by Lou Mancinelli

When the chills of winter make you long for a thick knitted hat, you may just decide to buy a book of knitting patterns and attempt to teach yourself the fine points of circular knitting. You may buy your spindles, spools of yarn and needles and one day sit down to make your hat.

Chaya Herzberg, an optometrist, is currently teaching “Knitting, Crochet Craft Circle” twice monthly for Mt. Airy Learning Tree.

Then you read the direction: “Cast on 112 stitches. Place 28 stitches on each of four needles. Join into a round [see joining into a round p.37].” And then you may say to yourself, “Why didn’t I study Greek in college?”

“If you look at it,” said Chaya Herzberg, O.D., who shared the above description from one of her knitting pattern books, “it’s almost like a foreign language. Different communities call different size needles different names.”

Maybe it is a stretch to compare learning to knit to learning a new language, but that matter aside, Herzberg will be teaching “Knitting, Crochet Craft Circle” though the Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT), every other Friday, 4 to 6 p.m., at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave., starting April 27. She has taught the class for seven years.

Herzberg, 51, learned to knit as a young girl from her grandmother in the family’s home in Monsey, a suburb of New York City. Her grandmother was the oldest of five children born in Russia. Her family lived in the Lower East side in Manhattan before she lived with her husband in the Bronx.

She learned to knit about the same time she learned to read. It was a tradition that when a neighbor, friend or family member gave birth, the knitting began. They made blankets, socks, sweaters and more to present as gifts. “It was a real bonding experience,” said Herzberg, a mother of two young adults who lives in Dresher with her husband, David.

In a way, that is what her class purports to be. It is set up like a self-paced circle of knitting friends. Herzberg calls it a needle-craft class. She teaches pattern literacy to knitters at all levels, so her students can understand the above-mentioned directions, terms and abbreviations associated with the craft. She will also teach and assist students with crocheting, lacework, embroidery, Icelandic designs and more.

Herzberg first moved to Philadelphia in the late ‘70s to attend the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated with a degree in developmental psychology, her earliest studies in neuroscience, in 1982. Five years later she graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, where she taught for seven years after graduation.

While teaching she started her own optometric practice. Since then she has developed the practice into two offices, one in Princeton, N.J., the other in Bryn Mawr. While her practice serves children for the most part, she treats patients of all ages. She utilizes her neuroscientific education to treat victims of head trauma and strokes.

But in her free time, Chaya teaches knitting. She says one of the most difficult practices in knitting is tapping, or tiny, precise lacework done with a shuttle or needle. A shuttle is a spool of thread with a pointed end one can slide in one side of a knot and out the other. It is used to make a pattern, almost like macramé, a popular knitting pattern.

Through the years Herzberg has made fisherman-net sweaters with intricate cables, lace-work for curtains and more, but usually, she goes through phases when she makes lots of one item. Often those items become gifts. And true to her neuroscientific background, she said knitting appeals to her on another level. “It’s a side of the brain people don’t use a lot,” she said, referring to how people often read and write yet do not undertake physical activities that require intense concentration as well as muscle.

When it comes down to it, knitting is about patience, practice and fun, Chaya maintained. “My grandmother knitted to keep people in socks,” she said. “We don’t have to do that today. Mills make socks, we can make art.”

For more information or to sign-up for “Knitting, Crochet Craft Circle,” visit mtairylearningtree.org or call 215-843-6333.

...