Mindful knitting

Group keeps thoughts focused on whom they’re knitting for.

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You probably couldn’t find a more peaceful and enjoyable way to spend a productive two hours on Monday afternoons than with the Mindful Knitting group at the Edgartown Council on Aging. When I walked in just after they started at 3:30 pm, the women were already sitting around the large table, knitting and cheerfully chatting away and catching up with one another.

The Mindful Knitting group was the brainchild of Susan Desmarais, who started it in the winter of 2000. She got the idea after reading a book of the same title, where women gathered to knit for charity and while knitting, held thoughts of support for those who would eventually receive the items. The group began with four to six people, and as its popularity grew, they found themselves meeting weekly with over 20 people, a potluck dinner from time to time, and also knitting on the lawn at times in the summer.

“Over the years, the group did a phenomenal amount of knitting. We knit baby hats and blankets, as well as shawls for a school and clinic in Nicaragua. We knit tiny dolls for Darfur and other areas of Africa … at one point we had knit almost 200 dolls,” Desmarais explained. The group also knit baby hats for Save the Children, again in the hundreds. Throughout this phenomenal production they also knit comfort shawls, caps for preemies, chemo caps for local people, and yellow comfort scarves for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “The thank-you notes we got from the veterans were real tear producers,” Desmarais said.

Currently, the group is knitting squares to be turned into blankets for a school in Mexico, and hats and scarves for Seamen’s Church Institute in New Jersey, as well as for the sale at Christmastime at the Daniel Fisher House to benefit Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard.

The ladies were all knitting different items when I visited. Ricky Harrison makes all sorts of things, but seems to have a special place in her heart for Mike the Monkey, which is stuffed after she completes the knitting. “This one is for a little girl that’s just been born, and sometimes they go to the hospice group. I’ve been knitting since I was 12, when I came from Germany. My teacher had taught me,” explains Harrison. She’s made 58 prayer shawls that have gone to people who are sick. And she made additional shawls when she was a hospice volunteer.

Judy Hathaway is creating a scarf for the Seamen’s Church that has a distinct look by narrowing at the neck. Hathaway says she likes to select whatever pattern is the easiest. Barbara Almquist has been knitting for about 80 years, having started when she was around 5 when she learned from her mother. “My first project as a child was to knit squares for knee-warmers for WWII soldiers,” she says proudly. Among other things, Almquist makes little sweaters, which she currently stuffs with lavender for sachets.

Carol Faini has been part of the group since about 2002. She works part-time, but keeps coming back “because it’s fun and it’s a great group — the companionship. Sometimes I don’t bring a project but just sit here for an hour or so after work and just visit.” Faini is self-taught, and wants readers to know that there are some really good demonstrations on YouTube that you can learn a lot from.

Jane Keenan was knitting some amazing socks when I visited. “I knitted socks in college. Every boyfriend I went out with had a pair of socks,” she said with a laugh. “When my children were little, they all had sweaters. It’s mindless, but it’s fun.” Ellie Bates knits in her spare time, and has been with the group since the beginning. “When I knit, it’s in my sister’s memory, because she passed away,” Bates shared.

The group mentioned that every so often someone comes to them for help if they have made a mistake that they don’t know how to correct. Almquist joked that she’s “Barbara the Ripper.” Shirley Dewing added, “If you don’t correct the mistake, that’s where you look,” to which everyone laughingly agreed.

As I left, the women extended a warm welcome to everyone, saying, “Come knit with us — It’s free!”

Mindful Knitting meets every Monday from 3:30 to 5:30 pm at the Edgartown Council on Aging. For more information, contact Wendy Benedetto at 508-627-4368, ext. 14, or wbenedetto@edgartown-ma.us.