I discovered, first hand, that a knitting shop holds more than just yarn and supplies. It holds relationships and projects underway as well as dilemmas and holes in socks. It offers techniques to fix unraveled seams and solutions for stubborn knots, both in yarn and in life. Even in the tree lined suburbs of America, where opportunity abounds, there is still a need for the supportive fabric that emerges when people gather together. It preserves the oldest roadmap of time—the stories of others as a compass for all.
When I first learned about the BlinkNow Women’s Center I was excited about the opportunity for women to learn skills that would empower them to make a living and help support their families. Trainers at the Center show women how to weave and use sewing machines, how to tailor clothes, how to read and write. And, it has grown to be so much more. Women are learning not only job skills but also about using micro-loans to start small businesses, their own human rights and caring for the health of themselves and their families. A visiting nurse at the Center identified help for a prolapsed uterus and a female attorney gave a workshop on the rights of women. In a culture where many women still consider beatings from their husband as an acceptable way of life, coming together to share their burdens and learn from one another has been invaluable. Once again, handcrafts have proven to be a gateway to empowerment.
My experience as a knitting shop owner, years ago, was transformative in my understanding of the value of connection in communities, of the value of a space that gives people the luxury of time together. Indeed, for many women in Nepal, time together is a luxury. Textile arts provide the perfect conduit. The idea to have a Knitathon to support the Women’s Center was rooted in this knowledge, the understanding that using our hands to create is universal. It connects everyone.
We held our first two Knitathons at a local community center in Mendham, New Jersey. We invited knitters as well as people who wanted to learn to knit. We invited people to come and work on projects of their own or to take part in other handcrafted activities—such as card making, felting ornaments and weaving. Local knitters volunteered their time to teach and all money raised was donated toward equipment for the women in Nepal. They purchased looms, sewing machines and materials. Our most recent Knitathon was held at a local knitting shop, Rows of Purl in Chester, NJ. Karen Bailey designed a cowl for the event to symbolize the efforts.
Funds that were raised this year will help sponsor the training of several women and the educational costs of hiring teachers.
Our little New Jersey Knitathon embodied what I believe to be an important core of BlinkNow Women’s Center. Any collection of people, engaged in a mutual task, provides a home for stories to be shared and told, a place where someone’s experience informs a dilemma of someone else. The knowledge grows and expands far beyond the original row of stitches on a loom, a shawl becomes a testament to a helping hand. Friendship transforms the experience of the day, and the work. I have seen up close how struggles crawl out of hiding in little safe spaces of groups. The strength and knowledge of someone else offers up a lantern in the dark, and a next step, once invisible, suddenly can be seen.
It was the story of one person that brought Maggie to Surkhet. Maggie met Sunita during her gap year with LEAPNOW. They became friends. Sunita told Maggie about Nepal’s civil war, of why she left her homeland to find work. Maggie wanted to learn more, so Sunita led her on a journey to her home. They rode on buses through narrow twisting paths. They walked for days over mountains. I am sure that neither of them could have known how many life stories would be altered by the fateful circumstance of their friendship, by the compass of one and the curiosity of another.
Stories need a place to land, where time allows their telling. The Women’s Center is both a haven and a change agent, a point on a map where a long-established route is reconsidered. I imagine a woman saying, “let me give you a hand.” Maybe it is to get a shawl off a loom, or maybe it is to find a solution to stop her young child’s marriage. Maybe it is to just lend an ear and an open heart. Stories should be told and stories should be heard.