Intro: Meet Debi Williamson, a woman who’s all knitted up! This age-old pastime is a craft for enthusiast of all ages.

The Story: I learned to knit at the age of eight while attending a school for the blind. Right away my interest was captured because I like doing something with my hands, and when I was finished, I had something useful—a headband, skirt for my doll, and so on. A few years later, I took a knitting class at the local YMCA and learned, then, that knitting would allow me to have something in common with my sighted peers. Although I couldn’t read a printed pattern, I could copy it into braille and then knit along with everyone in the class. It was something I was able to do as quickly and as well as anyone else.

Now I have been knitting for well over 40 years, and what I learned then still holds true. Many productive and happy hours have been spent at my local yarn shop with others who like to knit. I have gone there just to socialize, have taken classes there, have made some of the items used for the display, volunteered to answer the telephone while the owner assists customers, and at times, answered questions or provided assistance to beginning knitters.

Today, getting patterns is fairly easy to do. They can be downloaded from the Internet, or I can scan them with the Kurzweil 1000, and then either emboss into braille or save to a notetaker. When I want to take a particular class at the yarn store, I go in a few days ahead and purchase the pattern to have it ready when the class starts. Since we all have to buy the pattern and then choose our yarn ahead of time, I don’t have to make any special arrangements.

While there are some challenges presented by my blindness—such as not being able to convert a knitting chart to a pattern I can use—I have found ways to keep my hobby uncomplicated and interesting. A few years ago, I purchased an ID Mate and have used this talking bar code reader to keep track of the different colors of yarn if I am doing a project that requires the use of multiple skeins of yarn in a variety of colors.

When I am preparing to start a new project, I request the assistance of someone in the yarn shop to describe colors, but color is only part of the choice that one has to make when choosing yarn and/or choosing a project. The “feel” of the yarn and the texture of the stitch pattern have as much to do with my choice of yarn as do the colors. Sometimes it is fun just to browse the shelves touching yarns both in skeins and the finished projects, just to see how the yarns feel when it is “knitted up.”

Thinking about all my projects, I have made the typical baby items, as well as afghans and scarves, ponchos, sweaters, shawls—including prayer shawls to give as gifts, purses and bags, and slippers that my sister keeps wearing out and then asking for more. I tell my fellow knitters that I am lucky because I can read an audio book as I knit, which often adds to the enjoyment of the time I can spend with yarn and needles in my hands. I have also enjoyed donating my knitting skills by making hats that the local hospital gives to newborn babies, and chemo caps for cancer patients. I have made items to sell for raffles, and won prizes at both the local county fair and in contests held at the yarn shop. No one knows that the items submitted are made by a blind person, so I compete equally with my sighted peers.

I consider knitting to be a social equalizer, if that makes sense. In addition to the classes and other time spent at the yarn shop, I participate in a couple of listservs online where I can learn techniques and share patterns and other information with blind people who knit. I think I have the best of both worlds—both blind and sighted friends with whom I can share one of my favorite pastimes.

The Contact: Debbie Williamson