Cultures & immigration beat: Bhutan women knit up a storm

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2012 - 11:14 PM

On their first day teaching refugees how to knit, JoAnn Manthey and her friend Joan Gilbertson stuck to the basics.

You know, knit one, purl two.

Next session, they learned the truth about their students -- all women from Bhutan.

"They came in with these completed garments -- sweaters, hats and vests," Manthey recalled, laughing. "And they came in all these interesting stitch patterns. We said, 'Oh my gosh, how do they do this? We're supposed to teach them?!' We really laughed about it."

Just like that, the class morphed into a knitting circle that meets monthly. It's a motley crew made up of the two retired volunteers from Minneapolis, about seven Bhutanese women and an interpreter. Fellow knitters who meet at Ingebretsen's in Minneapolis donate the yarn.

The refugees are very new to the country; many lived for years in camps in Nepal before coming to Minnesota with the help of the Minnesota Council of Churches.

Knitting was a skill they learned from their moms, aunts and other women in their community.

But their expertise and productivity soon posed a challenge.

As the women continued to meet and knit, their creations began to pile up. Gilbertson and Manthey started to panic. Then they had an idea. They knew people involved in another project called Hats for the Homeless, which donates hats and other cold weather gear for homeless people. Why not combine the two projects?

The two friends had one more stitch up their sleeves -- to start a giving group. This way, the Bhutanese women could earn a little money for their skills.

Here's how it works: The giving club meets and each member donates at least $10. In exchange, Manthey and Gilbertson collect the money and disperse it among the knitters, who give their handmade goods to Hats for the Homeless.

Knitting, says Gilbertson, "brings out a common spirit."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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