How to Keep a Knitting Group Alive

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How do you keep your local knitting gatherings alive? I’m talking about informal gatherings of fiber crafters, as distinct from classes, retreats and other more formal gatherings.

Stitch and Bitch.

Pints & Purls.

Pizza and Purls.

I’d call it: Crafters-Coming-Together-to-Gab-Stitch-Stuff-Our-Faces-and-Have-a-Good-Time, but that’s kind of a mouthful and there’s not even a good acronym in there. CCTGSSOFHGT anyone? Yeah, didn’t think so.

I’m not really concerned with how one successfully starts a group, although that would also be an interesting topic of discussion. What I’m wondering about is how one sustains such a group.

Where I live (medium-sized-town Minnesota) there are three primary weekly/bi-weekly knitters’ gatherings:

  • A Wednesday night group that meets at a local coffee shop
  • A Friday night group that meets at a pizza pub
  • A Saturday afternoon group (sparsely attended) that meets at the Mall Food Court.

Right now, it’s the Friday night group that’s in danger of extinction. And it’s really too bad, because this one is my favorite. Why do i like it?  I think it’s some combination of:

  • It’s Friday. Woohoo! : The relaxed attitude that comes with the end of the work week.
  • Location: This is the only gathering that happens at a pub. You can stop in for a quick drink and a few stitches if you don’t have much time. Or you can settle in to share a pizza and finish a sweater sleeve. The pub doesn’t mind if we stay for hours because we’re good customers.
  • Friendly bartender/waitstaff: They know and like us. We’re polite and we tip well. The bartender models any FO finished at the pub.

This all seems very congenial, so I’ve been flummoxed by the draining membership. In recent months, we’ve sometimes had only two people show up.

I have some hypotheses about what might be going on.

  • Absence of the charismatic leader: The Friday night group was started by a local knitter with real personality. The kind of person who draws people together. She’s what Malcolm Gladwell would call a Connector. The group thrived for about one year, during which she was consistently present. But then she stopped showing up. Life got busy, or other interests got in the way. Who is to say for sure?  Without her, there is a distinct change in energy in the group.
  • Venue: Not everybody likes pubs. I don’t get it, but I can understand in the abstract. One person (who only rarely comes to the Friday night group) mentioned that she didn’t like the feel of knitters “bellying up the bar.”  Truth: We actually have a large booth in  a corner, which admittedly is right next the bar.
  • Menu: Pizza and Greek food, that’s what this place serves. Nothing to write home about, but nothing objectionable. Still, I’ve heard that some people in the group don’t particularly like the food at the pub. Is this enough to keep people away? Hard to say.

So what is to be done?

I would hate to think that any group would depend on the presence of one charismatic leader. Do we need another such person to step up? That seems like a losing proposition because we are then depending on one person to keep us going –again.

Do we need to try new venues with different food? We have a comfortable place at this pub. They’ve even put “Pints & Purls” on their weekly events listing. That’s how much they like us.

I’ve decided to start testing my hypotheses with an experiment: This week we are changing venue to a new pizza place. The pizza is better and they serve drinks, but it’s a restaurant and not a bar.  The plan is to try alternating venues every-other meeting for a while and see what happens. Do we get more interest? Do we get new attendees? For this meeting, I’ve even managed to lure the charismatic leader. That’ll probably skew my results.

Ultimately I know we need to find a way to survive without our charismatic leader.

Wish us luck. And let me know what else we should try.

32 thoughts on “How to Keep a Knitting Group Alive

  1. Part of the challenge with groups like this is that people come and go based on what’s happening in their lives. My longstanding knit groups have a center core of people who meet because they are friends and don’t want to miss seeing each other, but we also include others. Many people find us through Ravelry, so if you don’t have a Rav group, consider forming one and post a public welcome for people to join you. Also, one group has a Rav forum and another has a Facebook group, which we use to carry on the conversation throughout the week – it’s really more of a community than a once-a-week meetup, and that leads to people getting connected and staying.

    • caityrosey

      We do have a Ravelry group that we use for organization, communication etc… Also our primary recruitment tool.

      Most of the communication through the group centers on “are you coming this week” though and doesn’t really include a lot of other chatter. Perhaps we could cultivate that more.

