New Brunswick — Ever since COVID-19 hit nearly a year ago, people in the Maritimes have spent countless hours crafting at home. One unforeseen consequence of this new reality has been a dramatic increase in the underground sharing of needles. Knitting needles.
According to Fredericton street outreach worker Edna McDonald, this dangerous practice needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.
“It’s gotten out of control,” McDonald said as she walked her daily rounds. A recovered former knitter herself, McDonald patrols the downtown core looking for and disposing of discarded and dirty needles. “Some of these needles are being passed from person to person, and are being used numerous times. It’s really not safe for anybody.”
One knitter we spoke with, a middle-aged woman we will call Mrs. A., nervously admitted: “I know that I shouldn’t be sharing needles with others. But, you know, it’s just really tough. Sometimes you simply need a needle that’s a different size, and with everybody knitting these days many of the craft stores are just plain sold out. I know it sounds a little desperate, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get the needle you need.”
McDonald thinks that Fredericton needs to open a supervised knitting needle exchange site.
“Look,” McDonald explained, “these aren’t bad people. They have needs, and they are trying to get those needs met. If our lives had gone differently, this could be you or me. It really is an issue of ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’”
And sometimes informal needle exchanges don’t go well. Mrs. A recounted one such encounter:
“We met through a private Facebook group. We had an agreement: I would give her two circular needles in exchange for five double points. I really wanted a set of Flexi-flips but they’re just so hard to come by these days. Because of social distancing, we met at a park. I put my bag down and backed off. She took my bag and left hers.
“But when I picked up her bag I saw it only contained a random assortment of straight needles. I mean, who the heck uses straight needles these days? I was so angry, but with my bad hip I just wasn’t able to chase her down. We really need government intervention to make sure these sorts of things don’t happen!”
McDonald claims that supervised needle exchange programs work well elsewhere.
“They’ve had a clean knitting needle exchange site in Vancouver for years now, and they’ve had very few issues. Only one stabbing. Law enforcement had to be brought in a few other times, but that’s to be expected whenever you get a large number of knitters together in one place.
“We really owe it to ourselves to do everything we can to try to keep the knitters in our lives safe.”