Art and craft communities thrive
Log out of Netflix and put down the aspirin; there’s a new and unlikely stress reliever hiding in the Triangle.
Knitting, crafting, blacksmithing, writing, painting and even watching independent films are all unique art forms that exist as the center of dozens of local communities. Despite its reputation of being geared toward older generations, a knitting group is thriving at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Carolina Craft and Tea Society is going on its seventh year of providing an outlet for knitters on campus.
“This year we’ve gotten a really good response,” President Claire Ebbitt said. “We’re all students — it’s a great way to de-stress, talk about other stuff and learn from each other.”
The club, referred to as CATS for short, welcomes newcomers of all experience levels. Ebbitt says teaching the craft is one of the most enjoyable perks of being president.
“Because I have a little bit more experience than some of the people, I can teach them new skills,” she said. “It’s always really rewarding to see somebody master something that they didn’t know how to do two hours ago.”
CATS benefits more than just its members. Students have organized meetings to knit for charitable purposes as well.
“Before I joined, they knitted a bunch of baby hats for UNC hospitals,” Ebbitt said, “and last year, we tried to make little nests for baby birds.”
The group isn’t exclusively for knitters. First-year Caroline Mueller attends the meetings, but she doesn’t knit. She dabbles in metalwork instead.
“The scientific temperament and the artistic temperament together — that’s where innovation comes in,” Mueller said.
She looks to North Carolina State University for most of her resources and says it’s difficult to discover specific arts groups around Chapel Hill for her interests.
“I did stained glass, glass beads, silversmithing,” she said. “All sorts of stuff that they should have here.”
Durham artist J’Nai Willingham has been making jewelry and honing her metalwork skills since she was young.
“A lot of people figure out how to do metalsmithing from going to school and taking classes,” Willingham said. “But I was self-taught.”
She also uses art as a relaxation technique, and often expresses her emotions through the style of her jewelry.
“If you’re emotional about something that’s happening in your life at that time, the piece of artwork that you create will represent that,” she said.
Willingham rents an art space at Durham’s Golden Belt Studios along with 15 other artists — four of whom also make jewelry. She says she values this kind of community as well.
“We can bounce ideas off of one another, so it’s useful to be in a community of artists,” Willingham said. “It’s helpful in so many ways for your creative energy.”
Golden Belt also houses other types of artists, such as painter Chieko Murasugi. After moving to Durham from California, she was able to join the tight-knit group of artists.
“Fortunately, real estate prices are much more affordable here,” she said. “I was able to afford a studio outside my home, which I love.”
Murasugi mostly works on abstract art to make political statements. While her paintings may be centered around heavy subjects, she agrees that artistic expression can be therapeutic.
“I find it very comforting,” she said. “I’m kind of channeling my anger into something that is, for me, beautiful and soothing.”
This inherent stress relief is only boosted by the sense of community that local arts groups feel during meetings. One Carrboro knitting group revolves around the opportunities to connect with new people and indulge in some entertaining conversation.
“I usually knit at home on the couch,” said member Jennifer Herens. “It’s fun to share projects and stories with people.”
The group’s name — Carrboro Stitch ‘N Bitch — follows a long tradition for knitting group names since World War II. Many attendees are also a part of a similar Triangle club called the Raleigh Knitting Group.
Members of countless arts guilds, including Durham Writers Group, Triangle Indie Film Group and Triangle Photography Club, have had similar problems, but eventually found a new niche through a few Internet searches.
While local arts groups might seem difficult to discover when looking for a community, websites like Meetup and Ravelry allow arts-lovers, no matter how unique the hobby, to find a stress-free home.
For new Carrboro Stitch ‘N Bitch member J.J. Bauer, joining the group was less about learning to knit and more about making long-lasting friendships.
“I lost another community that I was a big part of, which was a theatre group,” Bauer said. “I was spending a lot more time at home before I decided to come.”