Knit together

L.A. Cicero knit table

The Stanford Knit Wits meet on campus regularly to pursue their craft, chat and relax. “I love the sensuousness of knitting,” says member Sharyle Leidy.

L.A. Cicero knit items

Stanford Knit Wits brought recent projects to show one another at lunch this week.

Attend any one of the regular gatherings for members of the Stanford Knit Wits and you'll soon realize that years of needlework inevitably sharpens a knitter's skills in two important areas: accessorizing and socializing.

While Sharyle Leidy knitted a brown winter shawl last Wednesday, she explained the exotic origins of her yarn, which consisted of wool and leftover fibers from the looms of sari makers in Nepal. She gave fellow Knit Witter Lourdes Ventura the website of an organization that recycles silk fibers into yarn and sells it to raise money to fight hunger.

Leidy, an administrative associate in the Neurosciences Institute, and Ventura, a student services specialist in the Department of Electrical Engineering, were among seven knitters who showed up for one of the club's noontime sessions last week. The Knit Witters meet at various locations on campus, on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, and usually every Thursday.

Not every knitter on campus is in the group's loop, but they cite common reasons for picking up the hobby. Many say knitting has calming and meditative effects, that it provides a creative outlet and that the end result is often a gift that they can pass along to friends and loved ones.

"The repetitive movements throw me into an alpha state, freeing my mind to do other things. And for an added bonus, I have something tangible to show for meditation time when I am done," Leidy said. "I love the sensuousness of knitting—the colors, textures of the yarns and the finished fabrics."

The weekly gatherings are giddy but casual, with attendees ranging from beginners to seasoned stitchers. Judi Gray, office manager in the Statistics Department, has been on staff at Stanford for 35 years and recalls a time when next-generation knitters would yawn at the yarns of the day—with their solid colors and unwavering textures.

Now, yarns come in varieties that blend colors and textures and have such names as squiggle, eyelash and punta, which consists of feathery fibers and knotted strings. The first two yarns look and feel much like their names suggest: Squiggle has wormy, frazzled fibers that resemble a hairball when the yarn is wound up, while eyelash consists of wispy strands of tinsel that sparkle like a wink from a Vegas showgirl.

"You can mix and blend all different kinds of yarns," Ventura said. "You don't have any rules. You don't have to follow a pattern."

Case in point: With just her two knitting needles and some yarn, Ventura made a small stuffed animal, as well as a fluffy steering wheel cover for her new car. Lori Wu, on staff in the Psychology Department and at the Graduate School of Business's behavioral lab, made a handbag that bears an uncanny resemblance to a plate of bacon and eggs—sunny side up.

The group's website (http://www.stanford.edu/group/knitwit/index.html) has a gallery that features some of the members' most impressive projects. Many depicted items—such as feather boas hanging from trees and airy ponchos resembling giant spider webs—appear to be more ornamental than functional. The site also lists its more than 80 members, meeting times and places, online video demonstrations and tutorials on everything from basic knitting stitches to dyeing yarn with Kool-Aid.

Knitting itself is not new to Stanford. About 10 years ago, a small group of staffers from the Department of Electrical Engineering and other offices would meet for knitting sessions. But without an effective means of reaching out to the wider campus community, such as through a website, interest waned and the group unraveled, Gray recalled.

Then a little more than a year ago, Gray said she ran into Fely Barrera, an administrative assistant in Electrical Engineering, and brought up knitting. Barrera said she knew of a group that had been meeting on its own, and the two began networking with others on staff. The initial get-togethers led to the creation of the Stanford Knit Wits in May 2004.

Since then, devotees such as Ventura and Gina Wein, an administrative manager in the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, have done their part to pull in more members and promote their yen for yarn. Many visitors hovered around the club's booth during last May's Multicultural Springfest, and plans to get involved in upcoming campus community events are well under way.

The club is recruiting members for a team—to be led by Wein—that will take part in the Walk to Cure Diabetes fundraiser, scheduled for Oct. 9 at Shoreline Park in Mountain View. In addition, the club is asking for donations in the form of knitted hats, gloves and other items to be auctioned off Nov. 12 to raise money for Bing Nursery School.

Members have compared their bond to the "Ya-Ya Sisterhood," and indeed, just about every member listed on the Knit Wits website appears to be female. They acknowledge that the dainty nature of the pastime makes it harder to recruit male members—especially given the old wives' tales that have endured in knitting circles.

"There is the myth of the boyfriend sweater," said Molly Vitorte, an associate director of Humanities and Sciences Programs in the Center for Latin American Studies. "As soon as you finish it, you break up."

But at least one member of the group jokingly confessed that her husband took a liking to the hobby when she first got into it—in part because she couldn't knit and talk at the same time. Chris Queen, a program coordinator in the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, said knitting counters her antsy nature and gives her a place to channel her energy.

"My husband's glad I do something," Queen said. "He never complains about how much I spend on yarns."

She added, however, that her husband now grumbles that they don't do enough together when they're at home.

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