When I moved back to Iowa City, home of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where many serious writers come to hone their craft, I used to imagine I could hear their hands tapping out stories and poems. That made me sit up straighter, aim higher, and try to push my own wordy musings further.
Now in the evening, or early morning, when I am likely to pick up my needles to add a row or turn a heel, I imagine hearing another sound, a click-clacking, like an echoing of my own needles. Someone has been at work increasing the number of knitters in our town.
Meet Angie Jordan, Banjo Angie. When Angie was little, her older sister Gabby called her Angie-Bangie and the name stayed. So when Angie set up her knitting project to “get more knitters in the world,” she called it The Banjo Knits Project. For the record, Angie doesn’t play the banjo. Frankly, that’s a relief. Besides all the knitting and spinning work she does, she’s a runner, a volleyball player, and, with her husband Jason, an involved and dedicated parent to Buffy and Teagan. I’ll stop there. I am not sure how Angie manages it all. That’s how it is with busy people, though; they just keep doing more.
Angie was born in Iowa City, and lived here until the summer she was nine years old and her parents divorced. Then her life split between Texas and Iowa City. At first, the Texas move left her in a new place without any friends. Her abuelita came up from Mexico for a visit, turned off the TV which she felt was being watched far too much, and taught Angie how to knit. Knitting helped keep her stress away, but her abuelita left before she could teach her how to bind off.
In 2004, Angie found knitting again during her freshman year at Williams College. This time it stuck. From her new knitting mentor, Mary Johnston, a teacher at the local elementary school where Angie had a work/study job, she received one-on-one lessons in “craft, education, and life.” With Mary’s guidance, knitting became about following a pattern, making pullovers, socks, and binding off when needed. Knitting also became about empowerment, and that “bled into” Angie’s studies, and her developing beliefs in the “power of mindfulness and patience.” As a graduation gift, Mary gave her a swift and ballwinder.
Back in Iowa City, Angie looked for ways to bring others into knitting. Through volunteering, she met another mentor, Stephanie Van Housen, who at that time led youth knitting classes and summer youth programs. Stephanie inspired and shaped the way Angie would eventually run her own knitting groups.
To date, Angie and The Banjo Knits Project have taught over 150 kindergartners to sixth-graders to knit. And, in doing so, she has created all kinds of community.
Partnering with Juvenile Court Services, some kids with community service hours created needles from dowels and knitting kits for new school knitters. The project bags, which young knitters earn as they master technique and mentor newer knitters, are sewn by Angie’s mom and her quilting buddies. Much of the yarn and needles come from local knitters’ donations. To boost the items for sale at the annual fundraiser for Alexander Elementary School, the newest and most diverse of Iowa City schools where Angie does her core teaching, members of Prairie Yarn Over, our local knitting guild, knit hats and scarves in the school’s colors, yellow and blue.
One Friday afternoon, not too long ago, I stopped over at Angie’s house. She showed me the garden her mother, who lives with them now, created, and her “happy place” on her deck, where she spins and knits. She told me sometimes the neighborhood kids drop by to join her. There’s plenty yarn and needles for them, and even a spinning wheel.
As we were about to say goodbye, Marie appeared. A fourth grader, she’s one of the neighborhood knitters Angie had just told me about. Her family came from Tanzania a couple of years ago. Marie has a baby brother, and she’s the middle of three sisters, all fine knitters. At 10, she’s already made herself a sweater. She’s thinking about learning to spin this summer. From Angie, of course.
Angie Jordan believes that “more knitters equal more kindness and patience in the world.” When she talks about empowering and mentoring young and new knitters, I feel my harder edges softening with hope, and when I lift up my own needles, I listen for the growing echo of their knitting.