NONIA was to celebrate its 100th birthday with an exhibit at The Rooms, a commemorative blanket unveiling and an annual general meeting on the date that the renowned knitters’ non-profit group got started.
But while the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered everyone’s plans, NONIA quickly patterned a new way to acknowledge the big day.
On May 27, 1920, a group met at Government House in St. John’s and formed the Outport Nursing Committee, which has since evolved into NONIA.
The non-profit organization, with its store on Water Street, supports knitters across the province who are paid to produce socks, sweaters and other iconic hand-knit items. It was a crucial early source of independent income for women and helped families get through tough times such as the Great Depression.
On May 27 this year, NONIA was to hold its annual general meeting at Government House, and turn the sod for a bronze sculpture commemorating the milestone. (It would not have been the 100th meeting, as some were skipped, such as, it is believed, during the Second World War.)
But when the COVID-19 pandemic upended everyone’s world, NONIA then decided to mark the occasion with an unveiling through Facebook photos of a blanket assembled from 108 knitted squares made by NONIA knitters from all over the province.
This project was organized two years ago and the blanket has been assembled by board member Katie Noseworthy, who came up with the idea.
The photos will show the blanket and a map of who knit each five-inch-by-five-inch square, where she lives and how long she’s been knitting for NONIA.
Instead of Government House, where it has traditionally held its meetings, the NONIA board will use Zoom for a virtual meeting.
Manager Keelin O’Leary noted the symmetry of the modern-day circumstances, since the world was just coming out of the Spanish flu pandemic when NONIA was founded to support health care.
“It seems a shame to let the day go by without marking it somehow,” O’Leary said of the significance of the reformulated plans.
The blanket showcases the different colours and patterns the knitters chose.
Some people incorporated the iconic caribou symbol, others knit images of moose or used elaborate patterns and colours. Some are basic stitches.
“It’s definitely something that is unique,” Noseworthy said.
She tried different ways of assembling it, but decided that crocheting the squares together with black yarn was the best, most consistent method.
“Everybody’s five inches are not quite five inches,” she said, noting she laid the blocks out in her living room to organize the squares and balance the colours.
It took a solid week of evenings to put it together.
“As wild and wonky as possible was kind of my goal,” she said.
Of the resilience in changing up the plans, she said some organizations might have bagged their whole commemoration for the year, but not NONIA.
“We were looking at what can we do instead of what we can’t do and still make it a special day for the organization,” said Noseworthy, whose first job out of university was in NONIA quality control.
After she had moved on, she wanted to help the organization, and became involved in the board.
“A lot of people walk past and think it’s just a retail operation, and it’s not. … It has a much deeper history to it. … It’s women supporting women over the past 100 years. It was an organization for women run by women before that was a thing.”
The founding anniversary would have also included the turning of the sod on a Morgan MacDonald bronze sculpture to commemorate the NONIA knitters. That was planned to be installed in the fall.
While the turning of the sod is off for spring, it’s unsure if the fall installation can even go ahead, so it might have to wait for the 101st year of NONIA.
The Rooms was also to have an exhibit in June on the NONIA history, and O’Leary said hopefully that is still the plan when The Rooms reopens.
The oldest item on display would be a 70-year-old sweater that was loaned to NONIA for the exhibit, which will feature 15 items from over the years when it finally goes ahead.
Textile goods are put in a freezer at The Rooms before being exhibited, so that preservation quarantining of the NONIA items has a whole new meaning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Leary said.
As a retail outlet, NONIA has been doing curbside pickup as well as online orders. Someone from Australia even ordered socks, short-fingered gloves and an infant pram suit.
Each year NONIA aims to cover its costs and reserve some for emergencies. NONIA owns its own building, but repairs come out, such as a leak from Snowmageddon.
“Those expenses don’t stop,” O’Leary said.
“Luckily, we did have a little bit of a surplus over the years.”
The surplus and the federal subsidy have helped with staff wages.
While there has been a lot of interest from knitters, NONIA has also had to watch it doesn’t overstock inventory. The price of wool is also affected by the difference in the Canadian and U.S. dollars.
A big revenue generator for NONIA was walk-in traffic from tourists and attendees at conventions, and it’s not yet known how bad that loss will be, as it’s only the beginning of that season.
Presenting our special designs for our Centenary Year! First, matching sets of Caribou Cuff Socks and Caribou Mitts,...Posted by NONIA on Friday, March 13, 2020
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