Jessen O’Brien, second-year in the College
Photo by Yvette Marie Dostatni

Fourth-year Chelsea Johnson has never had a problem with the cold—it’s one of the many benefits of being a knitter.

“I am the warmest person I know,” says Johnson, whose mother taught her to knit in high school. “Whenever I lose a glove, I can just whip out another one.”

What began as a hobby to get over a bad breakup, knitting now helps Johnson help others.

Johnson created a student organization dedicated to knitting, called Commuknity, two years ago. Members gather Monday nights in South Lounge, and at the end of the quarter, Johnson donates their finished products to a charitable organization.

“There was a huge group of girls in my house who knit,” says Johnson, a member of Woodward house. “People wanted to knit but didn’t have anything to do with their finished projects.”

As part of Kuvia, the University’s annual winter festival, knitters across campus last month competed in individual and group competitions. In the end, they created 123 scarves, which Johnson donated to the Olive Branch Mission, a South Side rescue mission that offers tutoring for children and teenagers, and job training for men and women.

Commuknity works closely with the group, since it is one of the few organizations in Hyde Park to accept knit products.

“What we liked about them is that they do work with people,” says Johnson. “They provide rehabilitation services as well as food and shelter.”

Kuvia Helps Broaden Community of Knitters

Just as Johnson created a community of knitters with her RSO, the Kuvia competition inspired knitters across campus to work together.

Breckinridge house residents had thought about forming a knitting circle for some time, and Kuvia helped them work toward a common goal.

“Breckinridge has always been really close-knit, but we are always looking for more things we can do as a house,” says second-year Lyndsey Moulds, the group’s unofficial coordinator for Kuvia. “We really enjoy opportunities to bond together.”

At the end of the Kuvia, fourth-year Stephanie Fronk won the individual competition with nine scarves, and Commuknity won the group competition with an average of five scarves per person and a total of 27—with Johnson knitting 10 of them. The winners earned a basket filled with yarn and a book about knitting.

A Fun Hobby for Many Students

While their reasons for knitting vary, students appreciate the utility that comes with the hobby.

“When I knit things, they usually just get piled up in my room and are never used,,” says Moulds. “With the competition, I know exactly where they’re going.”

Fronk enjoys not only the excuse to knit—she compares it to reading for pleasure, an activity she loves but has little time for during the school year.

“I tend to get bored when I sit and watch TV, which is something I do way too much of, and it’s nice to sit and do something with my hands,” says Fronk.

Fourth-year Angelina Liang finds that knitting “definitely relaxes me, helps me take my mind off things, and just slows everything down for at least a little while.”

Liang knit six scarves for the competition and was glad to give them away.

After all, she says, “a girl only needs so many for herself.”

Originally published on February 8, 2010.