Ronni Simon sits in the gallery she shares with her photographer husband, Peter, at 54 Main street in Vineyard Haven, and knits. She knits quite a lot.
“It’s such an easy way to express your creativity,” she says. She also practices more challenging ways: the jewelry she fashions from sterling silver, gold, pearls and semi-precious gemstones, and her wall art wrought from sturdy wire and large beads.
“Knitting is like setting the table — you can take the time to make the experience really valuable and beautiful and calming,” Mrs. Simon says.
Knitting and crocheting are more than a hobby imported to her professional work space. On the contrary, the Simon gallery, awash with Peter’s photos of dazzling landscapes and famous faces, and Ronni’s wall sculptures and cases of jewelry, is also host to shelves of yarn, all manner of knitting and crochet needles, and a trunk-show-times-ten volume of caps, sweaters, shawls, scarves and lap rugs that Ronni herself has created single-handedly from her needles.
“It makes me happy!” she says, and her face, framed by beige-blond hair under one of her own finely-spun berets, remains radiant for the entire time that she knits at her desk and talks about the craft.
She learned to knit and crochet from her mother, as so many do, then expanded her learning through a knitting “guru” named Sylvia. Sylvia’s yarn shop sat on the block-long commercial street where Mrs. Simon grew up in Belle Harbor, Long Island.
“The shop was tiny,” explains Mrs. Simon, “but Sylvia had it stacked floor to ceiling with yarn.”
Mrs. Simon remembers the woman’s desk surrounded by chairs, the seats constantly occupied by knitting and crocheting friends, neighbors and customers, all with varying levels of expertise. Whatever someone needed to know — whether or not this person solicited fresh advice — Sylvia freely dispensed aid and criticism.
“Actually, Sylvia was less of a guru and more of a Knitting Nazi,” said Mrs. Simon with a laugh. She describes a long-ago time when Sylvia beheld the work of one of her pupils at a Belle Harbor bar mitzvah.
“A woman had crocheted a beautiful green dress for her daughter. Sylvia marched over, declared, ‘No! No! No! That’s much too long!’ And before anyone could stop her, she bent down and unraveled a good foot from the hem-line.”
In spite of Sylvia’s fiery instruction, Mrs. Simon was impressed by what the woman accomplished. “She made up patterns for people on the spot. I guess I always wanted to own my own yarn shop.”
Mrs. Simon’s most popular yarn is a product called Poof. It’s a micro-fiber that looks like wool, has the fuzziness of alpaca, but is light and — there’s no other word for it — heavenly to the touch.
“I’ve sold over four thousand balls of it,” said Mrs. Simon. “I’ve had so many customers come in at the start of the summer and they buy a single ball. By the end of their visits, they return for another dozen.”
The manufacturers of Poof yarn have discontinued the product, although they’ve reassured Mrs. Simon that their warehouse is filled to the brim, and she’ll be well-supplied for a good long while. On the other hand, this makes Poof yarn difficult to acquire in other parts of the country and Mrs. Simon has known customers to call in a panic when they’ve run out of their Poof balls. She stands ready to mail Poof balls to any place in the world.
“Everything about knitting is addictive,” she says with a chuckle while working away at a red and blue-patterned afghan made of a Peruvian alpaca and wool blend ($6.25 per ball) on a circular needle.
As she crochets, Peter Simon sits on a couch nearby, typing a letter. Julie Cromer, a frequent customer and also a photographer, stops in to say hello. Raised in California, she has decided to spend this coming winter in Wood’s Hole. She takes a chair and is drawn into an expanding circle of impromptu knitter/salonistas. Mr. Simon engages her in a conversation about the challenge of New England winters.
Clearly, impromptu social circles such as this one form all the time at the Simon Gallery, in operation since July of 2008.
Mrs. Simon has hosted one-off knitting circles as well as six or eight-week sessions she calls Knitting As Meditation.
She explains how enchanted she was to hear that master meditator, author and teacher Ram Dass (an old friend of the Simons’) has also come to recognize the craft as a valid delivery system for higher consciousness.
Mrs. Simon regales her visitors with an anecdote Mr. Dass now uses in his lectures. Some decades ago, when Mr. Dass regularly spoke to hundreds of followers clad in flowing white tunics and hair decked with flowers, a woman of advanced middle age entered the hall. She wore a matronly suit and a hat studded with synthetic red cherries. Mr. Dass decided on the spot the poor dear had wandered mistakenly into his lecture on Eastern religions, and would soon realize her mistake. Instead, she listened, rapt, continuously nodding, and stayed for the entire talk.
Afterward, he found himself surrounded, as always, by swooning acolytes.
“Oh! Thank you!” “You’re amazing!” “I feel so inspired by your words!”
And then the lady with the cherries on her hat cleared a path through his devotees to tell him, “I think you’re on the right path.”
He was startled. Her message and her glowing face told him she had already reached the summit, while he himself was still working his way up the arduous slope.
He asked, “How have you come to this realization?”
Meanwhile, back at the gallery, Mrs. Simon is happy to help newcomers learn, and oldcomers, so to speak, who may have picked up the artform in their youth, recover muscle memory. She also tells her customers and her own devotees that — happy as she is to provide instruction — should they find themselves stymied at eleven o’clock at night, they can watch handy tutorials on YouTube.
In the meantime, she sells a ball of pink and gray Poof ($7.25) and a set of size-17 needles ($7.99) to a customer who hasn’t knitted since childhood and is already merrily clacking away. A single ball yields the easiest item of them all — a small, stylish scarf.
“Sometimes I feel like a drug dealer,” Mrs. Simon says with a laugh. “People are so delighted to get started.”
One of her visitors jokes that she can picture her crocheting away, and selling yarn in a dusty, vacant lot in Baltimore (an obvious reference to the dope-peddlers in the TV show The Wire.)
Mrs. Simon laughs and nods and continues to work her magic on the emerging red and blue afghan.