Knitting brings women together

Aug. 15, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.

Nita Fox and Kathy Labian work together to fix  a mistake made during the Tuesday night meeting of Knit Happens.

Nita Fox and Kathy Labian work together to fix a mistake made during the Tuesday night meeting of Knit Happens.

When doctors diagnosed a Victoria woman's husband with brain cancer and handed her a hospice card at the same time, she had no idea what to do.

"In times of stress like that, you feel like you aren't accomplishing anything," said Donna McCanlies, wife of Pat Montgomery, the former baseball coach for Victoria West High School.

In the four months between Oct. 28, when Montgomery was diagnosed, to Jan. 21, when he died, McCanlies said she was with him around the clock.

She said the stress at that time was overwhelming.

To cope, what was once a pastime for her - knitting and crocheting - turned into a form of therapy and support.

McCanlies has attended Knit Happens, a knitting group at Parkway Church, every week since it started in June 2011. She said the group, made up of about 15 women, circled around her while her husband was sick and after he died.

"Not only was the group wonderfully supportive, but having a pile of yarn beside me to kind of go to when it just seemed . when you just wanted to escape to something," McCanlies said. "I made all kinds of things during those months, they just dragged on and on."

Knitting, she said, gave her something productive to do with her time.

"I could look at the pile of yarn on the floor and it would turn into a baby blanket or a bedspread and there is a sense of accomplishment to that, or just that you are in control of something," McCanlies said.

Even though she couldn't attend the weekly meetings while Montgomery was sick, the group was always there.

"I would get calls every week, and know that I was thought of and prayed for," McCanlies said through tears.

And that is just the group's purpose, said creator Cindy Tharp, bookstore manager at Parkway Church.

"I was knitting as a therapy for myself because I have a family member who is an addict," Tharp said. "It was very helpful for me to have something to do, to keep the creative juices flowing ... it was something for me to do where I could make something and feel like I was in control of something, when at the moment I wasn't."

Tharp thought knitting could help others as well, so she approached Becky Hirschhauser, director of group life at Parkway Church, to start the group.

Originally, they met at Hobby Lobby in a classroom, but moved it to Parkway this year for extra space and to have a DVD player.

More than just a place to fellowship, Tharp said, she wanted the group to do positive things for the community, so they also knit for community service projects. Currently, they are working on knitting hats for premature babies.

Hirschhauser, who also joined the knitting group, said she found peace with the group when a close family member died.

"There are people here that understand," she said. "There are people that wear the same shoes in this very same room. And so it helps when you say, 'I feel like this' and people can say, 'I understand, I feel like that, too.'"

The group includes prayer and devotion in the midst of knitting, but is open to the entire community, not just members of Parkway Church.

McCanlies, for example, saw a posting for the knitting group at Academy and has since started attending the church. About half of the women in the knitting group are not members of Parkway.

Knitting, McCanlies said, makes talking about hard topics easier.

"There is just something about working with your hands that occupies your mind in a really positive way," she said.

Trying to challenge herself with new projects, McCanlies has promised her 11-year-old granddaughter a pair of socks for Christmas.

"Since his death, that is how I spend my nights," she said. "It has gotten to be so addictive that I wake up in the morning and can't wait to see what I'm going to make that day."



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