Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cheap Fun: Host a Learn-to-Knit/Crochet Party

 It's amazing how many skills and handicrafts move towards extinction with every generation. Take calligraphy for example - in the age of iPads and even (now) old-fashioned computer keyboards, penmanship is definitely falling into the realm of obscurity. And yet for countless generations, scribes of all types worked tirelessly, transcribing huge tomes (think of the Bible, for example!) by hand and with incredible beauty and accuracy. Remember - these were the days before 'Wite-Out'!

The phrase "they don't make them like they used to" springs to mind, doesn't it?

Other handicrafts like knitting and crochet also seem to me to teeter on the brink of extinction nowadays. If it wasn't for sites and online communities like Ravelry and Etsy, I feel quite confident that these pasttimes would slip into the past forever.
Fruits of our labours! Knit-a-Square-bound squares and toques
As a grad student and a scientist, I often have to deal with stressful and challenging situations (as I'm sure most people do with their careers and education!), and I'm so thankful that I'm able to come home and work on something artistic (be it painting, sketching, papercrafts or crochet. Or blog writing, for that matter!). If I wasn't able to unwind at the end of the day, I think I would go irretrievably insane.

A few of us grad students from our department got together in late September for the inaugural 'stitch and bitch', or knitting party. It was a great way to relax and have a laugh, and of course catch up with everyone's projects, experiments and publications. It was made even better by Corinne's chocolate chip cookies and Jen's lovely bottle of red!
Clockwise beginning with pink: Corinne, Mel, Mel, Jasmine, Corinne and Corinne.
Our main goal was quite straightforward: to produce at least one square each to contribute to Knit-a-Square, a charity based in Soweto, South Africa that stitches together donated squares into warm blankets for the AIDS orphans living in the endless slums and shanty towns of Johannesburg.
Please visit to read more about this innovative charity
(Before you start to wonder why children in Africa need warm blankets, let me point out that without a proper, insulated building to sleep in, a rainy 4 degrees overnight will be more than enough to set off hypothermia and 'exposure'. 4.1 C (39.4 F) is the average low temperature in June and July in Johannesburg, which would feel all the more bitter in a tent made of scrap tin siding with no central heating).
From - an orphaned boy and his Knit-a-Square charity blanket
Because of my area of research (HIV), I am acutely aware of the plight of the children in AIDS-endemic regions like sub-Saharan Africa. There are an estimated 15 MILLION AIDS orphans around the world, the vast majority of which are in Africa. Imagine losing both your parents early in your life, and then being left to fend for yourself in a desperate, impoverished community. The need is palpable.

So why not have a few friends over (male and female, if the men are man enough for the task!) and try your hand at knitting or crochet? Knitting instructions can be found online in a myriad of places (including YouTube) and there are even the basics on the Knit-a-Square website.

You may wonder where you can get the necessary materials, and boy do I have good news for you! I received more knitting needles than I could possibly make use of simply by taking out a free ad on Freecycle - a lovely neighbour left a whole box of them for me on her front porch! But if that's not going to work for you, the Salvation Army at 4th and Cypress has a whole jar of knitting needles in every size (go for a medium to large size, 4 or 5) for $0.49 a pair. I'm sure other thrift shops are similarly stocked (the MCC on Fraser sure is). You can try to buy yarn there as well (often sold in bags), or pop down to Dressew for the $1.99 skeins! Michael's on Broadway at Cambie (now open) has a terrific selection, but is at least twice the price on average.
I bought all of this lovely yarn (and more!) from the SPCA Thrift Shop for super duper cheap!
What you need for a successful knitting party:
  • Knitting needles (and/or crochet hooks for weirdos like me that prefer to crochet)
  • Yarn (various colours - varigated yarns that have multiple colours are great for learning!)
  • Scissors
  • Knitting instructions and/or a nearby computer and pertinent websites (or a resident expert willing to teach)
  • Project (start with 8" squares for Knit-a-Square - easy, fast and of benefit to a needy child!)
  • Guests (obviously!)
  • Finger food (preferrably not greasy or sticky or messy!)
  • Beverages (I think cocktails are beneficial to the process, but that's just my opinion)
  • Comfy couch or chairs and a place to host (home, the workplace or boardroom (after hours), a large coffee shop that won't resent your presence, etc.)
That's about it! Not only is it extraordinarily cost-effective, it's also a lot of fun (especially when things go horribly wrong and projects have to be 'frogged'!).

Read more about learning to crochet (my handicraft of choice in the yarn-field!) on my earlier blog post.
The majority of my stockpile is from a coworker's sister who donated it to me! Ask around!

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