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Knitting a sense of community

by on May 11, 2014 1:54 AM

One word that could best be used to describe some of the Indiana area’s knitting/crocheting groups is “community.”

Community in one sense that, in addition to individual personal projects, they lend their time and their talents for the greater good, realizing that the projects their hands have worked for weeks and sometimes months at a time will touch the life of a newborn child, a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy treatments, someone less fortunate who needs warmth, or a newlywed friend thousands of miles away.

And community in another sense, by coming together with a common interest where they can socialize, exchange techniques and secrets of their craft and offer help when it’s needed, and form new friendships.

The Indiana Free Library’s knitting club started classes about a year ago, according to librarian Kim Young. It started as a six-week class, she said, which grew to eight weeks, and now it’s weekly.

“Everybody liked it so much we decided to make it an ongoing thing,” Young said.

The club is facilitated by experienced knitter Celesta Capizzi, whom Young reached out to and asked if she’d be interested in forming the group.

“She was very interested,” Young said of Capizzi, who had also led a quilting group for awhile over a year ago.

Weekly, the group can have anywhere from seven to 10 knitters, but Capizzi said if everyone showed up at the same time “we’d have a lot of members.”

“(Celesta) has a very faithful following,” Young said.

The library recently held a community baby shower for new and expecting parents, an idea thought up by Helen Taylor, who works in the library’s circulation department. Young came up with the idea to have the knitting club create items to donate at the shower. So members of the knitting club put their talents into making roughly 50 baby blankets, hats and booties that were raffled off to the event’s attendees.

The ladies, most of whom joined the club as beginners and started off making dishcloths and scarves, began the baby shower projects in November.

“For a group of basically beginning knitters, it was an excellent showing,” Capizzi said of their work.

“All the ladies are so enthusiastic,” she said. Though the class starts at 10:30, some members will show up right as the library opens, and the session will sometimes run past the hour until noon.

Capizzi “is a very patient teacher,” as someone who used to be a first-grade instructor, said knitter Jean Lenz. “She’s kind and sympathetic.”

Capizzi and Young have talked about doing caps for chemotherapy patients at the hospital as an upcoming project, as well as holding a summer knitting class for children in June, with the help of Pat Simkins, another experienced knitter who taught an advanced knitting class during evening hours at the library earlier this year.

The Indiana County Knitting/Crochet Circle, which meets once a month, started as a way to bring other area knitters together and make the occasion a time to socialize and exchange project ideas and techniques.

Melissa Bair, the circle’s founder, said she wanted to start the group because she would crochet and knit at her house by herself.

“I just thought there has to be other people that do it, and it would just be nice to get people together and join and talk,” Bair said. The first meeting was at her house in February before deciding on another location. Bair decided to hold the meetings at the Glen Oaks housing community in White Township where her mother, Ethel Houllion, who also belongs to the circle, lives.

Bair created a Facebook page and has had fliers distributed to attract new members.

“We would love to have more people involved and join,” she said, adding that about five or six people attend the meetings. “More people, more projects that we can do and more items we can finish and distribute, the better.”

Currently, the group is working on “knots of love” hats for cancer patients going through chemotherapy treatments, with the yarn donated by member Susan Grim of Suzy B’s Knits in Smicksburg.

Grim said the next project the group is going to work on will be an afghan kit that she purchased from a company in Montana. It’s hand-dyed pink in honor of one of the company’s employees who successfully completed breast cancer treatments, Grim said. Twenty percent of the proceeds from the kits goes toward breast cancer awareness.

Grim purchased the kit and is donating it to the circle so each member can work on it. She said it could be made into an afghan or it might be possible to split into two shawls. They’ll each do some rows before passing it onto the next person, sort of a “round robin” effort, she said.

She said she was hoping to receive the kit by today, and she’d like to have it finished by October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“Each hand will be placed on it and involved in making it,” Grim said. Once the project is completed, the group will find someone who is going through breast cancer treatments to donate it to.

Grim said the afghan project is something she’d like to do “as an ongoing thing” for other types of cancer, and finding people to donate them to.

“It means a lot to people who receive them,” she said.

Plus, knitting and crocheting is therapeutic, Grim said; she’s met many people over the years “going through things, and they take up knitting.”

“It helps them to cope; it’s a coping skill, actually,” she said. “That way, this working on something together and giving it to someone who’s going through this … it just keeps it going, and it just keeps passing it on and on.

“I think the recipient of anything like that really feels that love and that support from the hands that worked it,” Grim said.

A project Bair was in the process of completing was a “tree of love” afghan for a friend’s wedding in Tokyo.

