Einstein’s Purls of Wisdom: Knit-Wits with Good Intentions
In March a group of nearly 20 Einstein students gathered for a meeting of Purls of Wisdom, the medical school's knitting club. Most were beginners attempting the craft for the first time. Kellie Phipps, one of the group's co-leaders, was among those offering lessons.
"We got green yarn for a St. Patrick's Day theme, and we worked on making squares that will be used to create blankets for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit [NICU] at Weiler." The group aims to hold a Knit for Love event on Monday, May 2, at 6 p.m., in conjunction with Einstein's NICU Club. They will then create blankets from the squares created and donate them on Mother's Day weekend.
The current group is continuing a tradition begun by members of the class of 2021, who established the knitting circle during the spring of their first year, in 2017. "We had up to 10 people in the circle," recalled former co-leader Shana Burstein, an experienced knitter who knew the benefits that such needlework offered for relieving stress and providing a creative outlet. Crocheting also was welcome.
The founders first came together simply for the camaraderie. Ultimately, they set out to make blankets for newborns in the Weiler NICU.
Useful Gifts for Vulnerable Newborns
In the United States every year, 10 to 15 percent of newborns spend their first days in a NICU. They may be premature; they may have heart problems, breathing problems, birth defects or infections, or other health issues.
For their parents, the joy and wonder of having a new baby quickly shifts to worry. Blankets can provide much-needed warmth to these most vulnerable little ones. The circle of Einstein knitters hoped to bring comfort to the newborns and their parents.
At the recent club gathering, members knitted or crocheted squares, shared tips for helping beginners to get started, and taught one another new stitches.
"Some of us, like me, just do a simple knit stitch," said Kellie. "But we have members who can create intricate patterns or who can crochet stuffed animals."
Passing the Baton…or Knitting Needle
In the tradition of Einstein clubs, Purls of Wisdom carried forward with the next crop of first-years, led by Aleah Sommerville. In 2019, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic altered everything, Aleah visited the Weiler NICU to deliver some baby blankets and caps that group members had created. Soon after, making such donations was not possible.
At the time that Aleah brought the items to the unit, NICU manager Zahava Cohen said, "The babies need to be kept warm and these blankets and caps will be put to good use here and at home. They're a wonderful gift."
Spreading the Goodwill
Aleah, who will graduate later this month, also worked with Einstein's Bronx Oncology Living Daily (B.O.L.D.) Program, which aims to offer cancer patients and their loved ones helpful outlets for relieving stress.
"They already had a crochet circle and asked if we could help them offer knitting, too." The once-per-month meetings were offered to patients who knew how to knit and to those wishing to learn.
Aleah first learned to knit while in elementary school but didn't truly get the knitting bug until college. "I had a roommate who crocheted and another who knitted, so I decided to give it another try," she said.
Since then, she has entered a sweater each year in Vogue Knitting's annual runway event. "You knit a sweater following one of their patterns and you send in a photo, and you get free tickets to attend the show and walk the runway wearing your creation."
A Close-Knit Group
One might ask why students would take time out from their busy lives to meet for such a homespun activity. Shana explained, "When I started medical school, I was a little freaked out after the first exams. My mom said, 'You need a knitting project.' She bought a bunch of yarn and sent it to me."
Shana found the activity comforting. Another former co-leader Tiffany Lin, and fellow members Emily Barry and Nisha Shah, agreed, referring to their work as soothing, relaxing, and a source of "stress relief."
Current co-leaders Kellie, Julie Nguyen, and Sarah Lane agree. Knitting is relaxing. But moreover, while the fingers fly, so does the conversation. At a recent gathering, group members discussed Sarah's spring break trip to England where she had heard bits of gossip and conjecture about the royal family.
"Sometimes it's just nice to have company," noted Sarah as the others laughed at stories from her trip.
"It's also satisfying to do something with your hands," added Julie, who demonstrated a crochet stitch to others in the circle.
For reasons like these, needlework circles have been around for centuries, and there is something deeply satisfying about sharing a tradition with friends and loved ones, past and present. Many in the group learned how to knit from their mothers or grandmothers, or a friend's mother.
Kellie came later to the craft. "I started knitting in college," she said. "It offered a way to relax."
The group also encourages those who have never knitted or who have limited experience to join them. That's how new member Vivian Kim came to take part, learning in the circle and working on her first blanket squares. Circle members also use more-modern sources for learning or polishing up their skills by watching and sharing YouTube videos.
To learn more about Einstein's knitting circle, write to Kellie Phipps at email@example.com. All members of the Einstein community are welcome.
Posted on: Monday, May 02, 2022