  2. You bring up some good questions about knitting groups. I know people get busy but I like your idea of switching up the location to get some people back. I personally like coffee shops or places where I don’t feel pressure to eat (I’ve been trying to eat more healthfully, and have to be more choosy about nights out). But then again, the knitting group I attend meets on Tuesday nights, which I imagine has a different vibe than Friday night groups.
    Good luck!

  3. Ya, your leader leaving at a drop of a hat wasn’t cool. Without explanation no less! But sometimes personalities tend to rub off on others especially during a good length of time. Just take her place. Suggest other ideas and plans that YOU want to do. Make it uppitdy, fun and games. In other words, change it up to make it work for you (New Leader) and your girls. Believe me. They’ll start spreading the news.

    • caityrosey

      Not like she was officially on charge or anything. I don’t blame her or any other member of the group for not being around. Wouldn’t want to put that kind of pressure on anyone.

      • Just saying that you and the others relied on her and without her you sound lost. Your right no one person has to be in charge but in reality some one always is. All with luv. 🙂

      • caityrosey

        I think you’re right that usually someone is in charge, even if not formally. And I think that’s one challenge with our group. No one else wants to be in charge. But someone needs to be.

  4. Ah. The GUILT tactic! Ok! OK! I’ll try harder to make it EVERY week.

    Fatigue and the food played a big part (and occasional trips out of town). You know I love you! I’ll try to be charismatic again. 😉

  5. Sandy

    *delurks for a minute* I both knit and crochet, and I would love to have a set group to meet up with. I don’t know of any groups like that in my area. But I am also quite shy – it is very hard to “just join in” to already established groups. I more than like wouldn’t join a group that meets at a pub, based on my personal preferences. I am very uncomfortable in loud places. I’m not sure how helpful this comment in; I hope you have a good turnout for your group meeting.

    • caityrosey

      It’s a good point. You might prefer groups that meet at coffee shops or places like that. Different energy to those groups.

      One nice thing about having a “charismatic leader” consistently present is that new people or shy people can feel comfortable sitting down and, if they want, not opening their mouths the rest of the night after introducing themselves. Mr. or Ms. charisma will help keep the conversation flowing the whole night and new/shy people can simply sit and soak it all in.

      Could be tough if you lose your gabby compatriots and the rest of the group is all composed of quiet people. You’ll sit around and stare at each other all night.

  6. Knit groups in general are very dynamic with people coming and going all the time. I attend two knit groups, but the core membership is the same in both. We meet at our LYS who provides us with coffee and tea. Sometimes a member brings in baked goods, but this is random and not planned. Meeting at the yarn shop works because it is what we all have in common. We are a rowdy group of liberal, talkative, mostly retired, women who love to knit and/or crochet. Sometimes there are only 2 or 3 of us and other times there may be as many as 12 to 15! Always room for more. I suggest checking out a LYS to see if they could host the knit group.

  7. I co-run a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch group as part of the activities offered by the American International Women’s Club of Cologne (Germany). We startd with four members and now have about 25 on our mailing list. It is partly due to our enthusiasm (that of my fellow leader and me) We drop our knitting the moment someone needs help, we’ll help find a pattern, source yarn, make people feel like they belong.
    Obviously our draw is partly that of being English-speaking but we have a great turnover with people coming and going and we try to provide a bit of consistency for those who are always in town! We meet once a month on Monday mornings in the cafe of a local department store. We have thought of evening meetings but the venues prove more challenging. We used to meet in a lovely yarn shop in the city centre but we got too large to meet there. Sometimes it would be nicer to meet more often, but honestly life gets in the way! By meeting only once a month people make a special effort to attend and, of course, there is plenty to “show and tell”
    I have recently discovered a local (German speaking) knitting group that meets monthly in a pub but despite speaking German and knowing German knitting terminology I have yet to summon the courage to attend!

  8. One of my knitting groups — meets every other Thursday, 10-1 at a local coffee shop and cafe — tends to sag in the summer but revives when the cooler weather arrives. Maybe that is a factor, too.

