Stitched Together

By Vernice Shostal

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The Victoria Knitting Guild, a non-profit organization with a current membership of 94, elected its official executive and adopted a constitution in 2003. The seed was planted when two knitters, Amy Ayres and Mary Byrne, knitting in the bleachers while watching their children play tennis, became friends. Together with a small group of knitting companions from a local yarn shop, they began meeting regularly on Newport Street, charged $10 for membership and called themselves the Newport Knitters.

The group expanded until it became the current Victoria Knitters Guild and has proudly featured knitters on the local *Go Show* and *Knit Together*, a Canadian Knitters Guild quarterly publication.

As well as hosting other knitters, including a group on a Vogue knitting Cruise to Alaska, the guild has hired teachers and well-known designers and held one daylong workshop on mosaic knitting and knitting with beads. Their own day trips have taken them to Salt Spring and Gabriola Islands and retreats to Yellow Point and Kiwi Lodge. A “knit out,” a gathering of knitters and markets related to knitting, is held outdoors every June at the Saxe Point grassy area.

Having knitted socks and mitts for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Mavis Butlin knitted a doll for each of her 12 great-grandchildren. One of her dolls, a sort of Mascot for the Guild, won first prize in the “over 80” category at the Saanich fair this year. Now, she says, “I knit a few hats for Afghanistan. Otherwise, I usually just chat at the meetings.”

An Air Radio mechanic in the British Fleet Air Arm, Mavis tested and fixed radio and radar for various aircraft in England. She came to Canada as a war bride in 1946 and lived in Ontario and Quebec, where she took a Red Cross Water Safety Course and taught swimming to children, adults and seniors.

“At one time, about 40 years ago,” she says, “I taught Jean Chrétien’s wife to swim.” Six years ago, Mavis moved to Victoria.

A perennial athlete, Mavis says that tennis is her greatest joy. “I play several times a week.”

Guild President Marjory MacDuff, whose Grade 1 teacher taught her to knit, joined the guild five years ago. Having retired from a nursing career in psychiatry, Marjory was introduced to the guild through a friend. “During the years I worked as a night nurse, it seemed most nurses knit,” she says. “We were always sharing ideas and patterns.” She joined the Guild to learn new techniques.

Growing up in Alberta on a farm that her father homesteaded in 1906, Marjory went to the school built on a piece of land her father donated for the purpose. The school, which housed Grades 1 to 9, had an average population of 13. “It was not difficult for me to be the top of my class,” says Marjory, who was the only one in her grade.

Marjory obtained her RN from University Hospital in Edmonton. In 1961, she married and moved to Victoria and got a job at Royal Jubilee Hospital, where she worked for over 40 years.

Joyce Marshall knits one-of-a-kind, special hats with an intricate interlace pattern, a knitting technique that produces a woven appearance - tiers of tilting blocks appear to run over and under each other, but are worked in one piece to create an interwoven look in a variety of textures and colours. Proceeds from the sale of these hats go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation for the benefit of African Grandmothers and the children they are caring for.

Returning to knitting after a long hiatus, former teacher Barb Beukema learned about the Guild through an online group sponsored by *Knitter’s Magazine*. She began knitting in 1961. Her first project was a little white tie-on hat, which she learned to knit from a classmate at Kalamazoo College. The next item was a pair of garter-stitch slippers in pink acrylic followed by a pair of argyle socks for the man who became her husband two years later.

“These days, I am knitting multi-coloured hats for local charities,” says Barb. Over the years, she has knitted wool socks for children in Afghanistan and babies and toddlers in Russia. “One of the things I enjoy about the Guild is that a number of us are knitting for various charities. Members are invited to participate in this knitting. Some do, some don’t, and that’s okay.”

After Toronto and Barbados, where she taught for two years, Barb and her family chose Victoria as their home, and Barb continued her career as an educator in learning assistance and teacher-librarian at South Park Family School for 16 years, a school her daughters also attended.

Barb hosts the at-home gathering of knitters two or three times a year. This year’s editor of the Guild newsletter, Barb enjoys being part of a supportive group with similar interests.

Besides a weekly social event and knitting for themselves, the Guild knits for charities such as Afghans for Afghanistan (done in pure wool to very specific standards); baby hats for the newborn at Victoria General nursery, knitted mainly by Brenda Ferguson; and baby hats and sweaters, knitted by Sylvia Hatfield for Canada Comfort, a compassionate warehouse that ships material resources to developing countries from Victoria. Other charities include Blankets for Canada, scarves for Children at Christmas at Queen Alexandra, hats for Extreme Outreach, which works with children aged three to 18, and slippers for Cancer House Victoria, knitted by Janet Harper.

The Victoria Knitting Guild meets every week with a short break after their potluck Christmas dinner. Members turn up regularly to knit, show off their projects and share their knowledge with less experienced members. The group meets at Saint Aidan’s every first and third Wednesday of the month and at members’ homes the other Wednesdays. Their annual fee is $20.

For further information about the Victoria Knitting Guild, or to join, call Membership Co-ordinator Elizabeth Henry at 250-477-4231.





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