Local Women Knit One, Purl One to Create Community
Story and photos by Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Since the American Revolution women in this country have gathered in circles, to craft warm clothes, heirloom garments and share the company and camaraderie of one another.
There are regular knitting/crocheting meet-ups, stitching circles and drop-in yarn craft gatherings in libraries and community centers throughout the Merrimack Valley, including Hudson, Hollis, Penacook, Brookline, Hooksett and Concord. And often yarn stores serve that same purpose: to knit, crochet, sew and bond.
But so much more than that. While they knit and purl, they’re also forming strong bonds, raising community awareness and social responsibility and sharing knowledge and personal history with one another.
Around here, there are Friday knitting nights at Yarn & Fiber in Derry, and you couldn’t find a more dedicated community than at Twill Fabric & Yarn in Nashua, where each week 20 to 30 (mostly) women – occasionally one or two men join in – show up, take their seats in front of a window looking out onto Main Street, make glorious garments and have a good time.
“I wanted to create a space where community mattered most – where people gather and share handwork, friendship, support, laughter and beauty,” said Sandy Zielie, who opened the store five years ago. Zielie knits right along with the group, using yarn made from the wool of her own Icelandic sheep and spun by another member of the group.
The store also has also developed its own in-house, custom hand-dyed yarn brand, called Sonder.
“When I moved here from Ohio, I was far away from my family, and I didn’t have many friends,” said Sarah Lumens, a nurse from Merrimack. “But then I decided to join a knitting group. Now we’re all good friends. I don’t like to even work Fridays now. A bunch of us meet up for lunch then hang out and come in here. I love it.”
It’s not surprising that the group is so committed to their craft and one another.
There was an established knitting community in Nashua that used to meet at another yarn shop in town until the owner took ill and closed the store. The group decided to gather at Barnes and Noble to knit. But then they got word that a new shop was opening in town – Twill on Main Street.
“During the first days when I opened the store and it was pretty much empty – there were just a few chairs set out,” said Zielie. “Then the Patch put out a little bulletin that we had just opened, and that there was a Friday night knitting group, and in two hours, all these people came.”
“When Sandy opened we wanted to make sure she was successful, and we wanted to support a local business,” said Carol Ruhl of Nashua, a nurse and a member of that original group. “There are lots of nurses in this Friday night group and retired teachers, a chiropractor, business people. There are millennials and retirees and every age in between.”
And they have come ever since, with knitting needles in hand, colorful yarn in their stash bags and patterns on their tablets and laptops. They also bring talk of their personal lives, politics and, of course, the latest knitting projects they plan to undertake.
Most of the knitters handcraft garments for themselves and loved ones, but there’s also community knitting as well. The “shop community,” as Zielie calls it, knits warm clothing for the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter and has taken on special projects like knitting tiny red hats for newborns to raise awareness of infant congenital heart disease and tiny purple hats to raise awareness of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
The group also makes joint projects when one of the members is celebrating something special or has an ailing family member. They’ve each knitted squares that when put together become baby blankets for an expectant mother in the group, and they’ve crafted warm and soft shawls for family members with cancer.
They also have movie night, a book club and knitting retreats. And, Zielie, said it’s not unusual for members to drop by several days during the week,
“Yeah. We really hate each other,” joked Lumens. “Can’t you tell?”