    My other group (Knit Night Orphans on Rav), which I have been able to attend only when I am in the Twin Cities (I live 75 miles away) is hard core, meeting every Friday night. They started at a LYS that eventually stopped hosting them. They moved to a Starbucks down the street and kept on meeting. The advantage is that people can come earlier than the 6:30 start time and stay until 9, later than the yarn store’s 8:30 limit.

  9. I tried to start a knitting group with coworkers right after work – because so many people saw me knitting at lunch and wanted help, or to learn or to just sit and knit, and work was really stressful at that time, we needed to relax together. But I only ever got three other people, and it starts and stops, because we are all so busy, or someone forgets her knitting (NOT ME! I have it with me always) so I hear you on this. My book group on the other hand, is small but more committed. We do confirm meeting dates, time and places before we leave each meeting, perhaps that would help, even if you all KNOW it is every Friday, if you verbalize your intention to be there, maybe start sharing rides, people will recommit to coming, as they know others are counting on them. Other than that I jut don’t know what to tell you. I do like the LYS idea – even if they won;t let you meet there, if they aren’t open or something, if they could promote the existence of the group, perhaps you would get some new members.

    LOVE that the bartender models for you! I hope you get photos and post them. 🙂

    • caityrosey

      You know, we really should try to get the LYS to promote our group. On their bulletin board, perhaps? That would help catch the non-tech-savvy.

  10. I was in a knitting group and I’m not entirely sure how it fell apart. If there was a specific catalyst I wasn’t around to see it because I stopped going.

    I know I stopped going because of life, but also because I got uncomfortable with a few people there. I’m don’t like a lot of friends, but I’m very into acquaintances. Once things start getting personal I’m out the door.

    We had one coffee shop that was the main venue, but we got so large it was hard meet and be comfortable. People were bringing their own chairs. It was too large and not very intimate.

    Now I can’t find a surviving group that I’d want to attend.

  11. I run a knitting group which is not in a pub but a cafe which serves tea and cakes and has a gift shop attached with pretty things. Most of the r]egulars come as the other two knitting groups are in a pub – so location is all important. I also have a lot of beginners/people coming back to crochet/knitting after decades of absence and I always have something to share – an interesting pattern/new yarn/new technique and definitely help out with their question. But this is steering you towards having a “leader” which you are not keen on.
    I know that I need to keep on welcoming new blood to the group because people’s interest moves on. Perhaps you could try putting up a notice or two in your favourite yarn shop. Or starting a KAL or knitting for Christmas/charity. Something to draw people back in.
    Good luck and let us know how you get on.

    • caityrosey

      Yeah. We haven’t really been doing much recruiting other than Ravelry and word of mouth. I’m worried about this, though, as we’re planning on experimenting with location quite a bit I’m the near future. So there may be some confusion.

  12. eleanor cavin

    My knitting group started as knitters who met at an LYS and knit. The store closed but the ladies, including the owner who was about to relocate in retirement to a different area, all just continued to meet at private homes.
    Then group members began yarn crawl trips and then festival trips and then knit together retreats.
    And it goes on.
    There are about 22 active members and some of us come and go depending upon life issues, etc., nothing bad but travel for work, grandchildren, life.

    I guess the glue is the personality of the original store owner but the store has been closed for at least five years by now. The members just get along and encourage one another and knit!

    As for food–wow! I’ll just say it is always good and never problematic.
    We all buy yarn from two new LYSs and from online stores and indies and from festivals and yarn crawl road trips. We do stash shows among ourselves and help in case of needed yarn interventions.

    So fun.

    Are there ever problems? Of course. Life has problems. And we knit on through them, helping one another. And oddly enough without crushing one another. Are new folks invited? Yep. Not exactly a private party.

    Hope your new venue works for your Friday night group and that my group continues on.

    • caityrosey

      When writing this post I was tempted to also exclude LYS groups, along with classes and retreats as too “formal” due to the association with a business. But this definition of “formal” group seemed overly stringent.

      The attracting-a-group-to-your-store-so-they-can-buy things aspect bothered me a bit as it seemed to be contrary to the notion of an independent group. But then…how many of these LYS owners are in the business to make money? Most of those hosting groups are doing it with quite a bit of goodness in their hearts. And if they make a few sales each week as a benefit, I can’t really complain about that.

