Above: Atlanta Knitting Guild members with some of the comfort bears that the guild donates to the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy. In back, left to right, Freda Loving, Arlette Berlin, Phyllis Bell Miller and Natalie Green; in front seated, Ellen Morgan. Photos by Joeff Davis.
Members of the Atlanta Knitting Guild took refuge from a cold November night in a Dunwoody church hall for their monthly meeting one recent evening. On their way in, many stopped at a table near the door to speak to Elizabeth Halberstadt and drop off scarves and bagfuls of baby hats they’d made.
Halberstadt carefully filled two tables with their handiwork: scarves and mittens, a pile of tiny hats, brightly dressed teddy bears. “Many of these things will be given to the Atlanta Day Shelter,” Halberstadt said. Guild members have been sending knitted items to the shelter since 1990.
Then she pointed to the bears. “These go to Georgia Center for Child Advocacy and are for children and teenagers who’ve been abused,” she said.
The knitters give their handmade items to many groups – including Northside Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the U.S. Armed Forces – but the “comfort bears” program is a favorite among members of the guild, said member Debra Davis, who joined the guild in the mid-1980s, shortly after it was founded.
Lois Mitchell, another long-time member, explained how the knitters got involved with the comfort bears in the early 1990s. At that time, Mitchell worked with the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, now known as the North American Mission Board. The organization was collecting bears to give to teenage girls who’d suffered abuse.
“We were getting hundreds of teddy bears, many more than we could use,” she said. “So I sent out a call to see if there was some other group that could use the bears.” Local police departments, it turned out, were using teddy bears to comfort children who’d experienced trauma.
The Atlanta Knitting Guild stepped in to help with the project. Through the years, the group has donated well over 600 bears. Originally, the bears were taken directly to local police stations. These days, they go through the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy to be given to children in crisis situations.
The guild supplies the bears and members make clothing to dress the bears so that each one has a unique look and personality.
Mitchell remembered a story that one of the other members, Diana Baber, had shared with the guild at an earlier meeting.
“Diana was at one of the big box stores that was having an after-holiday sale,” Mitchell said. “Teddy bears were on sale and she was buying up a lot of bears for the charity. The young woman who was checking her out asked why she was buying so many.
“When Diana explained, the checker’s eyes filled with tears. ‘I was one of those children, she said, and I still have the bear.’ The bear she got as a child in trauma is still important to her as an adult.”
The donation of the bears, and all of the charity work, is only one aspect of the guild, however. Many come here for the camaraderie, to share their passion for knitting and to hone their skills.
A Shared Love of Knitting
Every month, the guild members meet in the Great Hall at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Dunwoody. Social hour runs for an hour before the 7:30 p.m. meeting time, and last November it was a welcome retreat to the chilly weather outside.
Chairs were filling in the bright, airy room with clusters of knitters of all ages, mostly women. Everyone was busy with a knitting project, and many were wearing examples of their handiwork as well.
There’s a good mix of experience among people who are drawn to the group, from beginners to expert knitters. More than one member mentioned that they get inspiration and instruction from Jean Kammerer, a long-time member of the guild and of St. Luke’s Church. The consensus is that besides having exceptional talent, she also has a generous spirit and is always ready to teach others.
The meetings allow Carol Connell to see “all the novel ways of knitting, the pattern ideas, as well as the hats and bears and other things to make for charities,” she said. “I learn from the others here, they’re so very talented.”
Meetings include time for show and tell. Member and expert knitter Jolie Elder was wearing her own design of an indigo swirl shawl pattern that she’d adjusted so it could be worn reversibly as a jacket. Denise Tokarz brought a nearly finished Debbie Abrahams Mystery Blanket that impressed everyone who saw it.
A Giving Community
Jill Vogin, while working on a red, white and blue reminder to vote, said she’s enjoying her second year as Atlanta Knitting Guild president. “The board is two deep, rotating on and off for most positions, like president, vice president and program chair,” she explained. The system provides consistency and support for members as they assume leadership roles in the guild.
Everyone pitches in to contribute in some way. Near the kitchen, several knitters stood and chatted around a table filled with snacks that included fresh-baked cookies and sweet breads, all provided by members on a rotating basis.
At the other end of the hall, Kathleen Pickens and Sandy Crowley ran the library, a collection of books that are available for members to borrow. “We have different types here, like technical and pattern books, and even some novels,” Pickens aid. Many of the books were purchased by the guild, while others had been donated.
Whether it’s sharing with one another or with the community, members of the Atlanta Knitting Guild are always keeping their hands busy. “There’s always something on my needles,” guild member Alison Lalla said, “and it’s nice to have this opportunity to give back.”
Find out more
The Atlanta Knitting Guild meets monthly, on the first Thursday of the month, unless otherwise noted on the website. Meetings are held at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, 1978 Mt. Vernon Road, Dunwoody 30338, starting at 7:30 p.m.; social time runs from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit atlantaknittingguild.org.
Guilds and Resources
There are plenty of places to get together with other knitters, crochets, weavers, handspinners and quilters in the area. Neighborhood churches and community centers often have knitting, crochet and quilting groups associated with them.
More are listed on meetup.com. Another online resource is Ravelry — ravelry.com — where you can find like-minded crafters, local events, information and patterns.
Here are a few of the groups centered in north metro Atlanta.
Clicks and Sticks, Snellville/Gwinnett: find them on Facebook
North Georgia Knitting Guild, Woodstock: northgeorgiaknittingguild.com
Find more through The Knitting Guild of America, tkga.org.
The Chain Gang, Kennesaw: chaingangcrochet.com
The Happy Hookers, Atlanta: find them on Facebook
Find more through The Crochet Guild of America, crochet.org.
There are too many local quilting guilds to list. Check the American Quilters Society, americanquilter.com, or quiltguilds.com/georgia to find one in your area.
Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild
Peachtree Handspinners Guild