The classes at the light-filled Old Town yarn boutique all start the same way. On a Friday afternoon during what would normally be a workday, each woman states her name and her employer:

“Federal Aviation Administration.”

“Department of Homeland Security.”

“Customs and Border Protection.”


Fibre Space’s owner, Danielle Romanetti, standing, teaches furloughed federal employees the beginning steps of knitting at her shop in Alexandria. The yarn shop is offering free classes — they are normally $75 each and offered only on weekends — to anyone with a federal government or contractor ID through the duration of the partial shutdown. (Liz Vance For the Washington Post)

Since the government shutdown began, about 45 women have shown up every day at Alexandria’s Fibre Space to learn to knit. The yarn shop is offering free instruction — the introductory knitting classes are normally $75 each and offered only on evenings and weekends — in the afternoons to anyone with a federal government or contractor ID. In the group of 16 women attending the 1 p.m. slot Friday, only one had ever attempted to knit before. The rest were all newbies.

Susan Bowman, who works in the Air Force’s General Counsel’s office, is one of the furloughed workers who took Fibre Space up on its offer. “Nothing better to do, and I always wanted to learn to knit, so when I heard about this I thought, Wow, that’s a great idea. This is my Day 3.” Bowman hoists the beginnings of her scarf in the air. “Burnt orange, for the University of Texas. We won last night.”

“Oh, look at you, you’re doing wonderfully well. You changed yarns, didn’t you?” Bowman exclaims, admiring the handiwork of Heidi Peters, a furloughed contractor with the Department of Justice. Peters, who is making progress on a rainbow-colored scarf, said she’s always wanted to learn to knit and has become preoccupied with her new project: “Much to my boyfriend’s chagrin, we had salad for dinner last night. I was like, ‘I can’t deal with this right now, I’m busy.’ Eventually, I might want to do bags and stuff; I crochet bags. Knitting is much harder.”

Fibre Space owner Danielle Romanetti says the classes have drawn employees from a variety of federal agencies: “We’ve had CIA, we’ve had FBI, a lot of Department of Defense. I was actually expecting to see a lot of Smithsonian [employees], because they tend to be more art-focused, but it’s been a lot more hard-core, seriously stressed-out people: the super busy, BlackBerry-addicted sort of folks. But that’s our knitting demographic, that’s why we knit. Knitters are not patient people. It’s been a lot of Type A, which is exactly who should be knitting. That’s who it’s therapeutic for.”

Romanetti, whose husband is a federal employee, was moved to offer the classes as soon as she heard about the shutdown. “We wanted to do something that was more than just a discount.” Although the store’s standard knitting classes are usually quiet, she said, with only the instructor’s voice in evidence, the impromptu classes have been filled with talk as the classes become an outlet for venting and sharing. Some students have bonded with others from the same agency at the classes. “There were three girls from the FDA huddled together, kind of chatting, telling war stories.”

Store manager Arthella Posey agrees that the classes, which have received an “overwhelming” response, have served a therapeutic purpose for its attendees. “They’re really excited, and it’s very soothing. We’re all affected by this, and we’ve had family members who are affected by this, and we all need something to soothe us. And knitting is very soothing — the quietness, and the clicking of the needles.”

Romanetti, who often teaches with her 10-week-old daughter, Madeline, in her arms, tells her new students the store will keep teaching as long as the government shutdown lasts. “If we’re still furloughed next week, we’ll just keep teaching you the next steps. If you get your scarf rocking and rolling, we’ll teach you how to knit a hat. We’ll keep moving through different things until we’re back at work again.”

Fibre Space’s regular customers have volunteered their time and expertise to the novices as well, helping teach classes and offering to donate yarn and needles. “That’s the knitting community,” Posey says. “If we see you’re struggling a little bit, or you need some inspiration, we just pitch in and help. That’s how we are. That’s knitting. We’re knit together.”