Proprietor Betty Narducci of The Knit in Old Saybrook (Credit: CT Examiner/Hewitt)

A Master Knitter and Her Shop “the Knit” in Old Saybrook

in Art & Culture

OLD SAYBROOK — It’s Tuesday night at the Knit where a group of women are seated around the shop’s round glass table knitting, talking, counting stitches, listening, laughing. 

“I have six folding chairs and a number of others around the shop, but I have often run out of chairs,” said Betty Narducci, who opened Knit in January 2016. She started the Tuesday night sessions with the shop’s inception and said they’ve become a kind of “free space” for women. 

“There’s sort of a base group of women who are always here and then about 10 women who are here and not here, they kind of morph in and out,” she said, adding that she runs another group on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.

“It’s very common that a yarn shop will have a table somewhere and they’re either for teaching classes or somebody to have lunch, but I’ve always encouraged people just to come in and do their thing, and in that, you become really familiar with someone and they’ll talk about personal things,” she said. “Knitting lets women relax.” 

For Michelle Lewis, of Niantic, who was working on the sleeve of a complicated sweater, the group provides a valuable social network that she can’t find elsewhere. 

“I started coming here after I met Betty and realized there were a lot of women my own age or at least close to my age so I could have a kind of social setting for doing my knitting, which I was doing anyway,” she said. “There’s nobody else in my family that knits so it was a way for me to come around other folks who are doing the same thing as me — and then they became friends and so now when I don’t come on Tuesday night I feel as if I missed out on something.” 

Master knitter expertise

For Su Menzies-Runcima, of the New London area, Tuesday’s group combines a congenial social atmosphere with knitting expertise and education. 

“It is so friendly and you have the most interesting conversations and you learn an awful lot. It’s fun and it’s a lovely setting — you’re surrounded by beautiful yarn with people who know what they’re doing and you learn stuff too, which is cool,” she said.

Menzies-Runcima, who was carefully unraveling the too-small neck of a brick-colored cardigan she was knitting for her husband, consulted with Narducci about how to proceed.

Narducci is an expert knitter and very recently earned her certification as a Master Hand Knitter with the Knitting Guild Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing education and resources to advance the mastery of the craft of knitting.

The program took about four years and was far more exacting than Narducci expected. 

“This group promotes the art of knitting. They have really good knitters and really good scholarly people who publish a lot and teach a lot, so I thought, I can do this, it’s a piece of cake. I’ve been knitting since I was three and it should be nothing,” said Narducci.

For part one, she was required to write some papers about knitting and produce about 20 knitting swatches in a variety of stitches. 

“Each one needs to be knit perfectly and they have requirements so that you can describe exactly what it is you did and how you did it and you need to have two scholarly sources for references for each of these swatches,” she said. “And then there are some questions and answers and projects that you need to do, and you put it all together in a giant binder and ship that off.”

Each piece was carefully scrutinized, which Narducci said was “really kind of painful because this is your passion and you’re being kind of deeply critiqued.”

It was September 2015 — Narducci was finishing up part one when she decided to quit her corporate job to open her own yarn shop. 

“I had not been planning for it, but then my husband said why don’t you just do it,” she said. “Then I went on to work on the next level, which was far more difficult, at least twice as hard, and that was a little bit excruciating and I slugged through that.” 

The third and final level combines technique with creative work, including writing patterns, book reviews and historical reference papers, she said. 

For the final challenge, she designed and knit a hat and a sweater, which had to meet certain requirements.

“This hat is based on a traditional Fair Isle “kep” and I put in little motifs that meant something to me so there’s a four-leaf clover and a crown and an anchor,” Narducci said, showing a colorful hat knit with ornate patterns made from 100 percent wool in fingering weight.

The Aran sweater had to have bobbles and four different cables with different backgrounds. 

“This center cable — I found on Pinterest, and don’t we all find everything on Pinterest — was a from a picture of project that somebody made in Russia so I took the picture and wrote a pattern for it,” she said. 

Knitting for everyone

The Knitting Guild Association has already asked Narducci to serve as a judge for the program, something she said she’s excited about. She has also inspired Lewis and Menzies-Runcima, who are working their way through the program. 

Still, Narducci said she really likes intuitive knitters who don’t follow patterns, like her grandmother. 

“I like them the best, because that’s how I learned. My grandmother was somebody who, when she had yarn, would make into a sweater all week to wear on Friday night and then she would rip it apart on Saturday morning and make it again because it was the depression and that’s what they did. She made a sweater by looking at somebody’s else’s sweater,” Narducci said. 

She said there are “as many styles of knitting as there is handwriting,” and that everyone can knit, if they have the desire. 

And she describes her customers as “everybody.” 

“They’re somebody’s grandmother, somebody’s sister, there’s the librarian down the street and the schoolteacher and the chiropractor and the gardener and the veterinarian — we kind of have everyone,” she said.

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