At District's N Street Village, a chance for women to knit a lifeline to others

Barbara Parker started out as an N Street Village client in the knitting class; she now teaches the skill to the other women at the center.
Barbara Parker started out as an N Street Village client in the knitting class; she now teaches the skill to the other women at the center. (Marvin Joseph/thewashington Post)

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By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The knitting circle loses about half its women at 2:30 p.m.

The chairs scrape against the floor as they push away from the table, then tuck their yarn and half-finished scarves and afghans back into their bags. Needles and hooks are surrendered when they leave.

"It's time for the meeting," one of them says, and about a half-dozen follow her out of the room.

They're going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. So that part of this knitting circle is unusual.

Or maybe not.

The yarn arts went cool a few years back -- men did it, Goths did it, punks did it, fashionistas did it. Why not women grappling with substance abuse, domestic violence or homelessness?

But the thought of picking up some yarn and tucking into the rhythm of knit one, purl two is not fashionable, cool or even remotely interesting to many of the women who come, broken, abused or terrified, through the doors of N Street Village in Northwest Washington.

"I was pretty much pissed when I got here," says Barbara Parker, 55, an N Street client who now leads the knitting circle.

"I'd been in the hospital for almost a month" with complications from diabetes. "I lost a couple paychecks, got behind on the house," she says between drop loops on a snow-white baby blanket. "Then all of a sudden, I'm putting all my belongings in storage, wondering what I'm going to do next."

And that's pretty much how it can happen. One month, you're a mom who has put her kids in college, who has worked as a receptionist in fancy downtown offices for 26 years, and the next month, all you have is a key to your storage and a lot of rage.

For months, Parker sat fuming in that courtyard outside the center, which provides food, medical care, activities and shelter to almost 900 women every year.

You'll see that cold, closed-off look on most of the women at N Street Village. They sit outside, some glaring. Sure, there are those with bags and mismatched clothes. But there are those who still look like they're dressed for a day at work, carefully pressed slacks, sensible heels, silk blouses and a nice brooch, hoping that perhaps, the rest of their past lives will reappear around them.


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