybody who was in this living room invited all their friends who knit. And as we went home, we had 35 people in the group already,” Rudy said.
As the group grew, the knitters, along with other fiber artists, met weekly in the Edgemont Park House. They also met at the Glen Ridge Library, the Crazy Mocha cafe and at Yarnia, a knitting shop started by members who met through the circle.
But that was before the pandemic. Now the group meets in the open air on the park grounds.
Members knit for friends and family, but they also sell hats for Toni’s Kitchen, donate hats to children in Montclair schools and area shelters, and make items for Greyhound Angels Adoption.
They even had a moment of fame in September 2017, when a TV reporter with NBC’s New York Live filmed a segment featuring their circle in recognition of National Grandparents Day.
Each knitter has an origin story. For Rudy, it started at age 7 with a pair of yellow mittens left unfinished by her mother. Finishing those mittens set her on a path to becoming a lifelong knitter. Recently, Rudy found that original mitten pattern with her mother’s notes. She keeps it secured in shrink-wrap.
Karen Sands had just retired after working in the city for 35 years and joined the knitting circle as a way to make friends. Not only has she made friends locally, but also internationally.
“I took a trip to Glasgow and I went to the local yarn store and I ended up talking. You know you can go anywhere and you can meet people that way,” Sands said. Knitting has changed her life, giving her rich friendships and community.
Beth Dreifach’s grandmother taught her to crochet when she was a little girl. It didn’t stick, but when she was 17 her mother taught her to knit. She kept at it, but only made simple things, like scarves. In her earlier years, going into a yarn store and meeting people was intimidating.
With the age of the internet, Dreifach was able to find patterns and meet other knitters online. She grew as a knitter and was able to complete more complicated pieces. Once she moved to Montclair, she thought the circle wouldn’t be her thing, and wondered if she should give it a try. “And then I did and it was amazing,” Dreifach said, adding that she especially appreciates the friendships she’s formed.
For Caarin Fleishmann, her passion started 14 years ago with a book, “Stitch ’n Bitch,” that her husband gave her on Valentine’s Day. From then on she was hooked and has knitted every day. A few years into it, with a head for math and a desire to reshape old styles, she began designing her own knitwear.
Through the knitting circle, Fleishmann found people who share her passion. “Being a knitwear designer is very lonely. It’s a lot of time alone doing math or sketching. When I have something to knit, I love to see these people. Everybody shares what they are doing, it’s very encouraging, and I actually hear a lot about Montclair that I wouldn’t necessarily know because my kids are now out of the school system,” she said.
Susan Marro got started in her 20s, but eventually work and kids left her with little extra time to knit. She picked it up again after attending the first meeting of the knitting circle.
Despite not being a “joiner,” Marro found the group to be just what she needed. She appreciates the mix of levels in the knitting circle, the camaraderie and the wide age spread.
“We’ve had teenagers come. We’ve had a woman in her late eighties used to come, you know? And we all were able to talk and share life experiences, which is very nice,” she said.
A few years ago, Amy Luka picked up knitting to cross it off her bucket list. Considering herself “not crafty,” it was intimidating. But with the help of mentors in the group, she found her niche. She looks to other members to help her pick up skills or complete a difficult project. And when she finishes, it gives her a great sense of pride. “I’ll say to my husband, ‘Look! Oh my God, look!’ It’s so cool to see a piece come together,” Luka said.
Knitting is also a mental health break for her. “I struggle a lot with depression and anxiety and panic attacks, and it’s one of the few things that I can just sort of do. And I’ve gotten over the part where I’m concerned about being perfect. And I don’t compare myself anymore … I used to say, well, I can’t do that. I can’t do that. And I finally said, ‘Stop it,’” she said.
With COVID-19 keeping the Edgemont Park House temporarily closed, members have been gathering outdoors, even through winter.
Knitters are a hardy bunch, said one knitter. Still, every Monday night brings the question — will anyone show up?
And, yes, even with temperatures in the 30s, you are bound to spot a few knitters on a Tuesday morning.