MARBLEHEAD – At around dusk, a sleek silver Mercedes glided around the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore’s parking lot. With hip-hop blaring, it passed a group of women sitting in a circle of beach chairs at the edge of the lot who were knitting, crocheting, and needlepointing.
The women, who call themselves the Knitting Knights, did not dwell on the brief musical interruption. They were too busy with their creations and listening to one another –including the knitting group’s cofounder, Margie Cantor, who can spin a yarn about how they came to be knitting in a parking lot on the Hill.
For the past seven to eight years on Wednesday nights, up to 15 women have been meeting every other week at the JCC to knit or craft. During that time, they would pull up chairs in the building’s lobby, work their fingers, and commence their schmoozefest.
“It always made people stop and talk to us and ask us what we were doing, but it was one of the most uncomfortable locations you could ever sit around and knit,” said Cantor, of Salem.
Cantor, who is also a spin instructor at the JCC, said the lobby’s lighting was not optimal, and they would have to pick up their feet when the custodians came by to wash the floor. “But we enjoyed the company,” she said.
The center’s board members, who would meet in a room just off the lobby, always would ask them what they were doing. Members leaving the building also would inquire.
“And then, you know what, we actually did get some people to join us, just from saying ‘hello’ to us,” said fellow Knitting Knight Marcy Yellin of Swampscott. One custodian even brought his mother, who was visiting from Portugal and did not speak English.
“It’s all walks of life,” Cantor said.
A few years ago, when there was a conflict with book club night, the knitters were moved to a new home in the JCC’s women’s health center.
“And that was like going to Canyon Ranch,” Cantor explained. “The lighting was gorgeous. The chairs were comfortable. The carpeting was beautiful. It smelled really nice.”
They would still be knitting there and not in a parking lot had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The knitters then moved online via Zoom for the spring and much of the summer. (This actually allows the group’s other cofounder, Arlene Zell, to join them virtually from her home in Texas.)
And when the group went on Zoom, it started meeting weekly instead of every other week.
“It really, truthfully, gave people an outlet whether you were someone living alone and needed the social interaction or living with a significant other and needed to not see the significant other,” Cantor said. “It was sort of like your own thing.”
And then as the weather grew warmer, one day, Debbie Leibowitz suggested knitting in the JCC’s parking lot. They began doing this in early August.
“She’s the parking lot attendant,” Cantor joked about Leibowitz, who’s from Marblehead.
In addition to the lights in the parking lot, to see when it gets dark they use horseshoe-shaped LED craft lights that hang around their necks.
They will continue to meet on Zoom in bad weather and when it gets cold, with a link located on the JCC’s website, jccns.org, under the “arts and culture” tab.
Cantor’s only regret is they didn’t start meeting outside sooner this summer.
Last week, in addition to Yellin and Leibowitz, Cantor was joined by Sheila Rich, Cheryl Schwartz, Debbie Korman, Donna Cohen, Susan Burke, and Theresa Dever, who popped up the hill and sat down to knit about a half an hour after the group started.
Dever, a mother of five, has been a member of the group for a while, and said the Zoom meetings were a godsend when the family was quarantined in its Marblehead home over the spring. That’s when she could duck into the dining room for her “knitting Zoom.”
“What’s been really nice is, during the real dark days, you know, having something to look forward to with other people,” Dever said.
Dever said those like her that used to come to the JCC to work out or take Cantor’s spin class miss the community, but they will take what they can get knitting on Zoom or in the JCC’s parking lot.
“It’s a way to stay connected,” Dever said.