It’s taken her 2½ months to crochet the cream-colored afghan, a design of a tree whose branches form a heart at the top. Bair said she works on it every day for about three hours a night.

“It’s very easy, but time-consuming” because of the “baubles” that make up the tree, she said.

Bair said the group tries to think up projects to do for others, in addition to their own items.

“We want to try to do something for the community, or work on something to donate,” Bair said.

One suggestion was to make a sweater to “yarn-bomb” the Jimmy Stewart statue in front of the Indiana County Court House, Bair said, but need to get permission from the court house.

“I think that would be really cool,” she said.

At Yarns in downtown Indiana, knitters can stop in during the store’s hours of operation to work on projects while making small talk and enjoying food and drink.

The shop’s owner, Delores Douglass, welcomes knitters at all levels of experience.

For those who have never picked up needles and yarn in their life, that’s not an issue, Douglass said.

“We’ll start off on a scarf, learn to manipulate the needles and get the feel of the yarn,” she said.

Yarns moved in January 2006 to its current location at 1136 Philadelphia St. from the Indiana Theater building, where it operated for four or five years. Douglass purchased the business in 2005 and stayed at the theater building for a year before the move, she said.

She has always had group meetings since starting the business, saying it’s “the best way to do it.”

“We give each other ideas; if you’re stuck, we’re here to help you,” she said.

Some may stay a few minutes, while some stay for hours, working on items ranging from shawls and socks to scarves and shrugs.

A recent group gathered at Yarns was made up of Indiana High School teachers and Indiana University of Pennsylvania professors, past and present, as well as the former warden of the Indiana County Jail.

“We have all kinds of people that come in and knit,” Douglass said.

Knitting has been a lifelong interest for IUP professor Martha Troxell.

“It’s always been a passion,” Troxell said as she worked on a lace shawl “that has a historic story that goes with it.” “I knit through high school, I knit through college, I knit through graduate school, I knit through two marriages, I knit through jobs.

“It’s very relaxing. It’s very zenlike, it’s very meditative. It’s calming.”

For the past four or five years, Yarns has been involved in Warm Up Indiana County, a initiative that collects knitted and crocheted items for those in need. Items such as hats, mittens/gloves, scarves, sweaters and afghans are collected and taken to Indiana County Community Action Program for distribution. Members of Yarns’ knitting circle contribute their work to the cause. All items stay in the county, and are accepted at the shop year-round, Douglass said.

The knitters also have created hats, blankets and booties for the maternity ward at Indiana Regional Medical Center, as well as Santa hats for preemies at the hospital.

If the hospital says they’re interested in doing it again, “we’ll do it,” Troxell said.

Indiana Senior High teacher Linda Jones and former junior high teacher Jenna Celtnieks each had a knitting club at school. Jones leads The Common Thread knitting club, which has about 20 students, boys and girls.

Jones, who has been knitting for about eight years, said she came to Yarns because “I wanted to make a pair of socks”; she has since made “a couple dozen pairs.”

Celtnieks said she and Douglass took knitting classes together in 1985.

Carol Hummel has frequented Yarns for about seven years.

“My mom taught me growing up, but nothing significant,” said Hummel, who was knitting a cowl for the fall. She started out making slippers, dishcloths, then moved up to socks and shrugs, she said.

IUP political science professor Gwen Torges taught herself to knit about two to three years before she came to Yarns, where she’s been for five or six years.

“I wouldn’t venture anything other than scarves before I came here,” Torges said. Now, if she’s working on a project where “I come to a part that I don’t know, I just put it aside until I could come to the group and they could help me through.

“This is a great way to get your skills up,” she said.

One piece of advice the knitters offered is that it’s good to have several projects in progress at a time – “at least 10 things going,” said Janice Cope, who was working on a shrug, the second project she’s started.

“If you get bored at working on one, you just pick up another,” she said.

“You need more than one, because if you’re stuck on one then you have nothing to do,” Douglass added.

Jane Van Steenkist showed off a colorful shrug that took her roughly four weeks to knit. With about 50 years of knitting under her belt, she’s made scarves, afghans, sweaters, vests and shrugs for family and friends.

“I’m pretty busy around Christmastime,” said the former IUP music teacher and cellist as she worked a sweater, adding, “I’m always knitting something.”

Douglass encouraged those interested in learning how to knit to try it out on their own, and “if it doesn’t work, come in and join us.”

For at least one of the group, Torges, Yarns is right where she belongs.

“This is my sense of community,” she said. “This is my ‘Cheers.’”

Heather Carlson is the wire editor and an assistant web editor for The Indiana Gazette. She covers courts, Saltsburg and Homer City borough councils and Penns Manor and United school districts, in addition to writing feature articles. She can be reached at
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