Eastman’s Crafty Ladies
By Ethel Paquin
Photos by Fred Orkin
Women gathering together to do handwork is an old and well-loved tradition. Knitting in particular is an ancient art. A pair of baby booties housed in an English Museum dates back 2000 years—with perfectly turned heels. The ladies of the Eastman Craft Group gather each week to continue the tradition.
I visited with them recently to see what they were up to and to find out what all the laughing was about. There were seven women of varying ages that morning working on assorted projects and having a very good time. They laugh a lot, these ladies. Over the years the membership may change, but the concept remains the same: to indulge a love of handwork, to instruct those new to the process, and to enjoy the company of like-minded women.
The group was originally formed by the Recreation Department in the early 1990s. Emma Seres, a long time Eastman resident, managed their affairs at the start and then turned things over to Joyce Wakefield. Last year, after guiding the group for 18 years, Joyce retired and Liz Mills took her place. It was Joyce, back in 1997, who suggested that the ladies, along with working on their own personal projects, might like to knit for charity. That idea was well received. One member explained that it’s deeply satisfying to provide something for someone who has very little. It makes for good karma.
Over the years Joyce identified at least 16 organizations that would appreciate receiving hand-knit articles, and each year the ladies focus on one or two. They’ve made blankets for hospitalized children, something a child can claim as his own and keep with him during the often grueling weeks of treatment. They knit or crochet shawls for nursing home residents to warm the shoulders of the elderly. They’ve made sweaters and hats for babies born to needy mothers, believing that something knitted with love can tell that mother there are people who care.
They take part in the nationwide Purple Hat project. That program is an effort to combat shaken baby syndrome and the injuries inflicted when, out of frustration, new parents shake the baby to stop what has been labeled “Purple Crying,” that is crying that seems to have no cause and seemingly no end. Crafters across the country make tiny purple hats for newborns to wear home from the hospital. The hats are a reminder of the education the parents were given on better ways to handle their frustration.
When they are not working on a specific charitable program, the ladies work on projects dear to their hearts: two pairs of matching socks for a bride and groom so they can wiggle identical toes at each other, hooked rugs, a quilted wall hanging of an Eastman scene, a cross-stitch pillow. Through the years the ladies have shared in each other’s lives as blankets for newborn grandchildren evolve into ski hats for kindergartners and then scarves to go off with them to college.
The crafters accomplish a lot both personally and for the greater good, but if you ask them why they keep coming back, they’ll tell you it’s the friendship among them. They are a warm, welcoming group, and if you enjoy working with your hands or if you’d like to learn how to work with your hands, the ladies would love to have you join them. They meet at South Cove on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Ethel Paquin has written or taught writing most of her life. She’s published books, articles, short stories and essays. Her last book, Johanna Harris, A Biography, was published in 2012. When not trying her hand at poetry, she oversees the landscaping for the East Lake condos.