|The Early Days of the Seattle Knitters Guild
One can’t speak of the Guild’s early days without giving credit to the energy and vision of Morgan Hicks, one of the co-founders of the Guild and its first president. Originally from Oregon, Morgan attended college in Eugene. While in college, he turned to crochet as an outlet from the stress of classes and what he ironically calls “the stress of city living.” (He grew up in a very small town in Oregon, so Eugene seemed like a big city.) In his dorm room he crocheted a sweater for himself, but wasn’t totally happy with the results, particularly the ribbing. He went to the Yarn Shed, a store in Eugene, to ask advice. Morgan recalls that the ladies working in the store were amused by his sweater. “I stood there with my sweater growing longer and longer while they laughed.”
Meanwhile, another customer had walked into the Yarn Shed in search of yarns to make a sweater based on the colors of traditional Anasazi pottery. Because Morgan was majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Art Education, he knew and explained to that customer the differences between traditional Anasazi colors as they actually were, and the romanticized colors the yarn companies were offering in the 1980s. The owner of the Yarn Shed was suitably impressed and hired Morgan on the spot. Knowing how to knit was then a job requirement for him, and so he learned first hand knitting, and then machine knitting. He continued to work at the Yarn Shed until he moved to Seattle in 1982.
In Seattle he took a job working at the University of Washington. Being new in town, he was looking for people to socialize with. He had seen some women knitting during their lunch hour at the cafeteria on the UW campus near the School of Fisheries. He joined this small group that included Wilma Hoffman, Beth Hayes, Karen Thompson and Kate Barber. At about this same time, an article appeared in Vogue Knitting about TKGA (then called The Knitting Guild of America), the national guild that was urging people to start local chapters.
The group at the UW had seen this article, and pretty quickly decided that they should organize as a guild. Other knitters around town, including Marilee Warren and Bernice Brown who were co-owners of the store Tinctoria on Stone Way, and Jule Castner, who owned a store called Knitters Anonymous, read the article too. All were taken with the idea of Seattle having a guild of its own.
The first officers were Morgan Hicks, Co-President, Dorothea Hayes, Co-President and Treasurer, and Karen Thompson, Secretary
For Katie Swanson, the Guild’s first newsletter editor, the Guild’s history mirrors her own history as a knitter. She was learning to knit from Carmen Michelson at Tinctoria. Katie saw a flyer at the store regarding the Guild forming. The first meeting of Seattle Knitters Guild was held at Tinctoria, with about 20 people attending that evening. Meetings in those early days followed this format: First, introductions and Show-and-Tell, followed by a short business meeting, and the evening concluded with a program.
Attendance at those early meetings quickly grew to 30-40 people. After the first meeting or two, the Guild outgrew the available space at Tinctoria. A few meetings were held at a conference room in the police precinct on Capitol Hill. Eventually, Jule Castner found meeting space at the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center. There were no dues in those early days, but they would pass the hat and collect donations to cover the cost of the space, asking for 50¢ or $1.00 from each attendee.
The meetings at the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center began in August 1986, and continued to July 1999, when the meetings moved to the current Wedgwood location. As before, the change in location was prompted by increased membership. The Guild had simply outgrown the Phinney Ridge meeting space.
The Guild’s continual growth in the early days can be credited to the publicity efforts of Evelyn Clark, who served as publicity chair beginning in late 1986. Later publicity included a calendar and postcard, projects that were coordinated by Robbin Handschumaker. Currently, the Guild’s website, originally created and maintained by Terry Trimingham, helps newcomers to find our group.
From the very first meetings, Show-and-Tell was as popular a part of the evening as it is now. Everyone wanted to see what everyone else was knitting. Katie Swanson recalls that Show-and-Tell fed the early programs, too. “We’ve always been a teaching guild. People would get excited about a technique in knitting, and they would bring it to the group.” She remembers that Nancy Robinson stayed up all night to finish knitting an Alice Starmore sweater, to demonstrate steek cutting at a program.
Wilma Hoffman echoes this, “Someone would knit something cool, and would be asked to demonstrate that at the next meeting.” She goes on to say that they would find out who was coming to town, and ask them to do presentations, so there was a nice variety of topics. Wilma remembers chauffeuring Kaffe Fassett around town in her car. Similarly, Katie Swanson remembers arranging for Alice Starmore to give a workshop on Fair Isle knitting for the Guild. The Guild has always been a place where members could learn and expand their knitting skills, but, perhaps more importantly, it has been a source of social support for its members. “It’s fun to have a hobby – but it’s more fun to have a group to share your hobby with,” says Katie.
Knitters from Hell?
When Wilma Hoffman was vice president, one of her tasks was to make the dinner reservation for the board meetings.
For one particular meeting, she called Bizarro’s in Wallingford, and ask for a table for 8. When asked the name to put the reservation under, she said, “The knitters.”
Wilma was the first to arrive, and told the manager that she had a reservation. The manager was confused, and said he had no reservation for her. She was a bit worried, but when she said the reservation was for the knitters, he seemed a bit taken aback, but showed her to a table.
They had a wonderful meal, and so Wilma took her husband to dinner at Bizarro’s on another evening. The server was the same person, and Wilma told him how good the meal had been the previous visit. The server confided that he and the manager had been expecting a bunch of 90-year-old women using canes and walkers, but in walked these “hot chicks.”
Wilma’s husband promptly named them “the Knitters from Hell.”
What Are They Doing Now?
Morgan HIcks has been working with fiber ever since. He has appeared recently in the DVD “Men Who Knit” and has taught locally and at TNNA. He recently opened a yarn shop in Des Moines called All Points Yarn.
Jule Castner closed her shop, Knitters Anonymous and has been teaching at various local venues and arranging knitting retreats. She currently teaches at Hilltop Yarns on Queen Anne, where you can also purchase some of her designs.
Susanna Hansson has developed a teaching curriculum and teaches nationally -- at Stitches East and West, and at the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat. Her designs and class schedule can be found at her website, One of Susannas.
Evelyn Clark has become a sought after lace designer and instructor. She teaches locally and has had her designs published by Knitters Magazine, Interweave Knits, Fiber Trends and other publications. Her website, Evelyn Clark Designs, has her newest creations.
Lauren Lindeman has taught knitting in the Puget Sound area for many years. She owned the shop, Wild and Wooly in Poulsbo, also originated So Much Yarn in downtown Seattle.