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Cast on for a Cause

What: A knitting project for JHU faculty and staff to benefit patients at the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center. All levels welcome.

When: Nov. 5 and Nov. 22; Dec. 13 and Dec. 20; Jan. 10 and Jan. 17 (two sessions per class), 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Class size limited.

Where: Church Professional Building, 4th floor

Cost: $25, includes needles and yarn

Sponsor: Occupational Health Services, with JHU Benefits Administration

Info: ecooper4@jhmi.edu

Learning to Knit ... and to Give

  In an Occupational Health Services class, University women "cast on for a cause."
In early September, Occupational Health Services (OHS) sent out an e-mail advertising a knitting class. In just two sessions, the e-mail promised, participants would learn to knit a scarf. The finished products would be donated to newly diagnosed patients at the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center.

That very same day, OHS received no fewer than 97 inquiries. Within a week, class organizer Beth Cooper, a nurse at OHS, had filled the class and had enough left over for a second class and then some. “The response,” said OHS Director Fran Humphrey, “was overwhelming. We must be filling a gap.”

In fact, knitting is all the rage these days. There are knitting cafes and knitting clubs on college campuses, and they are attracting a new generation to the decidedly old-fashioned craft. Small wonder, then, that to its menu of wellness activities that already includes yoga and seated massage, OHS now has added knitting.

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After work on Sept. 29, the class gathered at the Church Professional Building. We had come from all corners of the institution: from Bayview’s Center for Addiction, from the School of Nursing, from Central Information Services at Eastern High School. There were lab technicians, administrative assistants, patient care techs, research coordinators, top-level administrators and more—27 of us in all.

Some were experienced; others hadn’t knit for decades; most had never knit at all. No matter, said instructor Leslye Solomon: By the end of the evening, each one of us would be knitting. Furthermore, the veteran teacher said, she had yet to meet a student she hadn’t been able to teach to knit.

Solomon, who is the proprietor of Woolstock, a yarn shop in Baltimore County, teaches the continental method of knitting. Unlike the American method, it does not involve wrapping the yarn around the needle with the right hand. The reduced movement is easier on the shoulders, hands and wrists, and it’s quicker.

We undid our bright balls of yarn and took the wooden needles in our hands. We cast on the first row of stitches—a complicated arrangement in which the yarn is wrapped in such a way between thumb and index finger of the left hand that it can be looped onto the needle with the right hand. Then, with her arms held high, her giant needles and thick, red yarn in hand, Solomon showed us how to make our first stitches. “Reach in, jump over, bring it through,” she said moving her needles this way and that. “Size it, knock it off, and get more yarn,” she continued.

It was all just straight knitting—no following a pattern, no measuring, no counting, no purling, even. And yet, for me, one among the group who had “knit a long time ago,” it was not easy. My stitches were either too loose or too tight. My yarn got tangled. I dropped a couple of stitches. Inadvertently, I added one.

Then, slowly, my hands began moving with a deftness and agility I didn’t know they had. Instinctively, I found a pace, a rhythm. “Reach in, jump over, bring it through ....” After a while, the yarn was flowing, and I found myself making little rows of even stitches.

A nurse from the Breast Center, Deborah Stewart, was in the class. A program that offers the full spectrum of clinical and support services, the Breast Center gives out 50 gift bags, on average, each month to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. Stewart showed us one. Inside was a teddy bear, a handsewn pillow, lotions, teas and handmade gift cards—all donated by volunteers.

“The gift bags are meant to give comfort,” said Stewart. “They mean that someone, whose name you will never know, cares about you. The gift of a beautiful scarf, made by someone with her own hands, will represent not only an act of kindness but an extension of oneself.” I hated to think about someone opening the bag and finding my scarf inside. It was too short and too wide. And there were those dropped stitches. Hopefully, it will go to someone who knows nothing about knitting ... and cares nothing about fashion.

On the evening of Oct. 4, our second and final session, after binding my scarf off the needle and tucking in the last strand of yarn, I wrote an anonymous note on a gift card. True, I will never know the recipient’s name, and yet, through this knitting project, we had been joined, she and I, by a common bond.

—Anne Bennett Swingle

 

 

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