TORONTO — Needles started showing up this fall around Emery Collegiate in a windswept part of northwest Toronto — in the halls, the art studio, at the back of one French class — and teachers couldn’t be happier.
They’re knitting needles, mostly size 4.5 mm, and a growing lunchtime knitting club is using them to make scarves and hats and a cosy circle of friendship within a big-city school.
With more than 25 rookie knitters — most in Grade 9, a quarter of them boys — since art teacher Hilary Masemann formed the group two months ago, this unlikely club in one of the city’s more challenging neighbourhoods is growing as fast as its trademark scarves.
“I don’t care what people think when they see me — men were the first ones to knit,” proclaims Grade 9 student Shukar Parkin. He’s working on a light brown scarf in the art room where the club meets each Friday over lunch, as Masemann troubleshoots over dropped stitches.
Like many club members, Shukar now knits every chance he gets, even during spare time in another class.
“Sometimes I knit while I sit on the bench in the hallway and teachers go by and say, ‘Cool!’ But mostly other children aren’t into knitting; they’re into their iPods,” notes the 14-year-old from Jamaica, whose fellow knitters were born everywhere from Canada to Vietnam, Ghana to Zimbabwe.
And not everyone thinks boys should knit.
“My friend was knitting at the end of French when he was done his work, and to me it looked like fun, but some of the other guys made fun of him and even took a picture of him,” says Grade 9 student Garbe Dieu. “But he doesn’t care and I don’t either. Any gender can do it.”
Garbe signed up for the club before the holidays, in time for Masemann to get him started and give him yarn to work with over the break.
“Boys in my art class will pull out their knitting when they’ve finished their work, and I say good for you,” says Masemann, an avid knitter who became a teacher three years ago. “I tell the kids: Real men knit.”
Shortly after starting this fall at Emery, Masemann noticed some of the Grade 9 students searching for a cosy place to hang out at lunch; there are no food spots nearby, the cafeteria is small and the halls can seem intimidating.
Because Masemann believes in the value of working with one’s hands, she steered her own passion for knitting into a student club that has not cost the school a penny, thanks to donations of yarn and needles from teachers, relatives and the funky downtown Knit Cafe, part coffee shop, part knitting circle.
“There’s nothing else to do at lunch except gossip, so this is more fun,” says Grade 12 student Valerie Ajayi at the club’s holiday meeting, where she knits a scarf and chats with new member Yvonne Ogiamien — both learned to knit back in Nigeria — and Grade 11 student Gwen Ndemera, who learned to knit back in Zimbabwe.
Fellow art teacher Jodi Goodfellow, whom Masemann has also taught to knit, calls the club “a huge success.”
“It just keeps growing,” Goodfellow says. “It’s a great way to make new friends. They get excited to show each other their knitting, and what really excites me is the boys.”
Grade 9 student Akeem Young admits it was hard at first, but now he finds it so relaxing he knits in bed before going to sleep.
Says classmate Twaha Mohamed: “Time flies when you’re knitting.”