It’s not just for old ladies: ISU Knitting Club prioritizes mental health with balls of yarn


The Iowa State knitting club is a place for students to unwind and connect with other passionate knitters and crocheters. 

Eleanor Chalstrom

Small clicking noises filled the grey and drab classroom. While some may find Curtiss Hall the place for exams and laboratories, on Monday evenings, room 232 turns into the home of the Iowa State knitting club. 

The inception of the club is hazy. President and senior majoring in mathematics, Tiffany Geistkemper says that the knitting club roughly began seven years ago when a group of friends mourned the closing of their favorite knitting and crafts store in Ames. They needed their knitting space back, and they needed it quick. 

So began the knitting club.

The small group sat facing each other in a semicircle. The leaders debated this seating arrangement before the meeting came to order. Placing the chairs facing each other would promote conversation but make it harder to access the emergency exit. 

They chose that conversation took priority. 

Centered around a bowl of candy, the club members got settled. One member worked on a light green crochet project while one embroidered a quote on an embroidery loom. 

Geistkemper has been knitting since she was little.

“I was actually in a knitting club in my elementary school in Texas,” Geistkemper said. “No one else in my family knits. We don’t know where I got the gene from.” 

The way Geistkemper speaks of knitting is backed with passion and a wealth of knowledge. It is just as she describes it, a “gene:” something so essential to her identity that it is like having brown hair or double joints. 

The group settled in and pulled out their projects. Fuschia yarn and neon knitting needles flashed around quickly. Tiffany proposed that the club listen to some music while they worked. That’s a common thing; they watch a movie, listen to music or a podcast and just enjoy themselves. 

Geistkemper made an executive decision in the matter and chose a playlist- 2000’s soft alternative rock. 

“I think one of the things (about knitting in a group) is seeing everyone’s projects and yarn they’re using, the different colors, the different inspirations,” Geistkemper said. “For beginning knitters, too, it’s good to see more experienced knitters and what they’re doing. They can ask questions about what they’re doing, and that might help teach them and help them learn.”

Among the group is Iowa State junior Grace Saliers, a graphic design major from Urbandale, Iowa. She is not a knitter but a crocheter. It is an equally embraced practice in the club and tends to be a quicker hobby to pick up. 

“I ended up getting into crochet, which is what I’m working on now, back in February,” she said, lifting her square patch of yarn. “I don’t know, one day I was sitting there, and I was just really stressed out with school, especially being online just kind of was all-consuming.”

Saliers’ story is all too common among college students. Seeking mindfulness and small comforts can be like finding a needle in a haystack. 

“I was like, ‘I need to do something with my hands,’” Saliers said. “Like I can physically see something being built. So I went to the craft store, picked a crochet hook and some yarn and found a pattern I was interested in. And then I found the knitting club.” 

Mindfulness and carefully “checking out” is a theme that Saliers and the rest of the club embraced. It’s about channeling your attention into something controlled, peaceful and cognizant. 

The knitting club does not stray away from routine. No trips, no big events, no fundraisers. They do not receive funding from the university according to Geistkemper. Sometimes Ames crafts stores and knitter connoisseurs in the area will donate yarn. 

Some may ponder the question: “Why have a club if they just hang out and knit?” 

The point for members is to feel secure in a group of their equal peers, even if knitting provides different contexts for them.

“There tend to be two different categories of people who like to knit, that I’ve discovered at least. There’s project knitting, and there’s process knitting. Project knitting is like, ‘Ooh, I love this shawl. I need to feel it, I need to knit it,’” Geistkemper said. “Process (knitting) though, you’re just like, ‘I just like the feeling of knitting. It calms me down’… It’s more of a mindful thing.”

Saliers is a process crocheter, through and through.

“It happens (crocheting) when I’m trying to soothe myself. So if classes and school is really stressful, or just life in general, or if I have a lot on my mind and everything is moving a little too fast, I can sit down and put on some noise whether it’s music or a TV show,” Saliers said. “And then I just do something with my hands. That helps me center myself. My hands are occupied and my brain can just slow down.” 

Geistkemper is a senior and about to graduate. She is a mathematics major and is currently applying to some of the top graduate programs in the country. She throws out Ivy League suggestions, even. 

As the heart and soul of the club since becoming president her sophomore year, she hopes that the club continues to assemble every week after she is gone. 

Geistkemper and Saliers both brought up misconceptions of knitting that many people have. 

“It’s not just for old ladies,” both Geistkemper and Saliers said. 

“There’s a preconceived notion that it’s kind of feminine… I work at a knitting store, and even seeing the people coming in now- it’s really changed since I even started working there,” Geistkemper said. “We get a lot of college students coming in and we get a lot of guys coming in too. It’s changing a lot and it’s so cool to see.”

She appreciates some popular media shedding light on the knitting community as a whole, like British Olympian diver Tom Daley, who sat in the arena stands in between events with a pair of knitting needles and a bundle of yarn. 

Knitting, crochet and “fiber work” are practices that shape the hearts of members of the club. A sense of pride, warmth and camaraderie is shared in meetings. Whether you knit upwards of 10 hours a week like Geistkemper, or just need a relaxation outlet like Saliers, the club gives space for members to rejuvenate and hold council for their hobby.