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Social Knit-working

by Missy Sheehan

social knit-working

Women of all ages come together to enjoy a hobby that's fun, relaxing, and useful.

Every Thursday, Cathy Beeler drives from her home in Boonsboro to the Williamsport Yarn Closet for what she jokingly calls a “stitch and bitch” session. There, a group of a dozen or so women meet weekly to knit things like scarves, socks, and sweaters together — but there’s more than just knitting happening.

“We come in and just kind of complain about what’s going on that week and help each other out,” says 61-year-old Beeler, who learned to knit two years ago when she retired from her job for the National Park Service. “Sometimes you just need a shoulder to lean on or somebody to listen to you. We always say that what we say in the knitting store stays in the knitting store.”

Some of the women come to the shop just to have someone to talk to while knitting. And, of course, there’s plenty of joking around, Beeler adds. “It’s become such a fun group of ladies, and we support each other and share one another’s joys and sorrows,” she says. “We’ve become quite a close-knit group, figuratively and otherwise.”

The Williamsport Yarn Closet is just one of several venues where knitters from around the region congregate to purchase supplies, socialize, and improve their skills. While knitting is a time-honored skill that women in past generations employed to clothe their families, today it has evolved into a particularly popular hobby for women. In fact, Susan Wolcott, who owns Yarnability | Sewinclined in Shepherdstown, W.Va., says she’s seen a dramatic increase in the number of women taking up knitting since 2001. “It took off pretty much after 9/11. It was already starting and then that just made a big difference,” Wolcott says. “Whenever there’s something stressful happening in the world, something like knitting is a great antidote.”

The Joys of Needle Arts

Knitting is popular among women of all ages, too, according to Wolcott. “I’m seeing young women and women with families who are into knitting because there’s sort of this DIY movement happening, and then there are women who are retiring or just finally have a little bit of time on their hands enjoying it,” she says.

Susan Dudics-Dean, a 65-year-old novelist and substitute teacher in Martinsburg, W.Va., has been knitting off and on for 50 years. Twice a month she gets together with a knitting group that ranges in size from three to eight women. “I’m almost always knitting a sweater,” she says, adding that she likes complex lace patterns. Consequently, Dudics-Dean’s sweaters aren’t like what you’d find in retail stores. “I like things that are really interesting to knit,” she says. “It might take me longer, but I like when I put something on and people are like wow, where did you get that?”

While it’s not necessarily less costly to knit a sweater rather than purchase one in a store, there are benefits to going the DIY route, according to Melissa Noel, owner of the Williamsport Yarn Closet. “You get a feeling of accomplishment when you make something yourself,” she says. “And you get to choose what materials you use — so you can choose anything from acrylic to something as nice as cashmere.”

Beeler says she appreciates being able to give family members and friends handmade gifts that they can wear for many years to come. “If you buy really good yarn, a hand-knitted sweater will last so much longer than something that’s machine made,” she says.

Many knitters enjoy making items for charitable causes as well. Last year, for example, Noel’s knitting group made hats for premature babies in honor of a friend’s baby who had died, and donated them to a hospital in South Carolina. “We also sent some to Waynesboro Hospital since they were in need of preemie hats,” she says.

Knitting for Health

Many women like having a creative outlet that’s both useful and relaxing, says Susan Hostetter, co-owner of the Knitting Cottage in Waynesboro, Pa. In fact, knitting has actually been proven to help reduce stress and lower blood pressure, according to Wolcott, a former registered nurse. “We always say that knitting is cheaper than therapy,” she says.

Noel hosts what she aptly calls “Yarn Therapy” sessions — a.k.a. Beeler’s “stitch and bitch” — every Thursday evening at her shop. “It’s an opportunity for anyone to come in and either knit or crochet,” she says. “We usually end up talking about problems. When people have yarn in their hands, and they’re focusing on what’s going on in their hands, they tend to open up, and it makes life a little easier.”

Stress reduction is likewise one of the goals of the Sit and Knit wellness group that meets at Meritus Medical Center on the third Wednesday of each month. Knitting has been proven to be especially helpful in relieving stress and compassion fatigue in nurses and other health care workers, according to Samantha Frazee, lead staffing clerk at Meritus and one of the organizers of the Sit and Knit group. Since January, the 44-year-old has been getting together with fellow staffing clerk Heather Cleveland, 32, nurses Cathy Ware, 60, and Tammy Duffey, 46, other hospital staff, and community members for an evening of knitting and socializing. “It’s been a wonderful stress reliever for me,” says Ware.

Other benefits of knitting include improved memory and dexterity. “It’s good for keeping your mind agile, because you have to read and follow a pattern,” says Dudics-Dean. “And of course you use your hands and your hand-eye coordination.”

Common Threads

The social aspect of knitting is a big draw for many women who take up the hobby. “Women, I think, are sort of wired to want to connect and be social,” Wolcott says. “I think it’s just in our nature to help each other out and all that, so women love to come hang out with others and knit.” She does know some male knitters, she says, but they don’t typically come and hang out while they knit like women do. Wolcott hosts several knitting groups and classes at her shop each week and also organizes trips for knitters to places like Norway and Tuscany.

For the knitters who take part in the Sit and Knit group at Meritus, the chance to get to know some of their fellow employees has been invaluable. While the knitting sessions are free and open to the public as well, staff members from many different sectors of the medical center have gotten involved. “We’ve had people from environment services, from nutrition services — so it’s people you wouldn’t necessarily have in your group, but you all just come together, and then we end up seeing each other around the hospital,” says Frazee. “It’s been a nice thing.”

Side Note: While Hagerstown magazine typically uses given names upon second reference for those quoted or referenced, the popularity of the name Susan amongst knitters would have proven to make this story too difficult to follow, so we opted to use surnames for the sake of readability.