A Close-Knit Group
Through knitting and crocheting, The Needlers support each other and the community.
St. James resident Carol Wengert’s grandmother taught her to knit and crochet when she was only eight years old. Her first knitting project was a scarf.
“It turned out really crooked,” she says with a laugh. “But it was fun.”
Wengert has been knitting and crocheting ever since. Since moving to Southport five years ago, she has made more than 40 baby blankets for grandchildren of friends as well as sweaters for herself and blankets, hats and muffs for local charities.
Wengert is a member of the St. James Needlers, a group of ladies with a common passion for the art of knitting and crocheting. Members come from St. James, Arbor Creek, River Mist and Caswell Beach.
“The Needlers is a fun group,” Wengert says. “We have many skill levels, and everyone is very helpful. Some joined for help with projects, others to try a new stitch or a new pattern. And others come for the comradery.”
The Needlers had its humble beginning in a small craft room at Duck Duck Goose in Southport in 2012 when Southport residents Diane Dewing and Linde Johnson wanted to learn to knit. As word got around town, interest grew and the ever-growing group relocated to the St. James Community Center, enabling anyone in the community to attend. The group now has more than 50 members.
Marguerite Errico had a similar start to crocheting as Wengert did to knitting. She learned as a child from her mother and honed her skills as a member of her local 4-H club. She says her most meaningful project was finishing her mother’s granny square afghan.
“My mom died before she finished the afghan, and when my family saw the bag of squares and extra yarn, they gave it to me,” Errico says. “I was the only one who crocheted.”
The project wound up in Errico’s attic until 2019, when she retired from teaching.
“I found my mom’s unfinished squares in a far corner of the attic during our whirlwind moving preparations to St. James. I found out about The Needlers and they helped me assemble it.”
Joanne DeHaven, who learned the craft from her grandmother when she was young, resumed crocheting after her retirement. “I like making blankets and scarves,” she says. “The patterns are not difficult, and the results are gorgeous.”
Cathy Blackburn, who learned from her mother, recently picked up the knitting needles again.
“I consider myself a beginner and get all the help I need from fellow knitters at our meetings,” she says.
Blackburn is working on a baby blanket for a new grandchild due in November. She adds, “The group is enjoyable, light-hearted and supportive. It’s nice to not feel alone with my mistakes.”
Jean Salt is one of the few group members who learned to knit as an adult in her early 20s. She stopped knitting when she married, but picked it up again at Angelwing Needle Arts in Southport, jumping in head first with a gray mohair cabled sweater. “It was a real challenge! But I learned a whole lot,” she says. She continues to work on complicated sweater patterns today.
While most members work on personal projects, many members donate their handmade items. Nancy Leoncavello says, “Members bring community needs to the group’s attention.”
For the past two years, The Needlers have donated handmade infant hats to Samara’s Village, Inc. Last year they donated 100 hats and scarves to Brunswick Family Assistance and to Odum Home in Pembroke. The group made chemo caps for NHRMC Zimmer Cancer Center in Wilmington and twiddlemuffs, tube-shaped handwarmers with ribbons and buttons on the outside for fidgeting, for a special education class in Brunswick County.
They’ve knitted adorable teddy bears for police officers and firefighters to give to children in disaster situations and sleeping mats from plastic grocery bags for the homeless of Brunswick County Street Reach. Some items have been donated beyond the local area, like hats and scarves for rural western North Carolina and West Virginia and teddy bears to Honduras. Recently, several of The Needlers donated items to the Sacred Heart Church fall craft bazaar, where sale proceeds will benefit local Brunswick County charities.
The gratitude of the recipients is heartwarming. Many of the teddy bears were given to teenage girls at a medical clinic in Honduras managed by Sisters of the Presentation who wrote, “The bears will make any child happy, blessed by the hands who knit them and blessed with love, peace, joy and comfort.” A man from Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina wrote, “We are very grateful that you all are helping children in need with such special gifts.”
Generosity of The Needlers goes beyond time and talent. Members and many area residents have donated knitting and crocheting supplies, tools and yarn to the group. There is an overflowing cupboard of supplies received from crafters cleaning out their home stashes, which are most often transformed into charity projects.
But it’s not just hard work for this close-knit circle of friends. For many, knitting and crocheting is a way to unwind. Mary Jane Pederson, who has made sweaters, cowls, scarves, socks, shawls and throws over the years says, “I knit because it relaxes me.” The Needlers also gather socially once or twice a year.
Pederson concludes, “The group is so welcoming. I’ve connected with people who share the same love of knitting as I do. We have wonderful discussions on just about everything. And finished projects provide a great sense of accomplishment.”
Want to join?
The Needlers meet on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at the St. James Community Center at 1 pm.
For more info, contact Carol Wengert at firstname.lastname@example.org.