By John Addyman
Rochester Knitting Guild holds first in-person meeting after the pandemic — 90 members showed up to knit, socialize and have a good time.
Y ou’re invited to go to a meeting of knitters. Knitters, you know, people who go walk around with bags of needles and yarn and do ”knit one, purl two,” stuff like that.
So you’d expect that the meeting of all those little old ladies would be as active as watching snow build up on your driveway. Quiet. Boring. Reserved. Unexciting.
And you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.
When the Rochester Knitting Guild welcomed 90-some members in mid-September, there was laughter, joy and smiles everywhere. An upbeat
spirit and friends getting together to do something they love — knitting.
There were prizes, a raffle and two kinds of cake. And a lot of applause.
They have all kinds of activities planned. They take retreats in March. A woman who sat at the “Help Desk” table, Debby Abrahams of Brighton, was at the meeting to answer thorny questions and show knitters how to back up and get something straight again. Her advice came with goodnatured encouragement borne from years spent with her needles.
“No one is born knowing how to knit,” she told the audience sagely. “There are no knitting police. It’s not a mistake [in your project], it’s a styling difference.”
Relax, have a sip of wine, back up and start again.
She and others there helped dispel some folk myths.
First, knitting really is for everyone. Old. Young. Male. Female. North Americans. Indonesians. Latvians. Football players. Meryl Streep. Everybody.
Second, as Abrahams would tell you in her friendly manner, it takes a little bit of time to learn to knit. Not a long time. Not days or even a lot of hours. With a little help, you can get right to it.
Third, knitting is social, not for recluses. You knit for family. For friends.
As knitter Pat Butterfield explained, “When you run out of people to knit for, you knit for the community. Your hats and sweaters go to homeless shelters. Your afghans and blankets go the nursing homes and hospices. Your scarves go to kids who tuck them in close in the winter. They’ll wear your mittens, too.”
And based on the September meeting, knitters love to share what they’re doing with other knitters.
Margaret Mullen is the president of the Rochester Knitting Guild. She’s an upbeat drum-beater for knitting as a life hobby, inheriting the leadership of the post-pandemic guild from fabled local knitter Tina Turner.
Mullen describes Turner as “the type of person that, you know how some people’s essence is giving, and not wanting anything in return? She has this amazing skill. She’s been knitting since she was knee-high to a grasshopper. She offers herself to you. Yes, she’s a businesswoman; yes, she owns her own yarn shop; yes, she runs festivals. But if you have knitting issues, she’s your girl.
“You want to have fun in your knitting but it’s an issue when you have a mistake,” Mullen said. “Tina will take that mistake and fix it.”
Mullen speaks from experience — after making a pair of mittens and forgetting the thumb hole.
“Tina steeked [cut] it open and got it back, with love and with concern and with an amazing essence, that’s what she did,” Mullen said.
September’s meeting of the guild was a worry to Mullen. The pandemic had isolated knitters who yearned for the camaraderie. An effort to do some Zoom meetings and classes didn’t go over well. And many area yarn shops had closed their doors.
This meeting started off the 35th year the guild has been active and it was important for it to be a success.
The meeting room at the family center at Temple B’rith Kodesh in Brighton was set up for 120 people. Board members and officers were parceled out to 15 tables, so the membership could connect directly to the folks running the guild. Folks sat down, out came the knitting bags and yarn and needles and things got social and friendly immediately.
Mullen is fairly new to knitting, starting in 2018 after she retired. She has a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in social work. She also had a sidelight professional career as a jazz singer with her own Maggie Mullen Jazz Quartet.
She has recorded with the Rochester Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra. Try “Maggie Mullen and jazz” on Google to hear her.
She got a lot of jazz gigs because she studied the basics and was a tireless chart-writer.
“I went to school and I did a whole jazz series — how to make charts, books, for each instrument. I was an easy musician to call — we didn’t have to rehearse. They had the music right there in front of them [which she showed up with],” she said. “That’s why I got a lot of work, and I have a halfway decent voice.”
She taught and she performed.
Freshly retired, she discovered knitting was something she wanted in her life. The artistry in her loves the colors and tactile joys of handling yarn, and the precision of the patterns.
“There was a program at the Brighton Library, ‘Learn How to Knit,’ and I said, ‘Oh yes, I am going to learn to knit.’ I’m a musician. Most of my art has been through my music, it was never a tactile thing,” she said. “I went to the class and the teacher said, ‘You take your needle and you go like this and you go around like that…and look at this!” She was knitting.
