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Making the Best of It: The Yarn Closet

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Like many Americans, I can easily be tricked by the metric system. The most recent incident of this was when I accidently purchased knitting needles that were 5mm instead of an US size 5. This, of course, constituted “A Craft Emergency” because I couldn’t start the fingerless gloves I had planned on while on the train from New York to Philly. For a while my mind ran through options, ranging from borrowing some from someone to paying for yet another Uber to and from JoAnn’s, when suddenly I had an epiphany: I could seek out the fabled Yarn Closet of Cornell and hope the treasures inside would be what I would need.

I had first heard of the yarn closet my freshman year, but given my large stash of yarn and crochet hooks, I had never found a reason to seek it out myself. Now, however, was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of one of the many resources Swat has that are not exactly secret, but not advertised either. I started at the Cornell circulation desk, where I asked for the key and was directed to the basement portion of Sci Center near the vending machines. It’s not really a closet per se, but it’s one of those double-door steel cabinets that teachers had at my public school.

Giddy with excitement I undid the lock and found an amazing yet chaotic collection of fiber art tools. There are dozens of old pattern books and magazines with both crochet and knitting patterns, a yarn swift and winder, hooks, knitting needles of various sizes, and some yarn. In addition to these fiber art tools, there are some odds and ends for other kinds of crafts in the cabinet such as cloth for cross-stitch, small beads, a punch tool for rug making, and embroidery floss. Most of these things, however, are jumbled together in a series of boxes, so get ready to do some digging. Some of the yarn is sorted into bins with whimsical names such as “Odd Balls” while others are just thrown in at random. There is a plethora of that hairy eyelash novelty yarn if anyone out there feels like a weekend of self torture trying to make something out of it. As for the knitting needles and crochet hooks, they are all in two boxes, jumbled up and unmatched. I would highly recommend tricking a friend into helping you find a matching set because there are a ton.

In addition to all the supplies I also found hints about the club that originally owned the supplies, Knit Wits. According to their website, they were a group of students, faculty and staff that met in Parrish Parlors on Thursday evenings between 1995 and 2012. They offered basic knitting lessons, maintained a library of patterns, subsidized off-campus knitting classes members, and had a set yarn budget for the group that they used for beginner projects.  In 1995 they also hosted a Knit-a-Thon where members attempted to stay awake all night knitting pieces to donate to the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. Like many Swarthmore clubs, however, it seems that interest waned and the club eventually faded away.

While I ultimately had to turn to Amazon for the set I needed, I am extremely glad to have had a chance to check out the yarn closet. I warms my heart that while the club may not be here, their supplies continues to be a resource for fiber artists on campus. And if those of us who use it work together to keep it neat, and add donations every once in a while, it will hopefully be around for another yarn club in the future.

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