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Old Town’s Carefull Knitters Use the Magic of Yarn and Creativity to Meet Community Needs

By Susan McLain Sullivan

Alexandria, VA – Have you ever watched somebody snuggle into a hand-knitted Afghan blanket or shawl? Or, maybe you’ve seen the tiny heads of newborns crowned in cozy, knitted caps? You are witnessing the magic of yarn.

The gifted items frequently rouse a sigh of pleasure—even some giggles or a smile—from the feel of soft items. The careful hands of Alexandria’s knitters and crocheters are to be credited with both the magic of yarn creations and the creative skills to meet the growing needs of worthy organizations. Throughout the city’s libraries’ meeting rooms—day, night, and on weekends—numerous individuals gather in knitting and crocheting groups to produce tangible, practical outreach to others. At the same time, these talented people gain a bit of relaxation and mental stimulation with each knit and purl.

Just a little over five years ago, a group of community-minded Alexandrians decided to put their creative skills into Carefull Knitting (occasionally Carefull— the italics to emphasize the level of care) to produce useful and welcome items for various groups in the community.

(Photo: Rita Mattia)

Megan Zimmerman, Adult Services librarian of the Kate Waller Barrett Branch of the Alexandria Library System, said some Careful Knitters who meet at her branch today were the group’s founding members, but it has grown larger and more active over time.

“Carefull Knitting began five years ago in March of 2018. The idea was born from a stand-alone knitting event at the Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library,” Zimmerman said. “A participant commented that it would be nice if the items being made were going toward some purpose. I decided to see if others in the community would be interested in knitting and crocheting items that would be donated. It turns out that they were.”

The group, which averages about a dozen attendees at each meeting, has made blankets for people experiencing homelessness, nests for injured animals, hats and scarves for Beatley Central Library’s Yarn Storm, shawls for homebound Alexandrians, and much more.

“When Carefull Knitting first began, we contributed knit and crochet poppies for the WWI Poppy Centennial art project that the Office of Historic Alexandria collected,” she noted. Since then, numerous events and recipients have benefitted from the group’s hands.

(Photo: John David Coppola/JohnDC Photography)

In October, Carefull Knitters donated more than 100 knitted and crocheted items to The Fisher House in Fort Belvoir. The Fisher House is a respite for military families, a safe place to stay together during a medical crisis or treatment. It was the group’s first donation to The Fisher House and was enthusiastically received. The group’s knitted and crocheted items will be distributed throughout the year as comfort gifts to Fisher House guests.

“The plan is to keep this an ongoing relationship,” Zimmerman said. “At the moment, we hope to gear projects for The Fisher House to line up with holidays that celebrate Veterans, but we will see what needs arise as the relationship develops.”

(Photo: John David Coppola/JohnDC Photography)

At the regular meeting on Thursday, February 1, the group hosted Tania Brandt from the domestic violence program in the City of Alexandria. They presented some 50 custom gift bags filled with kind notes and hand-made treasures and even some sweet treats to be distributed to clients of a domestic violence safe house.

Carefull Knitting meetings, on the first and third Thursdays of the month, are arranged by a staff member of Alexandria Library, who generates the events and keeps members and new attendees up to date on what is happening. There are no officers. Among the enthusiastic group members is Rita Mattia, who is “a leading force for the momentum of the group, creating the projects, keeping them on track, and arranging for yarn donations,” Zimmerman said.

(Photo: John David Coppola/JohnDC Photography)
(Photo: John David Coppola/JohnDC Photography)

While all members have the opportunity to reach out to organizations to partner with and share ideas, Mattia has become a key member in this regard. Mattia admits she spends a fair amount of time doing outreach on social media.

“Some members—I am one—look for good deals on FB Marketplace and ‘big sales’ online or buy yarn themselves to use for our projects or dig into their personal “stash,” Mattia said, adding that “all knitters and crocheters are hoarders to some extent—heck, most crafters of any sort are.” Occasionally, donations find their way to the knitters and crocheters, and new projects blossom.

“From time to time, donations ‘magically’ appear,” Mattia added. “This happened recently when an individual donated hundreds of skeins of new yarn to us just because she liked what she read about our mission on the library event list.”

Besides having an ongoing opportunity to use her knitting talents, Mattia, whose career was in advertising and marketing, makes the case that knitting energizes her mental health and fulfills a need to help others in the community. “Not only is it relaxing, it’s simultaneously productive,” she added.

“I believe most members would tell you that the warmth and friendliness of this particular group keeps us coming back week after week.”

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