Every Wednesday morning, Michelle Wilchfort makes her way from Wilton to North Stamford to get help on her latest knitting project from a group of fellow knitters. Wilchfort, a homemaker who takes care of her grandson, has spent the past few weeks making a spring jacket she found in the latest issue of a knitting magazine.
Michelle Schacter, a Greenwich resident, takes a morning break from her work with a social service agency to join the group. She’s making an intricate shawl with several kinds of yarn. She’s struggling with the border this week and needs some help.
Both women are part of Stitch and Chat, a group of knitters who meet at various homes and community locations in Stamford, Wilton and Westport.
Stitch and Chat was founded by Pam Grushkin, a knitting instructor who worked for Knit Together, a yarn store that was on High Ridge Road in Stamford for four years. In March, the store closed due to financial reasons, much to the dismay of its loyal customers. But through Grushkin’s efforts, the knitters weren’t abandoned.
“When I learned about Knit Together’s closing, my first concern was our customers. We had nurtured them and grown so fond of them over the years. I felt very strongly about finding a way to keep the staff and customers connected. I didn’t want to leave my students hanging,” says Grushkin, a Westport resident.
Grushkin sought the help of the store manager and fellow instructor Liz Rolle to launch Stitch and Chat. The group had its first meeting at the end of January. Today, Stitch and Chat provides seven weekly sessions with more than 20 regular participants, including many former students from Knit Together.
Stitch and Chat is unique in the local area because it operates outside of a yarn shop. Usually, knitters congregate at a yarn shop for advice and community. “But with online purchasing of yarn and the high cost of real estate, it’s difficult for some local yarn shops to make their bottom line,” says Grushkin.
Grushkin is harnessing modern technology to organize old-fashioned knitting circles. She receives inquiries daily about the group through the Web site http://www.stitchandchat.com. And although the group doesn’t have a physical home, Grushkin hopes to reach out to other knitters through the Internet.
Stitch and Chat provides group instruction, charging $25 for two hours. It also provides private instruction upon request.Grushkin and Rolle serve as the group’s instructors and work with knitters to help choose projects and teach knitting skills and techniques. “Stitch and Chat provides a community for knitters to learn and grow,” says Rolle who is also a rabbi in Stamford.
“It’s a great way to see what other knitters are doing and stay on top of new patterns and yarns.”
Schacter says that none of her friends knit and she waits all week for Wednesday morning to come and talk about her knitting projects. “This group motivates me. I wouldn’t finish any of my projects without it.”
Grushkin says Stitch and Chat is the “village approach” to knitting and jokes that “it’s cheaper than therapy.” Many of the women at a recent Wednesday gathering say the process of knitting is soothing and makes them feel creative and productive.”The conversation starts about knitting, but it always ends up about family and life in general,” says Grushkin.
Students of all levels and ages attend Stitch and Chat. Grushkin says some of the women are experienced knitters, while others are girls who have just started to knit. “I have grandmothers who want to knit something for their grandchildren, twenty-something’s who want to knit a cool vest, women who want to knit prayer shawls and also a couple of male knitters.”
Cheryl Schacht of Pound Ridge, N.Y., is a beginner. She considers herself artistic and always wanted to learn to knit. She came to Knit Together a year ago and started classes with Grushkin. “I love it. It’s slow going, though, so I need the extra push,” says Schacht, a lawyer who is taking time off to raise her children.
Rose Puza is knitting a sock for the first time. She wants to practice before she can hand them out as gifts. Puza, who was the office manager at Knit Together, is an accomplished crotcheter, who turned to knitting while working at the store.”The Knit Together staff and customers were like a family – through Stitch and Chat we are still connected,” says Puza.