Now speaking at a coffee shop in Pittsford, she brings items out of her bag: gloves.
“I just had to do show-and-tell.” she confessed. “What do you think about this for a beginner knitter? Can you even believe that?
“This yarn feels amazing going through your fingers. You can make beautiful things with it. I started there and I just kept going. I went to my first Rochester Knitting Guild meeting and the woman who taught me, Betsy Liano, took me there.”
Mullen said there are a lot of ways to start knitting with confidence. Many people have family members who are
knitters. A trip to Aunt Millie’s house on Thanksgiving could lead to a first lesson in knitting.
“You can pay money and take classes with professional knitters here in town. Or you can go to the library programs,” she suggested.
Once you get started, if you run into trouble, “many times, there’s somebody there who can get you out of mistake trouble or teach you what you want to learn, like Marcia Weinert in Webster. She takes people who don’t know a thing about knitting, so does Tina Turner. They’ll say, ‘You don’t know a thing about knitting? Come, and I will teach you. This is how you do it,’” she added.
The outcome is the product.
“It’s what you make for yourself,” Mullen said, pulling more knitted items out of her bag. “You gift this stuff. You make it for yourself. Who
wouldn’t want to wear this hat? (And she holds it up).
“Some of the knitters in the guild make hats, mittens, sweaters and coats. At Christmas, they put them on a table and when all their people come in for visiting at Christmas, they take what they want. People make things for each other,” she said. “If you want to knit with other people, I liken it to the olden days when people got together to enjoy what they do together. You sit in a park for two hours and talk about knitting and you talk about everything else going on in the world and your
neighborhood. Social knitting.
“So many women can’t even go to a doctor’s appointment without their knitting bag. They will not go to a soccer game without their knitting bag. Some really good knitters have a bag that fits on their shoulder so they can knit while they walk. Come on, now! Who can do that? It’s an amazing thing.”
Mullen said knitting gives back: “it settles you. Sometimes when you’re running around, doing this errand and that errand, going to this place and remembering to do that thing, you say to yourself, ‘I just want to go home and knit…I want to get home to my friend bag.’ I go home happy.”
‘People love knitted stuff’
What is knitting? What does it mean to people?
“It’s a combination of tactile sensations, the possibility of making something, accomplishment of the task and once you know what you’re doing, sitting down with others and sharing,” she said.
It’s the joy of making things and sharing them, the sharing of your projects.
“People love knitted stuff. My son is still waiting for a sweater but I did make him a pair of socks,” she added.
Turner, with a little more perspective, said knitting has changed.
“It used to be the older generation who knitted, but it’s now slowly going younger again, which is wonderful to see,” she said. “The majority of the people are in their 50s but it’s getting younger, because younger people are realizing the tactile nature of knitting makes them feel good because it’s so different from the electronics they’re on the whole time. It also adds socialization to their lives.”
As an expert teacher of knitting, she said she starts her students “with the yarn. We look at what colors speak to them, what colors they like, and we go from there. Then, let’s start with a medium thickness of yarn, then I ask them a few questions to so I can decide the best way to teach them, then I jump in.”
She also feels that technology has changed knitting.
“Today the patterns are more modern and technology has come in to play. A lot of people go to YouTube on the internet to get help, which isn’t always the best way. On the Ravelry website you can find online patterns — thousands and thousands of patterns at your fingertips, from world-known designers to your neighbor next door. Technology has changed knitting a lot.”
Deciding you want to try knitting?
“Check your yarn shops — they all have classes,” Mullen advised. “Check your library.”
And don’t overestimate what knitting is.
“It’s yarn,” she said. “You’re not sending a rocket to the moon. Relax.”
Want to Get Involved?
• The Rochester Knitting Guild holds monthly meetings at the Temple B’rith Kodesh, 2131 Elmwood Ave., Rochester. The next meetings are Nov. 14, Dec. 12, Jan 9 — all the way through May 8. They are free and open to the public. Attendants are invited to join as members after the first meeting.
• The guild will hold a “Shop Night” event starting at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 14, at Temple B’rith Kodesh, 2131 Elmwood Ave., Rochester. Over 25 yarn shops and knitting suppliers from as far away as Buffalo are expected to be present.
• For more information, visit www.rochesterknitting.org.