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October 2010

Crafting Community

Moms Share a Common Thread

By Mary Phillips Quinn

Autumn: As nature's life cycle slows down, it mellows with rust and golden hues, offers cool, quiet evenings and inspires some to tactile activities involving the crafting of fibers, textiles and threads. As a respite from a daily digital world, many busy parents appreciate a timeout to create with their hands and share that process with others. Creative outlets can include knitting, wool felting, crocheting, embroidering, sewing, card-making, scrapbooking and creating nature art or seasonal floral décor.

The Crafter Next Door

Ten years ago, a fall meeting to plan games and crafts for the neighborhood Halloween party became a permanent spot on a group of moms' calendars in one Silver Spring neighborhood. As a result, during last year's blizzard, these moms had a convenient escape from their housebound week of family togetherness and shoveling. Fourteen women trudged through the snow to gather hearthside at a neighbor's home for their monthly moms' craft night out. Two-thirds of the group usually brings a craft or, occasionally, a basket of mending.

The gatherings range in size from 5 to about 15. Jokingly referred to as "carafe" night, each month's host also serves wine, cheese and a dessert almost always involving chocolate! The host usually sends out an e-mail reminder the day before inviting everyone to stop by anytime after 8 p.m. and emphasizing crafts are optional. Evenings usually break up about 10:30 or 11 p.m.

The group has kept things interesting by inviting a guest floral designer to teach take-away spring flower baskets and holiday centerpieces, bringing books to exchange, making jewelry, holding a clean-out-your-closet exchange and trading outgrown children's clothes. Sometimes, seasonal magazines are brought and swapped, and the craft ideas within shared or tried out. The group meets in living rooms or kitchen great rooms, and, when the weather is nice, on decks and patios. The only requirement is a good light source for the crafters in the group. Occasionally a field trip is taken, such as a holiday gathering to make ornaments at the local pottery shop. But most enjoy the convenience of just walking to someone's house.

Craft night regular, Michelle, sums up what many of the others have expressed over the years: "What I like most about our craft nights is that there is no pressure to do a craft, RSVP, come at a specific time or bring something. Anything goes . . . If someone wants to sew, knit, pay bills, just talk, laugh, eat brownies or drink wine, we are all happy just to be together. I feel a true sense of support from all the moms in our neighborhood, regardless of whether we work full- or part-time, or stay at home with our families, which is just as much work. There is also no guilt if you do not make it to a few craft nights; you will still be included in future invites and it is open to all. I know that at the end of a long day, I look forward to craft night."

Sharing Experiences
Everyone has volunteered to host, anyone in the group can invite new neighbors to attend and regulars just drop by as their lives and commitments allow. The groups' assorted children attend a range of at least six different (public and private) elementary schools and high schools, so it has given them all a connection to immediate neighborhood happenings around them. One mom notes, "Besides simply enjoying each other's company, while sharing experiences and resources, this group introduced me to child care options, available preschool spots and nearby elementary schools' benefits and challenges." As moms' relationships have grown, neighbors' families often share spontaneous potlucks, holiday parties, cookie exchanges and coffees throughout the rest of the year. At times, the group has coordinated meals for moms with newborns and no other family in the area.

Around the D.C.-metro area, and in fact around the country, all sorts of forums for gathering and creating include yarn or needlework shops, coffee shops, libraries, faith communities and community centers.

Finding a Common Thread in the City and Suburbs

Marie Connolly, owner of Stitch DC (stitchdc.com) on Capitol Hill, and author of The Expectant Knitter, hosts a Wednesday "drop-in and stitch" evening for knitters, crocheters and quilters and has observed an increase in customer community. "As so many of us are busy multitasking in a high-tech portable world, we seek an 'analog' activity to retreat to at the end of the day to share with others. The craft or art provides a common thread to create a community of people of various ages and ethnic and life backgrounds."
Lyn Ermer, owner of Knit and Stitch = Bliss in Bethesda (knitandstitch.com) agrees. "Creating together invites a community that transcends generations, language, culture and economics. One group that includes members from ages 22 to 75, and from various countries, began meeting in weekly 'knit-alongs,' now also meets for lunch another weekday and then goes for tea after their session here at the store."

"Each project, like its artist, introduces its own story and initiates relationships as one crafter asks another . . . Who is your sweater for?' 'Why that choice color or yarn?' . . . Conversations meander and lead to shared family stories, lessons learned, etc." says Danielle Romanetti, owner of Fibre Space in Alexandria (fibrespace.com). Three years ago, Romanetti started offering knitting classes and groups online, eventually totaling 13 locations across the D.C. area. Many of those that met through these classes started their own communities and eventually convinced Romanetti to have a central resource for meeting, purchasing tools and supplies and attending classes. This became Fibre Space. A community lounge invites crafters to knit or crochet Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m. or Fridays from noon to 2 p.m. The third Thursday is dedicated to welcome new stitchers. Sundays offer a men's knitters group that averages between 5 to 10 attendees. One Friday a month, Fibre Space features a fun and classic free film in its shop along with sodas and popcorn.

All three shop owners have seen a steady growth in new generations of crafters and do-it-yourselfers seeking a shared community to create pieces that are meaningful, unique and invested with the gift of time. In addition, the owners see their roles as not only running a retail business, but also acting as facilitators of community to ensure that while regulars are esteemed, newcomers are always made to feel welcome.

Communities of crafters often share their practical creations with those in need. "The spirit of tzedakah, the Hebrew word for charity, is very important to us in our Knit and Stitch community and is demonstrated through many activities, including last year's project that matched a knitter with a child in need, who specified her own choice of knitted garment and the colors she would like," says Ermer. In fact, many communities of crafters, knitters and quilters have been created around a common goal of producing afghans for wounded veterans or caps for newborns. All Shades of Pink, a nonprofit that provides emotional support to cancer patients, organizes crochet groups that meet once a month in Greenbelt to make Comfort Blankets that are distributed to various metro area hospitals (allshadesofpink.org/Comfort_Blanket_Program.html).

Many of the examples mentioned that offer fiber, fabric and textile crafting opportunities in the D.C. area not only provide a brick and mortar gathering place, but also have extensive cyberspace communities through their blogs and offer many resources in their blogrolls.


Resources


Mary Phillips Quinn is a part-time management consultant to nonprofits and associations and is the mom of two elementary-school boys. Her blog, theabundantbackyard.com, shares her family's discovery of sustainable gardening, native plants, local food and other treasures in their mid-Atlantic backyard. She and her family live in Silver Spring.