A loose stitch reminds us of our own flaws; knitters learn to forge ahead through the loose stitch, tapping needles together to fix the flaw and create something beautifully woven. Is this a simplistic metaphor for life? Maybe.
The benefits of knitting (reducing stress, improving mood, strengthening the brain) is exactly what is happening at Family & Children’s Services Women in Recovery (WIR), an intensive outpatient alternative for eligible women facing long prison sentences for drug-related offenses. The knitting group is led by fiber artists Jan Hawks, Denise Paglio and Lyn Lucas.
It all started in 2014 when a group of knitters across Oklahoma came together to create a giant yarn bomb in Tulsa, a project coordinated by 108|Contemporary (a community arts organization and gallery in Tulsa’s Brady Arts District).
With approximately 5,000 eight inch squares needed to cover the front of the building, it was suggested that these knitters reach out to WIR for help. Hawks, Paglio and Lucas met with 14 WIR participants, none of which had ever picked up a pair of knitting needles in their lives, and they taught them to knit.
After a few weeks, the WIR women were catching on quickly and were so excited with their progress that they wanted to continue their knitting at home.
Several months later they had enough squares and the yarn bomb was finished, but the knitters didn’t want the experience to end. They wanted to continue to learn and knit things for their friends and family. That is when Hawks, Paglio and Lucas realized how much they enjoyed volunteering at WIR, so the women agreed to teach knitting every Tuesday morning.
“We meet with the women when they are brand new and into their sobriety, so they are often very nervous and stressed. We have the opportunity to be a welcoming and non-judgmental space for the girls. We are excited to be a part of their journey and it’s fun to see how much the knitting helps them,” said Lucas.
All the yarn is donated through local organizations and friends so the ladies can continue to help the WIR participants grow and learn these new skills.
“It is something they can do and feel accomplished after seeing their work,” said Hawks. The women are not only learning how to knit but also learning new coping skills and learning how to deal with stress.
“The biggest takeaway for me is to see how much the young woman can accomplish and to see them graduate,” said Hawks, who wants to teach the girls how to knit shawls that they can wear during their graduation ceremonies. Hawks is currently working on one as an example so she can begin to teach the women to make their own.
This knitting group has been a tremendous help to the WIR participants. Courtney, one of the WIR woman in the class said, “it keeps me busy, whenever I start having a craving or something triggers me, I start to knit and it helps. I did not know how to knit before this and now I am knitting scarves and headbands for my children.”
Another woman in the program has learned how to knit, loom, crochet and is now learning how to weave. “Personally, I love creating stuff. It’s a great way to feel like you have accomplished something and it is fun to learn something new. I knew nothing about knitting before this class, these ladies are amazing, I love them,” WIR participant, Raela said.
Paglio summed up the experience with these words. “I love these girls so much, I learn new things from them every week and they crack me up. If you have a skill, share it with others. Everyone deserves a second chance,” she said.