Jo Stewart has a slight addiction. But unlike cigarettes or potato chips, her obsession is actually quite healthy.
“I knit every spare chance I get,” says Stewart. “I have knitting everywhere. I keep knitting in the bathroom.”
Stewart describes the feeling she gets from finding a new yarn or pattern as a tingling in her fingers. Her fellow knitter, Sophie Jessome, says she gets goose bumps.
Jessome, owner of the Itsy-Bitsy Yarn Store in Horwood’s Mall, says she also feels that sensation when giving back to the community.
Jessome and Stewart help organize Sticks, Strings and Stewardship, a group of like-minded stitchers who have banded together and use their knitting and crocheting expertise to fill needs in the community. Started in 2014 by Stewart after witnessing a similar group in Ontario, Sticks, Strings and Stewardship has had its needles in a number of different projects.
Earlier this year, the group scattered hand-made winter wear such as mitts and toques in the downtown core, each bearing a note saying the items were up for grabs for those in need. In May, a silent auction fundraising for a young girl’s medical expenses got a boost when it received beautifully crafted items from the knitters.
In mid-December, Sticks, Strings and Stewardship teamed up with the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre to provide knitting starter kits filled with needles, patterns and yarn, and will be visiting the centre after the holidays to provide lessons in how to get started in the craft.
Now, in keeping with the pattern, Stewart and Jessome have seen another practical need and have stepped up to fill it. Sticks, Strings and Stewardship has been busy in the last few weeks directing its efforts to bestow the finest knit toques and scarves upon the families of Syrian refugees who are slated to move to Whitehorse in the coming weeks.
To Stewart and Jessome, giving away their handiwork is just the natural thing to do. For one, Stewart – like many knitters – produces far more than she can use herself, or even gift to relatives.
“As a knitter, you can only give your family so much until they’re saturated,” she says. “We actually had to move to a larger house at one point because of my stash.”
“If you have a passion for knitting, and you have to knit, then you have to knit for other people.”
And beyond it being merely a practical exercise, Jessome says giving away so many projects that each represent hours of work is simply the right thing to do.
“If we can take what we really like to do, and our art and our skills, and use that to make some good things and help others, well, why not?”
Since putting out the call for knit donations, Sticks, Strings and Stewardship has received more items than it can give away to Yukon Cares, the organization that is sponsoring one of the refugee families. Now, there are baskets of overflow in Jessome’s store and Stewart’s house.
That’s not a problem in their eyes, however. In a climate like the Yukon has, hats and gloves will never go out of style.
“We can never have too much,” Stewart says. “There’s always another community member that needs something.”
While Sticks, Strings and Stewardship has been praised for its efforts in keeping the heads and hands of Whitehorse residents warm, it has also received criticism for its latest project.
The claim that donating to the refugee families will stymie the supply of goods to native Yukoners is an assertion that is baseless, says Jessome.
“We do a lot for here as well,” she says. For instance, the knitting group plans to again plant some of its stash around town some time this winter, Jessome points out.
An important point for Jessome is that it’s an inescapable fact that refugee families will be coming to Whitehorse in the middle of winter.
“Regardless of your political opinion, that you agree or not that they come here, they’re going to be here,” she says. “They’re going to need the support.”
Seeing the knitting community rally around the cause has been inspirational for Jessome, and she hopes that others can be moved to action as well.
“It inspires other people too,” she says, “to really care for a human being that’s in need.”
Contact Joel Krahn at