While many Yale students apply for scholarships to fund independent research or study abroad, Chika Ota ’11 recently won a scholarship for a decidedly different interest: knitting.
Ota was awarded one of five annual Beans for Brains College Scholarships, given by JimmyBeansWool.com and Vogue International Knitting Magazine, for her knitting ability, netting an $800 prize and a 12-month subscription to the magazine. As part of her application, Chika submitted a versatile knitted dress she designed as part of an art show she held at Yale last year.
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The knitting population of Yale is both sizable and visible: over the last few years, several knitting clubs have sprung up as more undergraduates take an interest in making their own scarves and sweaters.
One recent addition is the Student Granny Society, founded two years ago by three freshmen in Timothy Dwight College. A registered student group, the society receives some funding from the University to complete charity projects; but beyond that, the club is purely social.
“The knitting culture at Yale is stronger than one might think,” said Alexsis Johnson ’12, the current president of the Student Granny Society. “And I see people knitting a lot — in lectures there’s always one or two people.”
Johnson said while most people do not expect 20- to 24-year-olds to knit, the hobby is by no means taboo at Yale. Around a dozen core members regularly attend the group’s meetings, and experience levels range from beginner to advanced. Stephannie Furtak ’12 is a beginner who now has several scarves to her name thanks to the society.
“It’s really relaxing,” Furtak said. “It’s a fun thing to do where you keep your hands busy but it doesn’t really require that much thinking.”
The Berkeley Knitters Club, founded three years ago, provides free knitting materials to Berkeley College students, although members of all colleges are welcome to attend group gatherings on Saturday afternoons.
Co-leader Nnenna Odeluga ’11 said the organization tries to encourage members to work on a range of projects.
“We have a mix of everything,” Odeluga said. “We usually have a project with a pattern where everyone is working together to create something. Sometimes we have themed projects where people can make, for instance, any winter accessories they want. We also do a charity project every semester.”
To entice more advanced knitters to join, the Berkeley Knitters have their own swift, a wooden tool that winds yarn. They built the swift themselves in the college’s wood shop over the course of a year — one of the most challenging experiences Odeluga said the club has faced.
Still, some students go rogue and take their knitting from social gatherings to the classroom. Rachel Kurchin ’13, who was first taught to knit by her mother at the age of four, said she has a compulsive need to do something with her hands and often knits in her non-writing intensive applied physics classes.
“I haven’t ever had anyone ask me to put it away,” she said. “One or two teachers in high school said it was distracting, but only to them because they couldn’t help but watch.”
Although she is not a member of any knitting groups on campus, Kurchin is passionate about her craft. With an “Eat Less, Knit More” sticker on her laptop, Kurchin at times works on up to four projects at a time, some of which she sells to raise money for charity.
The knitting community at Yale was even strong enough to sustain two knitting stores on Whitney Avenue, Knit New Haven and Yarn LLC, although the latter recently closed its Whitney branch due to management changes.
Still, Yarn LLC owner Linda Coleman said Yale students frequented her store often, adding that the student knitting groups at Yale provided a strong base of support.
“I’m really very sorry that I’m not going to be working with the students anymore,” said Coleman, who is now based at the Westville store, 2 miles northwest of downtown New Haven.
She said she is trying to maintain her relationship with groups like Berkeley Knitters and will continue to provide a discount for all students.
Yet while Yale knitters have regularly patronized local stores, both the Berkeley Knitters and the Student Granny Society are concerned about the future of their groups. With current members primarily in their junior and senior years, the clubs are looking for new blood to liven the ranks and keep knitting alive at Yale after the current leaders have completed their terms.
Although both groups say they have little problem convincing people to sign up at the beginning of the year, scheduling conflicts make it difficult to secure high attendance at the weekly gatherings.
In some cases though, new members take issue with the wide range of abilities to which the groups cater.
“We actually got turned down by one guy who said that our knitting wasn’t up to his level of expertise,” Johnson noted.
Yes, knitting at Yale is by no means a female-only activity. Nathaniel DeLuca, the program co-ordinator at the Chaplain’s Office, learned how to knit after an enthusiastic introduction to the art of crochet, but once he had mastered hats and mittens, DeLuca went on the search for something new. He eventually taught himself to knit using instructional videos on YouTube.
“It’s definitely a craft,” he said. “It’s seen as a leisure activity but I think until very recently in human history it was something that was very necessary — to be able to make mass-produced clothing is relatively recent.”
The 29-year-old, who usually knits gifts for loved ones, said he often receives strange looks and comments when people see him knitting. But DeLuca said he likes to break down the perception that knitting is only a women’s craft.
“I know a lot of men who knit,” he said. “I think the more people see men knitting, the better it is for everyone.”
Indeed, the knitting community at Yale does not just include students.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller used to have a Sunday night knitting group when she was master of Saybrook College. Since then she has ceased her participation in knitting culture at Yale, but asked if she would join an undergraduate knitting group, she responded, “I’m always interested in receiving invitations.”