      • eleanor cavin

        Oh, the original store owner lives nowhere near us knitters now and hasn’t in about five years. It’s just knittters getting together now. Just fun and growing in our knitting (and now spinning) together.

  13. I have some experience about knitting groups. I used to assist to one of them when I was living in Brussels and later on I was co-organizer. It was a great and friendly group and the secret of its success was that nobody was seen as the leader but just organizer. Organizer means just that you create the event in FB and invite the others. We used to be two or three organizers and took turns creating the events. We used to give a theme to the invitation, a funny text, a song adaptation (to knitting) or any other crazy thing we thought it was funny.

    And now my other experience. Years later I moved to Madrid and I went to 2 different knitting groups. In these groups there was a clear leader. One of them was rather empty but it’s still alive and the other is so crowded that I stopped going because it felt too noisy and I didn’t feel comfortable enough. This last group leader is too present, makes too much noise and imposes strict rules. Apparently it’s working, but you also have to take into account that Madrid is a big city so getting people shouldn’t be so difficult. As I’ve said, it’s a successful crowded group, but I know about others, like me, that don’t like it so much. As you see, a charismatic leader could be mean great success or just the opposite, according to individuals. What I loved from the meetings in Brussels is that nobody was the leader, the meetings were open to anybody, there were no strict rules (no photos, or we don’t teach knitting) and anybody could just drop to learn and try a new hobby. Oh, I miss my girls there!

    • caityrosey

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. You helped me to articulate some thoughts I had had about the value of the leader vs. organizer dynamic.

      I’ve been struggling with the whole charismatic leader aspect. My ideal group would be one where there IS no such leader, and that we would depend, instead, on a group of organizers. It seems more egalitarian, which is important to me. I think people should be coming together because of their love of fiber crafting and because they enjoy spending time together, not because of the attraction of one person. That sort of arrangement just doesn’t seem sustainable.

      I wonder if there is a natural evolution of such groups? Do most of them start with one really charismatic, motivated person leading? And is a transition from leader- to organizer(s)-led an indicator of long-term viability?

      As you’ve said, there is a very successful, long-term group Madrid that is focused on a leader. But is this the exception rather than the rule?

      • From my little experience I think that those leaders want to keep that position because they have some times some interests (giving paid knitting lessons, selling wool, etc) and they really work for the group to grow and survive. The energy comes mostly from that person.

        In the other kind of group, I feel the energy coming from all of us. It’s indeed a more egalitarian and in theory will survive longer because it does not depend on person. The only flaw is that since nobody has added interests this group will be something secondary for them (we all have work or family or other more important stuff). This is why it’s so important to create a good atmosphere in this kind of groups, not overloading it with rules and just keep it as a friendly meeting where we go to share a common interest.

        I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the past year. I found such a good connection with my group in Brussels that I expected to find the same here, but the two groups I found are too focused on their leaders, are loaded with rules and you also feel the need to be “liked” by the leader or to fit into an unspoken hierarchy. And again, one of them is really crowded (more than 30 people very often) so it’s difficult to find the time to talk to somebody and sometimes I wonder if these leaders just need to “network” to help their business.

        My two cents.

  14. I think the last two reasons could be contributing factors, but I doubt they’d be the one and only reason for anyone. My money would be on the lack of connection between the remaining knitters. Time to find something/someone else to bond over! Good luck with your experiment!

  15. I personally wouldn’t got to a Friday night knitting group because weekends are family time so I think that while that night would be great for some people, it will be a definite deal breaker for others — and you run the risk of people going away for weekends/ holiday weekends etc.

    Having said that, there are probably a bunch of people like yourself who Friday would love that time slot and I’d imagine a bar would be a great place to hang out.
    Not clear if you want to accomodate members of your existing group (and/or lure back those who’ve drifted away) or if you just want to boost numbers.
    If your goal is the former, then do a survey of current/past attendees and ask them what they’d like to see different rather than just guessing at what might appeal. Knowing why people have stopped coming is a great starting point for fixing the problem.
    But, if you just want to build the group up with new knitters, focus your efforts on advertising the good thing you have going that you truly enjoy (same night, location etc.) Advertise through your local LYS’s, on Ravelry, and even on FB or twitter etc. You just never know who might be wishing your group existed so they could join it.

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