22 January 2015

Craft and companionship forge closer community connections

As their fingers knit and purl beautiful woollen creations, something else is woven among the men and women who attend Auckland Libraries’ knitting groups – friendship.

As Monica Foster from Orewa Library explains: “We get together to knit, but it’s all about the yarn.”

Knitting clubs warmly welcome all attendees regardless of ability, age, gender or language. 

Monica’s group formed at the end of 2013 as a one-off Christmas decoration project. It quickly blossomed into a regular group that meets every Thursday morning for a cup of tea, a bikkie or two, and several hours of companionship and craft.

For the Orewa knitters, it’s also about charity: they use donated wool to create blankets, jerseys and slippers for Operation Cover Up, an initiative from Mission Without Borders, which sends these items to orphanages and the needy in Eastern Europe.

Although it started off with crafty origins, Monica says it is really all about the people.

“Our group has evolved and is now mostly attended by older women who may be widowed, unwell, lonely or depressed. Our weekly get-togethers are therapeutic - a reason to meet others, share and care, and keep minds (and hands) active,” she says.

Friendship was also what Kathleen Bennett was seeking when she approached Botany Library staff in 2009 with her idea to start a knitting group. Having recently moved to the area to be closer to facilities for her ailing husband, Kathleen found herself lonely and with little opportunity to meet new people.

“I thought, surely there must be other women like me, stuck at home for one reason or another and feeling lonely as I do, but not knowing what to do about it. Perhaps I could meet other knitters?”

For Kathleen, the library was an obvious fit for her group.

“As a frequent user of the Botany Library and member of the book club there I could see the library was a vibrant, people-friendly and busy place. I loved going to the library for the people contact and I was making good use of the knitting books I could borrow,” she said.

“The venue had to be easily accessible, with both public transport and parking for those with cars. I also didn’t want cost to be a barrier to joining the club, to this endso a venue needed to be provided for us free of charge. As a community service, the libraries have been perfect.”

The philosophy of the club is simple: a place for people to gather, to knit, chat and make new friends. The club is open to everyone in the community looking for interaction with others regardless of ability, age, gender and language.

Kathleen chose to register the club under the international banner of ‘Knitting In Public’, affectionately known as the ‘Kippers’ to members, and it was immediately successful, attracting 25 to 35 members to the fortnightly sessions. In fact, such was the popularity of Kathleen’s group that within six months the volunteering powerhouse was approached by Howick Library to create a group there, which is also going strong.

Like the Orewa crafters, the Kippers also take on yearly projects for charity which has included knitting warm scarves and beanies for the Auckland City Mission, blankets and other items for Women’s' Refuge, and baby clothing for Middlemore Hospital.

Kathleen speaks with obvious warmth for the community the knitting groups have built and the strength they offer each other.

“The support I have had from my KIP friends through my husband's illness, and then my own, has been so good - I feel very lucky. Quite a few of our members have had some problems and we are always there to assist in any way we can and to cheer them on through the tough times. I am no longer lonely and I am very grateful for the new friends I have made.”

Botany Library staff member Leigh Reinhardt said it is a real pleasure to see the diverse range of “Kippers” - while attendees are mostly older ladies who are very warm and welcoming, there are a few men and some young people who attend too, including children during the school holidays.

It’s also a very multicultural group, Leigh says, and is a great way to break down barriers for new migrants and those learning English. As she remarked: “You don’t need language to knit.”

Want to know more about our knitting groups? Check the Auckland Libraries website for details on groups at Botany, Howick, Orewa, Wellsford and Pakuranga.

Te Kauroa focus area 3: Library spaces

"Library spaces are changing to become multipupose community facilities that contribute to place-making and community connection.

"They are vibrant, accessible and open places for meeting, learning and inspiration."

- Te Kauroa Future Directions, Auckland Libraries' 10-year plan

1 comment:

  1. Come and join in. The ladies (we had a gent but he is studying this year) are lovely. Help is there when you need it. Many lovely ladies have learnt to speak English through their shared love of knitting. You can knit for charity or for yourself. Many people have benefited from what we have done for the different charities. "Show and tell" showcases the delights that are knitted. The best part is the people and the community that has evolved. We can get a bit noisy as the various conversations knit together. Tea, coffee and biscuits provided. The best librarians in Auckland (ie Botany) help it to run smoothly as well, thank you.