Every Friday at 2 p.m., one of the tables by the windows at Sidamo Coffee and Tea in Maple Lawn morphs into a miniature garment district. It's a clear sign that members of the Columbia Sip & Knit have assembled to make merry. They drift in, toting cheery bags laden with the tools of the trade — knitting needles, patterns and yarn — as they set out to make their own low-key fashion statements and enjoy company and conversation with other knitters.
There's more to knitting than the quality of basic eye-hand coordination. For Jane Pearce, 58, it also gives her an opportunity to apply her mental acumen. Breaking down patterns, declared the North Laurel resident, "is kind of like a puzzle," she said while fashioning a Mr. Roger's-type sweater for her husband.
Pearce said her sister introduced her to knitting when she was 12 or 13, and she finds it "fun, useful and relaxing." And getting the support and advice from others at the table is part of the experience.
Another group member in the cozy, roasted coffee bean-scented room was Binky Westervelt. The Silver Spring resident, 77, was deep in thought, as she expertly unraveled yarn and vision. On this particular afternoon, she was creating a raglan cardigan with cable sleeves.
"I only knit when I come to these knitting things," she said. "I'm not good sitting at home." Back at the house, when she pulls out her knitting materials her new puppy "thinks it's playtime."
When it comes to meet-up venues, local knitters cast a wide net. In Columbia alone, group members meet regularly at both locations of Panera Bread, one at the Mall in Columbia, the other on Dobbin Road. There's also a session at Jason's Deli and Wegmans, both on McGaw Road.
Sidamo is the nearest meet-up venue to Laurel. Membership is free; anyone can walk in at any time and pull up a chair. Along with weekly meet-ups, the group sponsors knitting retreats and yarn swaps, where knitters can display material they no longer need on a table and offer it for free.
As a pastime, the near-ancient art has seeped into the national consciousness in recent years.
For example, during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, an author and knit-blogger unveiled the Knitting Olympics. Interested knitters were required to commit to starting a project during the opening ceremonies. The rules stated they had to have it completed 16 days later, when the Olympic flame was doused. On the first day of the games, nearly 4,000 knitters had accepted the challenge.
While Westervelt was the oldest comer this particular Friday, Jenna Fry, of Laurel, was the youngest member of the circle. At 28, the systems analyst at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in North Laurel explained she dropped by "because I thought it would be fun to knit with other people."
Fry said she got hooked on knitting when, as an 8-year-old, she took part in a charity project for the Girl Scouts. Her finished piece was a blanket for the homeless.
"That pretty much did it," she confessed. "I have a very hard time sitting still. ... This gives me something to do with my hands. And decoding the patterns appeals to my mathematical side."
Within 30 minutes, the group jumped from four participants to eight, as another table and more chairs were pressed into service.
Mimi Desta, the robust owner of Sidamo, watched as yarn was unraveled and patterns pored over. While she said she doesn't have the time to join the klatch, she looks forward to their presence.
"If they don't come," said the native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, "I miss them. And they are very talented."
This time out, it was all about a leg warmer and a baby bonnet for Frani Klein. The 64-year-old Ellicott City resident said she's shaping the bonnet in time for the birth of her granddaughter in October. Klein remarked she loves the confab for reasons that go beyond its artistic elements.
"Everybody shares patterns and ideas," she said, holding up her project for her co-knitters to see. "It's more social. We also teach beginners. We compare notes and get new pattern ideas. We can learn off each other."
"We meet like-minded people," said Columbia resident Robin Lobl, 57. "It's better than playing mahjong or Scrabble."
Making progress on her sweater, Pearce said a favorite gathering place each year is the Sheep and Wool Festival at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship. It's an all-consuming, infectious atmosphere, given the dazzling array of colors and textures.
"All the yarn vendors and all the knitters go crazy," she said.
Naomi Weiner said she began knitting a decade ago because she had grown "tired of wearing store-bought socks." Demonstrating, she picked up a sock and rubbed the tiny ridge that attached the top and bottom ends and the knot it joins.
Weiner, 60, who runs a bookkeeping business, said she enjoys the hobby, chiefly because "it's tactile and visual." And with the technological explosion of the Internet in recent years, the knitting community is woven together even tighter.
Visiting one of her favorite craft shops, picking and choosing material, also translates into a sensuous moment, she declared.
"You're in the store and this yarn just follows you home," she said.