Knitting It Together

  • By:  Lydia Netzer

Love to Knit? You will love meeting these local ladies who are passionate about fiber arts.

It’s an autumn afternoon in Norfolk’s Lafayette Park in 2008. The leaves are changing, and the shouts of happy children fill the air. Under tall pines, collapsible camp chairs form a semicircle, where I join a group of homeschooling moms sitting, chatting, laughing, venting, and always knitting! Behind me, my four-year-old daughter swings with her friend as I discuss cast-ons and cables with her mother, my friend, Deva, who’s teaching me to knit.

My great-grandmother knit socks, stockings, and sweaters for all her children using reclaimed yarn and cast-offs during the Great Depression. Her daughters made embroidered pillowcases and crocheted table runners. But these days, hats and scarves are easy to buy, comforters are more popular than afghans, and most people think handmade socks are too bulky and itchy to wear.

Yet people still love to knit, and in recent years, interest in knitting has exploded. The internet offers massive online pattern depositories, social sites like Ravelry.com, and endless how-to videos on YouTube.

Some people, especially those who don’t knit, might wonder why. Why spend a month knitting a sweater when you can buy one off the rack for cheap? Why spend $100 on yarn for an afghan you’ll spend weeks knitting, when you can pick up a blanket for $20?

Let’s meet a few local women who are passionate about knitting and discover what makes this age-old practical art relevant in modern times.

Hidden Benefits of Knitting

Knitters Say Knitting Brings Them Comfort

Deva is a teacher, a knitting missionary. For her, learning to knit originally was an act of service. Her mother was sick and on bedrest, and Deva thought if she learned to knit and taught her mother, it would benefit them both. Ten years after we became friends in the park over yarn and needles, Deva and I still meet to laugh, vent, and knit.

“Knitting is just a part of me now,” Deva explained. “It is my way to relax, it is a huge creative outlet, it is my meditation, it is my comfort. When things are hard, I knit. Stressed, I knit. Anxious, I knit. When I want to feel challenged, I knit. When I want to feel accomplished, I knit.”

While classes and internet videos can be helpful, Deva recommends the one-on-one bond that comes from learning knitting from a friend. “A seasoned knitter will be able to give you her tips and tricks that often get glossed over in books and the internet,” she said.

When I knit with friends, our conversation ranges from dropped stitches to kids in college to colorwork patterns to jobs and husbands. Our love of fiber brings us together, even though we’re no longer homeschooling moms meeting at the park each week.

Somehow the collaborative act of knitting in each other’s presence, even though we’re all working on our own projects, binds us in inexplicable ways. To have a group of women who understand your love of colors and textures, who will never judge you for your hoard of yarn, who are always available to answer questions about a dyeing mordant or a tricky cast-off, is to feel you belong.

But we’re not the only game in town! Far from it. All over Tidewater, women and men are gathering in groups like the ones below to knit, crochet, and form friendships. New members are always welcome, so if you want to try your hand at knitting, stop on by.

Baa Baa Sheep: A Yarn Store with Heart

Join Social Knitter Groups for Weekly Knit-Ins

My local yarn shop is Baa Baa Sheep, located on 22nd Street in Norfolk. Neither bright nor breezy, the store feels like a soothing yarn cave: high ceilinged, warm, trimmed with wood and lined by beautiful soft colors and gorgeous handknits. As soon as I come in the door, I see the social knitters gathered around the lounge area, and they welcome me to join them.

There are twelve—men and women, old and young. One guy is in the military. He’s knitting a scarf to give as a gift. One lady in her 90s is knitting a baby afghan for a newborn at her church. Their quiet words and heartfelt stories bubble out, as they pull the yarn from their skeins and work their needles.

A knitter who recently visited Peru talks about the yarn she got there. Another recalls how knitting saved her from dark times when her husband passed away. The companionship and relief of knitting helped to draw her out of despair.

They knit for the euphoric sense they get from a finished product. They knit to give gifts that commemorate important milestones in the lives of friends and family: a new baby, a graduation, a wedding. Sometimes they collaborate with other fiber artists to create a gift that represents love from a whole group.

They knit to concentrate, to escape, even to stay awake! Knitting provides an outlet to keep learning throughout their lives. The human mind is curious and loves to take on new challenges and acquire new skills. With knitting, there is always something new to learn and try.

Knitters learn from each other in social settings such as this. One person shares an interesting project with the group. Maybe next week someone else has picked up that same idea with different colors or in a different size.

Besides informal knitting groups, Baa Baa Sheep also offers classes for knitters and weavers and is lucky to have Nell Ziroli, a knitting celeb who happens to live locally, teaching there.

Roz Klein, formerly head of middle school at Norfolk Collegiate, owns Baa Baa Sheep. One of her joys is watching the friendships that develop over yarn. She’ll wind your yarn even if you didn’t buy it from her, and you can get help with a knitting mistake from her or one of the other knitters in the shop, regardless of where you learned.

Social knitters come in and out throughout the day, overlapping their time in the shop’s comfortable lounge and forming bonds that transcend knitting projects and bleed into real life.

Why People Knit: The Creative Process

Join Other Knitters at Monthly Meetups in Newport News

Coffee and Crochet is an active fiber arts group that currently meets at Whole Foods in Newport News. They use the web site Meetup to organize their events, and while they welcome new members, their core group is solid.

