At yarn shop's weekly craft circle, women are free to knit one, talk too

Group helps needlers of all ages share conversation and create art

Maryland Journal


LEONARDTOWN -- Donna Wagner was working on a crayon box sweater, a confection of pink, mauve and light-green squares. Nellie Daugherty had a solid start on a scarf that she had dubbed "a study in four blues." Jackie Spence was knitting a yellow seahorse doll for a colleague's soon-to-arrive baby.

The jagged, half-finished projects emerged from knitting bags. Skeins of yarn piled up on the table next to glasses of wine. Needles clicked.

They call it Wednesday nights or sit-n-knit or knitting happy hour. Once a week, up to a dozen women who love rich colors, soft textures and the comforting rhythm of purling and stitching gather in the evening at Crazy for Ewe, a yarn store on the square here in the seat of St. Mary's County.

They knit. They chat. They knit. They touch the yarns. They exchange advice. They talk about husbands, children, jobs, sex, health. They sip wine. As they work their needles, they slip away into what they describe as a very still place.

"When you're knitting, it somehow frees up your spirit," said Ellen Lewis, the store owner, a knitting ace and the evening's perky impresario. "Knitting puts you in the zone, the happy zone. When you're in that happy place and feel confident and comfortable, you're more likely and willing to share your innermost feelings."

In can be hard to make friends in a county where people are considered newcomers unless their families have been around for generations. "A lot of women are looking for a way to build connections," Lewis said.

Not that long ago one of the women arriving at the circle told Lewis: "I have a husband, a son and two male dogs, and I just needed some estrogen."

A 43-year-old married mother of four, Lewis has an irrepressible smile and pep-rally levels of enthusiasm for babies, Uruguayan wool, free patterns and a certain knitted raspberry-colored hat she insists looks good on everyone. She always warmly introduces the knitters as they arrive and has a sincere way of saying such things as, "I don't allow meanness."

Since she started knitting in college, Lewis has dreamed of opening a yarn store, but it always seemed terribly impractical, she said. Instead, she worked as an analyst in the defense industry for 20 years. Then, after her fourth child was born and work slowed, she changed course. She opened Crazy for Ewe almost exactly two years ago, stocking it from floor to ceiling with skeins of high-end, luxury wool in every color and texture from swirly hand-painted yarn to sparkly "diva yarn" for accents and yarn as soft as a baby rabbit.

"Sometimes," she said, "it stops being about the money, and it is about what you love and your passion."

Twice a week - once over morning coffee and once for happy hour - Lewis hosts open knitting sessions. She brings the coffee and the wine. The knitters, who range in age from 9 to their 70s, bring their projects, a week's worth of chitchat and knitting questions for Lewis, who bustles about, emphatically advising.

"There's just knit and purl," she likes to say by way of being modest and encouraging. "It's not rocket science."

On a recent Wednesday, Wagner, who's 50 and works as a security manager for a defense contractor, arrived early with some raggedy squares her dog had chewed on and photographs of her new twin grandchildren.

"We've been waiting for these babies!" Lewis exclaimed before retrieving some hand-dyed blue, cream and buttery yellow yarns for baby hats.

Wagner learned to knit at the shop about a year and a half ago. A friend, Betsy Hayward, pushed her to come the first time, but now she is hooked. Sometimes, she dreams about knitting, waking up with her hands curled around imaginary needles. She's a happy hour regular.

"I love yarn," Wagner said. "I love the way it feels, the texture, the colors. ... Yarn tells a story." She had a growing pile for her new sweater in front of her - white with gold flecks, greens, a purple - that she occasionally touched. "It talks to you."

The rest of the knitters gradually wandered into the shop. Spence set to work on her seahorse. Pat Coleman, 44, arrived with her mother in tow and a large, partly completed black baby alpaca sweater jacket.

"I'm kind of at a standstill," she said, spreading it out.

As Lewis flitted - "Slip one as if to purl. ... All right, you're ready to do stitch seven" - the conversation meandered from laser eye surgery to nursing babies.

Daugherty, who's 44 and, like many of the knitters, works at the nearby Patuxent Naval Air Station, swept in.

"The perfect house is more than I can afford," she announced. "A pool! That's about the closest to heaven as I get."

She hauled out the blue scarf, a gift intended for her son. "I'm so pumped," she said. "I have to knit so I can calm down."

Eden Halil, 19, the token teenager of the night, arrived with her tagalong boyfriend, Billy Sayed.

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