Knitters occasionally drop a stitch.
But when a whole clutch of them drops every stitch, then smiles for the camera and makes a calendar, that’s something else.
Meet, then, the women of Knotty Knitters, Pierce County’s own calendar girls.
Marsha Cunningham is their ringleader on this project, managing photos, design, sales and marketing. She’s also the grandmother of Josef and Mollee Cunningham, 7-year-old twins with autism.
The children are the inspiration for the 2011 Knitting Naked for Autism Calendar featuring eight Pierce County knitters and one from New York State, tastefully draped in knit goods. Except for the shot in which they’re standing behind a hedge, laughing and wearing only hand-knit hats.
Calendars featuring tastefully bare ordinary people have grown in popularity since England’s original “Calendar Girls” posed naked behind baked goods and easels to buy a couch for a Yorkshire hospital and ended up raising enough money for a new wing. This year, the men of Vashon Island are using motorcycles and garden tools to support schools.
“You know what’s interesting?” said Cunningham, who is Miss September for the Knotty Knitters, but was entirely clothed at the group’s recent meeting at Tacoma Public Library’s Swasey Branch. “The number of people who said they’d do it in a heartbeat, and then you asked them later, and they couldn’t do it.”
You mean, women from their mid-40s through their 80s might have second thoughts about taking off all their clothes for photos that, with luck, will circulate across the continent and beyond?
You really think an excellent knitter might balk at the prospect of being photographed in a scenic bathtub piled with watery blue yarn?
“I’ve learned a lot about nudity and people’s reaction to it,” Cunningham said. “One woman e-mailed, ‘Why naked? Just curious.’”
The market for calendars of fully clothed middle-to-senior women knitting must not be what it used to be.
And this calendar is all about making money.
“It’s really expensive to have children with autism,” said Cunningham, 63, of Tacoma.
The more aggressive that parents are at finding effective therapies for their children, the more expensive it is.
Some children respond to flash card-type learning. Some blossom when they ride horses. Parents who are financially able often send their children to out-of-state therapies and schools.
At home, they manage diet and medication, find child care, work with school districts, network with other families, lobby for services and keep up with the research into the infinitely frustrating condition.
As they learned more, the Knotty women wanted to help Josef and Mollee get the treatments that have shown promise. The calendar seemed like the perfect vehicle.
Most of its proceeds will go to that end. Cunningham is also making it available to other autism groups that want to use it as a fundraiser.
“How could you say no to such a good thing?” said Debby Sims, 57, of Tacoma. “It’s not going to cost me a thing to take my clothes off.”
The photo shoot on May 6 was at Cunningham’s North End home.
“It was fun,” she said. “We were running around the back yard naked. Later we saw our next door neighbor had a workman repairing something.”
“Oh Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” said Miss April, Lavonne Northcutt, 48, of Tacoma.
On the Knitting Naked for Autism Calendar page on Facebook, one woman inquired as to whether it would be appropriate for her teen and young adult sons to see the calendar.
The balance between skein and skin is delicate.
As Barbara Weber, 76, of Parkland, put it: “We were very careful not to show tatas and hoohoos.”
Some of the photos, she said, are quite modest.
Carolyn Anderson, Miss December, is in her 80s, and she knit a tiara and a white bra with spangles to wear with a long sheepskin coat.
“They’re tastefully done,” Cunningham said of the photos. “They’re fun, and informative.”
Dana Napoleon’s atmospheric photos aren’t the only things on the calendar pages worth looking at. Maura Desimone of Zendezignz has crafted a layout that knits in information about the models, materials and autism.
Weber is quite sure it will be a thing of wit and beauty, and she’s buying enough for the whole family.
“I want my children to tell their children, ‘Your grandmother was posing for a nude calendar when she was 76,’” she said.
Ten years ago, when these knitters’ lives spun together, who’d have predicted that? Sims asked.
“We’re all thriving and going on,” she said. “And we’ve matured to the point of taking our clothes off.”