Not only do they gather on Sundays at 2 p.m. to knit and crochet, but they also road trip together to fiber festivals and wool shows. When I arrive at their meeting, they are munching on salads and pasta, already deep into the yarn and conversation.

A little gossip, some updates on their personal lives, and then there’s the knitting advice. At one end of the table, Juanita is modifying a pattern from a book, putting her own spin on it and using graph paper to work out the details.

“I want to do it my own way,” she said with her pen in hand, undaunted by the math involved. Next to her, a woman knits a pair of socks, alternating blue and gold. “I’m lazy,” she said. “I’m letting the yarn do the striping for me.”

Across the table, Jennifer Brown has finished one shawl and is starting another. She tells me she’s a yarn snob and unabashedly collects fine yarns for use in her projects. With one shawl wrapped around her neck and another growing on the needles, I can see her love of the process, of the wool itself.

Actually, none of these women will admit to using craft store yarn. They prefer wool in the range of $25 or more a skein. How do they justify spending so much money on materials to create garments that could be bought for a fraction of the price?

For one thing, they cherish the process. The group’s founder, Laura Busch, tells me she loves to put colors together and will be drawn from one skein of yarn to another as she adds to the palette for each project. The products of such efforts are precious.

Knit in Public Day at MacArthur Mall

Tidewater Knitting Guild Knitters People Together

Some knitters find that giving their work to charities is more satisfying than giving projects to unappreciative relatives or selling them to bargain hunters. Lorie Armstrong, president of the Tidewater Knitting Guild of Virginia, returned to knitting after a long hiatus by knitting tiny hats for newborns at St. Mary’s in Richmond.

When she moved to Virginia Beach, she found a local yarn shop, KnitWits, within walking distance of her house. The owner told her, “We have a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch session every Thursday!”

Lorie thought the group might be a good way to meet local like-minded people, so she started going and fell in love with knitting and knitters. “Knitters come from a lot of different age groups and economic groups,” she said. “It’s just a uniting hobby. Most of the people that I know that knit are all friendly and helpful and willing to share knowledge. I don’t think I’ve met a knitter who wasn’t just a nice person.”

She loves her yarn hoard too and says she reached SABLE status, which means Stash Acquired Beyond Life Expectancy. Her favorite? Sock yarn. She says with just one skein you can knit a pair of socks, so it’s a great thing to buy as a tourist, a souvenir to bring home from your travels.

I ask her if she’d ever run into the attitude that handmade items aren’t valuable, and she said, “Only once per person!” Now she only gives her goods to friends and family members that she considers knit-worthy, who truly appreciate the labor that goes into it.

Tidewater Knitting Guild of Virginia meets once a month to knit and manage business—committee reports and event planning mostly. Recently, the guild participated in a worldwide event called Knit in Public Day at MacArthur Mall in Norfolk.

“It makes people in the general public aware that it’s not just grandmothers, but a lot of people are knitting these days,” said Lorie. The guild also staffs a booth at the spring craft show at the Convention Center in Virginia Beach.

Guild meetings are open to everyone, and guests can come twice before paying dues. “It’s nice to be with that many people who love something as much as you do,” Lorie explained. “Nobody says, ‘You have HOW much yarn?’”

A Love of Yarn & Helping Others

Find Sheep Graffiti Yarn at The Yarn Club

Speaking of all that yarn stash, where does it come from!? One place knitters get their fix is a local yarn store, like The Yarn Club in Virginia Beach, where owner Andrea Riddle welcomes me in, accompanied by her giant Labradoodle, Hank. Andrea runs the shop with her mother, also a knitter, and inside the sunny bright store is a wash of color and texture.

She says she started the shop because she couldn’t find what she needed anywhere else, and her love of yarn has spilled into the bins and shelves of her store. She knows her inventory well and offers me feels of silk yarn from Ireland, wool from South America, and her own brand of hand-dyed yarn called Sheep Graffiti.

The Yarn Club doesn’t offer many classes, but Andrea says they educate all day long. “We want it to feel like Cheers, so when you come in here, everybody knows your name,” she said, and during our chat several people who enter the shop are greeted like old friends. If you want to learn to knit, come in, buy a skein of yarn, meet Hank, and Andrea will show you how to use it.

With a BFA in illustration, Andrea uses her artistic eye to combine colors in her own dyes and when she curates the yarn that goes on the shelves. She says she’d rather offer yarn from independent artisans than big companies and specializes in unusual stock.

Why knit? Andrea says it helps the mind to focus, occupying that busy space in the brain so attention can be dedicated to listening. It’s a good use of time. She says she often sees people on their phones in waiting rooms and would like to say to them: “We sat here for an hour and I have a hat to show for it. What do you have? A new high score?”  

Where To Learn To Knit in Tidewater

Discover Resources for Buying Quality Yarn

Baa Baa Sheep

For information about hors and social knitting groups, visit www.baabaasheepllc.com.

Coffee and Crochet

If you like coffee and knitting this group’s for you. Find out when and where they meet at meetup.com.

Tidewater Knitting Guild of Virginia

This established group loves to welcome new members. Find out when and where the next meeting will be and how to join at www.tkgv.org.

The Yarn Club

Meet Andrea and her labradoodle, Hank, and find the yarn of your dreams at www.theyarnclubknits.com.

Lydia Netzer is the author of Shine Shine Shine, a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize. She lives in Norfolk. Find out more at www.lydianetzer.com.

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