It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. A group of knitters gather around a large white table, working on various projects as they chat happily amidst colourful balls of yarn and half-finished cups of tea and coffee. The group members come from different parts of the city, and they all have different stories to share. But there’s one thing everybody in the group has in common: they all experienced vision loss.
Making crafts and connections
June Feswick is a staff member at the Halifax chapter of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Foundation on Almon Street. She co-founded the knitting group with fellow staff member Shelley Adams five years ago. During their bi-monthly meetings, group participants gather to knit, crochet, weave and socialize. Most of the knitting materials they use are donated by members of the community.
Feswick became involved with CNIB in 2006 after her late husband had a stroke and lost his vision.
“I’m very passionate about what I do here,” Feswick says.
Participant Guylaine Savard first learned to knit at a school for the blind in Montreal, but she says she learned most of her skills at the CNIB knitting club.
“At the school for the blind in Montreal, they would cast on and cast off [for us],” Savard says. “But when I started at the knitting group in June 2015, I learned how to cast on with the needle.”
There are several different techniques of casting on and off in knitting. Essentially, they’re all ways to start and end a knitting project or row of stitches. Some techniques are more difficult than others.
As Savard speaks, she holds her latest project: a half-finished green dress. The dress is her second project, which she started after finishing a sweater for herself. The sweater took nearly two years to complete.
“The night she cast off [the last stitch], everybody cheered,” says Feswick.
Irene Swain has been coming to the knitting club since September 2019. For her, attending the club is a way of getting active again after losing her vision in 2018.
“For me, I was always an active person doing things. All of a sudden you lose your vision. There’s nothing you really can do. I used to knit though, and knowing I can come here and get help when my stitches fall down…it’s giving me life again,” says Swain.
Julia Mackenzie is a CNIB volunteer who helps the knitters with dropped stitches, casting off and finishing projects. She found out about the club after reading an article about Feswick.
“I thought, if I could help a blind person knit, I will,” Mackenzie says. Once she signed up to volunteer, her training included a police check, learning how to navigate different situations blindfolded, working with service dogs and learning how to properly accompany a blind or partially-sighted person.
Many of the knitters will tell you this: you don’t need sight to knit.
“I never realized while doing it that I didn’t need the sight to knit. I can sit in the dark and not be bothered by it,” says John denHollander, who has been coming to the group for two years.
“I find there’s not too much that someone who’s visually impaired can’t do. Basically, we’re trying to enjoy ourselves and trying to do something that everybody else takes for granted.”