In 2015, the Sunflower Knitters Guild celebrated its Silver Anniversary of founding. One of the founding members, Eva Wilkin attended our celebratory dinner and gave the following speech. Many thanks to her for letting us share it with everyone.
The Sunflower Knitter's Guild is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and I am here to talk about the history of the guild. I attended the first meeting, which was an informal gathering of knitters, on a sunny afternoon in Jan Micheel's Knit Wit yarn store in Olathe, Kansas. We met to discuss forming a guild to promote knitting, provide support for each other as knitters; sharing friendships and knowledge. At the time, the average knitter was an older woman, and there were very few quality yarn shops around. The Knit Wit was one of them, and Jan Micheel provided much support to get the guild started. Our first president was Judy Hestand, and she was the driving force to get the guild going. She contacted the National and did the formal paperwork. Her Vice President was Carol Handly. Shortly after the guild became official, Judy had to go back to work, and Carol became President. To this day, Carol gets requests for knitting help. Even as recently as last December, a woman contacted her to find a knitter for Christmas stockings. Carol's contact information is still floating around on the internet as a representative of the Sunflower Knitter's Guild. Unfortunately, our history has been lost, so my dates and information are deliberately vague. Two scrapbooks existed, one had a tooled leather cover, made by President Gloria Novy's husband, and kept up faithfully by Guild Historians over the years. Nancy Langford was also a President, as was I, followed by Joan Daniels, Nell Collier, Joanna Shindler, Teri Plemel, Jackie Thompson, Joan Daniels again and now Nicky Otto.
Our first meeting location was the Olathe Public Library. Most of our meetings consisted of a program put on by a member, and a show and tell, plus business. Soon, the library asked us to leave, as they were renovating their meeting rooms, and we moved to the Stanley Bank. That location didn't last long either, as it had no disabled access. So we moved to the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, on Antioch Rd north of 135th street. We were there for many years, and during that time, the guild really expanded. We started doing charity projects – including preemie hats, cancer caps, lap robes for the elderly, afghans of fine quality yarn to be auctioned for Kansas City Public Television, and even knitting sweaters for bears for the police to give to upset kids. Much of the yarn for these projects came from donations. As a guild member passed away, the family would donate their stash to us. Gloria Novy, Judy Hestand, and Susie from Gardner all made guild projects possible. Sometimes members of the guild would knit a remembrance for the family of the member who had died. We had swap and shares. We allocated money towards a Guild Library. We worked on by-laws. We had events in various places to welcome visitors, with punch and cookies and examples of our work, trying to grow the membership. Our May meeting became the birthday party for the guild, usually with a fashion show, sometimes on a stage with a piano accompaniment and almost always with good food, either pot luck or catered. We had it in restaurants a few times, and also in member's homes. The Knit Wit gave generous donations, Barbara Miles remembers winning those prizes several times.
The guild drew more younger members. Young mothers like Cindy Craig and Lynn Haffner would bring their children to guild. I had my one year old baby at the initial meeting. We had regular retreats in Leta Ehrman's home in Lawrence, with an overnight, food, knitting movies, and loads of knitting fun. The guild moved from the church in Stanley to the Lutheran Church of the Ressurection at 95th and Mission at some point. We offered members a yearly retreat at Tall Oaks, and other locations. Cheryl Murray was the program chairman and started the yarn crawl. She was also responsible for helping develop Knitting in the Heartland. At first, we just had one presenter, spots were limited, and we met in a hotel to allow for out of town attendees. At this time, Jan Micheel was offering major knitting names such as Alice Starmore and Nancy Bush, having similar events through her shop. The guild workshop became larger and larger, adding a marketplace, and then local teachers as well as a national name. I attended one workshop taught by Nicky Epstein, and got a job knitting for her for many years as a result. Knitting in the Heartland grew to have several local instructors, as well as the national name. We added crocheting and spinning classes, with many fewer restrictions on the number of attendees. It went from a one day event to a whole weekend.
Meanwhile, enthusiastic members began to meet once a month in the evenings, in our homes. From Betty Blanche, Mary Henderson, and Sue Metzler, to Mary Lyn Farwell; we met all over the area. This went on for several years, until the group got too big to fit in most people's houses. At that point, we moved to Barnes and Noble's coffee shop on 119th street. We got too rowdy for them, so moved to Starbucks and Whole Foods, getting larger and larger, until the emphasis of the guild became the night meeting. More and more younger women began to knit, Knitting became trendy and scarves were IT. The day meeting became less well attended and the business of the guild was transferred to the evening meeting. After awhile, the guild moved to Toto's in Mission. But Toto's was unable to house our expanding library, so the move was made to Lucky Brew Grill, who have been incredibly accommodating to our group. Even the day meeting still meets here. Thus, no longer an Olathe group, or even a South Johnson County guild, the Sunflower Knitter's Guild had become metropolitan.
I have interviewed a dozen past and present members, and in everyone's memories, a common theme keeps coming up. The guild has provided friendships, and knowledge to everyone. Cindy Craig says the “guild was the place (she) really learned, not formally, but from each other.” She was “inspired to try new things.” And it was neat that the guild helped make new friendships, including ones with marked age differences, “bringing people together that would not normally hook up.” Carol Handly over and over mentioned the “good fellowship” she enjoyed in the guild. Mary Mortenson, our treasurer for many years, recalled teaching a kool-aid dyeing class on the day before 911. Lucy Ladley most remembers how guild helped her learn to knit, so well that she was able to teach others. Cheryl Murray commented on the generosity of fellow members, sharing techniques and tips, and when she needed crucial information, someone would be there to teach her. She still sends her students to the guild, knowing that someone will help them along their knitting journey. For me, the knitting guild shaped my creative life, giving me lifelong friendships and knowledge. I am proud to still be a member of such an amazing group, and hope it continues forever!