Knitting for NONIA
Trinity South sisters keep ‘em in stitches
They may not be out-and-out comediennes, but the three sisters have definitely gotten some fine yarns together over the years.
Eileen Masters, Joan Belbin and Bertha Norris are carrying on a tradition that began in 1920, one that was handed down to them by their mother, Florence Ash.
Masters and Norris live in Hant’s Harbour; Belbin lives just down the road in New Chelsea.
Their mother began knitting for NONIA (Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association) in 1940. In 1990, Ash received a gold watch in appreciation of 50 years of knitting. In total, she spent 56 years working for NONIA, laying down her needles in 1996, just four years before she passed away.
Her daughters, who learned the craft at their mother’s knee, started off knitting simple squares, advancing their skills as they got older.
Masters used to knit for NONIA years ago and would often get her mother’s help stitching the finished items together.
“After she died I gave it up, because I couldn’t sew them together.”
She picked up the NONIA needles again in 2003, knitting well over a thousand salt and pepper caps, hats and scarves since then.
“During Christmas I counted up how many caps I’d knit; I think it was 938. I get Joan to sew them up for me now,” she says, smiling at her sister sitting opposite her on the couch.
An impeccable knitter, their mother crafted sweaters in very fine wool, and Masters says her mom was incredibly conscientious about the work.
“It took her around a week-and-a-half to do one sweater. She’d have a white cloth and when the piece got so long, she’d wrap the cloth around it so it wouldn’t get dirty or (pill). Then she’d wrap an elastic band loosely around the cloth. She wouldn’t have the elastic band tight because that might put a mark on the sweater.”
Belbin gives her sister a knowing nod.
“Mom had to press the sweaters before she sent them in and she wouldn’t use an electric iron. She used the old-fashioned iron you put on the stove. She was afraid she’d burn the wool, so she’d put a pressing cloth over it. Then she’d have to fold it up just so.”
She says their mother was such a prolific knitter, “you just wanted to do it too.”
Like Masters, Belbin knit for NONIA years ago, but gave it up when she got married, then took it up again in 2003.
“I do mostly headband hats, and hat, scarf and mitten sets.”
With all the knitting going on in the family, two years ago Norris decided it was time she tried her hand at the craft and has produced more than 50 items for the association.
“I prefer to knit something small, like toques
“Mom had to press the sweaters before she sent them in and she wouldn’t use an electric iron. She used the old-fashioned iron you put on the stove. She was afraid she’d
burn the wool, so she’d put a pressing cloth over it. Then she’d
have to fold it up just so.” — New Chelsea resident Joan Belbin
and scarves,” she says.
The sisters have never collaborated on one project because, as Norris points out, “everyone knits with a different tension,” some producing loose stitches, some tight stitches.
The three say they find the craft an enjoyable and relaxing pastime and plan to continue indefinitely.
“As soon as I’m sitting down, I pick it up,” Belbin says with a smile.
NONIA recently received the Manning Award for its ongoing role in the history of the province. The association was presented an award in the provincial category and was selected as overall winner of the Manning Awards for 2012.
Manager Judy Anderson says NONIA has carried on as a cottage industry since 1934, basically breaking even or showing little or no profit at year-end.
“We own the building we’re in, so maintenance eats up profits. If we have monies left over it goes back to the knitters as bonuses,” she explains.
The knitters are paid by piecework, depend-
• The Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association was founded in 1920, and was incorporated as a non-profit business in 1924. • Its aim was to assist outport communities in the province access health services by raising money from the sale of hand-knit garments to pay the salaries of public health nurses. • The operation’s health care portion was taken over by government in 1934, but the industrial side continues in the same tradition today, with a board of directors and a staff of four to six depending on the season. • NONIA employs about 175 knitters and weavers across the province. They produce hand-knit sweaters, socks, hats and mittens for all ages, as well as woven items like placemats, runners, napkins and scarves. • According to manager Judy Anderson, several men have tried their hand at knitting for NONIA “occasionally and for short periods” throughout the association’s 92-year history. • More on NONIA can be found at www.nonia.com or Facebook, through Nonia Handknits. ing on the difficulty of a pattern, the weights of the yarn used, the size being knit.
They get paid once a month for what they’ve made and the wool and patterns are sent to the knitter at NONIA’S expense.
Anderson says the association can usually estimate how much stock they’ll need for the store and for craft fairs.
“We do a lot of special orders, as not everyone is the same size. We have specific knitters that we know we can depend on to get special orders precise.”
NONIA will sometimes advertise for knitters through notices in newspapers or on bulletin boards in community gathering places. And sometimes they get their knitters, like the three sisters in Trinity South, as part of a family tradition.
From left, Sisters Eileen Masters, Joan Belbin and Bertha Norris pick up their knitting while relaxing at Masters’ home in Winterton.
Salt and pepper hats and a giant Christmas stocking represent a very small portion of the knitting done by sisters Eileen Masters, Joan Belbin and Bertha Norris.
Bertha Norris has only been knitting for NONIA two years, but has completed more than 50 items for the association.
John Belbin works on a scarf she’s knitting for NONIA.
When it comes to knitting, salt and pepper hats are a favourite for Eileen Masters, who knits for NONIA.
The late Florence Ash (right) of Winterton spent 56 years knitting for NONIA. In 1996 she was presented with a gold watch for 50 years of service. Mrs. Ash passed away in 2000. The woman at left is Marilyn Woolridge, former manager of NONIA.