Dungiven library, Tuesday morning - welcome to ‘knit central’.
In the cosy lounge area downstairs, relaxed in a soft seat by the window, is Rose McLaughlin from the town, knitting and enjoying a good yarn with her friends.
Rose fell in love with the craft in the days when throwaway fashion was unimaginable, and people had to make do and mend.
“Knitting is my pastime all the time,” she says, her fingers curled around a pair of needles, seamlessly stitching her latest creation. “It seems to be making a comeback in more recent times, and that’s great.”
For Rose, and many of the other women in the library who love to knit, and those who want to learn, a newly- formed group in the town is a godsend.
Rose and 20 other ladies meet in the library for the weekly ‘Knit and Natter’ group.
Relaxed, with members often found literally in stitches with laughter, the idea behind the Libraries NI initiative is simple.
“It’s great to get out and enjoy the craic with the others,” said Rose, rhyming off an impressive list of handiwork from the last few weeks - two christening sets (one is destined for America and the other is for a granddaughter, I’m told), a cardigan, socks, table centres and a pram cover. “And I never follow a pattern!” she adds.
Beside Rose, is Margaret O’Kane. Armed with her trusty needles, and a ball of wool at her feet, she’s shows off progress on the second sleeve of a baby cardigan.
“I would always have knitted - pullovers in Fairisle, Aran,” she says. “The group here is very sociable and I love the tea and tray bakes too!”
Mary C Henry loves the friendly atmosphere at the group, and says: “I really look forward to it every week.”
Eileen McGilligan says the casual atmosphere means conversation is easy and the group welcomes all levels of skills, from the ‘old hand’ to the beginners learning the knack of ‘purl one knit one’.
There’s no pressure on anyone, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable, says Sarah Craig, a self-confessed novice knitter.
As the women ‘knit and natter’, Frances Toner wanders around the group. She is co-founder of the group and says it has given her “a new lease of life”.
“Anne Brolly approached me about it so I decided to give it a go, and I have no regrets at all,” she says, arranging a display of knitted blankets, cushions and cardigans.
“There are three people vying for this,” she says, smoothing her hand over a soft, blue blanket, a doll-sized hat and a matching baby’s cardigan, all in the softest shade of blue. “The people here are class A”, and, turning to the group, “isn’t that right ladies? The friendship, co-ordination and generosity of the group is amazing! A very faithful group.”
Noreen Coyle says: “Frances is so hard-working and dedicated, a great person, very charitable, and we’d be lost without her!”
Anne Brolly is a Libraries NI Board member and helped facilitate the group.
“It’s great fun and there is great camaraderie between the members, and really it has taken people out of their homes that maybe wouldn’t have otherwise. They look forward to it every Tuesday and are nearly apologising if they can’t make it one week,” she says. “The idea is for the women to run the group themselves. Really I was just the facilitator, so they can apply for grants and bring in tutors to develop the group to introduce new skills.”
At the back of the library is three generations of the Cooke family from Magilligan, Mavis Cooke, a seasoned knitter, her daughter Leona Ferris and her two-week-old baby daughter, Sian.
“The people are so friendly. Aren’t they?” says Mavis, turning to Leona.
“They’re great and, in a way it’s a kind of therapy,” says Leona, cuddling the next generation of knitters.
Magilligan woman Annie Mullan nods in agreement.
“There is a real camaraderie here too and I’m really enjoying being a part of it,” she says.
Suddenly, it’s lunch time and the needles and wool are wound up and carefully packed away but you get the feeling the ladies could easily stay on, and knit and natter for a while yet.
*Work produced from members of the ‘Knit and Natter’ group goes on sale tomorrow, at Dungiven library, between 10am until 1.30pm.
Proceeds will go towards a Bosnian charity. The group meets on Tuesday mornings at Dungiven library, and will break soon, but return in the autumn.
For details call 02877741475.