A close-knit community

Knitting guild brings locals together
By Stina Sieg | Dec 10, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg

With knitting needles in her hands and purple yarn wrapped around her finger, Pam Ring looked at home. An unfinished linen skirt was growing slowly, stitch-by-stitch, in her lap, and she had far yet to go. But Ring, the outgoing president of the Smoky Mountain Knitting Guild, wasn’t bothered. She, like everyone in the group, doesn’t knit for instant gratification.

She does it, in part, because she simply can’t stop.

“About five years ago, I found this, and then I started, and now I’m addicted,” she said, laughing. “Now I’m addicted.”

It’s a common story at SMKG, which now has 80 members across the county and beyond. That afternoon, a handful of them were breezing in and out of “Knit Witz” the guild’s low-key knitting circle. Held twice a week at the Haywood County Library and open to all, the informal, drop-in meeting only had a few takers this time around, but they all appeared tickled to be there. Some were chatting, some were getting help and others were showing off their latest baby hats, scarves or other newly knitted creations. All seemed to be finding a few hours of common ground.

Ring, who’s been with the guild since the beginning, explained that this sense of togetherness has always been part of the organization, and even helped start it about five years ago.

“It all began as a way to reach out to knitters all over Western North Carolina and to connect,” she said.

And so, for years, she and her fellow guild members have — both with one another and the community at large. Together, members have taken group trips to fiber farms and yarn stores and learned everything from felting to dyeing to yoga for knitters. They’ve hosted several knitting classes a year, many free and open to all ages, and others extremely in-depth and challenging. Bit by bit, the guild has become known as the epicenter of all things fiber for miles.

But even more than all this fun stuff, it’s become renowned for its annual “Four Seasons” fashion show, featuring members’ knitted handiwork and always benefiting a local charity. In the past, the guild’s ladies (and an ever-growing group of gentlemen) have donated proceeds to the local hospice and the Good Samaritan Clinic. Next year, they’ll be searching out a new recipient.

This annual effort makes knitting “a great way” to give back, Ring said, but it’s obvious that’s not completely why she does it. She, like everyone who’s been bitten by the yarn bug, just loves to knit, for many reasons she can name and probably some she can’t. For her, it’s therapeutic, creative and satisfying, but of course there’s more.
As Mary Finn, sitting a few feet over, spoke up to explain, “It’s just the community is so wonderful.”

Knitting away at a green-pink-black-blue project, the former SMKG president added that for several in the group, knitting is a means to heal.

“Many people have said the support from the guild has helped them through very trying times,” she said, without going into detail about anyone’s ups and downs.

Susan Lee added that group members are always very willing to help one another when stuck on a project.

“If one person can’t help, we can help by committee,” she joked, smiling.

Just a bit farther down the long table, Ann Williams, a grandmother of six, wasn’t shy about saying the guild is her “social life.” At 75, she only really leaves her Crabtree home for two reasons: to grocery shop and knit.

“This is my pastime — or my hobby, I guess you could say,” she said, pausing, then laughing. “And maybe it’s more like an obsession.”

Whatever it is, it works for her, and she tries to never miss a meeting. Sometimes they even come to her. Not so long ago when she was stuck in physical rehab for a while, small groups of her fellow knitters came to visit — and of course knit with her. That was “really nice” of them, she said.

“If it wasn’t for knitting, I probably wouldn’t know anyone,” she added, smiling at her fiber-loving friends.

Knitting quickly and deftly next to her, Crystal Plemmons looked equally happy, black yarn in hand. In her early 30s, Plemmons represents the group’s young contingent (and members do dip down into their 20s), but that’s not what makes her extraordinary. She’s the group’s only blind knitter — and only blind spinner and blind crocheter — and though she’s only been with the guild a year and a half, she’s been completely embraced by the group.

“I think it’s more than just knitting,” said the young mother. “It’s about meeting people and being out and about.”

She admitted that, yes, she was nervous at first to officially join the ranks of local knitters.

“But I will tell you one thing,” she said. “It’s helping me to be more confident.”

It’s that kind of impact that lets Ring and others in the guild know that what they’re creating here is greater than the sum of all their stitches. It’s part of why Ring and others are always eager to welcome new knitters of any skill or age into the fold.

When asked to give her sales pitch for knitting, Ring smiled and offered the kind of support for which the guild has become mildly famous.

“Just give it a shot,” she said. “Just give it a try. It’s really not hard.”

And she believes it could just change your life.

SMKG — which just welcomed new president Pam Potter — is always accepting new members and costs $25 a year to join. Its official meetings, open to all members, are from 2 to 4 p.m. the second Sunday of every month at St. John Catholic Church. The “Knit Witz” knitting circle is open to all, even nonmembers, from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Haywood County Library. For more information about classes and special events, visit www.smkguild.com or email smkguild@yahoo.com.