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Knitting Us Together

With needles and yarn, club creates hats, gloves and scarves for neighbors in need.

Illustration of a knitted square with Northwestern's "N"
Image: Illustration by Leslie-Anne Fernando Mock

By Ellen Tomlins
Fall 2023
1 Response

Members of Knitwestern build community while honing their knitting skills and giving back to local organizations. Open to students and community members alike, the knitting and crocheting club operates on the premise that anyone can learn to knit.  

“I can’t remember the last time there was a meeting with no new people joining us,” Knitwestern president and rising junior Abbie Farley says. At weekly meetings in Locy Hall, members work on two knitting techniques — how to cast on and cast off — and two types of stitches, knit and purl.  

The idea for the club began in 2018 when longtime knitter Sarah Eisenman ’22 met with a small group of friends to knit together in the basement of Norris University Center. The new group was, in part, a revival of CompassionKnit, a faculty and staff knitting club that had disbanded a few years prior. 

Community service is at the core of Knitwestern’s mission. The club donates finished pieces — hats, gloves, scarves and headbands — to local and student organizations including Students Organizing for Labor Rights (SOLR), Inspiration Corporation and Howard Brown Health’s Broadway Youth Center.  

“These organizations are reflective of the people around us,” says Farley. “SOLR is present in our everyday lives, as they support many Northwestern [service workers].” Inspiration Corporation and Broadway Youth Center help people experiencing houselessness or housing instability, including LGBTQ+ youth. “We wanted to be able to have a tangible impact not just within Northwestern but in the larger community,” she says.  

Each knitting and crocheting project takes hours and hours to complete, Farley says, but the payoff is worth it. “Our projects are made with a lot of care, from picking the materials and pattern, to the time that it takes to put every stitch together. They’re something that brings comfort and warmth, and that's what we want to spread.”  

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Reader Responses

  • Over two months ago, I launched the 500 Hats for Refugees initiative with the goal of providing hats for the over 19,000 refugees who have been transported here to Chicago from Texas with little more than the clothes they were wearing. They are currently being housed at temporary staging areas or shelters. More than one-third of the refugees are children under the age of 10.

    Knowing most would be facing cold weather for the first time, I reached out to the crafting community, both locally and virtually, including the online community Ravelry, local yarn shops, Meet Up and Meta (Facebook) groups and public libraries. The response has been terrific! To date, we have collected over 1,000 hats, coming from several states, including California, Texas, Hawaii and Florida. One person from Colorado sent 70 hats! These hats are all different and truly beautiful. Any size is welcome as there’s bound to be a head to fit a hat!

    The hats are distributed as we accumulate them at Hats & Hot Chocolate events taking place near the shelters. This is an ongoing project with no specific deadline since Chicago winters can be long and it can snow as late as April. Additionally, buses of refugees continue to arrive.

    Margie Chan ’78 Chicago, via Northwestern Magazine

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