Knitted with Love

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Knitting for Those in Need uses yarn to create items that serve individuals in need of a helping hand or warm scarf[/perfectpullquote]
Words by Kayla Sturm | Photos by Samantha Karam

Multicolored yarn loops around the pegs of a knitting loom. The yarn is being pulled up, over and off the peg. Beautiful stitches are made to eventually create a pattern. There are many different items one can make with a knitting loom; it is also one of the easiest forms to teach someone who wants to start knitting. Friday nights on the fourth floor of the Kent State library is where students can be found knitting at the Knitting for Those in Need (KTN) meetings.

The KTN organization was founded by Diane Baldridge. These meetings bring together those who want to better the community while learning a new skill and creating unique projects that can benefit different types of people.

Being a non-traditional student at the age of 56, Baldridge went back to school in 2010 with a wide range of interests. Baldridge decided to finish her nonprofit and human services management certification ticket in conflict management and cultural anthropology. This is when the light bulb went off in her mind to start a nonprofit organization on campus.

“There was a lot of interest in the community to start a group,” Baldridge says. “I took surveys in my classes and tried to integrate with my studies. I was testing the ground to start a nonprofit organization.”

Since the organization started, it is becoming a more well-known group within the community and popular for students to join, especially those with no knitting experience. The organization averages 20-plus people at meetings per week.

The knitters are scattered on the couches and bean bag chairs near the windows. Some are in groups with friends, some by themselves and some are the leaders getting new members started.

Knitting isn’t an activity that comes to a millennial’s mind when planning their Friday evening. They are usually out with friends or exploring nightlife downtown, but these individuals are doing something more productive with their free Friday night.

Sitting cross-legged on a blue bean bag chair Serena Zacour, a freshman majoring in speech pathology and audiology, is working on a yellow-patterned scarf.

“I found this organization on the Kent website and read the description of it,” Zacour says. “I was looking at the different organizations and I got excited about this one.”

Zacour already knows how to needle knit and likes to knit scarves, but this was the first time she experienced loom knitting.

“Someone handed me this already-started scarf and taught me how to loom knit, but I learned fast,” she recalls.

Most of the items students knit during the KTN meetings are already started projects that need to be finished, or they begin their own project. KTN is a service that donates knitted clothing, like scarves and hats, to shelters within the area.

Kelsey Moran, a sophomore studying integrated health science, sits next to her friend Emily Laubenthal at the meeting while both loom knit scarves.

“It’s a really effortless way to get involved,” Moran says. “It’s easy to do and time goes fast.” The two girls continue working on their projects as the night goes on.

A major project that KTN works on is called knitted knockers, which are for women who had a breast cancer operation. The knitted knockers originated from a group outside of Bellingham, Washington, and Baldridge reached out to the group on how they can bring it into the Kent community.

“We reached out to the Washington organization to send us orders. We are taking care of all of Ohio to make the knitted knockers,” Baldridge says. “Right now we have 85 requests to fill by the end of [February].”

The downtown group meets at Last Exit Book and Coffeehouse in downtown Kent on Tuesday nights. This group helps find the needs within the community, whether that need is hats, scarves, knitted knockers or twiddle muffs. The projects are done through both the downtown group and the student group. These two groups work together to make a difference.

“This is a student organization, but the strength of the organization is because we’ve created a partnership with the town and the students,” Baldridge says.

KTN reaches a wide variety of people interested in knitting and helping the community. Amber Chenoweth, a psychology professor at Hiram College, heard about the group through a friend about three years ago. Chenoweth searched KTN on Facebook and was reconnected at the end of summer 2014.

At a Friday night meeting, sitting on a blue chair on the fourth floor, Chenoweth took out a knitted knocker from her bag. The small, baby pink knocker looks like a small cup size that would go over a woman’s breast if she had a mastectomy.

Riley Weatherholt, a leader and treasurer of KTN, is a well-rounded knitter; she knows how to needle knit, crochet and loom knit. As Weatherholt sits crossed-legged on the floor, she discusses some of the big projects KTN does and the importance of the twiddle muffs.

They fill out a form and tell us the size and color they want them in and we make them,” Chenoweth says. “It’s really great when we get thank you notes about the knitted knockers when women use them, we like the feedback.”

The knitted knockers are just one of the popular projects, and KTN wants more knitters with experience and time to help. Twiddle muffs are another project that is in high demand from this organization. Twiddle muffs might have a strange name and a funny appearance, but they help people who have Alzheimer’s and those with social anxiety. These muffs are designed so they can move their fingers around on the inside of the muff.

The people are what brings this group together, but there are other benefits as well. Besides learning knitting techniques, knitting can also be a form of therapy. Courtney Wolfe, president of the KTN group, expressed how much she missed knitting for fun because her busy class schedule didn’t grant free time to dedicate to knitting. There were days Wolfe would spend sitting in her room, knitting and watching Netflix to enjoy some relaxing time.

“It’s a very stress relieving activity, and I’ll be on autopilot while I’m knitting,” Wolfe says.

At the end of the two-hour meeting, the knitters carfully start to pack up their projects into plastic bags, which are then secured in giant plastic tubs. Whether the same knitters return to these unfinished projects or another person picks it up, young or old come to contribute in making these items. They are made with careful consideration of others who need help. There is always a process in creating colorful, exciting and wonderful projects. Those who aim to make a difference through leadership and community service are welcome to join the community of KTN. Louise Ditchey, the faculty adviser for this group, feels honored to be part of this team.

“One of the most enjoyable things I have done in my many years here is be the faculty adviser for this group,” Ditchey says. “We have an enthusiastic team. We all pull together to help a cause and make a difference.”