Four years ago, when people she knew stopped by her window at the post office, Karen Deaton used to ask, “Do you know how to knit?” Her inquiries landed her an invitation to join a small but welcoming group of women whose lives have been knit (and crocheted) together for almost 10 years.
It started with a Nicolet College knitting class that some of the students were sorry to see end. Classmates Sandy Halverson, Mary Robinson and Barb Garberson decided to continue and started meeting Tuesday nights at the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
“We are not trying to convince anybody of anything,” Sandy says. “It’s not at all a religious group, although we sometimes pray together.”
They eventually moved across the parking lot to the school cafeteria, due to a common motivator in the Northwoods: heat, which was already on in the school building.
The group has generated their own warmth as the years and projects have come and gone, getting to know one another’s family, grandkids, pets and ringtones.
One member’s husband likes to call several times throughout the night, wondering when she is coming home, and how she could possibly have anything left to learn about knitting. The question makes the group laugh.
Knitting or crocheting or felting, as they also have been known to do, is not something to be conquered.
Sometimes they have to contend with pets who like to fight for their attention and jump into their laps while they work. But most have the support of all family members.
“My husband wants me to come,” says Deb Drake, who works at the courthouse, and was told about the group from a former co-worker who attended. They both say it is for her mental health, she says. “My boys know not to call on Tuesdays.”
Over the years, the women’s journey together has taken them through seasons of darkness.
After Mary’s husband died in November 2010, she mentioned to the group her lack of holiday cheer.
“I said, ‘Well, I have a tree, but it is certainly not going to get decorated.” The Tuesday Night Knitters made a decision then to help. They came to her house with food and put up her Christmas decorations. The memory still brings a smile.
One year later, Sandy’s husband died. Then in 2013, Barb’s husband also died.
“They were a big help,” Barb says quietly.
Thirty to 40 years separate Cathy Oelrich, the youngest member of their group, from the rest, but the support of the other women is felt just as strongly.
“I can be in the worst mood, and come here, and it all goes away.” Her co-workers refer to the weekly meeting as her therapy group, she says. “I basically grew up at my grandparents’ house; they lived two houses down from us. My grandmother sewed and knit. Being here reminds me of that.”
Cathy lost her grandmother six years ago, the same year that two of her cousins had babies. “I now understand the value of making something for someone versus buying.”
Barb agrees, noting that when a loved one is gone, it’s nice to have something that person made.
Every member except Mary had a mother or grandmother who sewed, knit or crocheted. Part of Mary’s motivation for learning was because she recognized the importance of receiving homemade baby gifts.
“I have four children, and not one received a homemade afghan!” she says. She took a crocheting class at a technical school in Wausau when she was teaching school there, before moving to Rhinelander where she continued teaching for almost 30 years.
Professions and personalities vary among the group, along with creative preferences. Mary likes to crochet. Barb doesn’t like to knit big afghans, but prefers to crochet them. Karen prefers knitting small projects.
“So I’m done quickly and can see them,” she says.
Besides the emotional support, the value of homemade gifts and the joy of creating, there is still another benefit.
“Knitting burns calories!” Cathy exclaims.
“Eighty-five calories an hour.”
“I should be really skinny,” Barb says.
Over the years, the Tuesday Night Knitters have made and donated winter wear for needy students and others. The group invites any adult female to join them at 6:30 p.m. at the school cafeteria across the parking lot from the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Rhinelander.
Jill Olson lives in Rhinelander. Her articles also appear in Northwoods Commerce and Living on the Lake magazines.