Sit ‘n’ Knit at the Renwick Gallery

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Yesterday morning, just after 11 AM the steady clinking of knitting needles could be heard from the interactive gallery in the Renwick's Craft Invitiational 2009 exhibit. Every first and third Tuesday from 11 to 1 PM, and second and fourth Sunday from 1 to 3 PM, knitters of all levels gather here to learn or continue their own projects.

Olga Buraya-Kefelian, 28, a professional knitwear designer, is teaching the first half of the sessions. Her colleague from Knit Happens in Alexandria, V.A., is teaching the second half. Olga began knitting at the age of four and crocheting at age seven. She grew up in Eastern Europe where "everyone was doing it because of the need."

To start, Olga fixes some kinks in a work created exclusively for the interactive space envisioned by Mark Newport, one of the artists in the Craft Invitational. "The piece started as a Y," Katie Crooks, who manages the program says. "But the piece really took on a life of its own." Different colors and patterns, including a tricky lace pattern, mesh together on the massive project. Someone even added anatomical parts. "It's a boy," Crooks jokes.

When I admitted to never having knitted, Olga insisted I learn. I grabbed a ball of purple yarn, two large needles and a set of instructions and sat down. To start, one must "cast on" which involves making a simple, or not so simple in my case, slip knot. When I sheepishly confessed to not knowing what that was or how to make one, Olga knew she had found a true neophyte.

Look mom, I made something. It could be a coaster, a really tiny blanket or just a decoration for my cubicle walls. Photo by Abby Callard

Once everyone settled in, Crooks sat in a rocking chair gently rocking back and forth and worked on a tan and green afghan—a wedding present for friends of hers. Olga pulled out her current project which uses two kinds of extravagant yarn: a soft silk and a silk wrapped stainless steel no thicker than angel hair spaghetti. Yoko Oshio came to the first installment of Sit 'n' Knit two weeks ago. She was so hooked that the next day she visited the store where Olga works in Alexandria to buy her own yarn and needles. Currently, she's working on a scarf for herself, and when she finishes, she's making one for her husband.

At the beginning, a handful of knitters, including me and one other novice, sat quietly, the clanking of the needles the only noise. As noon rolled around, more knitters stopped by, and by the time I was ready to "bind off," or finish my little project, I could barely hear Olga's directions over the chatter. It might not be pretty, but my swatch shows that I know how to cast on, knit, purl and bind off. For now, I'll consider that a success.

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