Knitting used to be a craft that many people did alone. Knitters made things in the comfort of their homes, for relaxation or to pass the time. Nowadays, the art form has widened with people gathering to knit as a form of recreation, to socialize, get inspired and share ideas.
Throughout Maplewood, people of all ages are knitting. Old and young, men and women, for profit and charity, for meditation and community, for education and just for fun. Why is this 11th Century art suddenly so popular in 21st Century suburban New Jersey?
Knitknack, a yarn shop at 1914 Springfield Avenue, is knitting central for Maplewood and surrounding communities. The store's shelves and tables are bursting with skeins of colorful yarn, accessories, needles, magazines and books—and beautiful samples of what knitting can yield including caps, cowls, scarves, sweaters, mittens and more. The samples are not for sale. "Knitknack is a shop for fiber enthusiasts. Knitters, crocheters, spinner, weavers," owner Meera Kothari Cho told Patch. "We have been open for three years and are entering our fourth."
Kothari Cho believes that knitting and the fiber arts have been growing in popularity for the past five years. She sites the Internet as having made it more accessible for people learn to knit. "There are loads of knitting sites, blogs and videos that make it that much easier to learn the craft."
Knitting circles, Kothari Cho added, are part of a yarn shop's culture. The result is two-fold: yarn stores like hers get the opportunity to showcase their goods and services while knitters are able to develop friendships, a sense of community, and hone their skills. "We have many informal gatherings at the shop as customers meet up and often come with a friend or two," said Kothari Cho. "We also have a few other regular get-togethers." Knitters gather at Knitknack on Friday evenings between 6-8pm. The cozy shop, which has had a knitting night since it opened, is able to host up to twelve people. Kothari Cho herself has been knitting since she was eight-years-old. Her shop also hosts special workshops and visiting artists.
Kothari Cho believes a big part of knitting's popularity in Maplewood is due to people having access to a local yarn shop such as Knitknack. "The shop is stocked with beautiful yarns and samples that inspire," Kothari Cho said. She added that she is "stopped all the time because of a sweater I'm wearing or a shawl that was in our window. So I know we inspire many."
Kari Capone, who owns Kari's Café on Springfield Avenue just down the street from Knitknack, gave some further insight as to why Maplewoodians (men and boys included) have taken a liking to knitting. "I think people in Maplewood knit for the same myriad of reasons that anyone knits," she said. "For them and for myself, it's a source of disposable income, a social outlet and a form of meditation."
The knitting group at Kari's meets every Saturday between 12-3 p.m. Anywhere from 8-10 knitters gather to complete projects and catch up on the latest techniques and local news. Kari has owned the shop, which sells baked goods, soup, coffee, tea and espresso, for one year. The knitting group, she says, was already in place when she purchased the business. "I am an avid knitter," she adds, "and would certainly have encouraged a group had this one not already been in existence."
The women who are part of the knitting group at the Women's Club of Maplewood use their talents to help and inspire many. The circle of knitter there meet on the second and fourth Monday of each month for two hours to knit, crochet and socialize. Although they're listed under the Social Services aspect of the Club, they call themselves the afghan group.
"Everybody makes what they want to make," says Catherine Fagan, a longtime knitter and one of the chairs at the Club. "We all enjoy coming up with different things." They also enjoy giving to others. Some of the items Women's Club members have made and given away include mittens sent to the Goodwill Rescue Mission in Newark, shawls for a local hospice, baby items (hats, blankets, etc.) for single mothers in a shelter for battered families, and hats and scarves for Irvington and Newark school students.
"We knit a lot of things, so we don't mind where any of it goes," says Barbara Laub, also a longtime knitter, "as long as the people are in need of it." Local churches are doing their part too. Prayer shawls have been knitted and distributed by mission members of St. Joseph's Church and Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church.
Kids in Maplewood are inspired by knitting, too. Maplewood Middle School and Seth Boyden Elementary both have knitting clubs for kids. Seth Boyden's program, started by Judith Symonds in 2003, is called Knitting Together a Community. To partake in the program, kids meet during their lunch hour in a private hallway corner on the school's first floor.
"The kids have to be in the second grade to start and we go up to fifth grade," says Symonds, who creates a lively environment for the students. "We try to make it interesting. Right now, the kids are making fried eggs from the story green eggs and ham." On the day I visited, one student held up a pink and black scarf she'd knitted while others showed off small animals or decorative knitting squares. Throughout the course of the school year, some of the kids have also learned to crochet and sew. A few even participate in knitting classes during the summer at the South Orange Maplewood Adult School.
"The knitting program has been a major part of my children's creative experience at Seth Boyden," says parent Lisa Basile. "Judith and the kids are the heart of the program." Basile adds that the knitting program provides the creative process many parents in the school district want for their kids. Part of that process has included students dyeing their own yarn. They've done so with dye made from things they planted on the school grounds. "Here are yarns dyed with marigold, black walnut, and kool-aid," said Ino, a fifth-grader who showed me samples of the yarn she had dyed.
Judith and the Seth Boyden kids also have regular Knit at Night events. During the events, parents and their children get the opportunity to knit together and hold raffles in the school's library. Just one of the ways of obtaining cash for supplies, Symonds and the group have gotten grants and financial support from community members who just want to keep the program growing.
"All the kids who participate get a free pair of needles and yarn," Symonds says. "When we first began, a lot of parents just kind of cleaned out their closets to help. But we've gotten to the point where we don't really need that anymore, so we donate those things."