My very first Knitwestern meeting leads me to the lower levels of Harris Hall, a normally bustling place made empty by the evening. I take my seat in the front of the lecture hall, watching as people begin to trickle in as the minutes go by. Some bring their own projects while others bring just their bare hands and a readiness to learn. Conversations rise in the air, recollections of a day in school mingling over recent shows watched or yarn-related escapades.
Knitwestern, Northwestern’s knitting and crocheting club, is five years old now, the brainchild of Northwestern alumna Sarah Eisenman. What makes the club unique is its openness to people of all skill levels and what it does with the finished products: donating the handmade winter items to local organizations, such as Students Organizing for Labor Rights (SOLR) on campus.
“We just really liked the idea of being able to teach people how to knit, but then also be able to give back to the community through our donations,” McCormick fourth-year Emma Estberg* said.
Estberg, former president of Knitwestern, said her job usually entailed procuring balls of yarn and knitting needles that she hefts in bags to meetings, and also teaching newcomers how to knit. Though that leadership role is now with current president and Weinberg second-year Abbie Farley, Estberg was still there at the meeting I attended to bring supplies and teach.
Anyone from any background, whether they spent their childhood crafting or just decided to drop in for the day, is welcome at Knitwestern. Come try it out – that’s the openness Estberg and Farley hope to build.
It’s an atmosphere I readily embraced as Estberg sat three fledgling knitters (myself included) in a row to teach us the first and most important step of the process: casting on a stitch.
“You’ll get faster,” is the promise and encouragement she often said as we fumbled. I found myself losing track of the instructions seconds after she finished explaining them. Fortunately, I didn’t feel too embarrassed with myself, even when Estberg had to take my needles to show me, one motion at a time, how to start my stitches. I wasn’t the only one struggling, which was a reassurance.
Besides being able to give back, Knitwestern is where people can come together to unwind and find community.
“The old president and founder of the club actually lived in the same apartment building as me my sophomore year,” said Weinberg fourth-year Kayla Ro, who was in the midst of crocheting the first part of a round baby blanket as we talked. “We found that out toward the end of the year, so I’d just go up to her place and just hang out on her couch and knit together.”
As the night went on, occasionally, compliments rang out as someone held up their finished product – tonight’s showcase, a knitted blanket. There were no pressures to finish or make anything perfect, something that, as an artist myself, I sorely needed. Letting loose and letting myself make mistakes, fumbling around with some needles, and eventually finding my way are great ways to tackle my irksome perfectionism.
Step one was just admitting to myself that I kind of need someone to hold my hand through these stitches.
Luckily, Estberg was there to help.
“Having a club that is really focused on such a relaxing thing at this stressful school, I think it’s great that people can come and just kind of take the time to not think about homework and just work on knitting, and also theoretically learn knitting if they didn’t know before,” Estberg said.
Looking ahead to the future of Knitwestern, Farley hopes to garner more attendance at meetings, perhaps hosting events like movie nights and offering snacks. Another big goal she has in the works is to find a steady yarn source.
“Being able to have a partner outside of Northwestern who would be able to assist with getting that yarn, whether it’s we get it through a discounted rate, they just organize it for us, or being able to even get free yarn that we can in turn donate, would be really great for us,” they said.
(A friendly reminder from Farley for those who have borrowed their yarn or needles: Please return them some time.)
Farley, who has been knitting for about four years now, hopes for fellow crafters to come out of club meetings with better knitting skills and a toolbox of four main techniques: casting on, knit stitches, purl stitches, and casting off.
“Once you know those four basic things, the possibilities are endless. Based on your size of yarn and the needles and everything like that, you can pretty much make anything you want,” Farley said. “Having that freedom and that ability to do so is something that’s really empowering.”
For Farley, Knitwestern was one of the first clubs she joined on campus, introduced to them thanks to fellow member Ben Fisk. From there, it was the beginning of Farley’s journey to figuring out what their time at Northwestern would mean.
“Although at the end of the day, I’m here for an education, I’m here to take classes, get a degree, there’s so much more to take advantage of, to capitalize on, to really make my own here,” she said. “Knitwestern was one of the first ways to really be able to see that and begin to develop my identity with Northwestern and something that will last beyond me.”
By the end of the night, I return to the same spot where I sat an hour ago, waiting for the meeting to begin. Estberg began playing music on Spotify, and to my delight, the very first song was boygenius’s new single, "$20." I knit slowly, but gradually, the movements come faster and faster. Soon, I have a small but promising line of round little stitches running up the glossy spine of my purple needle.
I’ve missed making things with my hands, I realize, as my tension fades. There’s a certain power and joy to making art you can feel and touch and use. If I just stick with it, I think, I might just make something for, and of, myself too.
*Editor's note: Emma Estberg is currently the co-creative director of North by Northwestern Magazine.