Guild members model their creations during the April 2014 meeting at the St. Charles Episcopal Church in St. Charles, Ill.
From its roots as a small group of avid knitters gathering to share knowledge, to virtual meetings with renowned instructors and designers based worldwide, the Fox Valley Knitters’ Guild has adhered to the mission established with its birth in 1987:
• Promote and foster an interest in knitting.
• Provide the opportunity for study and sharing to broaden one's skills.
• Encourage high standards of design and technique in various forms of knitting.
In 2022, the Fox Valley Knitters’ Guild begins celebrating its 35th year. The guild started as a study group that was an offshoot of a knitting class at The Fine Line Creative Arts Center in St. Charles, Ill. The Fox Valley Knitters’ Guild held its first formal meeting on Oct. 12, 1987 in The Fine Line’s weaving studio. The first presentation, “Properties of Natural Fibers," was given by Heather Winslow on Jan. 13, 1988.
The guild continues to meet monthly, September through May, on the second Wednesday. Having outgrown its space at The Fine Line, the guild searched for a larger space, meeting for a few years at the Kane County Farm Bureau, and then at the St. Charles Episcopal Church. Topics covered at each meeting include guild business, a refreshment break, an educational program and “Show and Tell” of members’ projects. Members also meet informally for open knitting sessions Saturday afternoons at the Geneva and Wheaton Public Libraries, and Wednesday mornings at the Arcedium Coffeehouse in St. Charles.
Twenty-five people attended the guild’s first meeting, and early rosters show about 30 members. Membership now averages slightly more than 100. The guild believes it remains vibrant because it evolves in response to members’ needs.
The club has always had some very fine knitters who could share their skills as presentations and mini-workshops. Monthly Sunday “knit-ins” held in members’ homes added to the camaraderie. A summer study group met to explore a specific technique, such as Fair Isle, lace or double knitting. Occasionally guild members would pile into cars on field trips to visit a local fiber farm or scout yarn shops in neighboring states. Holiday parties were also a favorite time to get together at members’ home for a potluck or a trip to a favorite restaurant.
The 1990s were an exciting period when knitting veered away from traditional sweaters. New designers redefined knitting patterns with inventive ideas and colorful palettes. At the same time new, smaller yarn companies challenged large manufacturers that had traditionally favored solid color worsteds with more playful color combinations.
In 1996, guild leadership entered the digital age with discussion about a “Computer Page” for knitters. A few years later, the craft exploded in popularity as information about techniques and designers emerged on the World Wide Web. Soon the guild was publishing its own webpage and producing a digital newsletter.
FVKG members’ projects at the guild’s Natural Inclinations exhibition in February 2015 at the Fine Line Creative Arts Center in St. Charles, Ill.
It was important to the guild’s early leadership for members to consider their creations as works of art and demonstrate their value to the public. That led to the guild’s biennial exhibitions – a showcase for all knitting levels – at the Fine Line Creative Art Center. The first exhibition took place in December 1989. The most recent, Natural Inclinations, opened in February 2015. During the off years and since 2015, members organized exhibitions at local libraries.
A 2017 guild charity project resulted in 84 lap robes and slippers delivered to area nursing homes.
Charity knitting has always been part of the guild’s mission. Members have knitted hats, scarves, mittens, shawls and blankets for the elderly, homeless and underserved youth. Other projects have included Knitted Knockers for breast cancer survivors, Port Pillows for chemotherapy patients and Twiddle Muffs for people with dementia.
The benefits of guild membership extend beyond the monthly meetings and fellowship. During the summer, the Guild’s Fling event has hosted workshops with featured guest instructors in a bucolic setting such as Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Ill. More recent virtual Flings brought international designers Stephen West and Melanie Berg as presenters.
Weekend educational retreats to nearby Williams Bay, Wis. and Oregon, Ill. provided a setting for guild members to recapture the intimacy of the small group gatherings in the early days of the guild.
The guild faced its biggest logistical challenge when Illinois COVID-19 mandates prevented large indoor gatherings. Thanks to a few tech-savvy members, the guild held virtual meetings starting in April 2020, through 2021, and into the beginning of 2022. These meetings on the Zoom platform provided an opportunity to bring presentations from stars of the knitting world that would not have been viable for in-person meetings. Instructors and designers who presented online included Melissa Leapman, JC Briar, Ann Weaver, Lorilee Beltman, Suzanne Bryan, Elizabeth McCarten, Lucy Neatby and Alasdair Post-Quinn.
The Fox Valley Knitters' Guild has thrived for 35 years because it’s an organic community open to changing with the times. The group is smart, creative and funny – an inspiring group of brilliant craftspeople who also want to share their talents and friendship in a fun and welcoming atmosphere.
Written by Andrea Brown. Contributors: Christy Becker, Christie Cunningham, Phyllis Deerinck, Jo Fritter, Shirley Remes, Heather Winslow.