Knitting Stitches Together Community of Women
What do you like to do for fun? It’s a common question in American culture. Perhaps you like to explore the outdoors, go to the movies, play an instrument, read a book. When we posed this question to one group of refugee women, the answer was unanimous: knitting.
In the spring of 2012, the IRC in Seattle started up a women’s group for ethnically Nepali refugees from Bhutan. These women spent decades of their lives in refugee camps in Nepal after being forced out of their home country in the early 1990s. In the camps, the women enjoyed knitting, which they viewed as a source of calm and relaxation. Since coming to the United States, however, many of the women expressed not having access to the yarn and supplies they need to complete new knitting projects.
In response, the IRC reached out to Weaving Works, a locally owned yarn shop based in the University District of Seattle. Upon hearing the needs of the participants of the women’s group, Weaving Works was happy to contribute a large donation of high-quality yarn. This generous donation jump-started a new IRC project that is bringing together women from all backgrounds.
On a chilly day in November, the women’s group hosted their first knitting gathering in Tukwila. They welcomed women from refugee communities, as well as the broader King County community, to come together for an afternoon of knitting and snacks. Not knowing exactly how the event would go, the IRC facilitator was impressed by what took place at that first gathering: “There were women of all skill levels present and the more experienced knitters – mostly elderly Bhutanese women – naturally took the lead and started teaching the less experienced women.”
It didn’t seem to matter that many of the women didn’t share a common spoken language. They were expressing themselves through a different language now – knits and purls. One IRC volunteer observed: “For most refugees, there is a lot to learn when you get to the U.S. and new arrivals often find themselves in the role of the student, not the teacher. With the knitting group, I saw a reversal of those roles and I think that can be very empowering.”
The IRC in Seattle has since hosted two more gatherings, made possible by the continued support of Weaving Works. Each time, we see women who might not otherwise have the opportunity to share their skills and knowledge with the broader community confidently teaching and interacting with other women. Members of the Nepali women’s group are already discussing how they can expand the knitting project and share their work with more people. Stay tuned for updates on this exciting new development!
Interested in joining the next knitting gathering? Please email Courtney Madsen for more information at Courtney.Madsen@Rescue.org
Photo by: Cameron Karsten