WEST GROTON — Janet Shea and the women who frequent her West Groton yarn shop give new meaning to the term “wool gathering.”
Every Monday and Thursday evening, Shea and a group of her regular customers congregate on the porch of the historic Abel Tarbell house, home to Country Village Yarn Shop, to work on their latest projects and chat about what’s going on in their lives and in the world around them.
More importantly, they gather to help others.
Their latest cause, a volunteer project called “Warmer Winters,” provides warm, handmade items to area agencies working with the homeless.
Shea said she might use an upcoming Knit-a-Thon event to kick off her Warmer Winters Chapter. At day’s end, the garments made at the Knit-a-Thon will be donated to area families in need.
Knitting for charity is nothing new to Shea’s group. They have sent slippers and helmet liners to soldiers in Iraq and provided blankets to Project Linus, a charity that has given more than a million handmade blankets to children who are ill, traumatized or otherwise in need of a security blanket.
Anne McPartlan of Pepperell, who took a knitting course from Shea several years ago, said she’s done volunteer knitting for a group that gives hand-knit red scarves to kids who’ve never been adopted and are going off to college for the first time.
The scarves are given out, she said, around Valentine’s Day as reminders to the kids that somebody loves them.
Shea said that at least 99 percent of all the knitters she meets knit for charity. She says that she feels strongly about giving back to the community, adding that God has given her a gift and that it’s up to her to share it with people.
Her knitting group sometimes visits with the seniors at Rivercourt Residences in West Groton, where they encourage those who haven’t done any knitting in years to pick up their needles again. They are also quick to help first-timers start that scarf for a beloved grandchild.
Through knitting, the residents at Rivercourt learn that you’re never too old to be productive, that life holds something new for everyone, and there is always something new to master.
Shea, whose shop was previously located in Pepperell, moved to her West Groton location last August. Her loyal customers followed.
Of the women who come to Shea’s knitting group, some have been knitting for years, others are fresh beginners. But all say the same thing — they knit because it’s productive and useful.
Jean Secovich, who’s kept her needles busy for 59 years now, said, “When you knit you do something rewarding. It’s nice to give people something they really want.” And with eight grandchildren, two sons and two daughters, it’s unlikely her needles will grow quiet anytime soon.
“Knitting gives me something to occupy my mind and hands while I fly,” said Oklahoma resident Renee McKinnon, a consultant who spends four days a week in the Boston area. She is also part of Shea’s twice-weekly knitting group.
“A knitting shop should be warm, friendly, inviting, cozy,” McKinnon said. “It should encourage people to come in and knit. Janet’s shop is all those things.”
Shea started offering these Monday and Thursday night classes after years of teaching Adult Education at the Groton-Dunstable Middle School and at Nashoba Tech in Westford.
Now, people just seem to “arrive” at Shea’s door, many of them asking her, “Do you really think I’ll remember how to knit?”
She gives them a smile.
“Of course you’ll remember,” she says.
And they soon find out that knitting is contagious.